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Best Lenses for Canon 5D, 7D and 1D?

If you could buy only 3 lenses for your Canon 5D, 7D or 1D which lenses would they be?

Filmmakers using new DSLR technology have been graced with the ability to use cameras that allow for interchangeable lenses without having to use Depth of Field (DOF) adapters. DOF adapters inevitably limit light from hitting your camera’s sensor and therefore often slightly degrade the image quality.

However, with the advent of DSLR’s with video capabilities filmmakers are now given access to cameras that shoot 24p and can handle interchangeable lenses without an adapter. Cameras such as the Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 7D and Canon 1D Mark IV are all capable of holding an assortment of lenses.

Filmmakers who choose these Canon cameras will then need to ask themselves the following question: “what should my lens kit consist of?

In our opinion, your first lenses should be lenses that don’t quickly become redundant. It’s also helpful to have a “normal”, telephoto and wide angle lens. You’ll be looking for quality, speed and adaptability. But of course lens preference is subjective. What works for one filmmaker may not be ideal for another. For example a fiction filmmaker looking for a moody, textured and shadowed look will want to shoot in dark environments, which means lens speed would be a priority. On the other hand, a documentary filmmaker working on a project about animals in the wild would likely place more emphasis on the telephoto capabilities of a lens rather than just its speed.

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And of course, price is always and issue for documentary and fiction filmmakers alike. Some filmmakers will be able to spend $2500 while other filmmakers will only be able to spend $300. Some filmmakers will like the colors and contrast of the Carl Zeiss lenses and others will prefer the colors and contrast of Nikon lenses. The point is there is no “one size fits all” answer. Different lenses have their own “character”. The world of filmmaking would be in a tragic state if we could mathematically deduce what the “best” or “perfect” lens was. Students in our online filmmaking program have a tutorial entitled “using lenses expressively” where they learn how to express their cinematic ideas through the careful selection of lenses that suit their story best. If you want to dive deeper into the topic of lens selection, you should consider enrolling in our 3-6 month online filmmaking program here.

Back to lens selection – so where do we start then? Well, if you’re looking to start an adaptable lens kit that will allow you to work in both indoor and outdoor environments, with landscapes and portraits, during both night and day and lenses that won’t break the bank, then the lens choices below will serve as great starting point.

Canon owners looking for lenses may become quickly confused when starting their search for compatible lenses. Let us help clear the air. Just because you have a Canon body that does not limit you to only using Canon lenses. New adapters are being created that allow you to attach Nikon and other lenses to your Canon body. In fact recently a new adapter was built that would allow you to attach your older FD lenses to your EOS body (Called an FD to EOS adapter).

There has also been the development of the PL adapter which allows DSLR filmmakers to attach older cinema lenses to their Canon body.

Similarly, there are “independent” lens manufacturers such as Carl Zeiss and Sigma who manufacture lenses that fit directly on to the Canon 5D, 7D and 1D. These manufactures make lenses with “mounts” that will fit different camera bodies. For instance Sigma makes lenses with different mounts to fit Canon, Nikon and Pentax bodies.

The point being is that the options are slowly working their way towards limitless. As a filmmaker you’ll work on different projects and hopefully get the opportunity to work with different lenses along the way. Through this process you’ll discover your own aesthetic preferences. A good place to start would be to rent lenses. The cost of renting a $1500 lens is often only $35 – $50 / day.

That being said let us guide you with some ideas and suggestions that would help you start building your own lens kit.

You’ll need to start somewhere. One of the most important first lenses to buy would be a 50mm prime lens. Prime lenses are lenses with a fixed focal length which means that they don’t have telephoto capabilities. A 50mm lens is also roughly comparable to how the human eye sees which is why you sometimes hear them called a “normal” lens. They are neither too wide nor too narrow. They are also relatively inexpensive, generally costing anywhere from $200 – $500. You should consider a fast lens for your “normal” lens. I’ve used many but I really like the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4.

Next, I would buy a telephoto lens. Canon makes some really great telephoto lenses but they are more expensive than some of the independent brands available. Carl Zeiss isn’t making telephoto lenses anymore but you can get used, as well as older (never been used) Zeiss lenses at camera equipment stores.

In fact, I was just in a camera store this morning. I myself use the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 which is a great lens but it also costs around $1300 to buy new. While in the camera store I looked through their used section and I found a little Nikon 55-200mm f/4 lens for $250. With an adapter I could attach this to the Canon 5D, 7D or 1D and I’d save around $1000. The lens was in great shape. The only down side is that it wouldn’t shoot as well in low light and it requires manual focus.

Another option in this range was a new Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 lens for $900. It has almost the same specs as the Canon EF 70-200mm (mentioned above), but it’s roughly $400 cheaper.

Given these options, if I didn’t already have my Canon telephoto lens I would have gone with the $200 Nikon lens and used an adapter to put it on my 5D. It would be a great lens if you’re on a tight budget.

