Cinema Lenses Vs Photo Lenses: What’s The Difference?

By Kevin Graham

Photo Lenses

Most filmmakers, especially those who use DSLRs, are familiar with photo lenses. Also called “still lenses”, these are standard-issue with most mirrorless cameras, and can even be used on some cinema cameras with certain mounts and adapters.

They’re designed for still photography, but are commonly used in the video world.

Photo lenses are relatively cheap, lightweight, and durable. They’re also non-parfocal, meaning that when you zoom in or out, your focus point will move. Photo lenses also generally have automatic settings that can integrate with your camera, such as iris control and autofocus.

You can buy 3rd party focus teeth to add to a photo lens if you want to use it with a follow focus.

photo lens

Cinema Lenses

Cinema lenses, on the other hand, are designed specifically for filmmaking. They’re heavier and are generally much more expensive. They also usually have built-in focus teeth that can lock into a follow focus on your camera rig.

Typically, you’ll want to make sure that you have rails and a lens support when using cinema lenses, as their weight can damage the camera’s sensor over time if left unsupported.

Cinema lenses are parfocal, so they can keep focus while zooming. And while their settings are all manual, they have much smoother and more precise focus and iris controls. Cine lenses are also generally much sharper at low F stops than their photo counterparts, which can make for a more cinematic look and feel.

Both types of lenses are commonly used in video production, with photo lenses being the cheaper and more versatile alternative to the heavier and more precise cinema lenses.

So which lens you choose will always depend on your project, budget, and which camera you’re using.

Kevin is the Music Director and Lead Composer at Filmpac.

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