Still Lenses That Can Grace The Big Screen

On the still lens front, you have a variety of options. I am addressing this topic from a 40 foot screen digital projection perspective, not a still photography one.





Zeiss ZE primes rock. Their resolution is spectacular and they are lightweight. Their focus is a little more cinematic than a Canon or a Nikon, so it gives your focus puller a chance.


The lenses do breathe, which means they zoom in or zoom out when you rack focus. This aesthetic bothers some people so you should see if you like it and or can deal with it.




EF 35mm

Canon L Series 35mm

EF 85mm

Canon L Series 85mm

Canon L Series Primes deliver very beautiful, sharp images. They do not resolve as well as the Zeiss primes, so you will lose a little detail and color gradation choices in post. If you are fine with that, then the Canon primes are a great choice. Their zooms are not as sharp as the primes and they don’t hold contrast as well.


Canon L Lenses

Canon L Series Lenses

The Canon EF lenses cannot hold up on the big screen. I used them on the first two shooting days of the Navy SEAL movie, Act of Valor, and they were just plain soft. When I went into color correction, I was not able to have the full range of detail of the 8 BIT compressed color space that I had with the L series or the Nikons. Canon lenses also have one tricky issue: the endless focus wheel. It is amazing for a still photographer but not a trained focus puller. Companies like Zacuto have put lens stops on their zip gears to try and correct the problem but it is still something to contend with.



Nikkor 28mm

Nikon AI Series 28 mm


Nikon AI Series 50 mm

Nikon glass delivers well with the AI series. They were the cream of the crop back in the late 1970s and early 1980s and still are in my book. They deliver images just like the Zeiss in contrast but the glass has a warmer tone. However, their focus range is short like the Canons.




Leica 1:2.8

Leica 35 mm R Series

I tested Leica and found that they delivered beautiful contrast and color throughout.  They felt the closest to the Panavision Primo Primes and had more of a cinema focus throw, even more than the Zeiss ZE primes. These lenses resolve so well on the big screen.




50 mm Hasselblad Medium Format

150 mm Hasselblad Medium Format

Hasselblad medium format lenses were very interesting on the 5D. It had the same contrast and color of the Zeiss ZE Primes. You need to check it out. They have an amazing cinema focus throw, but  breathe like the Zeiss. I like the large focus markings and the weight. They felt really nice on my Red Rock Micro shoulder rig.  As long as you feel comfortable shooting above a 4.0, these lenses are a great choice.


With all of the lens options out there, these are still just tools. The story and the characters are KING! These players all have a back story that never makes it to the screen, but it is the thread, the tapestry that binds the film.  Find that thread, follow it to dream and create your next work of art!!!!

  1. Sage 5 years ago

    Wow, Leica/Ef mount lenses look stellar. I’m going to pick a few up and do some tests, there are many to choose from. Thanks once again for the kick ass advice, Shane!

    • Author
      Shane 5 years ago

      Sage, you are so welcome.

  2. Sage 5 years ago

    Shane, as I continue to research Leica glass it seems there are many to choose from. You listed a handful of specific lenses in your Leica blog post. I’ve found variations which seem to also be compatible according to the list on I’m looking at a 50mm Summicron f/2 and a 90mm Elmarit f/2.8. Any thoughts on these and can you fill me in a bit as to why the ones listed in your blog were chosen?

    Also, what are your thoughts on the Leitax adapters compared to the Fotodiox?

    Again, I cant thank you enough and I truly appreciate it. Its really cool of you to take the time to share your knowledge. Sage

    • Author
      Shane 5 years ago

      Sage, On the blog there are specific links that help me build this exact kit. I pulled form many peoples expertise to find the premiere set. Everyone will have their opinion, but I have these lenses in the field right now and they are blowing me away. So filmic, period. You are very welcome. The Leitax adapters are the bomb, I am changing mine all over as we speak. I will always share, it is the only way I roll.

  3. Joey G 5 years ago

    Mr Hurlburt
    Your work is a true inspiration to me, I cannot thank you enough for this incredible resource.
    I know you must be bored stiff of people asking you which items of kit they should buy but I have been tearing my hair out recently trying to decide whether to go with Zeiss ZE or Canon L primes for my 5D Mark II. I notice you own both. Do you have a preference or does it depend on the project?
    Is it fair to say that Zeiss are better at the wide angles, while the Canons are better for 50mm plus? Obviously it’d be a mistake to mix and match though – ?
    My main concern about the Zeiss is that I keep reading that they are soft wide open – is this true in your opinion? If you were looking to shoot a lot of stuff between f/1.4 and f/2 (I know that would be madness by the way!) would you avoid the Zeiss for fear of mushy images? Are the Canons much better in this regard?
    Finally, does the short rotation of the focus wheel on the Canons make focus an impossibility? I notice Gale Tattersall has commented that he probably wouldn’t use Canon glass again for that very reason.

    • Author
      Shane 5 years ago

      Joey G, Thank you so much for those kind words. I am never bored with your questions and insight. I am pushing everyone to Leica right now. With the new Leitax mount and the quality of the still glass, I feel it is the best in the Still lens department in every way. The Canon’s are great from a 35mm and up and you can shoot them in all f-stops. The Zeiss I feel are a little to sharp and make it look more like video. The Canon short focus throw is very tough. I finally figured out how to use it on “Last 3 Minutes,” but that had taken me 13 months to perfect it. Check out my Leica blog, go on eBay and see what they are going for. You will not be disappointed. These get you as close to the Primo Primes as I have found, and they look so good on these cameras.

