EF Lenses: Primes

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I’ve included some screen shots from two of my short films to go along with the lens descriptions and opinions – from both Reverie and Nocturne.  I’ve also included some still images from my website/ still portfolio so that you can get a better idea of the lenses I chose to use for each shot. I recommend that you load both films (linked above) and watch them to see how the lenses were used within each cut. Every photographer and cinematographer has some pretty specific opinions about their lenses- and no two will ever agree on which three they’d choose if they were forced to pick a maximum of 3-4 one day. These are the lenses I most commonly use – and I’ll try to explain when and why I use them.  Your choice of lens is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make as a photographer, cinematographer or director.  


14mm f/2.8 – Series II Lens Buy From B&H Rent From LensProToGo Mfr. Site

Comments: This is a gorgeous lens – and perfect for cinema – especially for interiors offering an incredible field of view without any circular distortion.  It is a must have for any 1D MKIV or 7D owner who need to go wide (whereas a 5D MKII user can rely on the 16~35mm to get the same frame given the larger sensor on the camera.)  Be careful with this lens – distortion is your enemy on tilts up or down – it’s a dangerous lens when you don’t pay careful attention to minimizing distortion.

Description (from Canon): This new lens features completely redesigned optics including 2 high-precision Aspherical elements and two totally new UD-glass elements. The result is superior image quality: better contrast and sharpness at the outer edges, and a reduction in chromatic aberrations that can sometimes be seen with high-resolution digital SLRs. Its diagonal angle of view is an impressive 114"-anything larger would be a Fisheye lens.


15mm f/2.8 – FishEye Lens B&H Mfr. Site

Comments: I have a love/hate relationship with this lens.  It’s a great lens for a 7D – but on a 5D MKII can quickly become very gimmicky all too quickly.  That being said – if you use it very carefully (see below) you can minimize the circular distortion so that most won’t notice it.   That being said – a lot of people use this lens FOR the distortion – it makes things look more "hip" or "young" – but PLEASE never take a portrait with this lens or anything wider than a 24mm!

Description (from Canon):  Fisheye lens with a 180º angle of view for unique and intriguing effects. The wide depth of field makes it even more interesting. The short minimum focusing distance of 8 in. (20 cm) gives new meaning to close-up shots. The lens has a fixed petal-type hood and a gelatin filter holder at the rear.

17mm f/4 – TS-E Lens Buy From B&H Rent From LensProToGo Mfr. Site

Comments: This is an incredible lens for architecture – and if you need to minimize distortion in a wide field of view.  It is a bit too wide to obtain a nice "miniature" tilt-shift effect.

Description (from Canon):  The widest tilt-shift lens in Canon’s lineup, the new TS-E 17mm f/4L lens expands shooting possibilities exponentially on EOS Digital cameras. Designed with UD glass to minimize and compensate for chromatic aberrations, with a specially coated aspherical element for the highest possible glare-free image quality, this tilt-shift lens offers a diagonal angle of view of 104° on a full-frame SLR camera.

24mm f/1.4 – Series II Lens Buy From B&H Rent From LensProToGo Mfr. Site

Comments:  This is a very nice bright wide angle lens – that will allow you to photograph with almost two more stops of light than most zooms.  A great photojournalism lens.

Description (from Canon): Professional wide-angle lens with an ultra-large maximum aperture of f/1.4. This is the first EF lens to employ both a replicated Aspherical lens element to suppress distortion and spherical aberration, and a UD lens element to correct lateral chromatic aberration. Thanks to the floating construction, excellent corner-to-corner delineation is attained from 10 in. (25 cm) to infinity.

24mm – TS-E Lens Buy From B&H Rent From LensProToGo Mfr. Site

Comments: This is one of my favorite two Tilt-Shift lens.  I use it to obtain a "miniature effect" and rely on this lens and the 45mm Tilt-Shift lens for the most part.  I love this lens. Remember – NO AF though!

