Matty Graham and the AP team explain what to look for in lenses for video, and select the best lenses for video that won’t break the bank…

These days, we take it as read that consumer cameras will sport a decent high-resolution video spec. More and more photographers are dipping their toes into the waters of video, and hybrid creators that flick from one discipline to the other have become commonplace.

Whether you want to shoot video professionally, or just as fun way to capture moments with friends and family, having one of the best lenses for video will dramatically improve the quality of what you’re capturing. Not to mention the ease with which you can capture it.

We’ve picked out the best video lenses for a range of mounts to help you find the lens that’s right for whatever you want to shoot. It’s possible to spend loads of money on a specialist cine lens, but if you’re reading this, chances are good that you don’t need to. There are loads of stills lenses out there which are equipped with the kinds of features that videographers need, and can be picked up for a much more reasonable price.

We’ve drawn on our experience of reviewing lenses for all different systems, both DSLR and mirrorless, to put this lens together. If your camera has advanced features like 4K video Log Profiles and a mic port, it’s only fair that you match it with a lens that boasts a de-clicked aperture ring, a wide focus ring and built-in stabilisation.

Not sure what any of that means? Don’t worry – we’re going to run through all the features you need in a good video lens. And if you’re building a setup from the ground up, don’t forget to check out our guide to the best cameras for video, vlogging and videography.

What makes a good lens for video?

A big, wide focus ring

There’ll be times when you’re filling scenes with a shallow depth-of-field when you’ll want to take more control over the focusing system and switch to manual focus (MF).

In these scenarios, you want to have as much physical control over the lens as possible.

Thus the lenses to avoid are ones that have impossibly thin focus rings that are very unergonomic and hard to get precise control over.

Instead, look out for optics with a big, wide focus ring that you can get a good grip of.

Better still, focus rings with a pronounced rubberised texture will further aid your hold and prevent your digits slipping off the focus ring.

A de-clicked aperture ring

An aperture control ring enables users to change the aperture setting via the ring on the lens, rather than needing to fiddle about with the camera body’s dials or menus.

This is important because when you are capturing footage, you’ll be using a set shutter speed, such as 1/100sec.

So, in order to balance an exposure level, you’ll want to adjust the aperture instead (although you can also use ISO and ND filters to balance exposure too).

Some aperture rings are ‘clicked’, which means you feel a physical click or step as you turn the ring.

It’s more advantageous for a video-friendly lens to have a de-clicked aperture ring, that will turn freely without resistance, allowing you to balance the exposure more easily.

Stabilisation

Shaky footage is no good to anybody and while there are other options to stabilise footage – namely in-body image stabilisation (IBIS) within a camera body or the use of a gimbal so the videographer can move around while keeping the camera steady – using a lens with Image Stabilisation technology adds to your ability to keep things steady.

Most IS-enabled lenses offer the user the ability to switch the stabilisation off and on, giving the user even more control.

For the ultimate in stabilisation, pairing an IS lens with a camera body with IBIS will extend the compensation limits.

Lightweight dimensions

Big, heavy lenses are OK for video as long as you are happy to lock off the camera on a tripod, but this usually delivers static and uneventful, uninspiring footage.

If you are going to capture motion by using the camera on a gimbal, or other device, then you want to reduce the load on the gimbal motors… this means using a lightweight and compact lens.

Pancake optics are ideal – for example, Sony’s 16mm f/2.8 not only measures just 62×22.5mm but also tips the scales at a mere 67g, making it a gimbal-friendly choice for videographers on a budget.

Advanced coating

When shooting video, you’ll more than likely want to shoot a lot of ‘contre-jour’ (literally shooting ‘against the day’) shots when you shoot into the light to capture backlit subjects.

These high-contrast lighting situations can flummox inferior lenses and produce huge amounts of flare and specular highlights.

When looking for a lens that you can use for stills and video, make sure it has a decent level of coating to protect against these issues.

