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Selecting a lens

From: Effective Site Surveys for Video and Photo Projects

Video: Selecting a lens

Where you put the camera and the type of camera body you use is only one choice that has to be made. These days, choosing the right lens is a critical decision. Now some camera bodies have fixed lenses, meaning that you could only use the lens that came with the camera itself. However, these types of cameras are falling out of favor, and more and more, we're seeing cameras that allow you to easily swap lenses for different situations. You might go with the zoom lens for easy flexibility when shooting. The benefit of a zoom lens is it makes it easier to get different shots from the same camera position.

Selecting a lens

Where you put the camera and the type of camera body you use is only one choice that has to be made. These days, choosing the right lens is a critical decision. Now some camera bodies have fixed lenses, meaning that you could only use the lens that came with the camera itself. However, these types of cameras are falling out of favor, and more and more, we're seeing cameras that allow you to easily swap lenses for different situations. You might go with the zoom lens for easy flexibility when shooting. The benefit of a zoom lens is it makes it easier to get different shots from the same camera position.

So if you need to tighten up to remove a distracting object or quickly switch from the wide shot to the tight shot, the zoom lens is going to give you maximum flexibility. However, zoom lenses typically don't allow for things like shallow depth of field, so if you're trying to go for a more modern look, people tend to favor working with prime lenses. Prime lenses have risen in popularity, due to cameras like the RED and the Alexa, as well as on the lower end, DSLRs. We're seeing a resurgence here in cinema-style shooting, using prime lenses for shallow depth of field and great low-light performance.

Now, you can these prime lenses and often even rent them in kits, so you have a full range of coverage. The important thing to realize here is that you get the right lens for the right shot, and if you put a wide-angle lens on or you're shooting a 28 mm., that shooting is going to be very different than if you were to swap it out for 70 or a 200. Speaking of wide angle, you're going to want to consider how you're going to see the scene. When shooting with a wide-angle lens, you might introduce additional distortion. You also may pick up things you weren't planning on.

So, when you're planning that shot, make sure you look through the wide-angle lens and decide, is the lighting rigging showing up? Is there a C stand in the shot? Are there parts of the scene that aren't desirable? A wide-angle lens can actually see more than your normal eyes, and you're going to want to actually test that shot in advance. I get very nervous when using wide-angle shots. Not that I don't like them, but they tend to introduce distortion and things at the edges you probably didn't plan on seeing. For example, when using wide-angle shots in some of those disposable cameras, you'll often pick up the rigging, seeing the suction cup mount that you used to attach the camera to the side of the vehicle.

You're going to want to make sure you plan and when choosing wide-angle shots how behind the scenes are you going to get. A lot of times you'll see things you didn't count on in the shot itself, like crew or rigging equipment. Lastly, you're going to want to consider if there's a need for any special housings. Are you shooting underwater? Do you need to protect the camera from rain? These housings can be for weather or for the elements, and you're going to need to make sure that the housing can accommodate both the camera and the lens choice.

One way around this sometimes is to overshoot the resolution of the camera. For example, if I need to put a camera in a housing, I might not have as much flexibility on the lens that I attach. But some of these disposable or low- cost cameras are actually introducing larger frame sizes. We're seeing resolutions of 2K and even 4K on cameras like those from GoPro. You could shoot at a larger frame size and then in postproduction, punch in on the shot. The same holds true in other situations. Can you shoot at a larger frame size than your delivery format to give you some flexibility? All right, when it comes to lens selection, there are a lot of things to consider, and I also highly recommend that you take a look at an electronic viewfinder app, such as the one from Artemis.

We'll explore that a little bit later, but as you grow in comfort here, you're going to want to make sure that you match the lens to the situation, and that may take a little bit of actual using the lens, or its electronic equivalent, to help you feel more confident in your decisions.

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