Imagine you're in the process of actualizing your lifelong cinema dreams, only to be dissuaded by the astonishing prices of camera gear―and I don’t blame you! Price tags on camera equipment can be quite discouraging, and it's not uncommon for a lens to cost more than the camera itself, especially if we’re talking cinema glass. However, before you throw your dreams of snagging that Academy Award for Best Cinematography in the proverbial trash can, there are plenty of economical, high-quality cinema lens options available to accommodate just about all budgets. Let's dive in.
A fan favorite for amateur videographers, as well as filmmakers on a budget, Rokinon is a well-rounded brand with an expansive lens library of wallet-friendly glass options. For those looking at the lower end of the price range, Rokinon’s Cine DS lenses are not slouches when it comes to optical performance, and in the right hands they can produce stunning imagery. While different focal lengths, as well as lens mounts, will lead to slightly different prices, many of these lenses tend to run below the $500.00 and even $400.00 mark, which is quite the deal when you see how clean and crisp the imagery from this lineup can be.
Rokinon offers a wide variety of focal lengths, with mounts for Sony E, Canon EF, Micro Four Thirds, and Nikon F. They all come built with de-clicked aperture rings for those silent iris pulls, which are essential for cinema work, smooth focus rings, and multi-layered coatings to retain contrast and reduce lens flaring. Many of the DS lenses even have a maximum T stop of 1.5, perfect for shallow-depth-of-field shots or working in dark environments. For a convenient setup in one go, Rokinon also offers a bundle of the 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm lenses, covering almost all of the basic focal lengths you’d need to get your cinematic journey started.
If you’re a bokeh fiend in constant search of the fastest lenses on the market, but aren’t fond of the hefty prices tags that are typically attached to speedy lenses, then look no further than the 7artisans Photoelectrics 50mm Vision Cine lens, which has a T stop of just 1.05. Yeah, you read that right―one dot zero five, not 1.5; this means you’ll get creamy, gentle, cinema-goodness bokeh and superb low-light performance. With a 270° focus throw, this lens will allow you to hit your focus marks with precision and ease, which will be much needed if you’re planning on leaving that iris wide open. This lens comes in the Canon RF, FUJIFILM X, L-Mount, Micro Four Thirds, and Sony-E mounts. 7artisans also has 25mm and 35mm options available with the exact same aperture and focus ring positions as the 50mm, meaning you won’t have to worry about repositioning any focus or lens motors on your cine rig if you choose to swap between these lenses. For the price, you’re receiving a surprisingly robust yet sharp solution when it comes to cinema glass. They’re definitely something to have on your radar if you’re in the market. Keep in mind, this lens series is designed exclusively for APS-C shooting, so unless you're utilizing a super 35 mode on a full-frame camera, full-frame users will unfortunately not benefit from these lenses unless you enjoy large vignetting.
We live in a glorious time in which budget-friendly anamorphic lenses are a reality and are readily available for independent filmmakers. If you weren’t cobbling together your own out of old projector lenses or shelling out an arm and a leg for a dedicated cine anamorphic, owning one of these lenses was simply not feasible for the common shooter in the past due to their immense price tags. However, the unique features of anamorphic lenses are so attractive to filmmakers who desire a more stylized look that manufacturers have begun to fulfill these desires at prices that are quite easy on the eye and the wallet.
Sirui features a vast range of anamorphic options that will spare your bank account from absolute misery; starting off with its MFT and APS-C lenses, the brand offers a range of options from 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, to 75mm. All of these lenses have a 1.33x squeeze and will provide you with the gorgeous anamorphic qualities you could hope for, including distinct lens flares, oval-shaped bokeh, a dramatic increase in horizontal FOV, and characteristic edge distortions. For those who want a little more oomph and are working with full-frame systems, Sirui also has an entire full-frame lineup with a 1.6x squeeze at focal lengths of 35mm, 50mm, 75mm, and 100mm, as well as a 135mm with an even greater squeeze of 1.8x.
So far we’ve only been showing love to prime lenses, but what about the folks who want those snazzy crash zooms? If you want to ball out like Tarantino on a budget, DZOFilm is a great company to consider. The brand offers a wide array of cine zoom lenses, and if you’re rocking with a Micro Four Thirds setup, you might not find a better deal than the DZO 20-70mm T2.9 MFT Parfocal Cine Lens (or the 10-24mm of the same series). As its name implies, this lens is a parfocal lens, meaning that regardless of what focal length you zoom in or out to, the image will maintain its focus. Non-parfocal zoom lenses will lose their focus when their focal length is changed, which can really hamper the speed of production and gathering of usable zoom shots. These lenses typically require more complex construction—unlike a varifocal lens, where the focus and zoom mechanisms move together upon adjustment, they move independently within a parfocal build. Typically, this is also a significantly more expensive lens. However, DZOFilm has been able to whip up this absolute gem of a lens that has parfocal capabilities and near-zero lens breathing, all for quite an astonishing price.
For all of our full-frame users, DZOFilm also has a similar lineup of zoom lenses available but, of course, at a heftier price tag. The DZOFilm Catta 35-80mm T2.9 E-Mount Cine Lens, quite like the company’s MFT lens, will maintain focus all throughout its focal lengths. And, for wider or longer reach, they also offer 18-35mm and 70-135mm zooms, as well.
Though this list doesn't include your dream ARRI or Cooke lens, you can still get the shots you need with these more budget-conscious optics. The lenses listed in this article are all extremely capable at capturing and producing professional imagery―and, if you’re an amateur filmmaker or a lifelong DP on a budget, you can rely on these tools.
Are any of these lenses for you? Are there others that you’d add to this list or that you’ve worked with that you like? Let us know, down below!