Best Lenses for digital filmmaking on a budget (FS100 / FS700)

I should start by saying that if money wasn't an object we'd all go out and get a slew of PL mount lenses. However, money is. So here are the 9 lenses that I use with my sony FS100. I'm quite proud of it so I'll make mention of my lens case. Above you see a tool box with foam cut out of it. This can be easily done by using an electric bread knife some thick mattress foam and about a half hour.

I also want to say that shooting with SLR lenses is annoying. The only reason we don't go back to shooting exclusively with traditional video cameras is because of the versatility in look that we can get by shooting with a range of lenses.  So the following are a set of lenses that I've thrown together in the last few years. Some of them I almost never put on my camera but I thought I'd include them because they may be valuable to you. So meet the family.

You will notice that the family is divided. the four on the left fit with the adapter next to them and the same is true of the four on the right. The four on the right are FD mount lenses. These are older manual lenses from the film SLR days. They stopped making the FD mount lenses in 1985 (I think). So why would anyone want to use old lenses you say. Because they feel great and have a good look. They are all metal construction, the focus and zoom rings on the are really smooth, and they generally were of good build and image quality (depending on which ones you fine). You have to make sure the ones you get are in good condition but they can be very cheap on The four lenses on the right probably cost me 1/10th of what the four on the left cost. 

So the four lenses on the left are canon EF mount lenses. These are the purchased with two cameras in mind. I also periodically shoot with a canon 7D. All these lenses fit that camera, so these were a sort of double buy. 

So lets get started.

Rokinon 35mm / f1.4 EF. Beautiful lens. The low f-stop allows for great background blurring. The main selling point of this lens is it's low f-stop. Most reasonably priced 35mm lenses that I could find were only 2.8 so this was a good find for me. Secondly on a crop sensor like the super35 in the FS100 and 700 the 35mm lens width is a much more useful angle size for me. The lens is all manual. Most of the lenses that are EF mount have auto (internally controlled)  aperture. This lens was designed with video shooters in mind because it has all manual controls, even the aperture. The big advantage of the cost. For what you're getting this lens is an amazing price. It tested up there in terms of quality with lenses 2 and 3 times its cost. If you're a filmmaker trying to mimic cinema this lens (and probably all Rokinons Primes) will be a great buy for you. My one complaint with this lens is that when I got it the focus wheel was really tight. I worked with it quite a while before it started to loosen up. Secondly if you are planning to shoot stills, this lens, or any manual lens is a pain for that. You'd be surprised how much you've probably come to rely on auto focus in a still camera (at least I have). This is also a pretty heavy lens. Its got a lot of glass in it, and it may be my heaviest lens, except for my big FD lens. One additional note. Rokinon is also making Cine lenses now which may suite you even better. It's basically the same lens but it's got a smooth aperture feature and gear notches on the focus ring so you don't have to apply a lens gear with your follow focus. 

Tamron 17-50mm F/2.8 EF. This is by far my most used lens. I use this lens so much that it's the one that I leave on the camera when I put it in it's case. The main features I was looking for with this lens were parfocal, fixed aperture, and wide to medium zoom. This lens nailed all three. This lens is also a really good price. It has a reasonably low F-stop so background blur is good not as good as the rokinon, but that's to be expected with the f-stop at 2.8 rather than 1.4. The reason I bought this lens was because I had a really wide angle lens and I had a medium lens but I got tired of swapping them out. So I found this lens to do wide and medium shots. The 17mm wide open is as wide a shot as I ever need for about 99% of my shoots. Since I got this lens I rarely ever put on my 50mm or my 16mm anymore. Disadvantages to this lens are that it's got internally controlled apeture so you will have to shoot at 2.8 all the time if you have a passive adapter. A second thing I don't like is that the barrel moves outward when the zoom is rocked. That's not a big deal but it bothers me. This lens is nice and light, looks great, and is a really great buy. In fact if I had only one lens it would have to be this one. Also, be sure if you buy this one that you are looking at the right lens. There is one that is almost identical but it's got image stabilization in it. It did not test as high and is apparently not as good of a lens. 

 Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 EF. This lens is probably the best feeling lens that I have. the zoom and focus is really smooth on this lens. It's a heavy lens with solid pieces. I remembering it being a pretty good price. I used this lens a lot early on before I got my 17-50. Any time I needed to do walking, moving, shots while being handheld I'd use this lens. It's wide angle hides hand shake really well. Nice thing about this lens, even though it's a wide - since its an f/2.8 if you put your subject within a few feet you can still get a nice background blur. Disadvantages are that the aperture is internally controlled. This is not usually as big of a deal but on a wide angle lens, it will probably be the one you want to use for you big panoramic establishing shots. No aperture control means no depth of field control, so again, it's going to be wide open unless you have an active lens adapter.

Canon 70-210mm f/4 FD. This is an FD lens so it's older and very solid. Canon only made a few fixed aperture zooms. I've got two of them and this is the longest of the two. Fixed aperture is a big thing for shooting video so look into it if you don't know what it means. This lens has a unique feature that you don't see on lenses any more. The zoom and focus ring are in the same place. meaning that you only have to have your hand on one ring and you can do both. The ring moves forward and backward for zoom and rotates for focus. I'm guessing this lens was targeted at sports shooters originally so this feature offers speed of use. It has amazing background blur at most zoom ranges. It's a great lens. The one I have is a little low on contrast which probably means it need to be cleaned internally. This is a lesson for these lenses, make sure you get on thats clean. This lens also has a nice macro setting. Over all it's a lens that I'd only get out if I need a big zoom but that does happen from time to time. I think I got this lens for under $50, which seemed to be a super good buy. So watch ebay and see what you can find.

Canon 35-105mm f/3.5 FD. Here is another FD constant aperture lens. Out of all my zooms I like the feel of this one the best. It's a pretty practical range as well. the zoom and focus wheel is nice and smooth. Like all the FDs the aperture control is external on this lens. At f3.5 minimum, the background blur on the wide and of the lens is not amazing but it's plenty for the tighter zoom end of the lens. I would like to mention that there are two different types of FD lens mounts. I think this one is called CFD. It works a little different than the standard FD but they are interchangeable. You may have to mess around with it a bit to get a feel for it but don't fret, they play together just fine. Another annoying thing about FD mount lenses, is that they usually take me an extra 30 seconds or so to get them lined up. I don't know what the deal is, they just don't go on as easily. Also, its possible to mount an FD lens incorrectly where the aperture doesn't open. That doesn't mean the lens is broken it just means the lens is not mounted right. That could be a limitation of my adapter I don't know.

Canon 35-70mm f/2.8-3.5 FD. I don't use this lens much at all. The main reason is because I bought it before I knew what constant aperture meant. So I got it and used it on one shoot and found that I didn't like what it did. It's not a bad lens though I just don't pull it out much. Honestly it feels great, it's very smooth, and it looks great on the camera. I like that the lens and barrel are hidden beneath the rim of the front of the lens. It protects the glass that way. Now I have used this lens more often for real tight Macro. The thing is, this is actually a pretty good zoom range for a standard shoot, and at 2.8 it does have a fairly nice background blur, and light sensitivity. You know how sometimes you just have a relative that you love a lot of things about but you don't like going to see them. It's like you'd go to their funeral but you don't want to spend the weekend with them. That's how I feel about this lens. Its really a nice feeling lens and it looks pretty good, but it mainly sits on the shelf. See now I feel bad because you may be able to get some really great use out of it. In fact if you think you can let me know, I'd probably sell it to you.

