I often get asked the question “What’s the best lens for the Canon C100?”. Well, typically that’s a difficult question to answer. It’s like asking “What’s the best food to have for dinner?” But I have to admit, if I had to grab just one lens to do an entire shoot, I think I have the answer. My lens of choice would be the Canon EFS 17-55mm f/2.8.
I have a closet full of Canon EF-L, EFS zooms and primes and Rokinon Cine Prime lenses and normally take several of them to cover myself for almost any situation. But most of the time I found I’m shooting with the 17-55mm. To be honest, I just love this lens.
So, why the love fest for this thing? Well, in my opinion it’s a perfect choice for video with the C100. It’s relatively light compared to most EF-L lenses, it’s less expensive, it has image stabilization, it has a constant aperture of f/2.8, and it’s a great blend of being wide enough and just long enough for almost anything. Admittedly, there are times that I find it’s just a bit too short and would love it to be a 17-80mm or something like that. But, I’ve learned to work around that by knowing where I need to be in relation to what I’m shooting.
This lens choice is of course based on the type of shooting I do. Most of our work is hand-held documentary style where I’m up close and personal. I’m usually within a few feet or less, so the 55mm range gives me plenty of reach to get closeups of important details and great tight shots of faces. And the 17mm end of the lens is wide enough to capture the entire scene without distortion. I rarely feel trapped in no-man’s-land where I can’t get close enough or wide enough.
The constant f/2.8 aperture is perfect. It’s fast enough for most situations and provides a very pleasing shallow depth-of-field image. I’m always extremely happy with the look of my footage. I’m often surprised at how the 55mm end of the lens looks longer than it really is. If you’re shooting a host or interview subject for example, the background is nicely out of focus and the subject really pops out. Thanks again f/2.8!
Overall, it has a more solid build and pro-feel than other less expensive EFS lenses. The manual focus ring offers enough travel to accurately and creatively find your focus. Unlike some cheaper lenses where just the slightest turn of the focus ring throws it wildly out of focus in one direction or the other, this one feels comfortable, accurate and easy to use with confidence.
The Image Stabilizer is awesome. It really helps smooth things out when you’re hand-held, which I am most of the time. Even on the longer end of the lens it makes a significant difference. I often create the illusion of a subtle slider move by just shifting my body weight from side to side. On a few occasions I’ve taken a shot that’s pretty solid as-is but added some additional stabilization in post. People who watch the finished piece ask me what type of slider I brought with me to Africa.
I find I can handle almost all types of shots with this lens; general b-reel action, interviews, on-camera host walk-and-talks, tight interiors, landscapes and vistas, you name it. The only downfall is sacrificing the ability to get beautiful long-lens images that really compress the background. Even though you can compensate for the lack of reach by physically getting closer to things, you can’t replace the look of shooting with a longer zoom like the 70-200mm for example.
If I could slightly revise my “just one lens” choice to “just two lenses”, I would take the 17-55mm f/2.8 and my trusty Canon EF-L 70-200mm f/2.8. Is that cheating? I guess it is.
To be true to the challenge, I would feel comfortable heading off on a documentary style shoot with just the 17-55mm f/2.8. It wouldn’t be perfect in all situations but I can’t think of another lens that would be as versatile. You may be thinking the Canon 24-105mm f/4L would be a better choice – and perhaps you would be right. But for me, on a Super 35 sensor camera, 24mm is more like 35mm and that just isn’t wide enough when I’m up close to the action. Also, I’ll take f/2.8 over f/4.
I think there would be something quite liberating about packing super light, using what you have and focusing on the creative part of our craft. How about you? What lens would you take?