  4. Ivar Edding 5 years ago

    Hey Shane!
    Fist of all – a BIG thank you for your post on the Leicas! Great info, and awsome links.
    Just recently got myself a Elmarit 24mm, and I guess I kinda jumped the gun on a Novoflex, seeing that the Leitax seem to be the thing to go for. Also, on my 1.6 crop, the 24mm doesn’t feel wide enough, so I’ll probably buck up for a 19mm soon enough.
    Thanks again Shane, keep rocking!

    • Author
      Shane 5 years ago

      Ivar Edding, you are so welcome and thank you for your continued support. The 19mm rocks. I used that on the Amphibious Assault Destroyer in the middle of the Atlantic as the Osprey’s take off. WOW!! The way it handled the flare and the contrast with the ocean highlight blasting me right down the barrel of the lens.

  5. Ken Goren 5 years ago

    Hey Shane,

    What about Carl Zeiss Jena Lenses?

    All best.

    • Author
      Shane 5 years ago

      Ken Goren, I have looked at those and liked them, especially the flare. Thanks for the input.

  6. JUSTIN 5 years ago

    Hi. I’ve been preparing a short film for last 4 months. It’s a 10pgs of script but I’ve been putting all my efforts into this project. I’ve got a dp who is a colleague from ACCD and we’ve been discussing over the types of lens that we will use with Canon 7D. The choice of lens is really depending on the final goal of the project and I’d like to get some advice from you.

    So the type of project is a narrative short film with $1500 budget and I’m shooting only interior, which is inside an actual trailer home. it’s the preproduction video that I just shot with my 5d using ef lens.

    The goal of the project is to turn it into film festivals. And as you noticed, I have a very small budget.

    So basically I can go with L lens or ZE primes w/ 7D. According to your article and review, it seems like ZE primes are much better than L lens series. I wish I can hear from you soon. I have about 2 weeks left before the shooting. Let me know.

    P.S. Do you have any comparison video?

    • Author
      Shane 5 years ago

      JUSTIN, I would try to get your hands on some Leica R glass. The ZE’s are very sharp and contrasty, I feel the Canon L series would do you well, but it is very difficult to focus those lenses. The endless focus ring is a pain. The Leica’s all around are the best still lens that you can put on that sensor. I ran a Leica blog a little while back that has all the glass that we selected. I have loads of comparison video, but not the time to present it.

  7. Raham 5 years ago

    Hi Shane,

    This is great. I wish I had found this earlier. I’ve been pulling my hair out trying to figure out what lenses to buy so this is greatly appreciated. I looked at the prices of the Leica and they are out of my price range for brand new but am wondering about the used ones. I am also curious to know how do the contax zeiss fit into the picture as they are very cheap.

    Budget being a concern – this is what I am presently looking at:

    (all used) Contax Zeiss Planar T* 1.4 / vs. 85mm vs. Nikon Nikon 85mm F1.8 AIS Lens vs. Leica SUMMICRON-R 90mm f/2
    – Is the image quality of the Leica worth loosing the extra f-stops?

    Nikon 35/1.4 Ai-S
    – the leica and zeiss are presently too far out of my budget

    A new Zeiss ZE 50mm 1.4 vs. used 1970’s Leica 50mm 1.4 vs. used 1980’s Nikon 50mm 1.2.
    – they are all the same price with different variables.

    I know mixing glass probably isn’t the best idea but it is my only option at the moment. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks again for this blog and all the support.


    • Author
      Shane 5 years ago

      Raham, You are very welcome. Buy Leica, the used ones are great make sure they are in mint condition when buying. I go a whole set off of ebay for under 5000.00. So pick the lenses you will need for your productions. I go a whole slew but you will not need that many. They are the cream of the crop, the best of the best.mmRead the Leica blog and that is all the lenses that rock out. I hope this helps.

  8. ETA 5 years ago

    Hi Shane, thanks for the invaluable insight, esp. for a noob like me trying to do things on the strictest of budgets.

    I’ve decided to go Nikon. Beyond structural subtleties, I’m wondering if you have any preference or if there is any noticeable difference between a Nikon AI lens and a Nikon AI-S lens?

    Your thoughts are much appreciatecd

    • Author
      Shane 5 years ago

      ETA, I love both. They are the cream of the crop in the Nikon line. I put my Nikon lens set together with all AI and a couple AI-S. The glass is excellent.

  9. David Berrey 5 years ago

    To start off I would like to say that the old nikon primes are built like tanks, Im using lens that are older then I am that still function like they are new, and creates beautiful images.

    I got into the nikon lens as a work around for the original 5d firmware. I first picked on the 50mm 1.4. I loved it, it was a beautiful lens. After looking at the images that I got with an $70 lens, I rethought where I should invest in equipment. I built up nikon prime set from 8mm to 300mm as well as a 2x extender. With the exception of the 8mm 2.8 which is my dads that he used for shooting the aurora borealis way back in the day, all of the other lens were under $150 and most were under $70. The image quality that you can get with a T2i and 105 2.5 still amazes me.

