Why Use a Telephoto lens for Shooting Cinematic Videos Things to consider when choosing a focal length for your next shoot

In this entertaining yet informative video Thomas Manning from light Epic Light Media, an Arizona based award-winning creative & film production company shares 3 reasons why you should consider using a telephoto lens for some of your video shoots.

When we think about cinema we typically don’t think about long telephoto lenses. These are typically associated with bird and wildlife shooters, sports shooters, and maybe national geographic style productions. But there are actually legitimate uses for long telephoto lenses in all types of different garners of filmmaking and video production.

Manning discusses what some well-known cinematographers typically prefer and he gives examples from interviews with Roger Deakins (who prefer wider lenses for their more intimate look) or Gordon Willis (who shot the Godfather with a 40mm lens) and while there is certainly a lot of merit to their views it doesn’t mean that there is no situation where a 400mm or even a 600mm lens will not give you an edge.

  • Compression – Longer telephoto lenses has an effect called compression where background elements appear larger than they actually are. This might not always be a good thing but you can use it creatively just like Manning demonstrates with the mountain and the building in the background (there are many examples in movies when longer lenses are used to make the moon look bigger in a scene as well).
  • Makes a face thinner – if you ever shot a person using a wide or ultra-wide lens you will know how it can change the look of the face (typically not in a very good way), making them wider. A telephoto lend does the opposite. This is why you can find some portrait photographers working with 200mm lenses. But what if you shoot at 400mm or even 600mm? well, this isn’t something that is shown in the video but 2 years ago Chelse Northrop did a short video shooting a model with a 600mm lens and the results are actually quite pleasing.
  • Background separation (“Bokeh”) – more than anything else having a long focal length is what going to give your subject separation from the background and if this is what you are looking for in your scene – either creatively, aesthetically or just to eliminate distractions from the background – getting the longest lens that you can find will help you get more separation (typically much more than say aperture).

So is a long telephoto lens a must for your video production – probably not. But it is another tool that you can use creatively by understanding the benefits listed above.

You can watch more HDSLR and video techniques on our dedicated HDSLR channel here on LensVid. You can check out more of Epic Light Media’s videos here on LensVid as well.

Iddo Genuth
Iddo Genuth is the founder and chief editor of LensVid.com. He has been a technology reporter working for international publications since the late 1990's and covering photography since 2009. Iddo is also a co-founder of a production company specializing in commercial food and product visual content.

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