AbelCine launch Behind the Lens – A new lens test series

AbelCine are partnering with Newsshooter to launch Behind the Lens – a series of videos that aims to test the most common documentary zoom lenses and rate the relative merits of each. The series is the brainchild of DoP Matt Porwoll, who says over on AbelCine’s blog “As a documentary cinematographer, I am constantly struggling to decide which lenses I want in my kit for any given project.”

The 11 lenses the series will cover are:

  • Fujinon MK 18-55
  • Canon 15.5-47
  • Canon 30-105
  • Zeiss 21-100
  • Fujinon 19-90 Cabrio
  • Canon 17-55
  • Canon 24-105
  • Sony 18-110
  • Canon 17-120
  • Fujinon 20-120 Cabrio
  • Canon 18-80

Why these lenses?

Behind the Lens - Lens chart
Click to view the complete lens comparison chart

The criteria for being included was that each lens had to have at least a 3x zoom to make it a practical option for shooting a variety of different locations and setups. All the lenses weigh under 6.5lbs (2.9kg) and were used to shoot in 4K. Cost wasn’t taken into consideration – there are some seriously pricey bits of glass in the list above – but I think it’s going to be really interesting to see how the cheaper options (like Canon’s 17-55) stack up against the lenses you’re more likely to rent than buy.

Behind the Lens: testing methodology

Porwoll decided to test each lens with charts, but also by pitting them against three setups you might conceivably find yourself shooting in the course of a documentary. So a pool hall lit to daylight, a couple dancing in the evening and a standard talking head interview. To make the comparisons fair, everything was shot on an FS7 in the same Rec709 colour space. Certainly for the UK market that makes a lot of sense as it’s a camera that’s ubiquitous, both in rental houses and with owner/operators.

Sony FS7 camera during filming for Behind the Lens
All the lenses were tested on a Sony FS7 camera.

I think this is a great idea, and an excellent way of testing the real-world merits of each lens. Detailed lab-based tests are important of course, but you only really get to know what kit is really like to use by actually using it.

Stay tuned to Newsshooter.com for all 11 lens reviews

Newsshooter are proud to be partnering the project so we’ll post each episode up on the site, and hopefully be able to host a discussion in the comments section after each episode goes live.

There are more lens options out there than ever before. This is, of course, broadly a Good Thing in that there’s probably a good option out there for you regardless of your project, shooting style or budget. But it can also be confusing if all you want to do is get out and shoot. Hopefully Behind the Lens will shed some light, and help make those decisions a little bit easier.

Remember: you’re only competing against yourself

The last word for now goes to Matt Porwoll, again from his blog post for Abelcine: “We purposely set out to not pit one lens against another, but rather to look at how each lens reacts in various situations. At the end of the day, every lens we tested is a lens I would use. Each has its purpose and place, and it’s up to us to determine when and where they shine.”

Let the Behind the Lens tests begin…

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