    When I set up a friend with a three lens nikon kit I have them go for

    24mm 2.8
    50mm 1.4
    105mm 2.5

    Shane, What would you send your friends out the door with??
    Also do you have any experience with the 28mm 3.5? out of all the lens that one has the least depth of field, something that I never though I would be looking for, but its a wrench I use a lot.

    If anyone is interested here is a link to some of the work on done with each of the lenses

    300mm 4.5 on 7d

    50mm 1.4

    105 2.5

    16-35mm 2.8, this is a time lapse taken on the 5d mark II of the Northern Lights in North Pole, Alaska very cool

    Most of the lens work with any nikon to eos adaptor on ebay, some of the wider lens (35mm,28mm,24mm possibly others) need to have a metal flange cut off the back. A few screws, and a file later your good to go.

    • Author
      Shane 5 years ago

      David Berrey, I started the same way before the 5D firmware update, the only way to make the camera manual was to put non-Canon lenses on it. I went to Nikon because I had a slew of the old AI and AI-S’s laying around. They looked incredible and I have embraced them on different projects here and there. Thank you so much for sharing all of this information to our co-collaborators.

  10. shawn 5 years ago

    I was curious as to the Hassy lenes, and how the edge sharpness was and what
    the focal length translates to on a full frame DSLR (5DmrkII in my case).
    I like the idea of the added size and weight. things I don’t want when shootings stills but things
    I do want when shooting vids…. thanks for all your insight.

    • Author
      Shane 5 years ago

      shawn, The Hasselblad lenses were very much like the Zeiss ZE and ZF lenses. They had the same cool tone and contrast. I loved the weight and bigger barrel, but the lenses breathed a lot when racking focus. Some of the lenses felt like they zoomed in 2o millimeters.

  11. shawn 5 years ago

    re: “Some of the lenses felt like they zoomed in 2o millimeters.”
    that is interesting.

    and what about the focal lengths they don’t translate the same from 120mm to 35mm do they?

    thanks again for your insight I am loving your blog.

    • Author
      Shane 5 years ago

      shawn, I am so sorry I cannot remember. That test for the film Medieval was a whirlwind. Let me look at my notes.

  12. shawn 5 years ago

    Great thanks I am curious as to how the focal lengths translate.
    At least roughly.

  13. Marc Van Osdale 4 years ago

    Hey Shane

    I’m a student at Emerson College, I saw you speak on campus in November of ’09, and have been shooting DSLR ever since.

    I shot a film with a 5D and a set of Canon L Series last spring, and I wondered if you would be willing to watch a part of it and let me know what you think.

    Thanks for all of your work.

    Marc Van Osdale

  14. Sergei Franklin 4 years ago

    I posted this about using Nikon lenses with a Red.
    Most of it would apply to using a DSLR as well.

  15. John Novotny 4 years ago

    I have some old Nikon AI’s, I have yet to try them and now I will based on your recommendation.

    Did you check out any of the old Canon FD lenses? Are they worth getting do you think?

    • Author
      Shane 4 years ago

      John Novotny, The Nikon AI’s rock. The old Canon’s require an adapter that has a piece of glass and it softens the hell out of the image.

      • John Novotny 4 years ago

        Glad I haven’t pick any of those up. Along with my Nikon AI’s I hope to pick up a Zeiss ZE 50mm f1.4.

  16. John Novotny 4 years ago

    So basically the Nikon AI’s are the “poor man’s” Zeiss according to your description.

  17. Ivan Lee 4 years ago

    Hi Shane, greetings from Brazil!
    I’d like to ask you something regarding Nikon lenses. You know that Nikon (and Pentax) lenses focuses “to the other side” compared to Zeiss, Canon and Leica… what do you think about mixing those lenses together? as a focus puller, I think that this can be critical when exchanging lenses (ex: from canon to nikon) and making focus changes on the fly.
    tell me what do you think about this…
    thanks a lot Shane!

  18. Federico Schlatter 4 years ago

    Hi Shane
    first of all thanks for sharing: what you’ve done here is definitely of great value and absolutely not usual among colleagues on this side of the ocean… I’m currently preparing for shooting a HD TV movie in Italy, initially meant to be shot with Arri Alexa; than I’ve run into your work and I found it so impressive that I decided to switch to HDSRL (5D MK2 + 1D ).
    Keeping in mind that :
    – the HD TV movie (so no big screen, sorry maybe be OT) will be a Christmas on-the-road comedy…lots of interior though…
    – the look I’m interested in is a creamy but yet shiny golden one with shallow depth of field, something like the one at the beginning of “Last 3 minutes”
    I was wandering which lenses set would be better to choose between Canon, Zeiss CP or Nikon…what is your thought?!

    • Author
      Shane 4 years ago

      Federico Schlatter, First off thank you so much for your kind words and support. I love Italy and I what I would suggest first would be Leica glass, then Canon. If you need the wonderful ability to have focus gears and iris gears then the CP 2’s will be very beneficial for your focus puller, especially if you are going for shallow depth of field.