Most modern cameras offer a wide array of video shooting features

A fast maximum aperture

For those beautiful, shallow-depth-of-field shots that add a heavy layer of cinematic style to your footage, you’ll need a lens that offers a fast maximum aperture.

Regular kit lenses often have a variable aperture so at best, you may be able to use f/3.5, but if you zoom in, you’re more likely to have a maximum aperture of f/5.6, which won’t give you the shallow depth-of-field you’re looking for.

Instead, look for lenses that have a maximum aperture of f/2.8 or faster.

A mid-telephoto focal length

One common mistake many photographers make when moving into video for the first time is to select a lens that’s too wide.

Of course, there will be times when a wider angle view will suit the scene, but going too wide all the time can leave subjects in the frame looking too small and lost.

A mid-telephoto focal length, such as 50mm, is a great place to start as this focal length is similar to the natural perspective of the human eye.

A fast motor

Picking a lens with the right motor system is crucial when selecting a video-friendly optic.

Sluggish motor systems will not only struggle to keep up with a moving subject in the frame, but they will also create ‘lens hum’, which can be picked up on your microphone and ruin your audio.

By contrast, a lens with a fast, modern motor system will be quiet, fast and accurate… thus leading to more usable footage.

How to overcome common video headaches

Familiar filter thread size

ND filters can prove useful when shooting video as well as stills.

With your shutter speed locked in at 1/50sec or 1/100sec, it can be easy to overexpose a frame, particularly if you wish to employ a fast aperture like f/1.4 to create a shallow depth-of-field.

A video-friendly lens with a familiar filter thread size (such as 67mm, 72mm or 77mm) will mean you probably already have a ND filter (whether it be a screw-on or via a filter holder) that you can use to balance your exposure level.

So, with all that out of the way, let’s get started with our list of the best video lenses…


Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM

Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM review image by Michael Topham

The Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM is small enough to take anywhere. Photo credit: Michael Topham.

At a glance:

  • Focal length: 50mm
  • Lens construction: six elements in five groups
  • Max aperture: f/1.8
  • Minimum aperture: f/22
  • Closest focusing distance: 30cm
  • Price: £209 / $159

Canon’s ‘nifty fifty’ lenses have been highly acclaimed for years by photographers using the brand’s DSLRs to shoot stills and video, but with Canon’s introducing a full-frame mirrorless range with cameras like the EOS R6 and EOS RP, a new version was needed. The result is the RF 50mm f/1.8 STMa lens that balances price, size and a fast maximum aperture beautifully to produce a must-own optic for Canon video shooters.

Measuring 69.2×40.5mm and tipping the scales at only 160g, this lens will balance nicely with cameras like the EOS R6 when paired with a gimbal like the Ronin-SC. The 50mm will give a natural perspective close to that of the human eye and the lens features Canon’s STM motor technology for fast autofocus that will be quiet and won’t pick up on your audio track.

The RF 50mm enables videographers to capture frame-filling footage of smaller subjects thanks to a closest focusing distance of 30cm and features Canon’s Super Spectra Coating to enhance quality.

Pros:

  • Tremendous value for money
  • Knurled focus ring offers secure grip
  • Super compact

Cons:

  • No AF/MF switch
  • Focusing isn’t completely silent

Read our Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM Review


Sony E 16mm F2.8

Sony E 16mm F2.8

Sony E 16mm F2.8

At a glance: 

  • Focal length: 16mm
  • Lens construction: 5 elements in 5 groups
  • Max aperture: f/2.8
  • Minimum aperture: f/22
  • Closest focusing distance: 24cm
  • Price: £189 / $248

While longer focal lengths can provide tighter framing, there are times when you will also want to shoot wider scenes and a great choice for these occasions is Sony’s 16mm pancake lens, which is designed for use with the brand’s APS-C cameras such as the Sony Alpha A6600 where it takes on an equivalent focal length of 24mm thanks to the sensor’s 1.5x crop factor.

