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Canon EOS Crop Sensor for HD
APS-C sensor cameras including the 80D, 70D, 7D Mk. II, 7D, EOS M and Rebel models for HD video recording.

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Old February 12th, 2010, 11:19 PM   #1
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Lens suggestions for night shoot

I'll be shooting A LOT of night scenes for an upcoming short movie project. I'll be using a canon 7d and\or the new T2i. (sound will be recorded on a separate device - if that helps)

The finished product will be DVD, digital downloads, etc ....

night locations:
-in a car
-lantern light in the woods
-around the campfire
-glow on face from iphone.

I also be doing some day shots in the mountains.
-some wide angle
-possibly some fisheye in a dense forest for an eerie feel. (but fisheye is not a must)
-I'll have some action, running, so if one lens allows more flexibility or ease with focus, that is a MAJOR plus.

Just a few questions are:
-Do I want zooms or fixed lenses?
-Are there major advantages or disadvantages for using zooms?
-Are some lenses more flexible when it comes to focus?
-Should I stick with Canon eos lenses for "auto" compatibility?

Let me put it this way; I've got about two grand for lenses right now. I know I want fast, nice glass. So based on the scenes above, what two lenses should I buy first? And I'm a screenwriter, not a D-SLR expert, so experts, please advise.

(if you have any other "must buys" gear wise, I would love to hear it. Thanks)

Last edited by Joe Ed White; February 13th, 2010 at 12:39 PM.
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Old February 12th, 2010, 11:34 PM   #2
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I think people will be quick to suggest prime lenses in this situation, you'll need the speed for nighttime. Crucial is the 'nifty fifty'--that's Canon's 50mm f/1.4 for only about $100. You'll also want a fast wide--hard to be had for cheap, the best you'll be able to do is 20mm f/2.8. Then either get a good telephoto or invest in the 35mm f/1.4 (might be going overbudget here), with the 1.6x crop sensor it'll come out to about a normal lens.

You could save some money going with Tokina or Tamron, but be sure to check reviews, both companies are known to have quality control issues. Some Tamrons have a frustrating focus design where the ring turns a hair past infinity, so there's no hard stop for you to snap to blindly. Might want to avoid that for run-and-gun shooting.

Alternatively, get the 17-55mm f/2.8 USM and leave it open, then shell out for a telephoto prime. I don't mean to presume your cinematography habits, but I've been using photo lenses for video for about 6 or 7 years continuously now and I've rarely had a moment when I've really, really wished for a powerful telephoto for dramatic storytelling.
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Old February 13th, 2010, 12:08 AM   #3
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Frankly, you want a 5D2. Not only is it better for low light, it's better for wide, fast lenses. That cuts your lens budget down to about $1,200, but that's do-able.

For human-scale narrative, you want to cover roughly 28-85. At f/1.8, you can get the EF 28/1.8, EF 50/1.8 and EF 85/1.8 used for about $800. You could also get the Sigma 20/1.8, but frankly, the corner performance is poor wide open. Or maybe jump past the superwides and go straight for the fisheye.

Another option would be to just get the 24/1.4L and push it into people's faces when you need close views. It would be limiting, but would give a consistent, aggressive look to your project.

Another interesting combo would be the 15/2.8 fisheye, 28/1.8 and 50/1.4 used for just over $1,200. The 50/1.4 would cover the really low light stuff and would need to cover your closeups. The 28 would be for standard wides in moderately low light. The fisheye would need a bit of light, but would give you the look you want.

If you don't need the fisheye often, consider renting it. In fact, with rentals, the fisheye, 24/1.4L, 50/1.2L and 85/1.2L would be ideal.

The problem with the 7D is that it multiplies all those focal lengths by 1.6x. That 28/1.8 becomes a normal lens on the 7D, rather than a wide.