Description (from Canon): A superb refinement to a true Canon classic, the new TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II offers enhanced functionality and image quality in its most popular tilt-shift focal length. Designed with UD glass to minimize and compensate for chromatic aberrations and a specially coated aspherical element for the highest possible glare-free image quality, this tilt-shift lens features an angle of view of 84° on a full-frame camera.

35mm f/1.4 Lens Buy From B&H Rent From LensProToGo Mfr. Site

Comments: The 35mm is THE CLASSIC photojournalism lens – as defined by Henri Cartier Bresson.   You can spend you entire career with this lens set at f 2.0 and a 50mm 1.2 set a f 2.0 and roam the globe (and shoot at f 2.0 in BROAD DAYLIGHT – not just at dusk or at night.)   You won’t have the versatility of a zoom lens of course – but your images will stand out from the rest.  See the work of Tyler Hicks, Damon Winter, Todd Heisler (all of The New York Times) & Mario Tama (of Getty Images) and how they use these lenses with this technique to separate the way their images look relative to the competition.   You need to nail the focus and position yourself perfectly – but when you do – you SMOKE the competition.   This is of course a fantastic lens in low light of course – giving you nearly two more stops than the 2.8 wideangle zooms.

Description (from Canon): L-series professional f/1.4 wide-angle lens with an Aspherical lens element to correct aberrations. The floating system enables high picture quality to be obtained over the entire focusing range. Autofocusing is quick and quiet with rear focusing and ring USM. Full-time manual focusing is also possible.

45mm TS-E Lens Buy From B&H Rent From LensProToGo Mfr. Site

Comments: This is one of my favorite two Tilt-Shift lensese.  I use it to obtain a "miniature effect" and rely on this lens and the 24mm Tilt-Shift lens for the most part.  I love this lens – it’s incredibly sharp as a standard lens too btw.  Remember – NO AF though!

Description (from Canon):  Normal lens featuring tilt and shift movements. The floating system and rear focusing give sharp and stable delineation from 1.3 ft. (0.4m) to infinity. The 45mm focal length is ideal for obtaining a natural-looking perspective.


50mm f/1.2 Lens Buy From B&H Rent From LensProToGo Mfr. Site

Comments:  This is pretty much a MUST have lens for any HDDSLR filmmaker – I’d recommend it as part of any standard kit.  The 50mm range in film on a full frame sensor is perfect for tighter wide shots, and for loose portraits.  Perfect for dialogue scenes.   Used with care it can be an incredible photojournalism lens as well – not to mention portrait lens (see the 35mm 1.4 description above.)  Obviously – it’s a fantastic longish lens to shoot in very dark areas…

Description (from Canon): The EF 50mm f/1.2L USM is a peerless new standard lens featuring an ultra-large aperture for a narrow depth of field and soft background blur so loved by photographers everywhere. The EF 50mm f/1.2L USM is suitable for any shooting situation; its lens coating and construction are optimized to minimize the ghosting and flare that frequently occurs when lenses are used with digital cameras. This high-performance, weather-resistant lens delivers all the superb image resolution and contrast you expect in a Canon L Series Lens.


85mm f/1.2 Lens Buy From B&H Rent From LensProToGo Mfr. Site

Comments:  This is a jewel – not a lens.  Shot wide open or at f 2.0 – it leads to stunning portraits or "cowboy" shots in film.   It’s simply stunning and you should never shoot it over f 2.0 (if you shoot at f 2.8 you might as well have the versatility of the 70~200m 2.8 above and faster AF speed and range not to mention IS.)  I try to never leave for an assignment without this lens.   If you want to make stunning portraits of your children or family – let alone professional headshots – this is the lens for you.  It’s a bit of an indulgence – but like I said:  it’s a jewel.

Description (from Canon): Retaining the impressive optical performance and large aperture of the original EF 85mm f/1.2L USM, this new medium telephoto lens uses a Ring-type USM, high-speed CPU and optimized algorithms to achieve an autofocus speed approximately 1.8x faster than the original. The high-speed AF and circular aperture create a shallow depth-of-field that brings attention to the subject and blurs the background, which is ideal for portraits and weddings. The floating optical system, which includes an aspherical lens element, suppresses aberrations and ensures excellent imaging performance.