Canon 50mm f1.8 FD. I shot my first feature length film almost exclusively with this lens. It is super cheap because they made lots of these. If you are looking for something as cheap as possible that gives you that cinema look, this is a great fix. One of the main problems for me with this width of angle is that the FS100 and FS700 have super35 size sensors. This means that they have about a 1.6x crop. So this lens is a good bit tighter than a 50mm on a full frame sensor. On a full frame sensor, a 50mm is actually a really versatile lens to have. On a crop sensor it's a little too tight for me. This is why I bought the Rokinon (the first lens in this list) because the 35mm prime is a little bit more useful lens length for me. The 50mm is a GREAT interview lens. Anytime you have a little space to play with and you can lock the camera down this lens is a great option. The optics in it are a little cheap but not too bad.

Canon 50mm f1.4 EF. I used the snot out of this lens. Since it's an EF it also fit my 7D. I shot a feature film using this lens and my tokina almost exclusively. This is a good lens. A lot of what I said about the other 50mm still applies. It's a little tight, and it's a very similar lens as above except that it's got internal aperture control, so it's going to be wide open on Iris all the time. On a lens with such a low f-stop, your probably buying it so that you can shoot wide open but it can be a pain on the fs100 because it's so sensitive. If you don't have some type of ND then you will be shooting at really high shutter speeds. On the FS700 you have the internal ND filters so it's no big deal there. Over all great lens and possibly a really good first lens buy since it's relatively cheap.

Fotodiox NEX-EF adapter.  These are the lens adapters I use for my lenses, they are literally the cheapest adapters I could find. I assumed that I'd use them for a while and then buy better ones. They actually have been just fine. My main complaints are 1. The EF adapter moves a little on me. Especially with the lenses with tighter zoom rings. It will jump a bit. This sucks because the image jumps when that happens. For the most part it's plenty tight but it does happen from time to time. 2. the release latch can unscrew and fall off. It's not that its cheaply made, its all metal construction but the little latch is just a screw on piece of metal so if it's not tight then it can get lost. I've made a habit of checking it each time I change a lens. This seems to work just fine. This has been a totally adequate adapter thus far.

Fotodiox NEX-FD adapter. Again the same applies. This adapter is plenty good for what I'm doing. I only use my FD lenses every so often. So at best this is an adapter for my backup lenses. My complaint is probably a little ignorant but it's possible to mount FD lenses incorrectly with this adapter. It's possible that that's just how FD lenses are, but I've noticed that I have to line up the lens to where the aperture peg sits just right. If I don't then the aperture inside doesn't engage and the aperture won't respond to the iris control. I usually have to try mounting the lens 2 or 3 times before I get it right. It takes and extra 30 seconds to a minute each time I use and FD. If anyone has had this problem please post and let me know. I'd love to know if it's user error, or adapter error, or just a function of using FD lenses. Over all this adapter is plenty adequate as well.

Those are the lenses and adapters that I use. I'd love to hear any other suggestions or tricks that you guys have. If anyone has any great lens options please comment below.


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  11. HI

    You say of the 1st Rokinon lens
    "One additional note. Rokinon is also making Cine lenses now which may suite you even better. It's basically the same lens but it's got a smooth aperture feature and gear notches on the focus ring so you don't have to apply a lens gear with your follow focus. "

    Is this new lens availabale and can you point me to would be my first purchase for my new FS100.

    Thank you

    Dave B

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  13. Hi, What's about Sony 10-18 native lens? I'm using FS700R and this is really useful lens for any documentary/run&gun style filming.

  14. Second lens for Sony FS700 I would recommend is Canon 16-35 L f/2.8 MKII with Metabones SpeedBooster. This is really crazy combo! I'm London Wedding Photographer mostly but sometimes people want me as Videographer. Trust me - documentary style on wedding you have no time to pull focus...then I'm using Sony 10-18 native lens. But when in spare time you looking for extra footage - Canon 16-35 with SpeedBooster is the best option ever tried.

  15. very useful post. Sometimes we need to get low budget lenses. I have some tips for you regarding this topic.
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    "Pro Tips for Low Light Photography"
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