Lenses, the tool of the craft

I often say that a big part of mastering the craft of filmmaking is fully understanding how to use the tools. That’s why, as a cinematographer, having in depth knowledge of each lens is a must.

The road to choosing the right lens starts with a long process of trial and error. In my experience, the more time you spend experimenting with a single lens, the more likely you are to get interesting results.

MIND THE FILM’s top 3 lenses

The first one is the 28mm, which is just barely wider than our field of vision, but not as wide as to provoke a distracting distortion. Let’s say it’s a perfect lens for establishing shots, close-ups, landscapes and portraits. Malick, Scorsese, Wells, and Spielberg frequently use the 28mm lens, which has come to be responsible for building the cinematic standard language, sometimes adding a bit of a surreal touch.

28 mm still frame, ©MIND THE FILM LTD

My second favourite is the macro lens, which literally opens up a whole new world by magnifying the scale of the object/subject, altering your perception of it and making you feel unusually close to it. However, despite these exciting possibilities, macro lenses are probably one of the most difficult to master technically.

Macro lens still frame, ©MIND THE FILM LTD

The third one is the 135mm, and it’s ideal for portraits, close ups and extreme close ups. This lens has a long focal length, giving you outstanding isolation properties, which makes the subject pop out of the background, creating the legendary Bokeh effect.

135 mm still frame, ©MIND THE FILM LTD

I particularly love using a 135mm lens because it opens a lot of opportunities to write within the depth of the frame and transports the viewer inside the screen, even though you need a lot of space to work with.

The truth is that there is no “right” lens. You can use almost any lens to shoot any situation, but in order to achieve a high degree of aesthetic success, at MIND THE FILM we believe the choice of lens should be guided by the needs of the story.


Post by Borja Alexandre originally written for MIND THE FILM’s blog. MIND THE FILM is an independent filmmaking practice that fosters new ideas through its digitally handcrafted films.