Make no mistake, this is a tiny lens, measuring just 62×22.5mm and tipping the scales at only 67g, but there’s still room for a 5-elements-in-5-groups design and a 7-bladed aperture.

What’s more, the tiny Sony optic offers Direct Manual Focus with non-rotating focus ring for when videographers want to take more control over their focus point in the frame. The barrel is made from aluminium and if you need to go wider, the 16mm f/2.8 is compatible with Sony’s VCL-ECU1 ultra-wide converter and VCL-ECF1 fisheye converter accessories.

Pros:

  • Absolutely tiny
  • Useful Direct Manual Focus
  • Solid aluminium barrel

Cons:

  • Old and could use an update
  • No stabilisation

Sony E PZ 10-20mm F4 G

Sony E PZ 10-20mm F4 G

The Sony E PZ 10-20mm F4 G pairs well with APS-C bodies., Photo credit: Andy Westlake

At a glance:

  • Focal length: 10-20mm
  • Lens construction: 11 elements in 8 groups
  • Max aperture: f/4
  • Minimum aperture: F/22
  • Closest focusing distance: 13-17cm
  • Price: £749 / $648

Sony’s ‘PZ’ designation means lenses that have a powered zoom design, rather than a mechanical one. This makes any lens with this feature extra well-suited to video as it enables a raft of features that are useful for videographers. The Sony E PZ 10-20mm F4 G can therefore hold focus on a subject when zooming, with the composition remaining appropriately centred. The zooming and focusing action is all entirely internal, meaning the lens stays balanced, making it handy for shooting on a gimbal.

Focus breathing is also minimal, which means that there will be little to no change in angle of view from the minimum focus distance up to the infinity focus setting. The minimum focus distance also stays pretty much the same, from 13cm at the wide end to 17cm at the tele end. A zoom lever on the side of the lens enables proportional action, which allows zoom speed and intensity during video to be fine-tuned very precisely.

In our testing, we found this lens to optically perform very well throughout its zoom and aperture ranges. It’s hugely intuitive to use, thanks to extra features like the Linear Response MF, a manual focus control that makes it easy to make precise adjustments to the focusing. The only real strike against the lens is its lack of built-in stabilisation – it’ll pair best with Sony bodies that have stabilisation built in, like the Alpha 6500 and Alpha 6600.

Pros:

  • In-depth zoom control
  • Well balanced
  • Intuitive manual focusing

Cons:

  • No stabilisation
  • Cheaper Sony options available

Read our full Sony E PZ 10-20mm F4 G review


Fujinon XF 10-24mm F4 R OIS WR

Fujinon XF 10-24mm F4 R OIS WR review image by Michael Topham

The Fujinon XF 10-24mm F4 R OIS WR is a redesigned version of a popular lens. Photo credit: Michael Topham

At a glance:

  • Focal length: 10-24mm
  • Lens construction: 14 elements in 10 groups
  • Max aperture: f/4
  • Minimum aperture: f/22
  • Closest focusing distance: 24cm
  • Price: £899 / $999

Fujifilm users who want to shoot video have a narrower lens selection than those who use other brands. However, the XF 10-24mm F4 R OIS WR is a lens that comes recommended by Fujifilm as one of the best X-mount lenses for video, and it considerably impressed us in our review. It’s durable and weather-resistant, which is useful for on-location shoots, and its sharpness impresses throughout the zoom range.

The manual focusing experience – an important consideration for video – is first-rate on the XF 10-24mm F4 R OIS WR. The ring is finely grooved, with a fluid feel, and you can take precise manual focus control by rolling your thumb over it at any time.

A lightweight lens, the XF 10-24mm F4 R OIS WR provides an equivalent focal length of 15-36mm when mounted to one of the X-series APS-C mirrorless cameras. It’s a highly credible all-purpose lens for video, and any Fujifilm user with an inclination towards video should think about giving it some space in their kit bag.

