Sunday, March 19, 2017

Affordable Prime Lenses for Student Filmmakers

     Shooting a short film with prime lenses has numerous educational advantages.  There are the technical aspects: faster, consistent f-stops across numerous focal lengths, permitting consistent ISO settings into the higher focal lengths.  Shooting with primes gives a more authentic cinematic filming experience: the movie industry uses primes.  Additionally, using prime lenses creates a sense of “planting the flag” in that the director says, “we will put the camera here”; there is no way to cheat the framing with a little zoom. 

     However, an industry grade set of primes can be cost prohibitive.  There are few choices on the market between the built in zoom lens and expensive professional primes.  So, let me show you what I have put together for my students.

     This is a set of Canon FD prime lenses from the 1970s and 80s, mounted on to a Sony FS-100 with an adapter.  Our system works fine.  The equipment came from eBay.  I’m not worried if a student drops a $100 lens. (It has not happened - yet.) 

     Focus is aided with the camera’s expanded focus control.  Having a consistent F-2.8 across focal lengths is great.  Having a 50mm with 1.8 is fantastic.  The only downside is that a drop-focus can sometimes be less than smooth, depending on the lens and how the focus ring is prepared prior to the turn.

     When first using the primes, it takes students a while to get the knack for the repeated lens changing, but they get better at it.  Students soon realize that shooting with primes is fundamentally different from the ENG type cameras they used in the TV news class.  Using these prime lenses creates a greater artistic level when shooting their films.  The use of prime lenses makes their film making a more deliberate process.