90mm f/2.8 – TS-E Lens Buy From B&H Rent From LensProToGo Mfr. Site

Comments: I don’t use this Tilt-Shift lens as often as the 24mm T/S or 45mm T/S – but when I do – it leads to some stunning images.   It’s also a great portrait lens – w/o autofocus – so keep that in mind.

Description (from Canon): This is the world’s first 35mm-format telephoto lens with tilt and shift movements. Gaussian optics give high-quality delineation and true background blur. The lens is suited for a variety of subjects, from products to portraits.

100mm f/2.8 – Macro Lens Buy From B&H Rent From LensProToGo Mfr. Site

Comments:  This is a stunning Macro lens.  Incredibly sharp and stunning.  BUT the REAL secret with this lens is that is is the only lens to date that has the new "hybrid" IS stabilization system – which is almost like having a built-in gyro.  It’s the only lens that I can operate an HDDLSR 100% handheld – the Image Stabilization is stunning.  I wish they would put this new system in EVERY upcoming Canon lens.  But saddly I haven’t seen this happen yet…

Description (from Canon): Canon’s newest "L" series lens is its first mid-telephoto macro lens to include Canon’s sophisticated Image Stabilization. With the highest quality optics available, combined with near-silent Ultrasonic focusing and life-size close-up capabilities without an adapter, the EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM is simply unrivalled.

135mm f/2 Lens Buy From B&H Rent From LensProToGo Mfr. Site

Comments:  This is yet another "Jewel" lens.   It’s the perfect full headshot portrait lens -and it allows you to close in a bit more closely to your subject than the 70~200mm 2.8 – which allows you to make some pretty special portraits.   For filmmaking – it’s one of my secret tools: not just for the obvious tight portrait – but also for great scenics where you blow out the background.  I shoot this lens at f 2.0 pretty much exclusively – it is one of the sharpest lenses Canon makes.  This is a lens that is optically stunning and the AF speed is excellent (and quite a bit faster than the 85mm 1.2).

Description (from Canon): The fastest 135mm telephoto lens in its class. Ideal for indoor sports and portraits with background blur. Two UD-glass elements correct secondary spectrum for outstanding sharpness and color. Compatible with Extender EF 1.4x II and 2x II.

200mm f/2L IS USM Lens Buy From B&H Rent From LensProToGo Mfr. Site

Comments:  This is a beauty of a lens that allows you to make imagery few others can.   Amazing for portraiture and a must for film.  Worth its weight in gold.

Description (from Canon): This ultra-fast telephoto, a new member of Canon legendary L-series lenses, has totally new optics to provide better image quality. It uses fluorite and UD lens elements for excellent chromatic aberration correction and consists of 17 elements in 12 groups. The built-in Optical Image Stabilizer gives it up to 4 stops of stabilization correction. The inner USM and optimized AF algorithms result in fast and quiet autofocusing, and the circular aperture can even produce beautiful out-of-focus images. This ultra-high-performance lens also improves its durability – better dust- and water-proofing. The EF 200mm f/2L IS USM is outstanding for many available-light applications, including indoor sports, theater work, fashion, and candids at events.

300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens Buy From B&H Rent From LensProToGo Mfr. Site

Comments: This is a mainstay sports lens – and a go to lens for super telephoto shots in film.  When I have any job that might require long lenses – I bring this and the 500mm with me everywhere.  In fact I take both of them with me on every single aerial shoot.

Description (from Canon): Telephoto lens newly equipped with an Image Stabilizer enabling hand-held shooting for easier movement. The fluorite element and two UD-glass elements effectively correct the chromatic aberrations prone to occur with telephoto lenses. With the EOS-1v and EOS-3, the AF speed becomes the world’s fastest. To reduce the overall weight and enhance portability, the lens barrel and many other exterior parts use a magnesium-alloy. Also, the detachable tripod collar revolves smoothly and locks securely.

400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens Buy From B&H Rent From LensProToGo Mfr. Site

Comments: This is the MAINSTAY Lens for sports photographers and is likely the single most popular long telephoto lens used by sports and news shooters due to how bright it is, as well as the fact that w/ a 1.4X you have effectively a 560mm 4 – so no need to carry this lens AND a 600mm 4.