Next, I would buy a wide angle lens. I really like Zeiss lenses. I love the color and contrast they offer. True, they can be a little expensive, but you can get them built with a Canon mount so they’ll fit right on your 5D, 7D or 1D body. That being said, if you have a limited budget I would recommend getting the Tokina 11-16mm. It’s a popular lens amongst DSLR indie filmmakers and it’s been used in some of the most breathtaking work I’ve seen. Best of all… this EF-S lens only costs around $600 (EF-S lenses don’t fit on the 5D).

The video below was shot on the Canon 7D using the Tokina 11-16mm & Zeiss 50mm f1.4 with a Nikon mount.


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26 Responses to Best Lenses for Canon 5D, 7D and 1D?

  1. Craig November 9, 2010 at 5:51 pm #

    Great tips! Thanks! What is the video editing software that you used for the shoot?

  2. Film School December 3, 2010 at 12:12 am #

    Hi Craig. I’m not sure actually because we didn’t actually shoot the video above. We just used it as an example.

  3. Skip Saunders April 16, 2011 at 9:01 pm #

    I have a slightly different view: Money should be spent on lenses tend to last a long time….camera bodies go obsolete quickly. So, in my opinion, get quality lenses that will last, and plan on recycling the bodies.

    If one believes this is appropriate, then my lens advice would be to seek lenses that enable your creativity. First lenses might include a super wide angle, or a very long telephoto, or a fine macro lens. (pick 2)….and the third lens should be one that allows quick action, perhaps a “standard” lens? or a “standard zoom”?

    Creativity enablers should be first priority (IMHO)

  4. Film School April 16, 2011 at 9:34 pm #

    Thank you for submitting an alternative perspective Skip!

  5. seven May 11, 2011 at 8:27 pm #

    for a cropped cam like the 7D, should i still get the 50mm? i heard a 28, 30 or 35mm can substitute for that.

  6. Mrspace June 7, 2011 at 11:49 am #

    for a documentary for mainly filming interviews with a close proximity to the person your interviewing, whats the single best lens?

  7. David June 28, 2011 at 8:26 am #

    I have a pretty amateur question, but I was wondering what the purpose of a “mount” is on a camera? The film above, you said you filmed it with a Nikon mount on the Canon 7D. I own a Canon 7D and was thinking of getting the Tokina. Is this mount necessary? What does it add to the video?

  8. Film School July 7, 2011 at 8:11 am #

    @seven – Yes, your right a “50mm” is not a 50mm on the 7D as it is on the full frame 5D. This is because of their different sensor sizes. In close quarters a 50mm on the 7D may feel a little too close. @Mrspace – It’s really difficult to answer this question. Somewhere between 70-90 would be considered typical portrait lenses and give flattering compression to your subjects, but if you don’t have that much space, or you want to pick up some wide shots, then you might need to a wider lens. @David – The mount is simply the connection at the back of the lens that attaches it to the camera. All lenses have a mount. For example Nikons come with NIkon mounts and Canons come with Canon mounts. However, third party manufactures can put whatever mount you want on your lens for you (to a limit of course) . So for example, if you purchased a Sigma lens you could get it with either a NIkon or a Canon mount. But a Sigma lens with a Nikon mount wouldn’t attach to a Canon body. So the mount is necessary to attach the lens to the camera. If you find a good deal on a used Tokina lens but it comes with a Nikon mount, you could always use one of the many adapters available to re-convert it to fit a Canon.

  9. Tony September 10, 2011 at 1:40 am #

    Hi! Im gettin 550d, but i dont know what lense should i get?? I was thinking Zeiss 50mm f1.4? What you think about it?

    Any other lense? Im looking for that “wide-look” like in ur posted video!

  10. jessica September 17, 2011 at 4:33 pm #

    I own a 5d, what exactly do you mean about the tokina lens being too wide for it?

  11. Film School October 10, 2011 at 10:48 pm #

    Hi Jessica. The Tokina 11-16mm has vignetting issues when it’s attached to the 5D.

  12. arunesh sankar October 31, 2011 at 2:35 am #

    I want to make a movie using canon 7D. what about using 18-135 lense with it?

  13. Guilherme November 6, 2011 at 6:09 pm #

    Hi, I’ve one question about this “50mm in a 5D not being a 50mm in a 7D” topic. I understand that if you use a 50mm full frame lens in a Canon EOS 7D, for instance, it will give you a cropped image compared to what it’d look like if you were using a Canon EOS 5D.
    But my question is about the kind of perspective that the 50mm gives you: the standard eyes perspective. Would it change if using a cropped sensor, or the perspective remains the same while cropping the image size?

