Collection of Lenses with backlighting

Clearly, a lens is one of the most vital elements in crafting your visual story. High-end cinema lenses can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Luckily, you don't need that kind of bankroll to create great video. This buyer’s guide will go over some of the lenses that offer the best value available across a range of popular camera mount systems.

Sensor Size

One major thing to consider with lenses isn’t just the mount system, but also the size of your camera’s imaging sensor. Some mounts, like the Samsung NX, are only used for one size sensor. However others, like the Canon EF-Mount have lenses that are built for both full-frame and APS-C or “crop” sensors. The Micro Four-Thirds (MFT) mount is made for Four-Thirds sensors, which are even smaller than APS-C.

The bottom line is that it’s OK to use a lens that’s too big for your sensor — i.e., projects a larger than necessary image — but not one that’s too small.

APS-C lenses do not project an image onto the entire full frame sensor area and thus produce severe vignetting or circular images when used with full frame cameras. On the other hand, full-frame lenses change effective focal length by a multiple of about 1.6 when used on an APS-C sensor, which can affect getting the shots you envision. Be aware of your sensor size and the lenses that will work with it. The bottom line is that it’s OK to use a lens that’s too big for your sensor — i.e., projects a larger than necessary image — but not one that’s too small.

Canon EF-Mount

EF Mount has been Canon’s standard mount system since 1987, with over 100 million EF lenses produced in this time. The EF system is available for full frame and APS-C sensors, making it important to know that the lens you choose is right for your camera.

Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM and Canon 24-70mm f/4 L IS Macro
Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM and Canon 24-70mm f/4 L IS Macro

Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM, $125

Known as the nifty fifty, the Canon 50mm f/1.8 is one of the best valued lenses on the market. Every Canon shooter should pick one up early in their career. This lens boasts great image quality and the f/1.8 maximum aperture is a big benefit in low-light situations. With a minimum focal distance of 14 inches, you can get in close to your subject, giving this lens quite a bit of flexibility in how it’s used.

Canon 24-70mm f/4 L IS Macro, $800

The Canon 24-70 f/4 is one of the more expensive lenses on this list, but it’s a powerhouse, and worth every penny. Among Canon shooters, this little treasure is often overlooked for the faster 24-70mm f/2.8L II.

It’s not as fast as its f/2.8 big brother, but in trade for that single stop of exposure, you get image stabilization and macro capabilities — and you’re paying half the price. The f/4 has fantastic image quality and, with a price tag of $800, offers outstanding bang for your buck. 

Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC Lens for Canon EF and Sigma 30mm f/2.8 DN

Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC Lens for Canon EF, $250

Tamron’s APS-C-only zoom lens offers tremendous reach and image stabilization. If you’re a Canon shooter with a crop sensor, this could easily be your all-in-one lens for many shooting situations.

SONY E-Mount

Sony E mount system is relatively new. The E mount was originally for APS-C cameras, but they have since begun using an E mount, Full Frame Format designation, which is denoted as FE.

Sigma 30mm f/2.8 DN, $170

Sigma’s 30mm f/2.8 is a solid prime lens. On the E-mount, this is an APS-C lens, giving a focal length equivalent to 45mm on a full-frame. At f/2.8, it lets in a  good amount of light and allows a decently shallow depth of field. Wrap this up under $175, and you’re looking at a great value.

Hasselblad LF 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS and Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f/1.6

Hasselblad LF 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Lens, $150

Hasselblad is known for their medium format cameras, but don’t let that turn you away from this E-Mount, APS-C lens. With a great range and the ability to stop down to f/32, they’ve made a good all around lens. Then throw in Optical Steady Shot for image stabilization and Hasselblad has packed a ton of value in for the price.

Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f/1.6, $500

Lensbaby is known for their specialty, selective-focus lenses, most popular for still photography, but shooters shouldn’t overlook the Velvet 56mm as a solid prime lens capable of sharp and crisp or soft, dreamy video. Macro focusing and magnification open up the creative possibilities. It’s completely manual and it’s not going to be for every project, but the Lensbaby Velvet 56mm offers good value amongst full-frame E-Mount lenses and can truly make your video stand out.

Micro Four Thirds

The Micro Four Thirds (MFT) system has been around fewer than 10 years, and has quickly gained momentum. These lenses are typically smaller, lighter and less expensive than their counterparts amongst other systems. MFT sensors are half the sensor size of 35mm full frame sensors, so the equivalent focal lengths of these lenses can easily be found by multiplying by the stated focal length by 2.

Panasonic Lumix G Vario 14-42MM f/3.5-5.6 II ASPH MEGA OIS and Sigma 30mm f/2.8 DN

Panasonic Lumix G Vario 14-42MM f/3.5-5.6 II ASPH MEGA OIS, $250

Coming in just under $250, the Lumix G Vario 14-42MM f/3.5-5.6 II lens covers a lot of ground for MFT shooters. With an range of 14-42mm, this lens screams versatility. MEGA O.I.S. (optical image stabilization) compensates for shake, and if you’re using a Lumix camera, a secondary DUAL I.S. feature adds even more stabilization. Plus, you can get in close to the action with a minimum focus distance of less than 8 inches.

Sigma’s 30mm is back on the list, this time for the MFT systems. A good length, a good speed, nice image quality and a good price. That’s solid value; what more could you ask for?

