There are some basic parameters which govern the requirements of a lens for video work. A lens that works great for still shooting may not be as great a performer when it comes to shooting videos. The reverse, however, is mostly true. A cine lens ideally also produce good still images.
But beyond just the optical aspects (quality of imagery), a lens meant for video work must have the specific features that govern the parameters of a fine cine lens.
It is understood that traditional DSLR lenses are not the same thing as cine lenses. Cine lenses have features that are tailor-made for the purpose of shooting high-quality video work. They will have longer, smoother and more precise focus throws which allow for precise focusing. Standard DSLR lenses, the ones which are designed for shooting stills will have jittery focusing performance, and shorter focus throws which make life difficult to precisely focus by hand.
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Additionally, a majority of the DSLR lenses tend to suffer from the problem of focus breathing. Focus breathing is when the lens’ tiny elements move back and forth when focusing. This changes the focal length (and the field of view) which is apparent when shooting videos.
Another thing proper cine lenses have is a higher number of aperture blades. The higher number of blades ensure that the quality of the bokeh is very smooth. The most you would get with traditional lenses is 9.
Traditional still lenses are nowhere near the same quality as cine lenses. It is like comparing apples to oranges. They are two entirely different things. We shall try to figure out some lenses which could work to produce good video work.
Albeit within the limitations that come from being DSLR lenses. I will restrict myself to Nikon lenses in this review. At a later date, I will try to bring forth a similar discussion for Canon as well as for third-party lenses.
Best Nikon Lenses for Videography
1. Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G
This lens is designed for the full-frame Nikon DSLRs. But it also works on Nikon’s 35mm film cameras as well as DX (crop) DSLRs as well, albeit with the associated 1.5x crop factor. This is essentially a portrait lens designed for the full-frame camera. But it also works as a good lens for video work. Especially, with the wide open aperture and the possibilities of being able to do selective focusing work.
- Fast aperture medium telephoto lens
- Internal focus, focal length: 85 millimeter, minimum focus range: 0.80 meter
- Silent wave motor (SWM). Number of diaphragm blades: 7 (rounded diaphragm opening)
- M/a focus mode switch. Filter-attachment size is 67 millimeter (p=0.75 millimeter)
- Nikon super integrated coating (sic)
In terms of versatility, the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G does lose out when compared to something like a 14-24mm or even a 24-70mm. The reason being this lens is a prime. Notwithstanding, this is the perfect lens when you want to capture a portrait view for shooting interview style footages.
One of the aspects of a good cine lens is that the lens barrel length shouldn’t change when the lens focus. The 85mm f/1.8G has internal focusing mechanism, which means the lens never does that (changes barrel length) when it focuses.
One of the things that videographers face when focusing on traditional DSLR lenses while shooting videos is the whizzing sound that the AF motors make. True, most videographers prefer to use an external mic for better quality sound, and in the final scheme of things recording of the internal mic will not matter. But still the original video with the odd sound of the AF motor can be a disconcerting aspect.
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2. Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G
Whatever the 85mm f/1.8G above can do, the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G can do better. I am not discounting the 85mm f/1.8G. As it is, it is a great choice for budget-conscious videographers who want the right focal length for shooting great interviews, etc.
With the 85mm f/1.4G, you get twice as much light. It is incredibly beneficial. You get better exposures in low light situations. Plus, your selective focusing techniques will produce better results with smoother out of focus backgrounds.
- Ultra-fast f1.4 classic portrait lens, Nano Crystal Coat
- Focal Length : 85 mm, Minimum Focus Distance : 3.0 ft. (0.85m). Compatible Format(s)- FX, DX, FX in DX Crop Mode
- Optimized for edge to edge sharpness on both FX and DX cameras;Closest focusing distance:0.85 m
- M/A Focus Mode Switch enables quick changes between manual and autofocus operation
- Internal Focus (IF) provides fast and quiet autofocus
Speaking of selective focusing, the f/1.4G’s aperture diaphragm consists of 9 rounded aperture blades. The f/1.8G, on the other hand, has seven aperture blades. The result is a smoother more rounded bokeh compared to the f/1.8G.
But apart from these, the f/1.4G is a better-built lens. One look at the specifications and the body design gives that unmistakable indication. The front element of the lens is substantial.
The filter size is 77mm compared to just 67mm on the f/1.8G. The f/1.8G is also well made. But despite that, there has been some amount of cost-cutting involved. The lens focusing ring is plastic underneath rubber on the f/1.8G compared to a metal underneath rubber one on the f/1.4G. The f/1.4G is heavier, indicating that it is solidly built. 595 grams compared to just 350 grams (the f/1.8G).