  19. Isaac 4 years ago

    Hi… I found a Nikkor 24mm f.2 AI-S for a very good price. Do you think it is a good lense for a 5D, 7D or 60D? I heard it can damage the mirror… is that true?

    Thanks for your help

    • Author
      Shane 4 years ago

      Isaac, that is a great lens, as well as the 28mm AI. You might have to shave the element a bit. Not sure Duclos can do that.

  20. Andrew 4 years ago

    Shane, I love you work and your vision , I have lens question for you.I currently shoot on a t3i and I was wondering with the crop sensor which of the lens should I use for shooting action scenes? I also hope to send this film that is pre production to film festivals,so the lens would need to convert to the big screen. Since I shoot on a t3i and not a 5d that should tell you what my budget is like so any lens advice on the cheaper end would be greatly appreciated.Thank you so much.

    • Author
      Shane 4 years ago

      Andrew, Thank you so much for the kind words. I would go with a 24mm Leica, 25mm Zeiss ZE, 24mm Canon L series

      • Andrew 4 years ago

        Thank you so much,I am very impressed not only by your professionalism but how you take the time to answer your followers/fans questions.The knowledge you provide is priceless.

  21. Ethan Adelsman 4 years ago

    Hey Shane,
    Thanks for all you do! I have a question: I was recently shooting with a Pentax K-X (I know, not the greatest camera, but I got a great deal on it and learned a lot from it) and bought a bunch of old Pentax glass. I just bought a Sony Nex 5n, which I am loving, and got a Fotodiox adapter for the Pentax glass. my question is: what do you think of old Pentax lenses? Do they hold up to the Nikon AI lenses?

  22. Daniel W 4 years ago

    Does anyone have a opinion on using Rokkor lenses? I know some of them supposedly share very similar optical formulas with Leica lenses from the same era. Since Minolta and Leica worked together to codevelop certain cameras and lenses. I have a way of mounting the Rokkors onto my T3i with no/slight modifications, or loss of infinity focus. No use of a glass adapter either. I have a modified Rokkor MC 58mm 1.4 that I shoot with regularly and prefer it over the Zeiss EF 50mm 1.4 . The first camera I learned to shoot on was a Minolta SRT101 w/ a Rokkor-X MC 50mm 1.4 and would love to know how these lenses generally hold up on the big screen. Any help would be greatly appreciated.


  23. Kyle 4 years ago

    Hey Shane, I’ve been seeing a few people using the older Zeiss contax primes. The quality seems really good and they are a bit cheaper in price than the Leica lenses. What are your thoughts on the look and quality of the contax primes, do you think they are any good?

  24. keh 4 years ago

    hi shane
    just got a 7D this weekend for a video shoot i need to do of the northern lights next month. i’ve got a 17-40L lens but although it’s nice and wide it’s way toooo slow for video on the 7D. I have a bunch of Leica M lenses from my M9 and am thinking of getting one of those adapters on ebay for the 7D. Not sure how well that will work… and if it’s no good I’m thinking about either getting a 28mm F2 ZE lens (and a 50mm ZE later to match it) or a 24mm 1.4L now (and a 50mm 1.2 later). The 7D will primarily be for video and when a Leica M just won’t do (events, sports or autofocus, zoom stuff which a rangefinder just doesn’t do). What would you do in my position?
    thanks in advance!

    • Author
      Shane 4 years ago

      keh, That adapter doesn’t work very well with M mount Leica’s. The Zeiss ZE are a good choice or old Nikon AI and AIS with a fotodiox adapter. For sports the Canon L series 70-200mm IS is an excellent lens.

  25. Bragi Schut 4 years ago

    Hi. Thanks for all the great info, Shane. I’ve been lurking for awhile and reading your blogs. I’n not a cinematographer, I’m a writer and filmmaker and am looking to build up a low budget DSLR kit. From my research it sounds like the Nikon lenses are the most cost effective choice, and you seem pleased with the quality (compared to the canon L series)…but I have to admit I’m having some trouble finding the older “a” lenses you mention on ebay. A All the lenses I have found are either AF or AI (which you cautioned against, due to their smaller barrel size and the difficulty of attaching focus pullers to them). Can you give me any more information on the name of the series of lenses you discussed in your nikon lens review? Any help would be greatly appreciated. Many thanks.

  26. Rick Doyle 4 years ago


    I shoot with the Canon 7D in CineStyle and Neutral picture styles. Just curious, do you ever add any sharpening to the footage in post since you shoot with the Canon 5D neutral setting?



    • Author
      Shane 3 years ago

      Rick Doyle, Yes we snap up the image in post a bit. Just before it starts to look funky. But do it in post, not with the camera.

  27. Blake 3 years ago

    Hi Shane,

    Just love this article. I had thoughts of building a kit around the duclos nikon 17-35 & 70-200. Seen that some “red” users are going this route I also see you favor the ais over canon, so thought id ask you. My main motive would be to have something flexible for live shooting but sharp enough for potential theatrical projection.

    Obviously as a t2i and maybe 7d user, im looking for something that doesnt break the bank, so the “optimo dp’s” are out lol.


    • Author
      Shane 3 years ago

      Blake, I have to say. Leica are the way to go. When you put them up they look the most cinematic and give you some wiggle room with there lower contrast.

