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Canon Lenses Create Beautiful Skin Tones

When choosing a lens for the Canon 5D Mark II camera you have to consider the look and feel that you are trying to create for the final visual product. My team and I have tested and played with these lenses quite a bit and here is what we have learned.

Canon Lens

Canon Lens

Canon lenses produce wonderful skin tones, have medium contrast and give you a wonderful gradation into the blacks. They are not stark and feel soft in comparison to Nikon or Zeiss. Canon lenses seem more colorful than all the other lenses available in the SLR format.

The  focus pullers on your crew need to be aware of managing focus with this lens system due to the endless focus ring. That said, the image stabilization function on the 300mm, 600mm, 70-200mm zoom and the 100-400mm zoom is awesome. I have handheld 300mm shots with the image stabilizer beautifully. Do not use IS II because it moves the image in a way that does not feel organic and softens the image.

What is your experience with the Canon lenses? I would love to hear your comments and feedback from your shoot.

Author: Shane

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37 Comments

  1. I also own the 100-400mmL. I’ve found that IS mode 2 is best for situations when you are moving in relation to the subject. For instance, if you’re shooting pictures of people as you’re driving by in a car at 35 mph. IS mode 1 is more of a standard “stabilizing” mode for situations in which the camera is stationary in relation to the subject, like taking pictures of wildlife handheld from the same position.

    That’s my 2 cents!

    -James

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  2. James, I love that lens, I used that on the Aircraft carrier, while the Harrier Jets were landing, I needed to be back away form them so that the jet wash didn’t blast the hell out of me.

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  3. hi shane,

    i want to thank you for taking the time to put this blog up. i especially appreciate the invitation to dialogue that you end each post with. you seal film is fantastic. i had the opportunity to see it on a 60 ft screen and hear you speak about it in LA a couple of months back, which i guess disqualifies me from the contest. it was once said that the most important element that a photographer can bring to a shoot is energy, and in that presentation you were electric. great job.

    i am very new to the motion world, and i actually did not own FC until the day after you spoke. i do have about 25 years of stills experience, and know a thing or two about lenses. i agree with you on the EOS glass, it is softer, but it may be by design. in modern photography we work with raw files, processed out to TIFFs, then worked in Photoshop. the best file is the one with the most detail and information, thus lower contrast is desirable. at my studio, as a matter of course, we almost always drag the black point over on the RGB curves to pump the blacks before we send the image out. in the old days, back when it was transparency film and people actually used light meters, the zap in a lens was really noticed. in fact, i would never buy a lens then without taking 3 of the same model home with me to test the sharpness and contrast. it is assumed that the glass is all the same, but it is not. but since i have been using digital cameras, i have just been buying the lenses off the shelf. that may change.

    to me the huge problem with the EOS glass is the super short focus throw. this is one of those things that is great for auto-focus, but is a nightmare for follow focus. one of your crew was good enough to show me a PV lens rig, with the radio focus puller setup, wonderful! i am wondering how your guys handle working with that sort of set up on an EOS or a NIkon lens. it must be very different for them that working with the PV lenses.

    thanks again for all the give back you are doing.

    best wishes,

    david

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  4. David, thank you so much for all the kind words. I feel like I am on to something here and I want to throw gasoline on the fire. I love the L series glass for my stills also, I see exactly what you are talking about. When it comes to the small still lenses it is very difficult for the focus puller, because the throw is nothing that they have ever experienced before. I was taking these little lenses and shoving them into SEALS faces and then flying around, and not much was in focus. So we had to backward engineer this. What are the focus pullers out there comfortable with, they know and have experience on cinema throw lenses, lenses that are not like a still lens. So when I came across the Zeiss still lenses, they have more of a cine throw and the focus pullers were able to make them work. I had to send the lenses to Panavision and have them p-touched and remarked to the side of the lens so that the focus puller could see what he was doing. So I went back to something that my Elite team focus pullers were comfortable with, something that they had been doing for years. All of a sudden the Zen focus that I had loved on all my movies that I had shot came back, they were not using there tape measures they were just going with their eye and their gut, which is experience.