  14. rainMON February 3, 2012 at 6:37 am #

    Thanks for the article, it’s very informative. I’m trying to get into learning how to use the video function on my 7D and I’m not certain what lens to use yet for this purpose. I’ll try the 50mm 1.4. What setting do you use normally on a typical indoor room lighting using a 7D with a 50mm 1.4 lens?

  15. Glenn April 11, 2012 at 8:55 pm #

    Hi I am using a 40D but am planning to upgrade to a 7D or 7D mark II. I already have a 24-105 f4 and a 50mm f1.4. What lenses should i get to complete my set? I am planning to get a wider angle lens that I can use indoor during night… Should I get a canon ef-s 17-55 2.8 IS or a canon ef-s 10-22?

  16. vijjay mahajan May 15, 2012 at 12:16 pm #

    indian camraman work with producer buggets so we make sort films with sony pd170 camera now i have asony hxr-520 harddrive camra. i think supose to take sony alfa 55 for fullHD vido is it write. pls. give asagetion ad option to take camera and lences for films.

  17. Ines Ml May 27, 2012 at 7:21 am #

    Hey!
    I would like to know first which editing software do you normally use, and where did you download those film burns?
    Thanks !

  18. Kris Gay June 5, 2012 at 6:55 pm #

    The Tokina 11-16/f2.8 lens is an EF-S lens and, therefore, is NOT compatible with the 5D. Just noting this since no one here seemed to mention this fact as far as I could see reading down the thread.

    I do have this lens for my Canon 7D’s and it’s fantastic but it distorts like crazy at the edges (blur) at wide apertures.

  19. Film School June 6, 2012 at 8:32 am #

    @Kris – Thank you for pointing that out. We made that point more clean on our website by stating the lens is a EF-S lens. Again, thank you!

  20. Besim June 28, 2012 at 11:27 am #

    i like to know which lens is the best to do music video with canon 7d

  21. Tim August 9, 2012 at 10:00 pm #

    You guys are awesome!

    Awesome video – you’re a light in a very dark world.

  22. Joe August 10, 2012 at 12:40 am #

    It sounds to me like you’re confusing telephoto with zoom in this article. A telephoto lens is colloquially considered to be anything over 50mm (it’s actually a lens whose focal length is greater than its physical length). Long lens is the correct term. 50mm is normal, and anything less than 50mm is wide. Telephoto, long, normal, and wide all describe the field of view of a lens, not whether a lens is a prime or a zoom.

    A telephoto lens can be a prime or a zoom. Your 70-200mm is a telephoto zoom lens but you could also have a 200mm prime telephoto. And you can have a zoom lens that isn’t telephoto, like the Tokina 11-16mm—it’s a wide zoom.

    A lens that can change it’s focal length is a zoom lens (you can zoom in to). I hope this clears it up for anyone confused by this article. Zoom lenses also tend to be less sharp than primes due to additional elements although this difference is becoming barely noticeable as lens technology has improved.

    Good information otherwise.

    Also, when shopping for lenses, you might want to find lenses that don’t have a rotating front element during focusing in case you want to use certain types of filters (polarizers, etc).

  23. Fred Saunders August 10, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    For wide angle, I use a Tokina 11-16 mm. If I want great color resolution and contrasts, I use a Canon 24-105 mm L series lens. The for telephoto and all around great photos, I use a Tamron 18-270 mm VC lens. If I want to do macros\s, which I really enjoy, I use a Tamron 90 mm lens. I also plan to purchase a 400 mm lens of some type or get an extender for the 18-270 mm and the 24-105 mm L lens.

    If I were to pick a favorite, the one that I use most of the time, it would be the Tamron 18-20 mm VC lens.

    I am using a Canon T2i body and just ordered a Canon 7D. I wrestled about a decision between the Canon 7D and 5D Mark II. I bought the 7D because of versatility, speed and it is weather sealed.

  24. Clinton August 16, 2012 at 7:05 pm #

    what do you think about the Tamron Lenes for the Canon 7D for movie shooting

  25. ByQ January 30, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

    some test footage from canon 5d 24-105mm f.4 IS USM lens
    http://youtu.be/flIzji0um3w
    http://youtu.be/vyv9EUvwaUM
    http://youtu.be/rIVdohf4OVM

  26. Frank R. August 11, 2013 at 6:34 am #

    I own and use ALL Rokinon Primes (8mm 3.5 Fisheye, 14mm 2.8, 24mm 1.4, 35mm 1.4, 85mm 1.4). I also own a Sigma 50mm 1.4 and a classic Vivitar 135mm 2.8 w/adapter to fill in the gaps of having the standard focal lengths covered (14mm – 135mm). 8mm is a novelty used when something quirky is required.

    These lenses cost me:

    8mm – $300
    14mm – $379
    24mm – $600
    35mm – $500
    50mm – $500
    85mm – $300
    135mm – $50

    Its not official Canon brand but it gets the job similarly at half the price.

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