BTW, the photo community doesn't care much for the 28/1.8 because of corner softness, but I think it's a fine lens for video. First, if you shoot with a centered subject, sharp corners don't matter. (They matter more for landscapes.) Second, video doesn't need super sharp lenses. Third, of all my lenses, the 28/1.8 breathes the least, which is an advantage for rack focus shots.

Best of luck with your project, no matter what lenses you choose! (But if you want wide shots at night, definitely get the full frame camera.)
Jon Fairhurst
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Old February 14th, 2010, 11:19 AM   #4
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Thanks guys, you've given me plenty to think about it.

I like the idea of just getting the one lens, the 24/1.4L. I particularly like the fact that it could help in developing a look for my project.

But if I upgrade from the 7D or T2i in the future to a body that doesn't magnify the focal length, that's going to leave me with a really nice, wide angle lens which wouldn't work for the majority of the shots.

What to do ... what to do?
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Old February 14th, 2010, 01:48 PM   #5
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In my opinion the 7D will be great for your project. Sure it's not full frame but neither is the Red. The nifty fifty is 1.8, not 1.4. Canon makes a great 1.4 that is about $400 bucks but the "plastic fantastic" 1.8 is supposed to be a steal at it's price.

How about renting lenses? You can get tons of great top end Canon glass for cheap rental, $15 - $30 bucks a lens for a whole weekend.

If I was doing a project like yours I would go with primes:

1. 18 or 20mm F2.8 or faster
2. 24mm F2.0
3. 50mm F1.4
4. 85mm F1.8

Also a wide zoom can be good. Canon has some and also the Tokina 11-16mm F2.8 has great word of mouth (have not used it personally).

Good luck.
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Old February 16th, 2010, 02:49 AM   #6
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Please do NOT get the nifty fifty

Its focus ring it tiny. This lens is not pretty for video. It is really really lousy for video. Repeat, don't get the nifty fifty if you intend to use it for video. It's terrible for that.

For the same price you can get an awesome used 1.4 prime from Pentax or Nikon and then get a $5 adaptor from China.

Last edited by Brian Luce; February 16th, 2010 at 11:29 PM.
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Old February 16th, 2010, 03:55 AM   #7
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Brian could you elaborate - is it just the manual focus issue with the 50 1.8?

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Old February 16th, 2010, 07:00 PM   #8
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The nifty 50 plastic fantastic (I love these nicknames!) is fine if you are not needing to pull focus much. It is truly a steal for the price based on its optics....but the focus ring is right on the edge of the lens and it is not easy to manipulate without getting in the frame. Still....I have had good luck with it and cannot necessarily justify making blanket statements that it is not ggod for video. It is not ideal....but I think it is workable if you are on a budget. It is excellent for static shots where your talent is not moving much, as the DOF is so shallow that the in-focus region is paper thin most of the time.

Good Luck.
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Old February 16th, 2010, 11:32 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Fergus Anderson View Post
Brian could you elaborate - is it just the manual focus issue with the 50 1.8?

Yes, it's the ring. It's on the tip of the barrel and about as thick as a nickel. You can't adapt a follow focus to it, you can't realistically pull manually, it's basically a plastic piece of junk. Might be fine for stills, but this is a video place.
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Old February 17th, 2010, 07:41 PM   #10
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Primes are normally faster.

I have F1.8 lenses and they are great for night shooting. I can shoot in town at night with ISO640 and it looks great.
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Old February 17th, 2010, 10:52 PM   #11
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[QUOTE=Jon Fairhurst;1485528]Frankly, you want a 5D2. Not only is it better for low light,

I would recommend sticking with the 7d for this shoot...the exact reason why people think the 5d is SO much better with its full frame sensor is it's main downfall in low light narrative film making...try keeping anything in focus at a 1.4 with the reduced depth of field the 5d offers. The 7d is almost as good in low light, and more importantly, your subjests will be in focus...
Just my thoughts
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Old February 18th, 2010, 11:16 AM   #12
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Because the 5D2 is more sensitive, you can stop it down a bit and get the similar noise to the 7D. Of course, the 1D4 is best - you can run it at 6400 ISO, which would really allow you to stop down.