      • blake 3 years ago

        I assume this wouldnt solve my zoom dilemma?….lol…..they don’t have leica r zooms? correct?

  28. Justin Phillips 3 years ago


    I know this point is a bit old now but I am in the middle of buying some primes. As much as I would like to invest in Zeiss ZF or ZE I will need to rent for awhile, but I want a good set of in-house primes. Do you think I will be well served with a set of Nikon AI/AI-S’s. How do they stack up against the some of the older soviet primes like Helios, MIR, and the Juniper-9’s.

    • Author
      Shane 3 years ago

      Justin Phillips, they are damn good. I love them.

  29. Christian 3 years ago

    In your movie Act of Valor, was there a certain picture profile that you used?

    • Author
      Shane 3 years ago

      We used the Neutral picture profile.

  30. Jonas 3 years ago

    Somehow I think the image of HD is too “sharp”. I like the aesthetics of film (or even DVD). How would I go about this but still using the HD plattform? Softer and older manual lenses? Or am I not thinking clearly. I wanna embrace everything good about this new technology but still move towards the texture of film.

    Thank you for sharing all the knowledge and passion of film making through this blog. truly inspirational!

  31. Tony 3 years ago

    Hey Shane, thanks for all you do!
    I am the owner of a T3i, and was wondering if you had any opinions on the Olympus Zuiko lenses? I am looking at 28mm and 50mm ones… Thanks!

  32. Raghu 3 years ago

    Hi Shane,

    I have got a lot of precious information on DSLR Cinematography from you,
    and you are really inspiring me these days into Cinematography.


    Watched ¨ The Last Three Minutes¨ so many times.
    I like it very much.


    I request your great suggestions for the following……

    1) I want to purchase DSLR lenses for my canon 5D Mark 2 for a feature film project.The focal lengths are 24mm, 50mm, 85mm and 100mm.
    I have read a lot of articles in this subject, still I am in a huge confusion,
    – (Now, in this June 2012, when the Canon 5D Mark2 is about 4 years old)
    which brand you suggest me, Canon, Leica, Zeiss or any other?

    2) I live in Kerala, South India.
    Here we have rich rainy days from June to October and the atmosphere is always filled with humidity. Hence camera lenses are very easily damaged here with FUNGUS.
    (Protection against dust & moisture is also an important factor for me )
    Are the L series lenses EFFECTIVELY protected against dust & fungus as the Canon Company claims?

    • Author
      Shane 3 years ago

      Raghu. Thanks for the kind words and support. In your case I would recommend going with the Canon L series glass because of the weather sealing on them. We used them on Act of Valor where they were doused with salt water, rained on, used in the jungle, and responded perfectly.

  33. chris 3 years ago

    Hi Shane,
    thanks for your blog and all these answers, i learned a lot from you and its
    great to hear some insides from a professional
    i have a concern and i hoped u could help me
    i want to get a zeiss zf 35mm distagon for my eos 650D, but i couldnt find any. manual aperture is quite good for dslr filmmaking so i thought about buying a zeiss zk 35mm with pentax mount instead and adapt it to my eos
    the problem is i dont know if the zk is the same as the zf and if it really has a full manual aperture ring
    should i buy the zk lense or just get the ze and set aperture over the camera?

    • Author
      Shane 3 years ago

      chris, thank you so much for your kind words and support. I would go with the Zeiss ZF so that you have manual aperture then you will need to get them de-clicked.

  34. Tuomas Sebastien 3 years ago

    Hi Shane,
    Thanks for great post and very informative blog. Keep up the good work and thanks for finding time to do it. I’m shooting with FS100. I’ve shot with old ZEISS C/Y 35mm, 50mm, 85mm primes but they are starting to have some problems due to the age. I’ve decided to sell them and replace with either Canon L or Zeiss ZE paired with Metabones adapter. You said on the blog entry that ZEs are better in resolving, but someone asked on comments which would be the dream setup of lenses between L and ZE and you went with Ls there. I have canon 24/1.4L from before which i’m going to keep and for the wide end will go with Tokina 11-16mm. Probably will add L zooms to the set too. Now would it be better for me to go with Canon L primes to keep the set having mostly same brand? I don’t know if mixing 35,50,85 ZEs with Canons would produce so much different look that it would be better to go with Canon L? You also got the impression that Ls are softer and less contrasty. For grading wise, wouldn’t the bit softer image and less contrasty L be actually better? Are the ZEs in all their greatness same time making the result look more video like? So the big question is ZEs or Ls? I don’t take still photos.

    • Author
      Shane 3 years ago

      Tuomas Sebastien, you are very welcome, thank you for your kind words and support. In all honesty I would go with Leica R glass, but if you are down the Canon L road then stick with them and stay away from the zooms. Only primes. Zooms are too soft. I did a post on the Leica R glass and compared to the price of the L series primes you will get a bigger bang for your buck.