Description (from Canon): The stellar combination of superlative optics, astonishing performance and brilliant construction, the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM super telephoto is the professional’s choice for a long lens, and perfect for nature and wildlife photography. Over 28% lighter than its predecessor and now the lightest lens in its class, the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM features Fluorite optics that deliver sharper images with less chromatic aberration, a completely redesigned Image Stabilization system that offers up to four extra stops of performance, a newly-developed Fluorine coating that keeps soiling, smears and fingerprints to a minimum, plus new construction in line with only the best that Canon has to offer. With a third Image Stabilization mode (Mode 3) that activates IS only when the shutter button is fully pressed, and giving the equivalent effect of a shutter speed four stops faster, the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM allows for easy panning and is ideally positioned for professional action photography. With a new security slot for wire-type security locks, buttons and switches are redesigned for intuitive, deliberate operation, and dust and water sealing keeps the lens functioning flawlessly in even the most challenging environments.

500mm f/4 IS Lens Buy From B&H Rent From LensProToGo Mfr. Site

Comments: If I had ONE long lens to pick (a super telephoto of course) this is it.   The 400mm 2.8 is a bit too heavy to handhold – especially from a helicopter.   The 500mm is the perfect size and weight to ship, shoot and travel with.  I’m pretty much in love with this lens – and if you’re going to buy one long lens – I recommend this one hands down.  I don’t think you need to worry about the 1-stop loss relative to the 400mm 2.8 as you did a few years ago – given how well the new Canon cameras perform in low light.

Description (from Canon): Next-generation super telephoto L-series lens with an Image Stabilizer, it’s one of the world’s best lenses for wildlife and nature photography. The optical system is newly designed with a maximum aperture of f/4. One fluorite element and two UD-glass elements effectively correct aberrations resulting in sharp and excellent delineation.

Distagon T* 15mm f/2.8 ZE Wide Angle Lens B&H Mfr. Site

Comments:  This is THE sharpest ultra-wide-angle lens you can buy.   Kills everything else out there.  No brainer purchase for most serious filmmakers and photographers.

Description (from Zeiss): With a field angle of 110°, the super wide-angle Distagon T* 2,8/15 is the ideal companion when it comes to capturing events in a way that makes them dynamic and extraordinary. Whether salt crystals or drops of water – its integrated lens shade and standard filter thread afford the front lens optimal protection from wind and weather. The technically impressive features of the Distagon T* 2,8/15 include extraordinary chromatic aberration correction as well as two aspheric lens elements, special types of glass with exceptional partial dispersion and a floating elements design guaranteeing high image quality from close-up to infinity. Allowing you unlimited possibilities to let your imagination run free.

Distagon T* 18mm f/3.5 ZE Wide Angle Lens B&H Mfr. Site

Comments: An important note about ALL of the ZE glass.   This tends to be some of the sharpest glass in the HDSLR lineup, and on the contrasty side.   These are fully mechanical lenses (they have hard stops at infinity and at their macro setting) which means they are significantly better suited than EF lenses (which have no hard stops as they are magnetic in nature.)   This means that when you set a focus mark on the ZE lens, it stays.  If you go past infinity or macro on a Canon EF lens you lose your mark which can be EXTREMELY frustrating and a big loss of time.   This is why a lot of filmmakers invest in this series of lenses over the Canon EF lenses.  That being said:  you have NO AUTOFOCUS or IMAGE STABILIZATION within these lenses… so it can be a toss up depending on your intended uses.    If you’re doing ONLY video, then these might a better investment for some.   If you’d like to do both, then you might want to consider the Canon glass over the ZE lenses.

Description (from Zeiss): The Zeiss Distagon T* 18mm f/3.5 ZE Wide Angle Lens is designed floating lens elements that deliver consistent high-quality over the entire distance range from 0.98′(0.3 m) to infinity. The Zeiss T* anti-reflective coating yields images with depth, contrast and brilliance even under a difficult lighting situations. Optimal color correction yields images with contrasting edges, delivered without color fringing. This ultra-wide provides the photographer with a tool that enables dramatic perspectives and creative possibilities. When combined with a digital SLR using a DX type sensor, this lens has an effective focal length of 27mm.

