HDSLR Challenges: Working With a Still Lens

In 2011, we shot this educational DSLR series for B&H. The tips work for the 7D, 60D, T2i and all the Canon DSLR cameras. Although I’m using the Canon 5D Mk II in the video, this doesn’t apply just to the 5D. The methodology is the same for other DSLR cameras. Enjoy Episode 3, followed by a transcript.

HDSLR Educational Series for Cinema
Shane Hurlbut, ASC discusses lenses and the challenges of working with a still lens.
Episode 3: Lenses

Hi. I’m Shane Hurlbut, ASC and welcome the B&H HDSLR Educational Series for Cinema. Episode 3 will be dealing with lenses. What are the challenges working with a still lens?

Well, there is no way to actually focus the thing. There’s no autofocus on this baby. To be able to pull this off, you’re going to need your focus puller and you’re going to need to put a ring around your focus ring so you’re able to use manual follow focus devices and/or remote follow focus devices. For the focus puller, there are usually marks on cinema lenses that are on the side. Well, this is a still lens so they’re all on the top because as a still shooter, you’re here and then you look, yeah, I’m at 6 feet and then you take this photo again.

Cinema glass was engineered and Zeiss came out with these wonderful CP.2s that have the marks on the side and have the marks on either side so the focus puller can be on the right or the left and you’re able to focus. And it has 32 pitch gears already on the housing.

If you’re going with Zeiss ZEs, which are still lenses, you have to do the same thing. You have to put a focus gear on there. Then I’ve P touched all the marks on the side here so as it sits on the lens like this, you’re able to see all the markings and the focus puller is able to see those markings too so he knows, he’s at 12 inches. No, he’s at 4 feet. So he can see it. I’ve tried to turn the still lens into a cinema lens by doing all these different markings.

This is what I used on Into the Blue. I used this on Waist Deep. I shot The Skulls with the Cooke S4 Primes. These are completely engineered just like the Zeiss CP.2s. The Zeiss CP.2s have a Canon back. This has a PL back. You need to go to a camera like this which has a PL mount and that will clamp on any type of cinema glass that you would like that are in the PL range.

One of the challenges with the Canon 5D is the issue of focus. The 5D has a VistaVision sensor. The 7D has more of a 35mm sensor. You’re dealing with a depth of field on the 5D that’s two and a half times as shallow as the 7D. A T2 on a 5D is like a 0.7 on the 35mm camera. The wonderful thing about this is you are able to go in depth of field range that we’ve never seen before.

What I wanted to do is to make this a family affair. My daughter Kyra is going to come out. Whoa, you’ve gotten much taller. What we’re going to do is we’re going to start taking the F stop down so now we’re in an 8 1/2. Now we’re going to go to a 5.6 1/2. I want you to also look at the background. The background is going to bloom. It’s going to start to go out of focus. That’s what so powerful about this camera. It takes something that looks somewhat ordinary and makes it extraordinary.

We’re down to a 5.6-8 split which is halfway between a 5.6 and an 8. Look at the background. The background has started to go out of focus. If this is all in focus, it doesn’t look as beautiful as it does when it’s all of focus. Now, we’ve gone to a 4-5.6 split which is between a 4 and a 5.6. Again, look at our depth of field that’s changing. Now we’re down t o a 2.8-4 split which is half way between a 2.8 and 4. You can see the depth of field really starting to morph out of focus in the background.

Now we’re into focus no man’s land. We’re at a 2-2.8 split. Again, look at the depth of field. Look at what’s happening in the background. Now we’re going to go where very few venture, 1.4-2. Again, look at the background. It’s like a wonderful watercolor behind her. I would advise, doing this kind of photography, if anyone’s moving around, you’re going to have your hat handed to you. If it’s a beautiful lock off like what we’ve been doing with this 50mm, which is a wide shot, what you see is the 2 shot here, that’s at a 2. The background is falling off nicely behind us, but we’re not moving a lot. But drifting down into the 1.4 range with these lenses on this VistaVision sensor, you have to weigh the challenge.

We’ve gone through all the lenses and we got the basics. In the next episode, we’re going to move on to the Cinematographer Starter Kit – everything you need in your kit to be able to turn this baby into a movie-making machine.