      • Tuomas Sebastien 3 years ago

        Shane, Thank you for replying. I was ready to go with Canon Ls, but now here in Beijing’s BIRTV expo I met a boss of a local company who does Zeiss ZE cinemods. Basically the lens inside is Zeiss ZE and they rehouse it with results similar to CP2s. Most amazing thing is that they build a smooth aperture ring from scratch (Yes on ZE, they don’t mod ZF lenses)… A REAL APERTURE RING!!!! You can change the aperture manually on any camera that can be adapted to take EOS lenses. Since they are ZEs they also focus the same direction with cine lenses. The modification works on all primes except 50&100 macros since macro lenses have different internal design. All the modifications will have the aperture and focus gears on same place so changing lenses is quite easy, although some of the lenses are physically longer than others so matte box probably still need to be moved a bit. The lenses’ physical extending when focusing happens within the rehousing so the actual length of the modded primes doesn’t change when focusing. I tested them a bit and they felt very solid. After the mod you loose the ability to change the aperture from the camera though, so it will be manual aperture only from the aperture ring. So I guess I’m going ZE after all and will dump my 24mm L and get ZE 21mm to replace it… then starts the saving for ZE 15mm. (I was lot more excited on these lens mods than the Chinese $6000 Alexa copy Kineraw S35 that was demoed on the same booth.)

        • Author
          Shane 3 years ago

          Tuomas Sebastien, that sounds fantastic. The 21mm is their best lens in regards to sharpness. I think the 15mm looks good as well.

  35. Damon Roger 3 years ago


    Your blog is awesome and thank you so much for generously sharing your experience and information here.

    I have been collecting some nice primes for my kit and need a zoom on occasion. Given an option between the canon 70-200mm F/2.8 IS I or IS II which one would you choose? I noticed the comment about the second IS stabilization being not as organic looking so hence my question.


    • Author
      Shane 3 years ago

      Damon Roger, thank you so much for your kind words. Stay with the older, cheaper version. That is what I roll out with.

  36. Tuomas Sebastien 3 years ago

    Hi again Shane,

    I’m coming more back with more questions, but I hope others will also learn something about choosing the set of primes when these questions get answered. I promise after this I’ll let you in peace for long while

    So I have Zeiss ZEs 21, 35, 50, 85, and 15mm will be now on the wait list to see if that can be cinemoded.. but i’d love to have that 15mm as a wide angle, since 21mm on S35 sensor is really not that wide in my opinion.

    Would buying 25mm lens between 21mm and 35mm make any sense? Jump from 21 to 35 is kinda long and the question is, if having 25 or 28 in between are too marginal in difference? If 25mm, the difference would be small with 21mm. With 28mm, the difference to 35mm would be even tad smaller. I’d get bit better differences in field of views if i rather went 21mm -25mm -35mm than 21mm -28mm -35mm. So in this point 25mm is winner.

    I’ve seen 25/2 to beat 28/2 on resolution charts amazingly, 25 is sharp, 28 was soft and had some CA sort of blurry looking color abbreviation in the test sheet. 25 won on this category on very clear margin.

    So it is 2-0 in favour of 25mm lens agains the 28mm. 25mm would reduce a bit that perspective distortion that I can get when shooting faces in tight spaces. So I come back to my question is there any point of having 21, 25, 35 instead of only having 21, 35? Is this perspective distortion difference (especially in close-up of people) between 21 and 25 be big enough and give me so much more realistic shaped heads that it would would justify having the both lenses? Generally speaking Is jump from 21 to 35 too big without anything between? Vincent Laforet said in his blog that CP.2 25mm is the lens he has on the most, so i guess the lens is good alrounder to have.

    Would you say 21, 35, 50, 85 is already a good all-round set that would cover most of the situations without much troubles? Should I add 15mm to get the really wide in cropped sensor? Should I add 25mm just to have a wide option with little less perspective distortion and cap the large difference between current 21 and 35?

    Sorry for making it so long, but I hope it helped me to be clearer.

    Thanks for helping us n00bies :)

    • Author
      Shane 3 years ago

      Tuomas Sebastien, it is never a problem for you to go into depth about a lens decision. We are all here to learn, right? I have read everything that you have posted. Here is the deal. If there was one lens that I never use it would be the 25mm. It distorts, yes it is sharp but this is a lens that never is in my kit. I use a Panavision 27mm, a Cooke 32mm, and Zeiss Ultra Prime 29mm to bridge that gab between the 21mm. I know the 28mm ZE and CP2 are not that great, but the 28mm Leica R is stellar. There is my 2 cents. I welcome all of your questions and thanks for your support

      • Tuomas Sebastien 3 years ago

        Thanks Shane for very very quickly reply. Amazing! I’m still little not sure should I bridge the cap or not? You have luxury of having many lenses to cap it with. Unfortunately I don’t. I’m sure Leica is stellar but I’d really want to keep the kit all Zeiss so that then I can cinemod them to “poor man’s CP.2 with superspeeds” ( to see how they look like: ) . I’d also would like to have the kit with same brand lenses to get similar looks from them all.

        So if you suddenly wouldn’t have your Panavision 27mm, Cooke 32mm, Zeiss Ultra 29mm to go with… would ZE 25mm in this situation become useful to you when you already have 21mm and 35mm? Or would you say 28mm would be more useful and why? Or would you just say 21mm and 35mm is enough and the situations where something in the between is needed would be very uncommon?

        • Author
          Shane 3 years ago

          Tuomas Sebastien, I would not use a 25mm, I would go for the 28mm

          • Tuomas Sebastien 3 years ago

            Thank you

      • Tuomas Sebastien 3 years ago

        Just want to add few questions.. from Zeiss ZE lenses your dream set of lenses would include what? ZE 50 Macro & ZE 100 Macro lenses are excluded from these sets because I can’t get the cinemodded.