Distagon T* f/2.8 21mm ZE Lens B&H Mfr. Site

Comments: Extremely sharp wideangle, very commonly used for wide masters.

Description (from Zeiss): The Zeiss Distagon T* f/2.8 21mm ZE Lens for Canon EF Mount EOS DSLR cameras is a precision wide angle lens built with a Carl Zeiss T* anti-reflection coating that yields accurate color and professional-quality, high contrast images without any color fringes. It delivers exceptional results under all lighting conditions. With close focusing of only 8.64" (0.22 m) it is useful for landscape photography and other subjects with dramatic perspectives. The Distagon T* f/2.8 21mm comes with an EF bayonet (ZE) mount for Canon film and digital full-frame SLRS. The large front filter diameter (82mm) allows for the use of standard screw-in filters when combined with a standard lens shade (included).

Distagon T* f/2 28mm ZE Lens B&H Mfr. Site

Comments:  Unusually bright 28mm – there are few 28mm Canon lenses at F2 – you have to go to a 24mm or 35mm 1.4.

Description (from Zeiss): The Zeiss 28mm f/2.0 Distagon T* Lens with a ZE Mount for Canon EF mount SLRS is a moderate wide-angle lens based on the renowned Distagon design of the 1980s for the Contax system. The modern Distagon T* has been optimized with current, higher performing and eco-friendly glass and incorporates a floating lens element design to optimize image quality across the entire focusing range. This high performance lens captures very detailed scenes with high accuracy and information content. Its fast f/2.0 aperture allows for hand-held photography under difficult lighting conditions and is well-suited for landscape, nature and commercial photography. This manual focus Carl Zeiss SLR lens is for use with both analog and digital single-lens reflex cameras that are compatible with the ZE lens mount.

Distagon T* f/1.4 35mm ZE Lens Buy From B&H Rent From LensProToGo Mfr. Site

Comments: One of the sharpest 35mm lenses out there – I never go anywhere without mine.

Description (from Zeiss): The Zeiss Distagon f/1.4 35mm ZE Lens classic focal length with a moderate wide-angle perspective, that is perfectly suited for commercial, location and nature photography. This Distagon T* lens is designed to provide very high image quality over a wide range of apertures and focusing ranges. The fast f/2 aperture enables hand-held photography under difficult lighting conditions and the short focus rotation is well-suited for fast action photography. The lens is designed for use with full-frame SLR and DSLR cameras. Combined with a DSLR with a 1.5 crop factor, the lens has an effective focal length of 53mm and can be used as a standard focal length for a natural viewing perspective.

Planar T* f/1.4 50mm ZE Lens Buy From B&H Rent From LensProToGo Mfr. Site

Comments:  The standard "must have" cine lens for MCUs. 

Description (from Zeiss): The Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 ZE Planar T* Lens is a high-speed standard lens for the exacting 35mm SLR photographer. Considered by professional photographers to be one of the world’s best SLR lenses (if not the best), this "ZE" lens is now available for the Canon EF (EOS) bayonet SLR system. All existing exposure programs (P, AV, TV, M) and the AF verification function of the camera are supported, and lens information (focal length and speed) is passed on to the camera. Certain functions that require the use of AF lenses (various subject programs, A-DEP) are partially unavailable. The Planar lens with its front-and-back symmetry was invented by Dr. Paul Rudolf and is one of the best-known Carl Zeiss T* lenses. It is remarkably effective in eliminating aberrations and possesses very high definition allowing contrast in the subject to be faithfully reproduced.

Planar T* f/1.4 85mm ZE Lens Buy From B&H Rent From LensProToGo Mfr. Site

Comments:  One of the sharpest 85mm lenses in the world.

