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5 Documentary-Style Lenses for 5 Different Budgets

Tanner Shinnick

To find the perfect documentary-style lenses for your next project, we’re going to look at five of the top lenses across multiple budget ranges.

For documentary filmmakers, choosing the right lenses for your project can determine whether or not you get the shots you need to effectively tell your story. That’s why it’s so important to choose the perfect documentary-style lenses. Let’s look at five you should consider.

1. Canon 17-55 f/2.8 EF-S

In my opinion, the Canon 17-55 is one of the more underrated documentary-style lenses (for its price point) on the market today. Originally introduced in 2009 with the Canon 7D, this lens has largely seen zero changes or updates since its initial release. However, the image quality and features are what keeps this lens relevant for documentary filmmakers today.

Many argue that simply because this is a crop sensor lens (EF-S), it’s not classified as an L Series piece of glass. It features great optics, a decent zoom range, fast aperture, and even image stabilization. I’ve personally used this lens on quite a few documentary projects, and I absolutely love it for its versatility and ability to fit within budget parameters.

2. Fujinon MK18-55mm T2.9 Lens

If you’re shooting on MFT or the Sony E-Mount camera, then the Fujinon 18-55 is a fantastic choice among documentary-style lenses. With a fast 2.9 constant aperture and a rich history of documentary lenses, the Fujinon 18-55 offers beautiful optics, a great form factor, and fantastic image quality.

3. Canon CN-E 18-80 T4.4

The Canon CN-E 18-80 T4.4 is a workhorse among documentary-style lenses. In my opinion, it gets dismissed far too quickly by filmmakers for its slower aperture of T4.4 or F4.0. However, upon reviewing footage from this lens, you quickly realize the beautiful imagery it yields. It has a laundry list of admirable features — a constant aperture, fantastic focal range, and even image stabilization. This lens could very well become a go-to.

4. Canon CN-E 17-120mm T2.95

Over the past few years, Canon has really established itself as a solid manufacturer of documentary-style lenses for filmmakers. Canon offers such a wide range of lens options. Its most solid and broad documentary offering would have to be the 17-120mm. Its long range and fast aperture make it almost a staple — if budget allows. I’ve personally been able to use this lens on a number of projects and the range it offers always impresses me — as does its beautiful cinema optics.

5. Angenieux Optimo 28-76mm f/2.4 — T2.6

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to use an Angenieux zoom lens, then you know just what a treat they are. They’re incredibly sharp and render colors beautifully. Simply put, they are exceptional documentary-style lenses. This is a lens that really takes a project to the next level. If budget is of minimal concern, then an Angenieux zoom lens is exactly where you should direct your efforts.

5 Documentary-Style Lenses for 5 Different Budgets — Angenieux

Image via Angenieux.

Overall, there are many wonderful zoom lens options out there for documentary filmmakers. Fortunately, no matter your budget, you can find fantastic options that fit your needs.

Cover image via Triff.

Looking for more on lenses? Check out these articles.

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