Part of being a cinematography intern is not only knowing all the gear but how it can be used to enhance your visual storytelling. The characteristics of a lens can infuse a mood, a style, etc. Being obsessed with subtleties is key.
Shane encourages us to use all our tools and test them in the line of fire. We have been using Canon, Leica, and Zeiss lenses but haven’t had the chance to compare them all side by side. Shane saw this as a good learning exercise and asked us to put together a lens test.
We used 18 lenses, lit the scenes with our Home Depot lighting kit, and spent a day shooting four scenarios to compare the aesthetics between the lenses for video. We kept our settings consistent between the lenses and here are our results. Take them with a grain of salt as it’s not a definitive test but more of a practical observation.
Watch the Lens Comparison Test
This was all shot on the Canon 5D Mark II with the Neutral picture style, and all of the footage is raw with no color correction.
Interior with a mix of Tungsten and Daylight
4200K White Balance
3200K White Balance
4200 K White Balance
Overall the Canon glass produced great skin tones and colors. The reds seemed to be slightly more saturated than the other lenses with a slight bleed between red and magenta on our color charts. Very sharp images as well from the primes and the zooms were a bit softer.
The images were almost too sharp in some cases which caused small amounts of moire in hair especially. Also, the Canon lenses tended to breathe more than the others.
Micro Moire in her hair
Slightly softer image from the zoom
The Leica glass produced creamy-looking images with wonderful contrast and colors. Though the lenses were contrasty we found that they had a great fall-off and gradation between colors and luminance which held detail very well. Overall they were slightly warmer in color temperature and very prone to flaring.
We did not use a Matte box for this test, which would have cut out a lot of the flaring. Also, out-of-focus highlights have more of an octagon shape due to the lenses having fewer iris blades.
Octagon shaped highlights
The Zeiss glass produced Sharp, snappy, and contrasty images. Slightly cooler in color temperature as well. The contrast was problematic with shots with strong highlights as it seemed to lose some detail in the highlights.
The ZE 35mm F/2 produced a strange halo blooming type flare which could be problematic depending on your shooting situation, personally, I liked the aesthetic. The CP2s were less prone to flaring due to their build and had very smooth out-of-focus highlights and bokeh.
Flaring of the Zeiss ZE 35mm F/2
Smooth out-of-focus hightlights on Zeiss CP2 35 T/2.1
Lenses are another tool at your disposal to shape your visual storytelling. These are a few of our findings and should provide a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. What are some of your experiences and preferences with lenses?
Looking for mentorship in the film industry? Schedule a 1-on-1 meeting with Shane Hurlbut, ASC today! This is where you can get expert advice from an industry professional on your career or a particular project.
About Filmmakers Academy Cinematographer Mentor Shane Hurlbut, ASC
Director of photography Shane Hurlbut, ASC works at the forefront of cinema. He’s a storyteller, innovator, and discerning collaborator, who brings more than three decades of experience to his art. He is a member of the American Society of Cinematographers, the International Cinematographers Guild/Local 600, and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Hurlbut frequently joins forces with great directors: McG’s Netflix Rim of the World and The Babysitter, plus Warner Bros. We Are Marshall and Terminator: Salvation; Scott Waugh’s Need for Speed and Act of Valor; and Gabriele Muccino’s There Is No Place Like Home and Fathers and Daughters. His additional film credits include Semi-Pro; The Greatest Game Ever Played; Into the Blue; Mr 3000; Drumline; 11:14, which earned Hurlbut a DVDX nomination; and The Skulls. Notably, his television credits include the first season of AMC’s Into the Badlands.