Panasonic Lumix G 14mm f/2.5 ASPH II and Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 XR di-II Macro Lens

Panasonic Lumix G 14mm f/2.5 ASPH II, $270

The Lumix G 14mm f/2.5 ASPH II offers good speed, a nice shallow depth of field and a fairly wide field of view. Added value is found in it’s small size. At just .8 inches thick, this pancake lens will give versatility in shooting situations where other systems might not fit. While it can be an ego boost to have fancy looking gear, this innocuous little lens will let you work more discreetly, which can be a benefit in lots of real-world shooting situations.

Nikon

Nikon’s F-Mount debuted in 1959 and has been updated as technology has progressed.  Plenty of third-party manufacturers mean a wide range of options for this system.  These lenses are made for either full frame or APS-C sensors, so make sure you know what you’re shooting with. 

Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 XR di-II Macro Lens, $190

This APS-C-only Tamron zoom lens covers a huge range of focal length, which alone makes it a great value. It can focus as close as 1.5 feet across the every focal length and also has autofocus. You’re not likely to get a more versatile lens with a price tag under $200. 

Nikon AF NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G and Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 XR Di LD Aspherical (IF)

Nikon AF NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G Lens, $196

Nikon’s take on the nifty fifty, this solid, go-to prime has just what you’re looking for in a 50mm. It lets in a lot of light and has a shallow depth of field. This one’s a no brainer; if you shoot Nikon, have one in your bag. 

Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 XR Di LD Aspherical (IF) Autofocus Lens, $500

Tamron’s Full-Frame zoom opens to f/2.8 and closes down all the way to f/32 for your Citizen Kane-inspired deep focus shots. 28-75mm is fantastic range of lengths for most applications — and an option for autofocus never hurt. Coming in just under $500 makes this an attractive value for Nikon shooters.

Samsung NX

The Samsung NX-Mount is designed for APS-C sensors with a 1.54 crop factor. One of the newer lens systems, it has only been around since 2010. 

Samsung 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS Compact Zoom and Samsung 30mm f/2.0 NX Pancake

Samsung 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS Compact Zoom Lens, $190

This zoom lens provides a range is comparable to about a 28-84mm in full frame, right in the sweet spot. With Optical Image Stabilization and autofocus all under $200, you’re looking at a huge value at a small price. 

Samsung 30mm f/2.0 NX Pancake Lens, $200

If you’re looking for a NX-Mount lens that’s good for low light, offers shallow depth of field and won’t break the bank, the 30mm f/2 NX Pancake might be the right choice for you.

Parting Advice

You don't need the most expensive, the best quality or the even the illusive “perfect” lens. What you need is the right lens. This needs to factor in your shots, your camera and as always, your budget. The more features a lens offers, the higher the price will climb. You want your gear to pack a lot of bang for the buck, and these lenses all offer a great value

Sidebar – Adapters

Adapters are the key to using lenses with cameras they weren’t built to go on. With adapters, you can put a Nikon F lens on your Canon EF-Mount body, or you can even use old, vintage glass. Different camera systems are known for how well they can be adapted. Nikon cameras are among the more difficult to adapt for, while mirrorless cameras are relatively easy. However, as useful as they are, adapters aren’t without their drawbacks.

Low-budget adapters are often just mechanical fixtures that allow a physical connection without any electronic communication. This means you often lose autofocus and auto-aperture. For many video applications, we can live without those, but they are nice to have, especially if you plan to shoot still photos as well. Adapters can also lead to vignetting and some loss of light to the sensor. Some adapters can even cause degradation to image quality. 

High-quality adapters are often lauded by their users. Such is the case with the Metabones Speed Booster, a very popular lens adapter for systems including E-Mount and MFT. The Speed Booster has its own internal lens that refocuses light from your adapted lens, delivering a whole extra stop of light onto the sensor. Interestingly, because the internal lens refocuses the light, an APS-C camera mounted with a Speed Booster and full-frame lens effectively loses its crop factor and captures the image as if it would look on a full frame sensor. However, while sensors of various sizes are supported, only full frame lenses work with the Metabones Speed Booster.

Manufacturer Listings

Altura Photo www.alturaphoto.com
Canon www.canon.com
Carl Zeiss www.zeiss.com
Cooke Optics www.cookeoptics.com
FujiFilm www.fujifilm.com
Hasselblad www.hasselblad.com
Kodak www.kodakpixpro.com
Leica Camera www.leica-camera.com
Lensbaby www.lensbaby.com
Nikon www.nikonusa.com
Olympus America www.olympusamerica.com
Panasonic www.shop.panasonic.com
Panavision www.panavision.com
Ricoh Imaging Americas www.us.ricoh-imaging.com
Rodenstock www.rodenstock.com
Rokinon Optics www.rokinon.com
Sakar International/Vivitar www.sakar.com
Samsung Electronics www.samsung.com
Schneider Optics www.schneideroptics.com
Sigma Corporation of America www.sigmaphoto.com
SLR Magic www.slrmagic.co.uk
Sony www.sony.com
Tamron www.tamron-usa.com
Tiffen www.tiffen.com

Erik Fritts is an award winning writer, photographer and filmmaker with a degree in film production from CSU Sacramento. He loves his dogs and does not take most things very seriously. 
 

Erik Fritts
Erik Fritts has worked in media production for CBS, The US Fish and Wildlife Service, Berkshire Hathaway, and more. He holds a BA in Film Production from CSU Sacramento, a grad certificate in Screenwriting from UCLA, and is currently an MFA candidate at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

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