There are some other important parameters as well. That includes the lens’ ability to counter flares and ghosting when shooting. The lens comes with Nano crystal coating as well as super integrated coating.
3. Nikon AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED
Arguably one of the best Nikkor lens for shooting stills, and one of the best lenses you can buy, the AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED is a wide angle lens. This is ideal for shooting architecture, real estate interiors, as well as landscape.
- Focal Length Range: 14 -24 millimeter
- Minimum focus distance 0.9 feet. (0.28 meter), minimum f/stop 22
- Lens construction 14/11 (2 ED glass elements, 3 aspherical lenses and 1 Nano Crystal Coat)
- Angle of View: 114° - 84°
Designed for the full-frame Nikon DSLRs, and compatible with 35mm Nikon film cameras as well as APS-C cameras, this is a great lens to have if you are shooting videos.
The initial impression looking at the lens is it is enormous. The front element is probably the biggest that you have seen. But then its proportions are true to what an ultra-wide angle lens should be. Don’t bother looking for a filter for this lens. Because no screw in lens filter will work with this lens.
The wide-angle lens is ideal for shooting large panoramic shots. Panning and capturing two protagonists standing far away from each other in the same frame is something that can only be possible with a wide-angle lens.
The internal construction of the lens includes two ED glass and three aspherical elements. It also includes Nano crystal coating that suppresses flares and ghosting. Being one of the premiere Nikon lenses, it also comes with internal focusing and manual focusing override. Nikon’s silent wave motor technology powers Auto-focusing on the glass.
In real life situations, however, the 14-24mm does show up some amount of flare and ghosting. Additionally, there is some amount of vignetting as well. These, however, go away when you stop down the lens.
The 14-24mm is a heavy, well-built lens. At one kilo this is extremely heavy and probably best used when you are using a harness or a tripod, which you would be when shooting videos. The front element is intimidating. There is no way you can use a filter.
The lens mount is all metal, and there is good weather sealing provided as well. This enables the lens to be used outdoors and particularly in bad weather to shoot videos.
4. Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G
The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G is a beautiful lens.
For someone who loves bokeh, you cannot ignore the lure of the f/1.4 maximum aperture that this lens has to offer. Whether it is for shooting videos or for stills, this is a great lens for subject separation, shallow depth of field and those sort of things which you would love to do with your cinematic work.
- F1.4 maximum aperture; F16 minimum
- Ultrasonic-type AF motor with full-time manual focusing, 58mm filters
- Minimum focus Distance : 0.45m/17.72 Inches. Lens Hood: HB-47
- Nikon F mount for FX and DX DSLRs. Unparalleled autofocus performance.Mount Type: Nikon F-Bayonet
- Lens not zoomable
The 50mm is a standard prime. Which means it gives close to the same perspective as the human eye does but only when you mount it on a full frame camera. Speaking of which the lens is designed for full-frame DSLRs, 35mm film cameras and is also compatible with all DX cameras.
Nikon’s Silent Wave Motor technology powered autofocusing is silent but not dead quiet. It does make a bit of noise. But if you are recording with an external mic this wouldn’t be a problem. The lens also comes with manual focusing override. This ensures that the lens can be precisely controlled when manually when shooting for selective focusing work.
Speaking of selective focusing and out of focus effects, the lens has a 9-blade aperture diaphragm. This ensures that your background blur is very smooth and soft.
The lens comes with SIC (Super Integrated Coating), which ensures that much of flares and ghosting that plagues wide aperture lenses is suppressed.
5. Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED Lens
One of Nikon’s best lenses and certainly one of the most dependable. The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm has a fast wide aperture of f/2.8. I have preferred to keep the same maximum aperture with the exception of the 50mm primes.
Fast wide lenses are one of the requirements for shooting videos. This helps in playing with the selective focusing aspect. If you prefer to use f/2.8 across the focal length you can do that with any combination of these lenses.
- Focal Length Range : 24 70 mm
- Minimum Focus Distance : 1.2 ft.( 0.38 m)
- Exceptional low light performance
- Lens Construction (Elements/Groups): 15/11 (3 ED glass elements, 3 aspherical lenses and 1 Nano Crystal Coat)
The 24-70mm f/2.8G is the perfect walk around lens. This is the lens that you would carry with you for shooting in most situations as well as for shooting video.
The fact that this is a zoom lens covering the essential focal length range from 24-70mm means this is ideal for a wide range of shoots. At its widest 24mm focal length, this is great for panoramic shots. At 70mm this is good enough for interviews and close-up shots. One lens does it all.
