Whether you’re shooting on a phone, on a DSLR or on a broadcast-spec camera, one way to achieve truly cinematic shots is to look at using some must-have camera lenses. The good news is that camera lenses come in all shapes and sizes, and there are lots of budget-friendly options available too.
There are some fantastic effects that can be easily achieved with just one or two camera lenses, or even with good use of your phone’s camera settings, but if you’re looking to move your filmmaking up to the next level, here are some must-have camera lenses to help turn your videos into cinematic masterpieces.
Must-Have Camera Lenses 1: Smart Phone Lenses
The first set of must-have camera lenses for any smartphone filmmaker is a set of adaptable lenses for smart phones. These are low-cost, easy to carry around and can just pop over your camera phone lens to instantly give you a range of different images in no time at all. For this reason, they top the list of our must-have camera lenses for young filmmakers, because even just for practising, they can help show you what’s possible with use of the right lens.
Even better, most often these smart phone camera lenses come as a set, so you get equivalents of most of the DSLR lenses listed below included in just one go.
For any smartphone filmmakers, these are a great addition to your pocket-kit and give you tons of options for your videos, whether you’re making a cinematic production set for film festivals, or fun videos for TikTok.
We recommend: Shuttermoon Camera Lens Kit but there are plenty smartphone camera lenses available.
The rest of our list focuses on lenses available for DSLR cameras, although each of these recommendations will also have versions available for different camera models. It’s just a case of finding the right model to suit your camera.
Must-Have Camera Lenses 2: Telephoto Lens – 75mm
If you shoot on a DSLR, most models will come with a kit lens, which is perfect for most of the shots you’re like to film. However, if you’re looking for truly cinematic shots, then a telephoto lens will help you capture beautiful closeups without the need to get up close and personal with your subject.
A telephoto lens has the natural effect of being ‘zoomed in’, without actually needing to zoom. This makes it great for detail and also for filming wildlife, where it can be difficult to film up close without disturbing the subjects. Using a telephoto lens, rather than a zoom lens, or zooming in on a standard lens, also helps you to maintain the highest possible image quality and depending on the focal length, you can also achieve highly cinematic effects with the depth-of-field as a telephoto lens will blur the background and clearly define your subject.
Pro Tip: If you’re looking for the best possible results and don’t mind investing in a range of camera lenses, then prime lenses (non-zoom) with fixed focal lengths are the best way to go. If you’re just looking to take the next step and explore working with camera lenses more generally, then zoom lenses will offer more flexibility and you might also find are easier to work with.
Must-Have Camera Lenses 3: Wide Angle Lens
To produce cinematic establishing shots, then a Wide Angle is the next choice for must-have camera lenses.
A Wide Angle lens brings in more of the surroundings and gives a dramatic impression. It achieves a wider shot within the same frame as a standard lens, which makes it great for adding lots of context and for effective establishing shots, especially outdoor landscapes. These types of shots can look especially impressive when shot with a Wide Angle lens.
A Wide Angle lens can also be useful if you’re shooting in a small space, such as a small living room or office, and want to create the impression of having more space.
Must-Have Camera Lenses 4: The Nifty Fifty
If you’ve got to grips with a telephone lens and a wide angle lens, then the next of our must-have camera lenses will take your work that extra step further.
The ‘Nifty Fifty’ is a 50mm lens – ideally a prime lens – that can start to replace your kit lens as the standard. A 50mm lens offers a ‘natural’ or a standard image, as its view is closest to what the human eye sees naturally.
The 50mm lens is ideal for shooting people, but unlike your kit lens (most likely a zoom), it will give you a really clear, high quality image, with plenty of depth-of-field, plenty of light and also lots of flexibility for shooting different shots in close up, medium shots, or wide shots.
Must-Have Camera Lenses 5: Fish Eye Lens
A fish eye lens is a subcategory of a Wide Angle lenses, which take in a broader field and distort the image in the process. An image shot on a fish eye lens will ‘bend’ straight lines and make them appear more circular, giving the impression of a ‘fish eye’s’ interpretation of the world.
For filmmaking, a full-frame fish eye lens is usually best, although a circular frame version also exists, which offers a vignette style capture that works well for photography (or for filming through door bells!).
A fish eye lens is a stylistic choice and if you make naturalistic films, it’s unlikely you’ll reach for your fish eye lens on a regular basis. However, if you make films set in dystopian worlds where the characters watch one another, you’re much more likely to get good use from your fish eye lens. It’s a good one for creating atmosphere, or a sense of vulnerability within a distorted world.
Camera Lenses 6: Anamorphic Lens – Not a Must-Have
We don’t consider this one of our must-have camera lenses, as it’s only used for very particular effects and isn’t very accessible, but as they are talked about quite a bit, we wanted to cover them as a final option for any young filmmakers highly interested in lens work.
An anamorphic lens was initially designed to capture a wider image, that could be stretched in the old 4:3 aspect ratio, however, these aren’t really needed for this purpose any longer. The “side effects” are sometimes sought after though, as anamorphic lenses don’t distort close ups like Wide Angle lenses do, and with the stretching effect, the edges of a frame provide a subtle vignette effect with a dream-like or nostalgic feel. This can look very ‘cinematic’, however anamorphic lenses are usually only available for very high-spec industry cameras and they are also expensive to work with, so they’re only really used occasionally on very big-budget productions.
That’s our list for must-have camera lenses! So if you’re thinking about starting to work with camera lenses in your filmmaking, then why not give some of these a try?
If you’d like to find out more about filmmaking, you can take a look over the filmmaking projects and guides available on our blog, where we share tips, advice and projects for young filmmakers.