My 5 Favorite Lenses for New Canon DSLR Videographers

It’s difficult to choose just 1 favorite lens for videography. As Canon DSLR videographers, we have the luxury of choosing from among a huge selection of lenses. But with this luxury comes an agonizing decision: What lens should you get first? In this article, I’ll walk you through my personal top 5 must-have Canon lenses for any new Canon DSLR videographer. I feel there is something in each of these lenses that allows you to capture the best video possible, and in a range of price points. These lenses are a great start for any burgeoning Canon DSLR videographer.

Favorite Canon DSLR Lens for Videography #1: Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens

This is the first lens I ever purchased. This “Nifty Fifty” is, perhaps surprisingly, a favorite lens for videography for a few reasons. For one, it’s incredibly affordable (around $125 retail and only $15 to rent for a week). Don’t let its cheapness fool you. It can give you a cinematic look. 50mm is the perfect “midway” focal length. It’ll provide you with realistic proportions in portrait shots – what photographers call a “normal” field of view and one that best mimics what the human eye sees. Because the lens can open up to f/1.8, it allows for shallow depth of field and good bokeh. Backgrounds fall off into a lovely blur leaving your subject in clear focus.

20mm, 50mm, and 200mm bokeh compared

Learn more about depth of field, aperture, and subject distance in Intro to Depth of Field in Filmmaking.

The f/1.8 aperture also allows you to capture beautiful videos in low light. If your Canon DSLR has Movie Servo AF, you can take advantage of the stepping motor in this lens. Movie Servo AF continuously focuses on moving subjects. While most video shooters use manual focus only, Movie Servo AF can be really handy for more casual events and family stuff. Do note that this lens uses a “gear type” STM which is a bit noisier than the STM found in more expensive lenses.

Portrait of Black man in beanie hat against bright green fall foliage with lots of bokeh

Still example of the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens at f/2 and the bokeh it can deliver.

What really appeals about this lens, other than its price, is its size. It’s perfect for travel! Note, though, that it does not zoom. This is a “prime” lens, so 50mm is all you get. Also note that if you’re using this lens with a camera that has a smaller sensor, like what you get inside the Canon Rebel T8i, the “effective” field of view will be narrow (it’ll read more like an 80mm would, which takes you out of the “normal” view and more into a “telephoto” view). To keep this lens very lightweight, it is mainly plastic but it has a rugged metal mount and optimized coatings so it can withstand shooting in most environments.

Three lenses side by side to show the size differences.

You can rent the 50mm f/1.8 STM lens for $15* for a 7-day rental.

Favorite Canon DSLR Lens for Videography #2: Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III Lens

One of the main reasons why a wide angle zoom lens like the 16-35mm is critical in your camera bag is because of flexible viewing area! No lens tells a story like a wide angle lens. You can capture so much more of the scene with these lenses than you can with a telephoto lens. See this example to compare a 16mm shot to a 50mm one:

Image of a cup on table demonstrating difference between 16mm and 50mm focal length.Image of a cup on table demonstrating difference between 16mm and 50mm focal length.

The 16mm shot provides much more of a story than the 50mm shot. You’d be hard pressed to guess where the mug is in the second shot. With the wide angle lens, you can see the table on which the mug is sitting, along with the full brick wall in the background. The story becomes clearer.

Kellan Wreck using a 16-35 on a gimbal while pointing it at a white male actor looking pensive

Wide angle lenses like the Canon 16-35mm allow for exaggeration and distortion. This can be an artistic tool when it comes to making films. You can make your subject appear larger than life, or you could create a spooky feel. This distorted look can provide a lot of value when trying to portray an emotion in your work. Distortion is not always bad!

Portrait of white man smiling slightly for camera against a vista sunset.

Shot at 16mm f/2.8.

The lens distortion exaggerates features. In the image above, the subject’s nose appears elongated. He seems larger than life compared to the background. The look is certainly powerful. It’s impossible to not feel a sense of emotion from these wide shots.

If you are in the real estate video world, a wide angle lens is your bread and butter. A wide angle lens can make your interiors appear massive! This works wonders when trying to promote a home. The image below compares the same interior shot with a standard 50mm lens and then again with a wide angle lens. The same space looks drastically different.

Quad shot comparing a living room and kitchen when shot on 50mm compared to 16mm.

Finally, the Canon 16-35mm is the perfect tool for beautiful landscapes or architecture photography. The image is crisp and sprawling. You just can’t capture this expanse like you can with a wide angle lens. 

Landscape vista of the Getty over LA

Taken at 16mm, f/18.

Having a lens like the 16-35mm in your camera bag will add a host of options for your craft. Whether you’re creating a specific mood or looking to tell a big story with your shots, a wide angle is critical to have and the 16-35mm f/2.8L III is my favorite wide angle zoom lens for videography. In fact, it is probably the lens I use the most often.

You can rent the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L III lens for $74 for a 7-day rental.

Favorite Canon DSLR Lens for Videography #3: Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 Lens

The Canon 28mm f/1.8 is wildly underrated. I use this all the time in my work. First, you’re getting an incredibly sharp image, a built-in flare blocker, and a 7-bladed aperture. What does this all mean? You can achieve lovely 14-pointed sunbursts with little-to-no haze. It is slightly soft around the edges wide open but this is remedied when you stop down to f/2 or f/2.8.

Sun flare while looking up

With a fast lens that offers an f/1.8 max aperture, you are going to be able to capture beautiful videos in low light. Just like with the 50mm, the 28mm is really great for low light imagery overall. Because it can open up so wide, it lets in more light than most of the competing lenses in this price range. A huge asset in your camera bag. Rather than crank your ISO and end up with grainy footage, toss on the 28mm at f/1.8!