        1) Your 4-lenses set would include which ZE lenses?
        2) Your 5-lenses set would include which ZE lenses?
        3) Your 6-lenses set would include which ZE lenses?


        • Author
          Shane 3 years ago

          Tuomas Sebastien, these are for a 5D correct?
          4 Lens set: 21, 35, 50,85
          5 Lens Set: 18, 21, 35, 50, 85
          6 Lens Set: 18, 21, 28, 35, 50, 85

          • Tuomas Sebastien 3 years ago

            Thank you. What about with cropped sensor 7D, FS100 etc?

          • Tuomas Sebastien 3 years ago

            Hi Shane, I’d still like to know how these sets should be with 1.5-1.6 cropped sensor?

      • Paris Holmes 3 years ago

        I have money aside for a shoulder rig and Canon 50mm 1.2 lens but now I’m afraid to buy it since you said it won’t hold up on the big screen. I am working on a feature and I want it to hold up well on screen. So which lens 50mm do I buy? For a second lens, which lens do I buy?

    • Ruben Fernandez 3 years ago

      My two cents, I just read your post Tuomas and I am currently have your exact same range in Zeiss ZF.2s. I really don’t have a problem going from 21 to 35mm. I would personally save the money on the 25mm or 28mm for other stuff, maybe a 135mm f2???;)

      Best Regards,


  37. Viktor 3 years ago

    Thanks for this insanely nice post, Shane!
    Really some great reading… Still a bit confused though. So unsure whether to go with Canons L series, or the Carl Zeiss – I mainly do films, but occasionally have a still photography assignment!
    Is the difference between the L series and Zeiss really that big in sharpness and over all pleasing image?

    • Author
      Shane 3 years ago

      Viktor, you are very welcome, the difference is in color saturation and contrast. I feel the Zeiss look a little more video looking than the Canon, but the Leica R’s to me look the most filmic of the still glass.

      • Nelson 3 years ago

        What about adding a black promist filter to crush some of the video look? Has anyone tried this with success?

  38. Ignacio Sanchez 3 years ago

    Mr Hurlbut, thanks for unique way to teach the things. Thanks for a blog that not review every new camera in the market, thanks for staying away from consume talk.
    I should not do this but I am going to try to recomend you a LENS. Sorry master. Lately I have been working with FUJINON´s EBC M42 and I got very surprised. I own Leica´s R, Zeiss, Nikkors and many more and Fujinon´s got something special in the way they render the colors and a very pleasant OOF. If you can give them a try I would be very happy.
    Thanks master.

    • Author
      Shane 3 years ago

      Ignacio Sanchez, thanks so much for your kind words and support and thanks for sharing your lens. I will look into it. Peace

  39. Ryan Bradshaw 3 years ago

    Hi Shane,
    First, thank you for taking the time to educate us on these and other topics. I find your blog very helpful and entertaining. I have a few questions. 1) You mentioned some books to read for aspiring cinematographers in another post that I can’t seem to find. What were those books? 2) You mentioned sticking to only prime lenses…and the 24-70 wouldn’t hold up…is this true for cameras with higher resolutions such as the 1DC or the C300? My third question is how do I get on your elite team?! I would love a chance to work and learn from you!


  40. Manuel 3 years ago

    Hi Shane,
    ever had a chance to film with a Samyang? Do they hold up on the big screen?

    • Author
      Shane 3 years ago

      Manuel, no I haven’t. Very sorry

  41. Manuel 3 years ago

    Thanks for your answer, Shane. This post made me think a lot. I believe you should soon publish a book with all your experience, I’m sure it would be a best seller!
    By the way…I have noticed some iris jitter with my Zeiss 35mm ZE 2.0 on my 1D mark IV…So I’m brought to get some manual ZF objectives plus EF mount to avoid any electronic interferences…Have you ever noticed any iris jitter during your work? And another question…Do you suggest declicking the Zeiss lenses or you think it might hurt the lenses?
    Thanks and keep up the good work! Manuel

    • Author
      Shane 3 years ago

      Manuel, thank you so much for your kind words and support. I like the Zeiss ZF and then de-click is absolutely essential and doesn’t hurt the lens. Never had that iris jitter

  42. Josh 3 years ago

    Hi Shane,
    thank you for sharing your experience, I’m really enjoying this blog.

    After much deliberation I recently invested in a Nikon D800 for photography and narrative film making.
    Along with the camera I bought the Nikkor 50mm 1.4g, and Nikkor 70-200VR11 2.8, both of which I am happy with, although I have not yet had the opportunity to see any of my footage on a cinema screen yet.

    My question is, as technology is evolving and lenses at the same time, is it likely that the current batch of Nikkor’s best glass be able to stand the rigors of a digital cinema projection?

    Also as I am on the market for a reasonably priced wide angle lens, would you recommend Nikkor’s 20mm AI 2.8 or Nikkor’s AIS 2.8? Or is there another lens within the same price bracket that would prove fruitful on the silver screen?

    Thank you again for sharing your experience and your time.



