Whether You Are Using a Prosumer or Pro Camera, Lens Quality Matters For Both
The same rule applies to video camera lenses as it does to stills lenses..go for quality!
If you just need a simple video camera for everyday family video then I would say don’t worry too much about the lenses…most are pretty good these days.
However, if you own a DSLR and wish to use the video function, or if you want to produce high quality DVD products, shoot videos at weddings or for stock footage, I would say to look a little closer at the lens quality.
The glass on the front of any camera whether it is video or stills matters a great deal in regard to the final output quality. Poor glass can produce poor results.
Prosumer Video Camera Lenses
When buying a (prosumer) video camera that has a fixed lens (or non-interchangeable), I would always go for a reputable firm such as Sony, Panasonic, Canon and so on. You can pretty much guarantee that they have spent a lot of money on research and development for that camera and lens.
If you buy a cheaper or knock-off model, don’t be surprised if the quality fails massively.
You would be wise, if possible, to check out some footage in the store by asking them to hook one up to a HD TV or monitor, you will be able to see at an instant what the quality is like.
DSLR lenses need to be good quality to ensure the best results, especially when viewing at high definition on a large TV. Poorer quality lenses will show their flaws and drawbacks around the edges and when there is high dynamic range or sharp contrast.
Poor lenses will also produce flatter and less colourful images than high quality glass so buy the best you can afford for your DSLR. It will make for better footage and stills photography.
If you are about to buy a DSLR, try not to buy the kit lens with it. Go for the body only option and buy a better lens than the one on offer…maybe the store will do you a good deal.
In the same way that a poor quality lens will affect your video footage, so will a poor quality filter. If you spend good money on a top quality lens, why place a substandard filter in front of it? Again, get the best you can afford.
So what filters might one use for shooting video footage? We will go into this in more detail on the filters page but one filter in particular that is used by most videographers is the ND (Neutral Density) filter.
This basically cuts out bright light and allows you to slow down the shutter speed and open up the iris (aperture) without affecting the sharpness, colour or contrast in the image. Shooting video in bright sunlight without an ND filter will give you a fast shutter speed and a very small aperture giving very deep depth of field.
Most prosumer video cameras don’t have ND filters which is why most footage from the average family camcorder all looks the same. ND filters help to reduce the depth of field for a start making the footage look more professional straight away.
Higher end, more professional video cameras may have a built in ND filter like the Sony PMW EX1 which has two inside the actual lens. Failing that, you should be able to attach one to the front of the lens (maybe using a Matte Box which also shades the lens from bright, stray light) assuming that the lens has a filter thread (some don’t).
Other filters you may use are grey grad, polarisers, coloured gels, starburst (very 1980’s : ) or even stack a few together.
Add on or Attachment Lenses
If you do own or are buying a prosumer level video camera, the video camera lenses as suggested above are fairly restricted in how wide or long they go. Most have a decent telephoto range (never use the digital zoom…urgh) but most don’t go that wide.
If your lens has a filter thread on the front, the chances are that the manufacturer makes an add-on wide-angle lens that attaches to the front. I use one permanently on the front of my Sony HDR SR1.
That is about it on video camera lenses for now, we shall cover more as time goes on.