The problem with the 7D is fast, wide lenses. I find that f/2.8 isn't fast enough for really low light even on the 5D2. So, you're looking at either the 24/1.4 or 28/1.8 for fast wide primes. But those are 38mm and 45mm equivalent lenses on the 7D2. Everything wider is at f/2.8 or slower.

Part of the balance is how close your subjects will be to the camera. If their face is near the lens, DOF will be razor thin. If you back the camera up, the DOF will be quite forgiving. And this comes back to a style issue... if you want natural, night light, a wide angle, and the subjects up close to the lens, you will get a shallow DOF. It can be challenging to shoot, but it's not impossible. The real question is if you want a shallow focus or deep focus look. If you want deep focus, you'll either want lights, and/or you'll want to rent the 1D4 so you can run a high ISO and tighter aperture.

The other thing about the style is whether you will use out of focus effects. In a Hollywood style narrative, you want the point of interest to be in focus 100% of the time, unless you are presenting an altered state point of view. In an art film, music video, or stylized commercial, you might want to bring things in and out of focus to present a certain mood and attitude. For attitude, a super-shallow DOF can be put to good use. Keep the focus moving in and out so it doesn't look like the occasional mistake.

In any case, I recommend starting with the vision and then choosing the tools to match. And if the combination makes something difficult, look for creative solutions, and plan to do lots of takes. But always put the vision first.
Jon Fairhurst

Last edited by Jon Fairhurst; February 18th, 2010 at 12:16 PM.
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Old February 18th, 2010, 11:59 AM   #13
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Here's a thought - since this will be a short movie and distributed on web/dvd, would it be possible to light your scenes? For around $100-200 in lighting gear, you can properly light a 'dark scene' enough and get away with slower glass , lower apertures, lower ISOs (less noise).

With proper lighting, you can really bring out the full potential of the 7D. You'll also get to save some money in the process.
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Old February 18th, 2010, 03:57 PM   #14
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I actually really like the nifty fifty for video. I made a follow focus for it the works just fine for racking focus. Plus, if you use a lens hood, you'd have to try pretty hard to get your finger in the frame if you choose not to make an adapted follow focus. I'd say for low light the 50mm 1.8 is the best bang for the buck, but if you have, as you say, 2 stacks to drop on lenses, I would consider some of the other options listed above. If you are on a tight budget, the plastic fantastic is hands down the best lens for low light.
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Old February 18th, 2010, 10:47 PM   #15
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In trying to decide between the 16-35mm f2.8 L (without IS) or the 17-40mm f4 L (without IS) I ran some night scene tests with an EF 24mm f2.8 stopped down to f4 to see if I could live with the 17-40 L. I picked an intersection of highway and city street not awfully well brightly lit like big city downtown but not real dim either.

About average with shopping centers off the road, and a fair amount of night traffic.

Using f4 and 1/60th with tungsten WB preset, ISO 1600 looked pretty clean and had about the right amount of "atmosphere", 3200 looked a bit brighter and might be the setting I'd use if I needed to show faces. If you really look for it you can see a bit of noise here and there but motion pretty much covered it up. I could use this setting with no problem, I think. ISO 6400 would work if I needed it fairly bright, you can see a little noise but for darker areas I would use it. Light sources and oncoming headlights were too bright and "bloomed" noticeably.

The 7D high ISO performance is better than anything I've had before, almost looks as good as Vince LaForet's "Nocturne" shot with the 1D MkIV, but with my budget I felt I had to order the 17-40 f4 L. It came in tonight and I now understand the "hype" over L series lenses just from looking through it and "playing" with it on the 7D.

I feel like I could do night work with the f4 maximum on that lens but if I get in a area where that isn't enough I have the 24mm f2.8 prime and the original metal lens barrel 50mm f1.8 which I've had to stop down to f2.8 or 4 in night tests at ISO 1600.
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