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  5. Hi Shane,
    If you get a chance, I would love to see a photo of how you marked the lenses. FYI, I had a meeting with a major magazine today in NYC, and basically what they are about to do, is to scrap their web site and go a entirely new form of media for their content, which will include lots of motion. I can’t really go into it anymore than that on this blog, but for a media group of this size to do something like this is really earth shattering. It is going to mean that all content for them, and they are huge, is going to have to be motion content. Wow.

    You rock,

    David

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  6. David I will get you a picture a them soon. That sounds very exciting. We are in very trail blazing times. I love it!!!

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  7. THANK YOU for explaining the difference I’ve always noticed between a photo shot with a Canon vs a Nikon lens

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  8. Mary, you are welcome. Thanks for coming to the site.

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  9. Hi Shane,

    Thanks a lot for sharing inside knowledge on this blog, it’s really interesting to read.
    I do have a question and I hope you might have some time to answer it. I’m a complete film amateur, though I do have some experience as an amateur photographer for a few years. I am currently thinking about upgrading my Pentax K10D with 18-200mm Sigma lens to a new Canon (probably 7D) camera and start experimenting with film. I am not sure what to do with lenses though, and I was hoping you might give me some advice. I’ve been using a single 18-200mm lens with my current camera, which is great for versatility, the only problem being the max f/3.5-6.3 aperture in low-light situations.
    Unfortunately, I only have a couple of hundred euro to spend on new lenses, so I will have to make some choices here. What would you recommend? Should I go with a similar lens for the Canon, would that be enough, or would you recommend other (longer?) lenses? Is a f/3.5-5.6 apperture enough to recreate the “cinematic” DoF effect, or would I need a faster lens? I’d love to hear some advice from an expert like yourself!

    Regards,
    Mart

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    • Mart, one thing that I would advise is trying to put together a series of primes for your work. I recently went on ebay and within a couple days had landed a beautiful set of AI old Nikon glass. Then you get a Foto Diox Nikon to Canon adapter and you are off and running. I got a 24,28,35,50,85,105,180,200mm for 450.00 US. Happy shopping. These lenses will give you more bang for your buck and deliver incredible images that you would not get from your current zoom or anything that Canon has to offer.

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  10. Im searching for sites related to this. Glad I found you. Thanks

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    • flashrash, I am glad you found us also. You are welcome

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  11. Hi Shane,
    Really love how you embrace these amazing little toys!
    Shot several no budget projects so far, mostly with 7D, and with proper framing, exposure and lighting incorporating with camera moves, even some union DITs thought that I shot the footage on RED…! Once I tell them that stuff were shot on DSLR, they ranted all the technical limitation(H.264, rolling shutter, etc, to me for what they are worth pretty much negligible), but admitted latitude is definitely there.
    Having a focus puller as a day jobs, and yet shooting always wide open, I find focus to be worse than RED, particularly Canon for all the reasons mentioned here. So far only used zooms (16-35, 17-55, 7-200) and some primes (85/1.8, 100/2) mostly due to the rental availabilities. No LCD, no follow focus…! Need a monitor, even off HDMI. As you know Marshall and Ikan make affordable ones for $700-1,600, which can also be used for non-DSLR shoots at least as a back up monitor or as a director’s hand held monitor(like Clint Eastwood enjoying carrying on his shoots). I noticed you use Transvideo Rainbow or even Varizoom- off RCA/composite- SD with an BNC barrel connector- smart since you can output off SD out, to the video village, etc, but then your image is down-converted to SD. Too much to ask to cameras priced this low so maybe some geniuses come out with HDMI-mini to HD-SDI female adapter that requires no power supply then we can finally use it like a “production” gadget!
    Back to Canon lenses- yes nice on skin tone but still noticed it’s okay to use some light diffusion filters(1/8, 1/4 and maybe 1/2) like Classic Soft, Gold FX, White PM, etc, to take some edge off actors face.
    Never used on the shoot but tried buddies ZF and Leicas on. Really nice. Actually could tell the differences even off LCD. Besides focus throw, Leica in particular have little more weight and felt like a compact “Primos”(felt heavier than Pana LWZ…!).
    Beauty and exciting part of these little cameras, besides the price, ease of use and fast and economical workflow are the possibility of ninja operation(“stealing” shots when you just can’t get permits), fit in small spaces you wouldn’t be able to oterwise, and of course, near infinite amount of lens choices based on each person’s taste and financial strength(i.e. buying a set of primes for a daily rental of a Master Prime). Nikons, if okay with reverse focus barrels, are great lenses and are dirt cheap, or even cheaper alternatives are outthere for those who without few hundred bucks.
    Question- have you tried medium format lenses with adapters on your 5D MkII or 7D yet? Sure Hasselblad lenses are Zeiss but lenses are bigger and more optics put on, and focus throw is even nicer on those(only thing is that focal length and aperture- shortest maybe 45mm and widest stop would be 2 or 2.8, mostly 3.5 or 4). How about Mamiya?