The construction of this lens includes three extra-low dispersion elements, three PGM aspherical elements, nanocrystal coating and super integrated coating. The lens aperture diaphragm is composed of 9 rounded aperture blades.
Auto-focusing on the lens is powered by Nikon’s revered silent wave motor technology. The lens focuses internally, which means barrel length remains the same. Plus, the lens has manual focusing override as well.
This is a well-made lens. The lens comes with good quality dust and moisture sealing. Something that would encourage you to take it outdoors and shoot videos with it. The weight of the lens is a major issue.
At 900 grams this is very heavy and would no doubt be a burden when you are lugging it around. But your video work being mostly shot on a tripod should not be a problem. Another thing is this lens does not have image stabilization. For that, you need the heavier and pricier stabilized version of this lens.
6. Nikon AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 G ED
The 35mm prime is probably the closest competitor of the 50mm prime when it comes to taking still photos.
The lens is equally suitable for video work. I have mentioned how the fast wide aperture is great for shooting cinematic effects. To be precise selective focusing.
Selective focusing ensures that you can isolate the subject from the background as well as play around with focusing, switching from one plane of focus to another (two subjects at different distances from the camera).
- Lens not zoomable; 35 millimeter focal length, Macro Focus Range : 0.25 meter
- 52.5 millimeter equivalent focal length on DX Format cameras; F1.8 maximum aperture, F16 minimum
- Ultrasonic type AF motor with full time manual focusing; 58 millimeter filters; Note: Refer the user manual before use
- Note: This is an FX format F mount lens. FX and DX lenses can be mounted on all Nikon DSLR cameras. However, using a DX lens...
- 35 millimeter focal length, macro focus range: 0.25 meter. Rear focusing system
The AF-S 35mm f/1.8G ED comes with a fast wide aperture of f/1.8. Apart from the above-stated reason, this will come in handy when shooting in low light. The construction of the lens includes one extra-low dispersion element, one aspherical element, and super integrated lens coating.
The ED element and the aspherical elements take care of the distortions and aberrations. The SIC element takes care of flares and ghosting.
Nikon’s silent wave motor technology manages Auto-focusing on the lens. The lens also comes with rear focusing mechanism. This feature ensures that the lens barrel length does not change during focusing.
Out of focus would not necessarily be one of the best points of this lens. The lens aperture diaphragm has only seven rounded blades. Not blazingly wonderful but still the bokeh quality is good enough.
There are some areas where you will feel the lack of smoothness of the background bokeh, such as when shooting interview footages. Overall this is a lightweight solution for video work.
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7. Nikon AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G
For the same reason why I selected both the 85mm f/1.8G and the 85mm f/1.4G, I also select the 35mm f/1.4G. The 35mm f/1.4G gives 2/3 stop of extra light which is what you would come to appreciate especially if you are shooting in low light conditions.
- FX-format, ultra-fast classic wide-angle lens
- Focal Length: 35 mm, Minimum Focus Distance - 1.0 ft
- Nano Crystal Coat, Optimized for edge to edge sharpness on both FX and DX-format D-SLRs
- Aspherical Lens Element. Rear Focus (RF)
- Maximum angle of view (DX-format): 44°, Maximum angle of view (FX-format): 63°
Just like the AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G, the AF-S Nikkor f/1.4G is designed for the full-frame FX format Nikon DSLR. But it works with all other Nikon DX-format (APS-C) cameras as well as 35mm film cameras.
The extra advantage with the f/1.4G is that you also have the slight bokeh advantage. Not much, just subtle. You’d probably be unlikely to tell which is which.
And the price difference is significant which means you have to dish out something like three times the price of the f/1.8G for the extra 2/3 stops of light. It is for you to decide whether you want to do that.
The f/1.4G does, however, have Nikon’s Nano Crystal Coating. This coating suppresses flares and ghosting which tend to affect your images when shooting with the sun lower down the horizon. It also helps in improving contrast, which is a major issue in these situations.
Nikon’s silent wave motor technology powers auto-focusing on the 35mm f/1.4G. The lens comes with a rear focusing system. This means the lens barrel length does not change when focusing.
One thing that the f/1.4G has over the f/1.8G is manual focusing override. This functionality comes in handy when shooting videos. You can slowly adjust focus, allowing you to control precisely which part of the frame will be in focus and when. This is handy when you have more than one protagonists in the same frame but at different distances.
Another difference between the 35 f/1.8G and the 35mm f/1.4G is that this lens has a nine-blade aperture. That means you have slightly smoother bokeh performance when shooting at wide open apertures.
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