I’ve always wondered what focal lengths great directors preferred. Unfortunately, the information is scarce and hard to come by. Many of them haven’t documented their work for posterity.

In this page I’m collating famous directors and the focal lengths they preferred. As and when I get new information, I’ll keep updating this list.

First, here’s the video I made on the focal lengths and lenses used by 19 great directors:

Important: Information is either hearsay, guesses and some plain research from interviews, books, videos and so on. It could be completely wrong! Do not rely or use this information for any serious work or study!

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free cheatsheet (with examples) of the most used focal lengths in film (PDF file optimized for mobiles and tablets).

Directors mentioned in the video:

  • Orson Welles
  • Jean-Pierre Jeunet
  • Roman Polanski
  • Wes Anderson
  • Quentin Tarantino
  • Steven Spielberg
  • Tim Burton
  • Martin Scorcese
  • Joel and Ethan Coen
  • David Cronenberg
  • David Fincher
  • Francis Ford Coppola
  • Yasujiro Ozu
  • Robert Bresson
  • Alfred Hitchcock
  • Ridley Scott
  • Akira Kurosawa
  • Sidney Lumet
  • Stanley Kubrick

Specific lenses mentioned in the video:

  • Zeiss 50mm f/0.7 adapted for Barry Lyndon (37.5mm with wide-angle adapter)
  • Kinoptik 9.8mm
  • Cine-Pro 24-480mm T9 zoom lens

Links mentioned in the video and which could be useful to your research and study:

Focal lengths and lenses used by great directors

Here’s the list:

S. No. Director Focal length, Lens
1 Orson Welles 18mm (Touch of Evil), 25mm (Citizen Kane)
2 Jean-Pierre Jeunet 18 an 25mm lens, 14mm (Alien Resurrection), 25mm (Delicatessen)
3 Roman Polanski 18mm, 40mm anamorphic (Chinatown)
4 Wes Anderson 40mm anamorphic, 27mm (The Royal Tenebaums, The Grand Budapest Hotel)
5 Quentin Tarantino 40mm or 50mm anamorphic
6 Steven Spielberg 21mm
7 Tim Burton 21mm, never beyond 50mm. Long lenses as a punctuation
8 Martin Scorsese 25mm and wider, 32mm (The King of Comedy), long lenses for Raging Bull
9 Joel and Ethan Coen 27 and 32mm (Stays between 25-40mm)
10 David Cronenberg 27mm
11 David Fincher 27mm and 35mm
12 Francis Ford Coppola 40mm (Most of Godfather)
13 Yasujiro Ozu 50mm
14 Robert Bresson 50mm
15 Alfred Hitchcock 50mm
16 Ridley Scott 75mm and longer, zoom lens – anamorphic. Eventually shifted to spherical
17 Akira Kurosawa 35-50mm, tended towards longer lenses in late career, but occasionally
18 Sidney Lumet Changed focal lengths for every movie
19 Stanley Kubrick 18mm, Special lenses – Kinoptik 9.8mm, Zeiss 50mm f/0.7, Cine-Pro 24-480mm T9 zoom
20 Terry Gilliam 14mm (later work), earlier work is wider than 28mm
21 Steven Soderbergh 18mm (only recent work)

If you know the focal lengths preferred by directors I’ve left out, please let me know. Please also link to sources so I can confirm the information. I’ll be happy to update this list.

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free cheatsheet (with examples) of the most used focal lengths in film (PDF file optimized for mobiles and tablets).

12 replies on “The Focal Lengths and Lenses used by Great Directors”

  1. The numbers in this video has no meaning at all. A 50mm anamorphic on a super 35 4-perf (used by Quentin Tarantino) is much wider than the same lens on a super 35 2-perf. Not to mentioned that you didn’t even specify whether or not you’re talking about super 35 at all. Without format info, this video come dangerously close to being plain wrong and drastically misleading.

  2. Could you add a list of your sources? For my cinematography thesis at the Dutch film academy I would like to use this information. Hope you could help me out!

  3. Are these just the focal lengths without “sensor” information?

    Did you adjust them for cropfactors?
    If yes for which? 35mm photgraphy, cinemascope, super 35?

  4. Hi,

    as of the audio commentary from the Back to the Future movies, Robert Zemeckis liked to use mostly 24mm and also 21mm and 29mm non-anamorphic lenses because he likes more depth of focus on his shots.

    Patrick.

  5. This is all very interesting and useful information. I have always preferred wider lenses for most shots, and for a closer look I like a 50mm, for more intimate or tense/suspenseful or sincere moments. Then I hear talk about focal lengths that famous Directors use, but didn’t know which they used. This settles that. Seems my preferences are in good company. It is also nice to know what films were shot with what lenses, or which specific scenes where another lens was used. Thank you for all your work on this subject.

  6. Great video as usual, thanks for putting this list together. I want to thanks personally for putting this great work and source of information out there. Bravo! Greetings from New York

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