This article is written for the beginner who wants to start with decent Canon cinema lenses. Nobody wants to make a mistake!
Just a quick note: You can buy third-party cinema lenses for Canon cameras, but we are only focusing on Canon-branded lenses in this article. The assumption being you have made up your mind to only buy Canon lenses for film work.
Full frame or Super 35mm?
Canon makes different types of camera systems. The combination of sensor size and lens mount is what makes a system unique. Here are the four important systems:
|System||Sensor Size||Lens Mount|
|Canon DSLR xD* and C500 Mark II, C700, etc.||36 x 24mm||EF, PL|
|Canon C300 Mark II, C200, etc.||22.5 x 15 mm||EF-S and EF, PL|
|Canon Mirrorless Full Frame||36 x 24mm||RF|
|Canon APS-C Systems||22.5 x 15 mm||EF-M and EF-S|
*xD is a number and D, e.g., 5D or 1D. The single digit typically indicates it’s a full frame camera. Full frame is 36 x 24mm.
Canon has recently launched two mirrorless full frame cameras, the EOS R (Amazon, B&H) and the EOS RP (Amazon, B&H). If you would like to know the differences between these Canon cameras for video, check out this article.
The APS-C sensor generally corresponds to the Super 35mm sensor/film size for filmmaking. So there’s nothing “wrong” or “worse” or “unprofessional” about APS-C sensors! Most of the great movies you’ve seen in your life were shot on sensors the size of APS-C.
When it comes to choosing lenses, the system matters. A lens specifically designed for a smaller sensor will have an image circle just big enough for that sensor. If you try to use that lens on a full frame camera, you get vignetting or a dark/black circle around your videos.
This means, if you have an APS-C sized or Super 35mm camera, you can pretty much use all the lenses Canon has. All you might need is an adapter. By the way, both EF and EF-S have the exact same mount, so you can use EF lenses on EF-S bodies without anything extra.
Canon doesn’t make EF-S or RF cine lenses. You can also adapt EF lenses to RF bodies. Click here to learn more about that.
I will be focusing entirely on EF lenses. If you’re interested to learn what the best lenses for the EOS R and RP system are, please read the Best Lenses for the Canon EOS R for Video.
I’m going to recommend one must-have lens, which should probably be your first purchase. Then I’ll recommend three others that will complement your kit and help you achieve more.
What are the best Canon cine lenses for video?
Cine lenses are not cheap. They are for working professionals who earn money from their cameras, and who need the extra features a cine lens brings.
What do you get with cine lenses?
Generally speaking, you get the following benefits with cine lenses (though not all might be true):
- Less focus breathing.
- Some zoom lenses are parfocal.
- The construction is solid and designed for heavy use under many scenarios. Being heavy, they also don’t shake much on touch.
- Manual focus rings are precise so a focus puller can use tape to nail focus. You can also use wireless follow focus systems standardized for this.
- The aperture ring is de-clicked so you can smoothly ride the aperture during a shot.
- The size, shape and weights are very similar so you can swap lenses without readjusting balance on gimbals, steadicams, cranes, etc.
- True cine lenses should be color matched, so they cut well together.
Canon cine lenses come in both primes and zooms. Let’s start with cine primes.
Canon Cine Prime Lenses
As for primes, Canon makes two sets of cine lenses:
|Sumire Primes||PL and EF mounts||14, 20, 24, 35, 50, 85, 135^|
|CN-E primes||EF mount only*||14, 20, 24, 35, 50, 85, 135^|
*Some companies offer a conversion service from EF to PL convert it to PL at an additional cost.
^Average T-stop is T1.5, though the range is from T1.3 to T2.2, and the 14mm for both is a T3.1.
The Sumire lenses are almost twice the price. What is different about them? Canon claims these are completely new optical designs, and the lenses were designed for a more aesthetic look to them. I’ll let Canon explain the difference:
The advantage of the EF mount cine lens is you get great dual pixel autofocus with Canon cameras. So you can use any of the lenses listed above even on expensive Canon cine cameras like the Canon C700 – and you can use these expensive cine lenses on Canon DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. The ecosystem is seamless and integrated, and that is very important to a lot of professionals.
To be honest, at this price range and budget, you owe it to yourself to test both sets and see which one you like. To my eyes, I prefer the CN-E primes, though they don’t come in PL mount. That’s a big negative in this price range and market.
If you’re interested to know more about other full frame cine primes, read this comparison.
Canon Cine Zoom Lenses
Canon has zoom lenses that are in both the PL and EF mount (they were launched near to the CN-E prime set, so I don’t know why they were offered in the PL mount while the CN-E primes were not).
One key difference between the cine primes and cine zoom lenses are that the primes cover full frame cameras, while the zoom lenses are designed for APS-C and Super 35mm cameras.
If you could only pick one, get this: Canon CN7x17 KAS S Cine-Servo 17-120mm T2.95 – you could shoot entire projects with just this one lens.
Three amazing lenses to add to your kit:
- Canon CN-E 15.5-47mm T2.8 L S – for wide angles.
- Canon CN-E 30-105mm T2.8 L S – for telephoto work.
- Drool over this, the most popular lens among wildlife documentary filmmakers: Canon CINE-SERVO 50-1000mm T5.0-8.9
That’s it! These are my suggestions for the best Canon lenses for video and cinema work. Hope you found it useful!