Freddie's Lens Comparison (Part 1)


How much of a difference is there between cheap and expensive lenses? In this video, Freddie takes 3 sets of lenses in low, mid, and high price ranges, and uses them in different filming conditions. Then he puts Shaun, Jon, and Jamie to the test to see if they can tell the difference!

Lesson Plan

HEY! Think you can do better than our experts? Try the test yourself!

In this lesson, we had three sets of lenses, each containing one cheap lens, one mid-range lens, and one expensive cinema lens.

  • Wide Lenses (16-20mm focal lengths)
    • Canon EF Prime ($539)
    • Red Cinema Prime ($4,750)
    • Zeiss Ultra Prime ($15,690)
  • Medium Lenses (50mm focal length)
    • Canon EF Prime ($125)
    • Zeiss Compact Prime ($4,990)
    • Zeiss Ultra Prime ($14,110)
  • Telephoto Lenses (85mm focal length)
    • Canon EF Prime ($419)
    • Zeiss Compact Prime ($4,990)
    • Zeiss Ultra Prime ($14,680)

The Test

The test was conducted in midday daylight, afternoon daylight, overcast daylight, with one test done at night under street lamps.

This means that the lenses remained at a mid range aperture (f2.8, f.4.0, f5.6) during the day, with bright, mostly even lighting, with only one test with low light and a wide open aperture at f1.8.

Each lens was shot with the same camera, with the same exposure settings as its group.

  • Neighborhood, 50mm: ISO 640 at f5.6
  • Beach, 16-20mm: ISO 800 at f5.6
  • Beach, 85mm: ISO 250 at f2.8
  • Fence, 16-20mm: ISO 250 at f2.8
  • Bridge, 50mm: ISO 250 at f.4.0
  • Night Street, 85mm: ISO 800 at f1.8

For this test, we wanted to find out if there was a very big perceptual difference (in other words, what we’re seeing on screen rather than the technical differences) between the three different price points.

The Results

No big difference: the lenses all performed very similarly.

With these more ideal lighting and shooting conditions, none of the lenses were pushed to any extremes. Therefore, the lenses all performed pretty much the same in terms of perceived image quality.

You begin to see the difference in image quality in more extreme conditions.

Where you could see the differences between the lenses the most was the night scene, when the lenses had to be opened up to a f1.8 aperture (meaning the lens had to open up to let as much light in as possible, since it was so dark out.) When a lens is wide open, it can behave a lot differently and can be less consistent. Depth of field is shallower, more imperfections can be seen, sometimes it is harder to find sharp focus.

There is a point of diminishing returns.

Shaun and Jon noted that while there was a big jump in quality between the cheaper primes to the mid-range primes, there wasn’t as big of a jump between the mid-range and the expensive primes, and the perceptual differences were minimal, if noticeable at all.

There is more to the price of a lens than just the image.

For instance, ease of use. In a later video, we’ll go into more depth of the physical and technical differences between these lenses. As Jon explained, sometimes you need that extra quality in the lens build so it is easier to use. Pulling focus on a small DSLR lens can be extremely frustrating, where as cinema lenses are built for that type of motion.

(HINT: In our lens test, watch the focus pulls to see how fast or smooth they are!)

So what does this tell us?

If you know how your lens performs in different conditions, you should be able to get a good image no matter what price range you can afford. If your film doesn’t call for extreme lighting conditions, fancy focus work, or does anything that will really push your lens to the limit, spend the extra money where your film needs it.

Always test your lenses. Put them to work. See what they can do well and what they can’t. This will help you know when and where they will perform best, and when you will or won’t need to save your money for something better.

And remember: it doesn’t matter what you have, it’s how you use it. Go out and shoot!

Next Time: Lauren and Freddie test some lenses in the weirdest conditions ever. Have suggestions on what we should do to them? Let us know in the discussion board!

NOTE: Totally confused as to what depth of field, aperture, ISO, focal lengths, and all those technical terms mean?! Don't worry! Those will all be explained in upcoming videos!