If you purchase an independently reviewed product or service through a link on our website, Indiewire may receive an affiliate commission.
A great camera lens gets you one step closer to crafting a perfect shot, but selecting the right one can feel like its own art form. If you’re not sure where to start, you’ll need to know some of the basics, like the difference between prime lenses and zoom lenses.
Prime lenses: Fixed on one focal length, they’re generally heavier and more expensive. Zoom lenses: These are adjustable and cover a range of focal lengths. We’ve gathered a variety of the best zoom lenses and prime lenses, most of which are compatible with DSLR or mirrorless cameras. Find our roundup below, and for more shopping recommendations check out best cameras for filmmakers of all budgets, and best graduation gifts for student filmmakers.
A 28mm prime is one of the most commonly used wide lenses. It’s extremely versatile, and can handle almost any kind of shot reasonably well. This model, designed for Canon cameras, also contains an Optical Image Stabilizer to keep your images clear even as they cover a lot of ground.
If you are a Sony user, this 28mm prime lens is every bit as good as the Canon. It’s ideal for wide angle shots with people in them, as the high aperture keeps faces in focus without having to zoom in too closely. This lens is specifically designed for Sony’s mirrorless models, so don’t try to use it on a DSLR.
Rokinon is one of the more popular third-party lens manufacturers and their products can fit a variety of cameras. This 50mm prime comes with a lens hood and offers a de-clicked aperture: You can turn the focus gears without worrying about making a sound that will register on your film.
85mm prime lenses are a popular option for portrait photography; in film, it’s probably the widest lens you can use for close ups. This Canon lens is perfect for striking a delicate balance between actor and background because it keeps the subject in focus without completely obscuring their surroundings.
This optically stabilized Canon lens is a fantastic jack-of-all-trades. The wide focal range essentially means that you’re getting a 28mm, 50mm, 85mm, and 105mm lens for the price of one. Whether you’re making blockbusters or shooting weddings, this lens is pretty useful.
The 24-105mm lens is helpful regardless of which camera brand you use. This Sony zoom lens has a variety of instruments designed to maximize precision including four stops of optical image stabilization, a motorized inner focus system, and a special coating designed to prevent lens flare.
70-200mm lenses are a favorite of documentary filmmakers. A single lens allows you to get almost any shot, and they are quite easy to adjust on the fly. This model from Canon contains three image stabilization modes, and is a great value for the price point. They aren’t exactly discreet, though; if you’re trying to film a documentary without being seen, you might want to look elsewhere.
This 12-35mm lens was designed specifically for Panasonic’s LUMIX mirrorless camera. It’s compact, durable, and extremely fast. The auto focus technology ensures that the high-tech experience remains very user friendly.