Pros:

  • Hardy, moisture-resistant build
  • Effective optical stabilisation
  • Lightweight

Cons:

  • Some low frequency clicking of diaphragm blades (under certain conditions)
  • On the pricier side

Read our Fujinon XF 10-24mm F4 R OIS WR review


Samyang 85mm T1.5 VDSLR AS IF UMC II

Samyang 85mm T1.5 VDSLR AS IF UMC II

Samyang 85mm T1.5 VDSLR AS IF UMC II

At a glance:

  • Focal length: 85mm
  • Lens construction: 9 elements in 7 groups
  • Max aperture: T/1.5
  • Minimum aperture: T/22
  • Closest focusing distance: 110cm
  • Price: £295 / $269

A purpose-built cine lens from less than £300? You’d better believe it and if you are starting to take video seriously, it could well be worth taking a good look at this Samyang optic. Available for Nikon F, Canon EF, Pentax K, Sony E, Sony A, Fujifilm X and Micro Four Thirds mounts, the Samyang 85mm is a manual focus optic that features 9 elements in 7 groups including an aspherical element.

The lens features an aperture (A) ring, although on a cine lens the aperture is prefixed with T instead (for example T/1.5) and there’s also a wide geared focusing ring, that will allow videographers to pair this up with a follow focus system, enabling precise adjustments to the focus setting.

Sporting a dust-proof design, the lens also offers Samyang’s Ultra Multi Coating (UMC) technology for better image quality and to provide protection from flare. Other features include an 8-bladed aperture to make the most of the bokeh created from that fast T/1.5 maximum aperture and a 72mm filter thread.

Pros:

  • Loads of mount options
  • Geared focus ring
  • Dust-proof design

Cons:

  • Manual focus only
  • No optical stabilisation

Sigma 85mm F1.4 DG DN Art

Sigma 85mm F1.4 DG DN Art review image - Michael Topham / AP

The Sigma 85mm F1.4 DG DN Art mid-test by our reviewer. Photo credit: Michael Topham

At a glance:

  • Focal length: 85mm
  • Lens construction: 15 elements in 11 groups
  • Max aperture: f/1.4
  • Minimum aperture: f/16
  • Closest focusing distance: 85cm
  • Price: £999 / $1,199

The exceptional optical performance of Sigma’s Art series has been well known for a while now, but what you may not be aware of is that the Art series shares a lot in common with the construction of Sigma’s Cine lenses, making them perfect for filming video without the additional price-tag.

The 85mm F1.4 DG DN Art gives videographers a lens that can capture tighter scenes and the maximum f/1.4 aperture will create an incredibly shallow depth-of-field that’ll bring a cinematic feel and a higher production value to your movies.

The 85mm f/1.4 Art lens packs in no less than five Special Low Dispersion (SLD) elements to deliver that optical quality but there’s far more to this lens than the glass because the lens also features a de-clicked aperture ring, enabling users to change aperture and balance exposure levels during a live take.

The AF system employs a stepping motor, which is optimised for both phase and contrast detection. Despite these pro features, the 85mm isn’t a lump and weighs in at 630g while offering a familiar filter thread of 77mm, which allows users to add ND filters to further control exposure levels.

Boasting dust and splash resistance, the 85mm f/1.4 Art also features an oil-repellent coating and the build features a mix of aluminium and TSC (Thermally Stable Composite) to keep the construction strong, yet light.

Pros:

  • Sophisticated optical path
  • De-clicked aperture ring
  • Bright maximum aperture

Cons:

  • Fixed focal length will limit real-world video use
  • No focus distance marks on barrel

Read our Sigma 85mm F1.4 DG DN Art Review


Text by Matty Graham, with contributions from Jon Stapley.


Further reading

Eight best filmmaking apps for your smartphone

How shutter speeds work when shooting video

Our best tips for filming food

New Series: the inside guide to shooting video

How-to guide to shooting video Pt.2: essential gear guide

9 Common Video Problems and How to Fix Them

How to get outstanding audio in your videos

Find the best cameras for video, vlogging and YouTube


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