Oh Dear… The Viking has landed… and, uh, the Astronaut!

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This sounded like such a good idea at first… but now even Gizmodo has picked up on this series of videos!   A few weeks ago Blake at Vimeo asked me to help him record some instructional videos on lenses and apertures and depth of field etc.   I told him that it’d been done SOOOO many times before… I didn’t want to do anything too booorrriiinnnggg…  we had to do something DIFFERENT…  and then out of that, these 3 videos resulted – check them out below or on the Vimeo page:  


Behind the Glass: An Introduction to Lenses from Vimeo Staff on Vimeo.

Here’s a excerpt from the Vimeo page followed by the two other videos after the jump…


The aperture is the diameter of the lens opening. The larger the diameter of the aperture, the more light reaches the film or image sensor. The aperture also performs a critical function for focus. As the aperture decreases in size, the background and foreground gain sharpness. This zone of sharpness is called the depth of field.

Aperture is expressed as F-stop and will be indicated on your camera in abbreviations that look like this: F2.8 or f/2.8. 

The "F" stands for the focal length of your lens, and the number indicates the diameter of the iris opening. (For a more in-depth explanation, head over to this lesson!)

Focus Ring

Located around the barrel of your lens, this helps you focus the image. Some lenses will also have an auto focus switch, which means that your lens can do the focusing for you on those days that your eyes are feeling a little tired. 

Prime or Fixed Lens vs Zoom Lens

A prime lens has a fixed focal length, whereas a zoom lens has a handy ring that allows you to switch to different lens equivalents within the single lens. But don’t knock prime lenses entirely! They may be less versatile than a zoom, but they often have superior optical quality, are lighter weight, smaller bulk and cheaper.

Pro tip…

 No matter what kind of lens you’re using, always try to zoom by foot (aka- walk yourself closer) to get near to the subject. This will always provide superior quality as opposed to trying to zoom in with the lens.

A Lens for Every Occasion!

Various lenses are suited for specific applications. Lets have a look at some common lenses and what they do.

16mm– An ultra wide lens, this bad boy distorts heavily, emphasizing objects in the foreground by making them look a lot larger than the background. Dynamic, but use with caution! 

28mm– Standard for documentary and photojournalism to shoot cowboy shots, otherwise known as medium shots

35mm– Another standard for documentary filming, also tight enough to shoot portraits.

50mm– Standard for cinema/video, it approximates the human eye’s typical focal length.

85mm– A popular portrait, or "beauty" lens. Capable of making everyone look lovely!

200mm– The top of the scale for most people, this is a telephoto lens. Their inherent shallow depth of field makes them useful in eliminating unwanted foreground and background objects by simply throwing them out of focus. Great for sports photography!

Now that we’ve had a friendly overview, let’s take a closer look at the wonders of focal length and what that means for your video. Onward to Episode 2!"   Click below to see more videos…

Behind the Glass Part 2: Focal Length from Vimeo Video School on Vimeo.

Focal length is an important aspect to keep in mind when you’re deciding which lens to use to shoot your video. Different focal lengths will affect how your subjects appear in the shot and can even sway a viewer’s opinion of your subjects. Watch the video to see how!

When you use different lenses, you’ll notice that even if you don’t move the camera, the subjects in that image get larger or smaller. The longer the lens, the more compressed your image gets meaning things in the background will appear much larger than if you were using a wide-angle lens.

  • Wide angle lens – 16mm emphasizes the foreground and de-emphasizes the background. Be careful of image distortion while using this lens.
  • Standard lens – 50mm shows the foreground and background subjects as just about the same sizes.
  • Telephoto lens – 200mm has very little depth of field and highly compresses your image.

Shooting a dialoge scen can be tricky if you don’t know which lens to use. To get a natural feel in your dialoge scenes, it’s best to stick to mid-range lenses that don’t distort or compress your subjects too much.

  • 11mm lens is very wide and will distort the edges of your shot. Parts of your subjects will appear exaggerated and might look cartoony.
  • 200mm lens will make your subjects appear very close isolate them in the shot.
  • 50mm lens shows gives your subjects room so they can be easily placed in their scene. A 50 mm lens also won’t distort your subjects, so they’ll stay natural looking.
Pro tip…

 If you want to make someone look really good, use a longer focal length. The longer the lens, the more subtle someone’s facial features become and that makes for a flattering portrait.

In conclusion, not every lens is equal, but each of them can help you tell a story visually if you know how to use them. Still hungering for more lens know-how? In the final episode, Vincent and Blake teach you all about depth of field. Check it out now!  


Behind the Glass: Depth of Field from Vimeo Staff on Vimeo.



Describes the size of the aperture opening. The lower the f-stop number, the bigger the aperture and the more light is able to reach the image sensor.

A low f-stop (large aperture) results in a shallow DOF. A high f-stop (smaller aperture) gives a deep DOF. To dive into this further, take a look at our lesson on f-stop and aperture here

Shallow vs. Deep

Shallow depth of field means that a subject is in focus but objects in front and behind it appear out of focus. Less DOF is often desired when shooting portrait, close-up and macro shots. 

Deep depth of field means that all or most of the picture is in focus from front to back. It is often used for capturing subjects in the distance. This is also preferable for documentary work, as you don’t know how the subject will move and it is easier to pull focus.

Now Get Playful!

We’ve given you a handy overview of the different lenses available, a breakdown of what focal length is, and finally, a peek into the wonders of DOF. Now we implore you to experiment with this newfound brain food. Utilize the functions of your lens for increased dramatic effect and to better tell your story! Remember kids: your lens is your friend.