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Header image for article Exploring the Canon Lens Ecosystem

Exploring the Canon Lens Ecosystem

As a DP, when you get a phone call for a project, one of the first things you need to decide is what camera and lenses you’re going to use. Knowing what the content of the project is often drives both the shooting style and look of the piece.

For example, if I'm shooting real people in a run 'n gun style, then I typically lean towards zooms. If it's more studio style and I have a bigger crew, then I often lean towards primes. Another big factor you can’t ignore is budget. Of course, you need to know the camera budget before picking a lens family. I often lean towards Canon lenses for two reasons. One, they have a very warm, organic, inviting look to them. And two, they have a lens for every style and budget. Here are several examples of how and when I used specific Canon lenses for various types of jobs.


Canon L-Series Primes

Often projects have minimal budgets but still demand high production value. For this project, I was shooting a documentary on my good friend Anna Cali, a VFX make-up artist for film and television. I went with Canon L-Series primes for this project because I knew I’d have time to change lenses and the shoot was only in one location. I was able to take advantage of the extra sharpness and optical quality that primes provide. Not only are these lenses extremely fast, but with a limited lighting budget and a desire to create a cinematic shallow depth of field in a small space, they were the perfect choice.


Canon L-Series Zooms

The Canon L-Series zooms have long been go-to zoom lenses for still photography as well as lower-budget cinematography. I have used these lenses on narrative, documentary, web series, and commercial production. For this project, I had an idea for an experimental independent piece—a woman walking through nature, complimented by some deer we happened across. The Canon 24-70mm and 70-200mm provide the ideal focal ranges for so many applications.


Canon CN-E 15.5-47mm T2.8 and Canon CN-E 30-105mm T2.8

Whenever I’m shooting a corporate video, I do as much as possible to add elements that will help raise the production value and add a cinematic look. For this particular job, I was shooting a series of corporate videos for the same company and had a decent budget. We had two Canon C300 MK II cameras, and we also had some gimbal work planned in order to add movement to an otherwise static setup. I chose the Canon CN-E 15.5-47mm T2.8 for the A camera, and the Canon CN-E 30-105mm T2.8 for the B camera. I knew the fast stop would allow for shallow depth of field, creating cinematic B-roll of the office, employees, computer screens, and other details to give a sense of the space. The warm skin tones of the Canon look would also provide inviting colors and tones to help liven up the corporate setting. Since it was a mix of interviews and B-roll, I knew these focal lengths would allow us to capture everything necessary. In order to elevate the production value, we also used a gimbal for movement; for those shots I used the Canon L-series glass, as I knew it would pair well enough with the CN-E zooms.


Canon 17-120mm

There I was, flying to the middle of Minnesota with winter on the way. I was hired to shoot a political campaign out of town, and when making the gear list I had very little information. But what I did know were some keywords that could point me towards choosing the right lens. The crew was lean, there was an interior interview, a political rally, and a series of door-to-door campaigning. To me, and any cinematographer, this translates to handheld run 'n gun, and ideally one lens to limit downtime. I also knew I needed a natural look in order to present the candidate in a warm, inviting way. The Canon 17-120mm answered all of these needs. Via the servo, I was able to quickly and smoothly change the framing in order to capture wide establishing shots all the way to close ups. Since everything aside from the interview wasn’t planned, my setup required this type of streamlined flexibility. The Canon look was exactly what I was going for with this piece, as the warm skin tones and natural contrast helped to compliment the candidate's likeability.


Canon Sumire Primes

For a project with a higher budget and a less hectic schedule, I tend to choose primes as opposed to zooms, as they are typically sharper and have overall higher optical quality. As long as I know I have the time to change lenses in the schedule, primes are especially fitting for lifestyle, portraits, and fashion cinematography. The Canon Sumire lenses also have a very unique look; one that I love for faces, skin tones, and any project where I can or want to add some artistry to the style. For this project, I was shooting fashion with color smoke bombs with the RED MONSTRO. I knew adding some character via the lenses would add the right organic and unique look to this piece.


Canon Compact Servos

Often I am shooting projects that may require zooms due to speed of the production schedule, or simply because I will need to be farther away from the subjects and be able to capture multiple focal lengths. For this project, I was interviewing the owners of a dance studio, as well as filming B-roll of their dance performances. Often the budget is above L-Series Zooms, but not enough for the cinema zooms, which is challengin when zooms are the definite way to go for this B-roll. The Canon Compact Servos were exactly what I needed. I used the Canon Compact Servo 70-200mm T4.4 for all of the B-roll in this shoot. Their extremely lightweight design was a perfect fit for my configuration. I used the advanced image stabilization and the advanced autofocus, when paired with the C300 MK II, for the dancing sequences where the subjects are constantly moving. In addition, they added the pleasing Canon look to all of the skin tones.


Canon CN-E Primes

When the director for this docu-style, run 'n gun spot first said she wanted me to use primes, I was surprised. Typically, I would pitch zooms on this sort of project, due to the style and schedule; nothing was planned. Yet after discussing it, I really liked the idea of having a thought out plan of which focal lengths would cover which people. Besides, I love the optical quality and sharpness that I knew the primes would provide. We discussed which brand of primes, and I knew immediately that I wanted to use the Canon CN-E Primes. I find their look extremely pleasing, especially when shooting faces. We wanted the people we were filming, who would be non-actors, to come across as real as they actually are, and I find these lenses do this extremely well with their warm look and soft roll off. Paired with the Canon C300 MK II, I knew I could use the internal ND when shooting outside to really use the fast speed of these lenses and make this docu-style, run 'n gun shoot as cinematic as possible. I really feel these lenses allowed me to do so.


If you'd like, view the full videos and other projects I've worked on my website, megandonnelly.net.  

Megan Donnelly
Technology and Education Development Manager, AbelCine LA

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