How to Choose the Best Lens Focal Length for Filmmaking

Make your footage stand out by using a lens that fits the scene. Here's 4 essentials tips and education around focal lengths for your camera lens.

How to Choose the Best Lens Focal Length for Filmmaking | Read more on Moment for filmmaking tips and education.

Filmmaking requires signature styles developed from various techniques and equipment, including camera lenses and focal lengths. However, finding which focal length is right for your project or scene is a million-dollar question. Sifting through the myriad of lenses available on the market can be daunting, so we hope to narrow your focus on our tested set of parameters. Read more to find which focal length is right for you.

1. What Does Focal Length Mean?

Focal length, usually represented in millimeters (mm), is the basic description of a photographic lens length and range.  In contrast to what many creatives believe, a lens's focal length is not its physical dimension and almost has nothing to do with its physical size.

A lens focal length combines various elements that help to focus the light and minimize distortions. The location where all the light rays converge to form a sharp image is known as the optical center of the lens.

2. How Focal Length Affects the Images

Choosing a focal length has everything to do with what scene you're shooting and how you wish to showcase the subject. What’s the depth of field, and how do you want it to be stylized? Below are various focal lengths, their strengths, and which scenes are best for each.

Wide Angle

Focal length: Full-frame around 24-40mm; APS-C 15-24mm; MFT 10-17mm

Wide lenses are helpful in filming master shots of a whole scene or for achieving closeness within cramped spaces. They’re easy to hold in the hand, and their perspective is dramatic with a quality depth of field. Colseups will be more distorted, however, which is a noted drawback.

Standard Angle

Focal length: Full-frame around 50mm; APS-C around 35mm; MFT 20-25mm

Standard lenses offer a more natural-looking perspective. Perfect for portraits, shots with two people, and mid-shot scenes from one’s hip to head. 50mm prime lenses are smaller yet give a broader aperture for more light. Maximum apertures allow for a shallow depth of field; if you want to use focus creatively but not great, everything needs to be sharp.

Mis-Telephoto or ‘Portrait’

Focal length: Full-frame around 85-100mm; APS-C around 50-60mm; MFT 35-50mm

These lenses offer the most minor distortion on closeups while maintaining a maximum aperture for more light. While bulkier in size, they are trickier to handhold so it's best to use them on a tripod or gimbal. Such depth offers a flatter perspective to craft a strong composition.

Telephoto Lenses

Focal length: Full-frame, 135mm and above. APS-C 85mm and above. MFT, 60mm+

The even longer telephoto lenses are best for the most flattened perspective to isolate the subject from the background while bringing distant subjects near. These are the most significant and heaviest lenses available, very tough to bring around, and recommended for a tripod.

Moment sony SEL35 F18 F FE 35 mm F1 8 Lens thumbnail

Sony

FE 35mm F1.8 Lens

Looking for a large-aperture prime lens for your Sony? The fast FE 35mm F1.8 Lens is compact and lightweight, ideal for both full-frame and APS-C cameras

Buy for $748.00
Moment sony SEL2470 GM FE 24 70mm f 2 8 GM Lens thumbnail

Sony

FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM Lens

Looking for a versatile zoom lens for your Sony? The FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM is the ultimate choice for professional portrait, travel, and event photographers

Buy for $2,198.00
Moment Sony SEL70200 G FE 70 200mm f 4 G OSS Lens thumbnail

Sony

FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS Lens

Shooting far and wanting to keep it stable? Capture distant subjects while keeping your camera lightweight with the FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS Lens from Sony

Buy for $1,498.00

3. Cropped vs. Full-Frame Lenses

Full-frame and APS-C formats indicate the sensor's physical dimensions, entirely different from pixel count. A full-frame sensor is 36mm by 24mm in size based on the traditional 35mm film format. An APS-C sensor is 1.5 times smaller, 25.1mm by 16.7mm, and named after the Advanced Photo System type-C film format, hence its abbreviation.

35mm film has historically been the more popular format due to its near-perfect size for capturing almost anything under the radar. In the analog world, it's much easier to carry a 35mm camera than a medium or large format camera, no? While more compact, they're seemingly large enough to produce high-quality photos, making them highly desirable for professional and amateur photographers.


This term – full-frame – was defined in contrast to more minor, or APS-C, camera sensors. A full-frame lens is roughly equivalent to a 35mm film frame, while an APS-C sensor is slightly smaller. When you mount a full-frame lens on a camera with an APS-C sensor, you will get a crop factor; your camera's APS-C-size sensor magnifies the scene to produce an image that will match the lens's full-frame image circle.

The effect is that a 50mm full-frame lens mounted on an APS-C body with a 1.5x crop factor will capture a field-of-view that is the same as a 75mm on a full-frame body.

4. Additional Features To Note

Image stabilization must be considered if you need to shoot quickly, especially without a tripod or gimbal attachment. If you're a vlogger or a run-and-gun type shooter, we suggest prioritizing this added feature for more professional footage without sacrificing a minimal setup.

Automatic or Manual Focus

Many modern-day “fly-by-wire” camera lenses are composed of a physical focus ring with an electronic motor adjusting the focus. The focus changes depending on how quickly you turn the ring. You might prefer lenses with mechanical focus rings made by third-party manufacturers or vintage prime lenses, should you wish to change the focus manually.

Parfocal Lenses

Parfocal lenses work perfectly when working quickly, as they hold the focus when you zoom in or out.

Focus Breathing

The image size can vary slightly with specific lenses as you adjust the focus. This can be distracting when you pull focus; although more expensive, higher quality modern lenses with focus breathing are designed to minimize this.

Moment Fujifilm 600019086 GF45mm F2 8 R WR thumbnail

Fujifilm

GF 45mm F2.8 R WR Lens

Eyeing a versatile wide-angle lens for your Fuji? The GF45mmF2.8 R WR Lens has a focal length equivalent to 36mm on a 35mm format. Great for street photography

Buy for $1,699.95

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