Shane Hurlbut, ASC
HDSLR Educational Series for Cinema

Julien Lasseur – Director
Karlyn Michelson – Producer
Shane Hurlbut, ASC, Lydia Hurlbut, and Brad Bitton – Executive Producers
Clint Milby – Associate Producer
Bodie Orman – Director of Photography
Edited by Karlyn Michelson
Sponsored by B&H

Shane Hurlbut, ASC – Instructor
Eli Jane – Model in Introduction
Kyra Hurlbut – Model

Production Coordinator – Anne Gaither
Camera Operator – Kevin Anderson
Camera Operator – Eric Wolfinger
Camera Operator – Valentin Vignet
Steadicam Operator – Hayden Houser
Key Grip – Fabio Newman
Hair/Makeup – Teddie Bergman
Sound – Vincent Fatato

Production Assistants – Brian Touhy, Lucas Petri

Special Thanks to Mole-Richardson

Buy the Canon 5D Mark II

Watch episode 1 – Know Your Camera: Canon 5D MK II – Turning Your Still Camera Into a Movie Making Machine
Watch episode 2 – Canon 5D MK II: Challenges and Solutions
Watch episode 4 – HDSLR Cinematographer Starter Kit
Watch episode 5 – HDSLR Workflow and Etiquette
Watch episode 6 – HDSLR: A New Digital Film Language

  1. Jimmy 3 years ago

    Not sure if it’s YouTube’s fault or what but the sync looked dicey on the open. Nice video.

    • Author
      Shane 3 years ago

      Jimmy – Thanks for your comment. It appears to be a youtube issue. We are working to get it resolved.

  2. S. Allman 3 years ago


    Thanks for this introduction. I began investing in better glass this last fall and did a blog entry about my experiences with using Zeiss ZF.2’s as video lenses. Sort of like you, I quickly found the compromises I was making because of (lack of) budget. Some of the readers on this blog may find my experience useful, so here’s the link…


    …wishing I had the budget for Cooke primes,


    • Author
      Shane 3 years ago

      S. Allman. Thanks for the comment and support.

  3. Ashley Scott Davison 3 years ago

    I saw these shorts you did on B&H last year and they’re quite educational. Wanted to say I thoroughly enjoyed your lecture at Masters in Motion in ATX- your understanding of lighting, framing, and equipment blew me away. You have a way of really connecting with your audience and I know I wasn’t the only one feeling empowered after working with you on the break-out sessions. Thanks again for all that you do to encourage the industry!


    • Author
      Shane 3 years ago

      Ashley Scott Davison. Thank you so much for those kind words. Masters in Motion was such an awesome event, and I was inspired by all of you. Looking forward to next year.

  4. Jesus Hidrogo 3 years ago

    Hey Shane, after seeing some of you’re tutorials I decided to purchase a PL lens for my 5d Mkii. I hoping you could help me out with which PL mount to choose.

    Which do you recommend the mount with glass or no glass?

    Thanks again,
    Good luck with the “Need for Speed” production.

    • Author
      Shane 3 years ago

      Jesus Hidrogo, the only PL mount that works is one that is supplied by Hot Rod Cameras and that is purchasing the whole camera and mount. Those PL adapters do not work well at all and on very few lenses.

  5. RobG 3 years ago

    Hi, Shane

    Thank you for a great educational website! I am returning to the industry after being away for many years and your information is invaluable. Do you recommend a DSLR that allows for setting ISO, shutter speed and aperture in manual mode? Some DSLR’s only allow for ISO and shutter speed. Also, would you recommend the Nikon D800? I know the high megapixel causes the low light quality to suffer at higher ISO’s.

    Thanks you.


    • Author
      Shane 3 years ago

      RobG. Thank you for the comment and support. Having manual control over your camera is key to controlling the image which is a necessity. I did some testing with the D800 and its a good still camera. However I much prefer the Canon 5DMkII and 5DMkIII for shooting video.

      • RobG 3 years ago

        Thank you, Shane for your quick response. I have a few additional questions if I may… Has Episode 4 been produced on the starters kit? Also, I have read about your 4, 5 and 6 prime lenses of choice. Do you have a preferred zoom if needed? Lastly, what is the best way to mount Nikkor AI/AIS lenses to a Canon if I go that direction. By changing the F mount or by using an adaptor?

        Thanks again for your input and for all you do.


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