    Best,

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    • Sho1, Knowing what I know now I would try my hardest to not to shoot with the 5D under a 4.0-5.6 split. The sensor is the size of vista-vision. Focus is impossible at a 2.0 or a 1.4. A 5.6 on a 5D is equivalent to a 1.4 on a 35mm film camera, not many movies are shot at a 1.4. The focus puller does not have a chance in he*#. Then if you start shooting some action or move the camera around, say handheld, you will not have a prayer. That is why the 1D mark IV is so appealing to me. You can operate at around a 2.8 – 4.0 split and have anamorphic depth of field as well as a clean ISO up to 6400. Three times less light than a 5D. Less lights, less crew, less power, less diesel fuel, less everything. You go green and you are financially responsible. Now we are talking.

      No I have not tried any medium format lenses. That is a great idea. I will try this in a slew of tests that I am doing in January.

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  12. Dear Shane,
    Thank you for the feedback!
    Though I am aware that we have to think outside the box when shooting on DSLR, I still tend to treat it like film and almost never go above 400 or 500 ISO even at night(lenses at 2 at night, of course… on 7D anyhow). Yes we burned some lights but not so much. If you go 1600 ISO or, 6400 ISO(I guess to get 4 or 5.6 so things can be in focus finally on 5D Mk II, which I always shot only during the day), how do latitude and noise level starting to change? I never even dare going that kind of ISO before as such high ISO basically beats human eyes(which I always believed as the most flexibly sensitive lenses assuming those with healthy vision).
    Also, will the footage from extreme high ISO still cut near seamlessly(with or without some adjustment in post) with something shot at ISO 100 at f4? Maybe I’m still thinking too much like film(like cutting stuff shot on 07 with 19, and some 01, etc…).
    Love that these cameras, unlike other digital alternatives, have more options than those ENG-based alternatives(estimated 320 ISO with gain to adjust just a bit… such a video concept). Even RED or D21, though they have variable ISO options, are advised to be shot at ISO set at 200 or 320. More lights, more crew, more fuels, more waste… ah.

    Thanks again!

    Sho1

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    • Sho1, I was scared in the beginning to go above 500 ISO, but 500 ISO is noiser than 1600 ISO. Have you registered on my website? I have a break down of the native ISO’s on the Canon 5D,7D,1D on a back newsletter. Register and I will send you all the back newsletters. They have some insider trading info. You have to give this sensor light, the less light than your 8 BIT compressed color goes to 6 then to 4 then to 2. On Terminator: Salvation the webisodes the camera had just come out and I really did not know what the he&* I was doing. I put the cameras sensor in a color space that might have been 4 bit color because of me not supplying enough light to the sensor. It is better to feed it a little too much and also get you to a stop around a 5.6 so something will be in focus than to shoot the camera wide open at a 2.0 and stay at 500 ISO.
      The noise is not bad at all at 1600 ISO, it will blow your mind on how clean it is. Don’t worry about the cutting factor with different degrees of noise. You might be thinking too much, It works very well. I shot a whole movie with this baby and we have been all over the map with ISO’s.

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  13. I did register when I first found about this website… looking forward to seeing some newsletter. Happy New Year!

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    • SHo1, I sent them and they are on the way. Happy NEW YEAR to you too!!!

