$150 Lens vs $5,000 Lens vs $15,000 Lens, Can You Tell the Difference?


“As a rule of thumb, if your [Director of Photography] mentions something with a German-sounding name, it means it’s going to be super expensive.” Ain’t that the truth…

We love real world lens comparisons, and in this older-but-awesome video the folks at RocketJump Film School put together what might be the ultimate test of value when it comes to cinematography lens use: they pitted some cheap DSLR lenses (including Canon’s ultra-cheap ‘nifty fifty’), against some $5,000 cine lenses, against some $15,000 ultra-high end lenses.

The challenge is, of course, can you spot the difference between the three. There certainly should be a difference, but in regular use parameters are you going to be able to see it, and will that difference be worth several thousand (possibly over 10,000) dollars? In the video, they put that question to two professional DPs and one guys who… well… knows nothing about camera gear.

Watch the video below:

For those who know a thing or two about lenses and how they work, the results shouldn’t surprise you: there is a difference… sometimes. And we’re not just talking build quality or ease of use for cinematic purposes. Obviously a cine lens will outperform a regular DSLR lens there.

There is actually a difference in performance.

When shooting wide-open, all of those terms that come up with high end lens reviews—edge-to-edge sharpness, microcontrast, chromatic aberration, flaring, etc.—is where the top tier lenses shine. But if you’re shooting around f/5.6, it sounded like even the “hot shot DPs” were essentially guessing.

If you want to test yourself, here’s the test footage. The results are revealed at the end so DON’T CHEAT! Write down what you think as the video plays, then check your written answers against the real results:

Could you tell the difference? Again, chances are that if you could, it was at the wider apertures. It also helps to know what you’re looking for; since the subject was near the middle of the frame in most of the shots, you have to make yourself look for details or aberration which will often appear where the subject isn’t.

So why is a $15,000 lens worth it? Or for that matter why is a $5,000 lens worth it? For photographers who take stills, those things like flaring, edge-to-edge sharpness, and aberration are actually very important; for cinematographers, it often comes down to ease of use.

Check out the top video to hear the DPs wax eloquent about why they love the expensive (and cheap) glass, and then let us know what you think in the comments down below. Firstly, could you consistently tell which shot was captured with each lens? And if you could, would it be worth the massive price difference?