    • Author
      Shane 3 years ago

      Josh, thank you so much for your kind words. I like the 20mm AI myself. All of the AI and AIS lenses are kick ass. Love the golden tones that come from that glass.

  43. Hunter 3 years ago

    Hello there,

    So interestingly I ended up on this blog after watching Act of Valor and thinking to myself “what camera shot this? how can I get this look? This cinematography is killer I must know more” So props to you because i immediately got online and lead myself to this blog. On to my question…

    I am in a situation where i have a decent budget to build a great camera/lense set up entirely from scratch. I currently own a 60d but I soon plan to get the 5D Mark III or the Black Magic Cinema Camera (After seeing Act of Valor I dont feel the need to spend the money on a C300 or Red or FS700). I need to get some lenses to go with this that are going to make my footage big screen ready and last a life time but not completely break the bank… so lenses like those shown above seem right. I’m kinda a noob to the lense game so bear with me.

    In my situation… Would you go with Zeiss ZE or Canon L series? Or something else? Or would you mix/match?

    After that, which lenses if you had to compose a go-to 4 lense kit from scratch? and what if you could throw in a 5th?

    Additionally, I currently own a Tokina 11-16 mm… any experience with this? Do you think I could get away with this as my superwide? or does this not match up to the quality of the lenses mentioned above?

    And finally, how do you feel about the upcoming Black Magic Cinema Camera? any ideas? vs the 5d?

    Thanks for your time! I appreciate your responsiveness and your artist work!! :)


    • Hunter 3 years ago

      To add to my last post… I’ve been doing further research into your posts. I see that you like the Panavision Primos… I can’t find the cost on those but I assume they are much higher than the Zeiss ZE’s or Canon L’s?? I definitely cant spend 3-4K per lense. Are there leica lenses that are comparable in price/quality to the aforementioned lenses? and do u think its worth it to have lenses cinemodded? or should i just go for an affordable gear to throw on the lenses?

      Additionally, I notice among posts that there may be certain times when it is best to use a 7D over a 5D? do u have a post on this? if not.. how did you go about choosing to use 5d or 7d for a shot when on act of valor?

      Thanks so much!!

  44. Sean M 3 years ago

    Dear Shane,

    superb post!..

    Agree with you totally on the Leica R lenses, they are super beautiful, I slowly over time and when money allowed put together a set then leitax modded each one, I liked them that much I ask a tech to hardfront my IIC with an EOS Mount.


    • Author
      Shane 3 years ago

      Sean M, thank you so much for your kind words. They are amazing. I love the lower contrast but sharp. Secret sauce.

  45. Juan B 3 years ago

    Hello! First of all I want to really thank you for all the work you put into the dslr world and the inspiration that cause us, been watching all your behind the scenes!

    Since you’ve tested all and more I wanted to ask you what brand of Nikon to EOS adapter do you recommend the most? I’m asking because the one I got has a little play between the lens and the camera body… and when using it with a follow focus the image moves a little every time I pull focus… it’s a shame since the 105mm 2.5 is a superb lens!

    I’ll be really glad if yu could tell me THE adapte.. haha!

    Thanks so much again and good luck!!!!

    Cheers from Argentina!

    • Author
      Shane 3 years ago

      Juan B, thank you for all of your kind words. Hello from Argentina, my favorite country. I love it there. You can not go cheap on the adapter. Fotodiox has the best one but it will cost you around 140.00. All the others have serious play and wreck your shot.

      • Juan B 3 years ago

        Thank you VERY much for your reply Shane!!! Glad to hear it’s your favourite country haha!!! Will invest on the adapter.. goodbye!!!

  46. Menno Mennes 3 years ago

    Take also a look at Cine-mod Zeiss ZF lenses.

    • Author
      Shane 3 years ago

      Menno Mennes, thank you so much I will check them out.

  47. RAGHU IRIKKUR 3 years ago

    Hi shane, good evening. You helped me a lot giving precious information through your Cinematography education programme. Thanks.
    Seeing your blog I have purchased Nikon AI lenses (24mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.8 and 135mm f/2.8)and they perform well. I have drafted myself a design and customised them for voideo. It worked wonders. Now it is very convenient to focus precisely, as I increased the focus gear ring diameter to 13cm!. And also it perfectly match with my mattebox. Please see the link below.

    • Author
      Shane 3 years ago

      RAGHU IRIKKUR, they look very cool. I am so glad you like them. I love that glass. Looks so cinematic. Thanks for all the kind words

  48. Gareth 3 years ago

    Hi Shane,

    Where can the Leica R lenses be purchased? And how do they compare to the M series?

    Great tests otherwise.

  49. Daniel Correia 3 years ago

    Hi Shane, thanks for your great blog. Have you ever tryed Zeiss C/Y (contax / yashica)? How they compare to the newer Zeiss models and old Nikon Ai? Bests!

    • Daniel Correia 3 years ago

      And Leica R as well.

  50. Ho Zhen Jie 3 years ago

    Hi Shane,

    love the great amount of information that you share with the rest of the world!

    One question I have is how did you mount the medium format lenses to the 5D?

    • Author
      Shane 3 years ago

      Ho Zhen Jie, Thank you so much for you kind words and support. We mounted the Mamiya and the Hasselblad with Fotodiox adapters.

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