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  14. Hi Shane,
    Great website and beautiful cinematography – thanks for sharing your experiences!! I am shooting a short in a few weeks and want to use PL lens – for their look and also to give the focus puller an chance of keeping it in focus!! Are you renting out your equipment yet? Do you know where I can get an adaptor and which lens will work without removing (or damaging) the mirror? We have a Red “Decaprio match” type shot and as the Red M-X isn’t out yet I think the 5D will do a great job – but the scene will also require decent focus pulling.
    thanks,
    Nigel

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    • Nigel Ellis, My equipment will be ready to rent at the end of February. PL mount lenses do not work on your 5D unless you rip it apart. I have only been using Panavision Primos and Zeiss ZE lenses. I think your best bet is the Zeiss ZE. They talk with the camera and they have a little better cinema throw to them. They do breathe though. You put some zip gears on those babies and they will perform very well. I would suggest wireless follow focus and lighting the scene to at least a 5.6 to give you focus puller a chance.

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  15. Your blog is awesome! I found it on Yahoo searching for tweaker for my Canon 500d and couldn’t resist reading it. You have some good tips here. Thanks for posting!

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    • Hong Sikarskie, Thank you so much, I am glad you are enjoying it. Make sure you sign up for the newsletter.

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  16. Hey Shane, I just recently got on some shoots with the 5DMKII and 7D and finally got myself to purchase the 5DMKII. Im catching up on all the forums and stumbled onto your blog via your article in American Cinematographer about the 5DMKII. Both fantastic stuff mate!

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    • Chia-Yu Chen, thank you for your kind words. Glad to have you.

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  17. Hi Shane
    I’m at the point where I want to get away from my Canon L series glass to primes and was wondering if you managed to test any 645 MF lenses in January like you’d hoped, especially the Mamiya Sekors which I’m familiar with from way back?

    By the way, love what your doing with the medium, I’ve been in broadcast TV for 30 years trying to find way to get that film feel and look. The arrival of the 5DMKII has gotten me excited about the biz again.

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    • Norbert von der Heidt, No I did not get a chance to test those lenses. You are so welcome and I thank you for your kind words. Things are a changing and it is so inspiring.

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  18. i own several Canon L Lenses and they have the best quality. even better than Nikon.:.,

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    • Skye Hussain, I have fallen in love with the 35,50,85,100mm macro.

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  19. Sorry for my English.
    I have some experience with the lenses.
    The Canon 14 / 35 / 85 / 135 but are not perfectly crisp skin tone move.
    Suitable for photography of human body. These glass are sharp / Cooke but due to great colorist. They give a warm climate USA)
    Zeiss ZF is sharp, but the cold takes scale well but shadows to haunt / disturbing.
    I am an amateur for their own needs testing of glass / canonie is not the most interesting / can anyone recommend another company with similar characteristics

    thanks
    Do not get it to him / the glass

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    • Pawel, In the hands of an experienced cinematographer the Canon lenses come to life. I am not doing a lot of color correcting. “The Last 3 Minutes” had minimal color correction, almost straight out of the camera. Try some Leica glass, R series. You are welcome.

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  20. Hi Shane. I love your blog. Even though I check other 5D type blogs for the latest news, I really appreciate your very professional approach which gives more confidence than… any others so far really. I’m going through your whole blog… catching up. I also saw in the conversation that you have sent the old newsletter to someone here. I have register too for them too. Is there a way for me to get all these old newsletter too? Thanks!

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    • Noah Nuer, Thank you so much for your kind words and support. Yes, just click on the archive section and you can get all the back newsletters. Now we have not put out one since July, so there is a big gap. I have been slammed with work and also trying to see my family. Bare with us and new one will be out shortly.

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  21. Hi so I’m buying my first DSLR the Canon 60D. Im buying the body only before I choose a lens because I want to find a lens appropriate for filming. I know that I’ll be getting a 50mm lens, but I also need to find a lens good for filming but without a fixed focal length. What are some recommended lens’?

    Thanks

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    • Hi Brian, I love the 24-70mm Canon L series zoom, the Leica 21-35 zoom, Leica 80-200 Zoom, Canon 70-200 IS USM II. These are all great zoom lenses.

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  22. Hi Shane,
    New to DSLR the last two months and appreciate yours and all info that is so readily available to assist. I’ m still in that mode where it feels like I’m trying to drink from a firehose! Do you have an opinion or experience with older screw mount Leica lenses, and the Zeiss Contax lenses? I’m finding more bargains available with these as opposed to the Zeiss ZE and ZF or the Leica R. Thanks for your time.

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    • Michael, I would try the Nikon AI and AIS, these are very affordable and excellent with fotodiox mounts. They will get you on your way.

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