Description (from Zeiss):  The Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 ZE Planar T* lens is a short, high speed telephoto lens built for the exacting SLR photographer. It provides an unusually bright and clear image in the finder. Even at full aperture, it delivers top image quality. Its angle of view and exceptional performance make the Planar T* 1.4/85 ZF the lens of choice for portraiture on location or in the studio. Now offered as a "ZE" type lens, which makes it compatible with any camera that uses the Canon EF bayonet lens mount. All existing exposure programs (P, AV, TV, M) and the AF verification function of the camera are supported, and lens information (focal length and speed) is passed on to the camera. Certain functions that require the use of AF lenses (various subject programs, A-DEP) are partially unavailable.

Makro-Planar T* f/2 100mm ZE Lens B&H Mfr. Site

Comments:  Again the image off of this lens is simply spectacular – along with all of the ZE lenses in the upper range.

Description (from Zeiss): The Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 100mm f/2 ZE Lens for Canon EF Mount EOS DSLR cameras has superior quality optics, combining sharp macro performance and a very fast maximum aperture. A ‘floating element’ optical system enables the Makro-Planar T* to deliver superior quality images even at f/2, from infinity to the close-focus (1.4′, 0.44 m) distance. Users can employ selective focusing on important details with the clarity required for close-up photography, effectively isolating the subject from distracting surroundings. Applications for this lens making this lens is ideal for use in a wide variety of shooting scenarios including, but not limited to, industrial, scientific, nature, and product photography applications. Its superior and unique image quality also makes it a great choice for portraits.

Apo Sonar T* 135mm f/2 ZE Lens B&H Mfr. Site

Comments:  This is my favorite portrait lens hands down.   For stills I would go to the Canon EF version to gain the Autofocus features.

Description (from Zeiss): Enjoying the evocative atmosphere of dusk against a dreamlike backdrop – as an inconspicuous observer, the tele lens lets you experience this unique moment from the distance. Detached from the background, the Apo Sonnar T* 2/135 enables an incomparable interplay of soft evening light and radiant colors. Offering the utmost flexibility in a wide diversity of situations, this tele lens can also capture the actor’s emotions on the stage from the third row and take breathtaking portrait photos.

1.4x Series III Teleconverter Buy From B&H Rent From LensProToGo Mfr. Site

Comments: If you’re bringing your 70~200mm 2.8 or anything longer with you on any shoot – NEVER LEAVE HOME WITHOUT THIS CONVERTER.   It turns your 200mm in a 280mm,  your 300mm into a 420mm, and your 400mm into a 640mm – basically you get to one-up your lens to the next size up – while sacrificing only one stop of light – and extremely minimal sharpness.  If you take good care of these converters – most would never be able to tell that they were ever used by judging the final image quality- and that’s exceptional.

Description (from Canon USA): This tele extender can be used with fixed focal length lenses 135mm and longer (except the 135mm f/2.8 Softfocus lens), and the EF 70-200 f/2.8L, 70-200 f/2.8L IS, 70-200 f/4.0L, 70-200 f/4.0L IS USM, and 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS zoom lenses. Superb optically, it preserves the image quality of the lens it’s mounted to and multiplies its focal length 1.4x. Effective aperture is reduced by one f-stop; autofocus is possible on any EOS camera when combined with a lens having an f/4 or faster maximum aperture. The new version II maintains the outstanding optics of the previous version, and adds enhanced weather-resistant construction, and improved anti-reflective surfaces in the barrel.

2x Series III Teleconverter Buy From B&H Rent From LensProToGo Mfr. Site

Comments:  This is an excellent converter.  But more often that not I’d rather crop into the 1.4X converter than lose the two stops of light.

Description (from Canon USA): This extender has been re-designed optically and offers excellent performance with compatible EF lenses (same as the Extender EF 1.4x II). Features a new seven-element design, and same weather-resistant design and anti-reflection internal construction as the new EF 1.4x II. The EF 2x II doubles the focal length of any lens it’s mounted to, and reduces its effective aperture by two stops. With the EF 2x II, AF is possible with any EOS body if the lens has an f/2.8 or faster maximum aperture, and compatible Image Stabilization lenses maintain the IS feature when used with any current EOS camera.