When you’re deciding between shooting with a cinema or a photography lens, it is always best to understand the key differences to make the correct choice for your project. If you’re an aspiring filmmaker or dabbling in the craft for fun, you may want to consider working with either of these lenses. In this guide, we go over the qualities of these lenses so you can get a clearer picture of how you can utilize them in your work.
What Is a Photography Lens?
A photography lens is exactly what it says—you use it to shoot still photos of landscapes, people, architecture, and more. You can also use these lenses to also shoot videography. Typically, one person uses the camera in photography, and these lens components work better when only one person is handling the controls.
What Is a Cinema Lens?
On the other hand, cinema lenses are explicitly designed for filmmaking. These components come with a lot of working parts that may require two or three people operating the camera at one time to get a clear shot for the film. While you can exchange a cinema lens with a photography lens for shooting motion pictures, it wouldn’t make sense to use a cine lens if you’re shooting still photography.
What Are the Major Differences?
In terms of picture quality, there really is no optical difference between a high-quality cinema lens and a high-quality photo lens. So, if there is no difference in image quality, why would you use one lens over the other? How you operate these lenses is what makes them different. We’ll take an in-depth look below.
Overall Build Quality
When we look at the build of each type of lens, cinema lenses are incredibly sturdy and built for heavy use to last decades. The durable body of the cine lens works well in harsh weather conditions so that the videographer can work through many different scenarios and situations. These components will have a standard or fixed diameter, meaning they can work with a wide range of accessories or cameras.
Photography lenses are only built to last a few years and are not as sturdy as their counterparts. They may be more sensitive to outside factors, which, over time, could cause the photographer problems. This lens will not have a specific diameter. Instead, you will need to change the lens on the camera when you need a different distance from your subject.
Focus settings are significantly important to filmmaking and telling a story because it helps guide the viewer through the scene. We mentioned before that you could exchange a cinema lens for a photography lens, but in some scenarios, this might not be feasible. A photography lens may have auto focus, but using it can be tricky in videography because the device may focus on the wrong subject. So, photo lenses are only best when the actor is not moving a lot and is the sole subject of the shot.
Cinema lenses have a manual pull focus ability that allows for smoother shots. We often pull focus in TV shows and movies to reveal information from the foreground to the background or to follow someone as they walk through the frame. In cases where you need a cinema lens for a pull focus shot, you might as well use that device for the entire day rather than lugging around multiple sets of differing lenses.
Another important setting in filmmaking that requires manual control to shoot the right scene is the aperture. This is what allows for more light to flood into your lens. For the still lenses, you need to stop between each shot to change the aperture on the camera, while a cine lens can seamlessly switch the aperture during the middle of a shoot.
This is often used in cinematography when the subject is moving from the outside to the inside of a building—because the lighting is changing, manually flipping the aperture will allow for continuous lighting that matches in intensity. For example, on a bright, sunny day, you might increase the aperture so no excess light floods your lens and ruins your shot. You may decrease the aperture when the subject moves inside to a warmer or dull light to help balance the exposure of the two scenes.
Cost & Affordability
You might notice a major price difference if you browse photography and cinema lenses on a manufacturer’s website. The reason filmmaking lenses are less affordable is that they are engineered to a much higher degree. When you’re shooting a motion picture, the need for precision is much greater. A photo lens would not be up to par with your needs.
The need for a cinema lens might hinder a videographer’s ability when they cannot afford this specific type of lens. When this is the case, you should consider purchasing from a third-party manufacturer. A Samyang cine lens holds the same premium quality as first-party lenses without sacrificing the device’s price.
Another big difference between cinema and photography lenses is the output quality. A photo lens might be jumpier and less smooth with its zoom rings, which could ruin the quality of an image or video. Consistency is vital when you’re shooting for a film, and a cinema lens can perform at a more consistent rate because of its performance in lighting and exposure. When quality is at stake for filmmaking, it is always best to use a cinema lens to ensure the shot turns out correctly.
To conclude, the difference isn’t in optical quality; it is in the mechanics of how and what you plan on using each individual lens for. You can use the still lens when the aperture and pull focus are not a component needed for the shots that particular day, but overall, the quality, precision, and consistency make cine lenses much better for filmmaking because they allow camera operators more control over the shot.
Take into account the type of filmmaking you plan on doing. Will you be adjusting the focus and aperture a lot? Or are you shooting more stagnant subjects? You could start with a photo lens, but eventually, you may want a cine lens to help you achieve a better storytelling element to your cinematography. If you’re in the market for a cinema lens, check out our selections at Samyang for premium camera components at a much more affordable price.