Closeup of 28mm, a favorite lens for videography

One of the biggest reasons the Canon 28mm f/1.8 is a favorite lens for videography is the price. You can get it for around $400 (at the time of this writing), which is an unbelievable steal for this type of lens. Any other Canon lens that is near 28mm in focal length and can open up to f/1.8 or more costs much more. For example, the Canon 24mm f/1.4L is around $600 (for the Mark I – the Mark II runs closer to $1,500). The Canon 35mm f/1.4 runs about $700 for the Mark I and $1,700 for the Mark II. Because they are limited to only the one angle of view, it can sometimes be hard to justify purchasing several prime lenses when you can get just 1 zoom. But primes are often sharper and faster, so to find an affordable few to have in your bag is a great asset.

You can rent the Canon 28mm f/1.8 lens for $30 for a 7-day rental.

Favorite Canon DSLR Lens for Videography #4: Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III Lens

You’ll absolutely want to invest in a telephoto and this is a favorite tele lens for videography. You need the option of capturing distance. With the 70-200mm lens, you can get shots from afar, achieve amazing bokeh, and have some range flexibility to boot.

Author Kellan Wreck at a sporting event with his RED and 70-200mm

I use the 70-200mm religiously when shooting weddings and sporting events. It lets me capture the action from a safe distance without ruining the nature of the event.

Red Sox player in the rain taken with a favorite lens for videography according to Kellan Reck

Taken at 175mm, f/2.8.

As you use a longer and longer lens, you begin to get a lot of compression effects in your videos. In essence, you’re making objects feel closer to each other than they truly are. Learn more about this in How Lens Length Affects Apparent Background Size: An Example Using the Moon. With this look comes amazing bokeh. The 70-200mm lens does this extremely well, especially because it opens to f/2.8. 

Olympus camera on ground shot very close to show extreme background bokeh

Taken at 150mm f/2.8.

Scene showing couple on railroad tracks

Taken at 70mm f/2.8.

The 70-200mm stands out from the rest on this list because it’s a tele and also it’s much more expensive. But it truly is priceless to be able to grab a closeup shot from afar with such beautiful results. If you film weddings, sports, concerts, or other large-scale events, this lens – or something close to it – is absolutely essential.

You can rent the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III lens for $75 for a 7-day rental.

Favorite Canon DSLR Lens for Videography #4: Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro Lens

This is the most unique lens on this list. A macro lens allows for extremely close focusing. You can put a subject in focus when it is just centimeters away from your lens. Most lenses will require at least a foot or two of distance before a subject can fall into focus.

Macro of a leaf taken by the 100mm macro from Canon, a favorite lens for videography.

Macro lenses are amazing for both photography and videography are a critical add to your camera bag. Macro lenses can focus on subjects that are far closer to the camera than any other (non scientific) lens is capable of. I use macros lenses for detail shots and b-roll all the time. The close imagery of the water droplets in the image above is a result only a macro lens could achieve.

Black couple balancing on railroad tracks, shot on a 100mm lens.

The Canon 100mm also has beautiful, shallow depth of field when opened to f/2.8. As you can see below, you’ll be able to isolate your subject from the background, creating cinematic looks. It’s a fantastic addition to any camera bag. You’ll also notice that this macro lens isn’t exclusively a macro shooter. It’s also a great portrait option. I only put this lens at number 5 because of its unique nature. Sure, you can use this lens for shots that aren’t macro – allowing it to do double-duty. But if all you need is a decent portrait lens, don’t spring for the macro price. If you’re shooting nature work, weddings, or really anything else that’s going to require some real detailed shots, then the macro is a must.

You can rent the Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro lens for $42 for a 7-day rental.

Finding Your Own Favorite Lens for Videography

If you just have no idea where to start – and especially if you don’t want to spend too much – consider a few of the lenses on this list. But, in the end, only you can truly choose the right lens for your type of work. You could craft an uneasy, frightening scene with a wide lens, or you could grab a telephoto lens and create enhanced depth in your image. The choices are endless, but your lenses are where those choices begin. These five lenses will provide you with a great base, giving you a full range of focal lengths and styles.

If the lenses on this list aren’t right for you, there are a few things to consider when looking for your own lens. Always take focal length into account. Do you want a wide shot? Do you want to capture footage from a distance? What type of lens will give you the look you want.

You should also think about the aperture of the lens. Can it open up past f/2.8? If not, it may not perform well in low light – or at least not as well as you’d like. If you’re shooting in broad daylight, then a fast lens like this won’t matter as much. You might even be able to save a little bit of money if you don’t need a fast lens really at all. However, if you want a nice shallow depth of field, you will want to consider that faster, low aperture. All of these factors come into play when choosing a lens.

*All quoted rental prices are at the time of this writing and subject to change.

Kellan Reck is a video editor and cinematographer for the Boston Red Sox, producing and building content for the team's social media platforms and Fenway Park's video boards. This work with the team has awarded Kellan four New England Emmy Awards. Additionally, Kellan runs a YouTube channel where he shares tutorials, tricks, and more that help other filmmakers develop their skills. Enjoy a new video every Wednesday at 10 AM!

1 Comment

  • Nick

    I really enjoy my Canon 24mm f/2.8 STM and the 35mm f/2 IS combo that I have. I used that combination to shoot a wedding back in January of this year, before all of the lockdowns, and the results I got from both lenses were excellent. My main camera was positioned in the front of the church so I used a 24mm for the wide-angle to get the entire wedding party in the shot. I was moving around with the 35mm on a gimbal so I could not only get everyone coming up the aisle but going back down it as well.

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