What Makes a Lens More ‘Cinematic’ Than Another?

The team from Syrp Lab decided to find out what the difference would be between a photo lens and a cinema lens — and which looks more “cinematic” and why.

Broadly, the video seeks to answer this question: What makes a lens “cine,” and are they actually more “cinematic?” While most filmmakers and photographers understand that cinema lenses typically forgo autofocus and stabilization in favor of gears and a de-clicked aperture while photography-focused lenses do the opposite, the actual “look” of footage also plays a role as to what specific creators choose to spend their money on.

“To help answer this question, we put six different lenses to the test, ranging in price from $300 to $15,000,” Syrp Lab explains. “We examine each lens’s performance and determine what makes a lens truly cinematic.”

Not only does Syrp Lab show footage from each of the lenses the team chose to test, but they also go into more detail as to how lenses –which are made of basically the same general parts — can look so different. They explain that the quality of materials and their specific arrangement has an effect on six factors that affect how an image looks: sharpness, focus, distortion, color and contrast, bokeh, and flare. Through the video, the team explains how each of these factors leads to a different finished image, and how different creators will look for different things.

what makes a lens cinematic

As far as what looks more cinematic, the Syrp Lab team basically explains it as a combination of how each of those six factors leads to a particular look. For example, a highly sought-after cinema lens won’t be either too blurry or too sharp. Obviously, too blurry looks cheap, but conversely too sharp looks fake or clinical. That “cinematic” look rides somewhere in the middle.

Other aspects matter too, obviously. Color and contrast, for example, can vary wildly depending on the lens and how light flaring is controlled also has an effect on how “cinematic” a lens looks.

“Although all the lenses performed well even the cheapie, the cine lenses have an advantage due to their user experience features,” Syrp Lab says.

what makes a lens cinematic

This is referring to the aforementioned gearing and the complete removal of all the “smart” lens features typically expected in a photo-focused lens. While this is great for large productions with big teams and lots of support, most creators will find these to be more disadvantages than advantages.

So do filmmakers need a cinema lens to get cinematic-looking footage? The answer, in short, is no. That’s why Syrp Lab chose a different lens as their favorite for most work.

what makes a lens cinematic

“For us, the Canon RF 50mm struck a balance between quality and price. However, the choice ultimately depends on your shooting style and budget,” Syrp Lab says.

To see what each of these lenses that Syrp Lab tested looks like in similar scenes, the team uploaded video samples from each on their blog.

Image credits: Syrp Lab