5 best lenses for shooting video with a Canon DSLR (with video examples)

Shooting video with a Canon DSLR camera? Here's 5 lenses that work great for shooting video. Plus sample footage.

Best Lenses for DSLR Video
Have EOS, will travel. Canon 70D with 18-135mm STM kit lens, ready for some run-n-gun. Here's my 5 favorite lens for shooting Canon DSLR video.

Thinking about taking the dive into video with your Canon DSLR? Here’s 5 lenses worth a look.

I’ve been shooting video for eight years. First using a good ‘ol Canon Vixia camcorder; then in 2010 everything changed when I bought the EOS Rebel T2i and entered the world of DSLR video. I never looked back, eventually moving to a EOS 60D and then last year to the brilliant auto-focus equipped 70D (seen in photo above).

Lenses can be confusing. There are many choices. Lots of types (telephoto, prime, macro, fisheye). And a seemingly endless array of manufacturers (Canon, Tamron, Sigma, Zeiss, etc.). One thing I’ve learned: a lens made primarily for taking photos may not necessarily be the best for video.

Image Stabilization

A quick tip: If you’re getting into DSLR video for the first time I highly recommend you look for a lens with image stabilization. On Canon lenses that feature is usually denoted with “IS” in the model name. Without lens stabilization you’ll get what’s called “micro-jiggles” when shooting handheld. You can use a tripod or some form of rig to correct that issue, but if you’re like me, you’re doing run-n-gun and shooting documentary style… which leads me to this point…

“Best” ?

Declaring these particular lenses as “best” for DSLR video is a bit of a misnomer. Let me admit that right up front! There is no best really. It depends on how you’re planning to use the camera.

First establish up front what style of video you’ll be filming.

A narrative feature will have a script and storyboard. Scenes will be carefully constructed, blocked, lit. In this situation, prime lenses (those with fixed focal lengths) are usually the best as they offer the sharpest quality image. On the other hand if you’re shooting a documentary you may not necessarily know where your subject is going to move, so a stabilized telephoto may work best.

For Stark Insider, we shoot food & wine, backstage theater, and sit-down interview videos. Again, mostly run-n-gun. I don’t have time to set-up scenes. We are often, if not always, time constrained. That means a flexible lens that works well in a variety of situations (also, I usually don’t have the luxury of being able to change lenses on the go, so I usually need a do-it-all).

Invest in Quality Glass When You Can

Some of the best lenses on the market, such as the “L” series from Canon, can cost thousands of dollars. Are they worth it?

Yes and no.

Keep in mind a good lens can last a lifetime. Invest in quality once, and you’ll be able to enjoy it for decades to come, moving it from one Canon body (or EF mount camera) to the next. That doesn’t mean that you need to spend a fortune mind you. All of the lenses I use listed below are under $1,000 – and, yet, the results can be perfectly acceptable, even at times amazing. Again, it comes down to goals. If you’re planning to project 4K at a movie theater, well then you’re probably already renting Cine Primes or something like that. On the other hand if you’re like me you’re primarily delivering at 1080p for the web, and don’t necessarily need a $25,000 lens to get decent results and viewers watching.

In the End the Storytelling Matters Most!

I admit it. I get caught up too in the hoopla. Panasonic GH4! Blackmagic! Digital Bolex! Wow! Wow! Wow!

Search YouTube and you’ll find endless comparos for cameras and lenses. Cats. Flowers. Buildings. How great it is to test new gear, or, better still, watch someone else test new gear? Gonzo!

I love all that stuff… but my advice is not to get too fixated with all the infatuating minutia. Get out there and shoot! Practice. Learn from your mistakes. Refine your style. Instead of searching for the latest comparison watch some tutorials on composition, editing, and using the camera to create a visual narrative. I’m not quite there yet, really. I cringe at my early work, and I cringe often at my recent work – so many mistakes. Just keep in mind a lens, a camera… or any piece of gear for that matter, will only get you so far. A great idea with plenty of creative spark could turn out beautifully when shot on just, say, an iPad or iPhone. After all, compelling storytelling is about grabbing our attention, stoking our imagination, and then engaging a variety of human emotion. No lens alone, no matter how sharp, can do that. That’s our job, as visual storytellers.

Okay, then, onto the gear! I’ve listed these in the order that I’d recommend to someone building out a collection of lenses from scratch. If you had all these in your bag I dare say I think you’d be well equipped for just about anything (Zombie apocalypse excluded).

5 Best Lenses for Shooting Video with a Canon DSLR

1. Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM

Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM

A great all-rounder. New to video, and want to buy just one lens to get started? This is the one. Canon introduced auto-focus for DSLR last year with the revolutionary 70D. Called “dual pixel” you can touch the LCD of the 70D and the camera will automatically focus on a subject, even as it moves – just like a camcorder. It works brilliantly. This lens which Canon introduced in 2013 features STM (Stepper Motor) which means it focuses with minimal to no noise. That’s great, because with this lens you don’t have to worry about the camera’s microphone picking up unwanted sounds. I’ve been shooting most recent Stark Insider videos using this one, and it’s never let me down. $540 on Amazon (or pick it up for a discount as part of a 70D camera bundle)

Most of this video “Wrong’s What I Do Best” was shot using the 18-135mm (for a couple of the shots of San Francisco I used the Sigma mentioned below).

VIDEO EXAMPLE: Canon 18-135mm STM Lens

Wrong’s What I Do Best – San Francisco Art Institute from Stark Insider on Vimeo.

2. The “Nifty Fifty” – Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Camera Lens

Canon makes 3 50mm lenses. I like the cheapest the best. At only $110 this is an amazing deal. For that you get quality glass that belies its price that works wonders in low light thanks to its speed (1.8). IS is absent so you’ll need a (very) steady hand or (preferred) a rig. Still, I’ve managed to capture filmic like footage handheld with this beauty. Thanks to it glorious bokeh (the unfocused area of the frame) you might just be blown away by the results. Only $110, the craziest lens deal of all time.

3. Rokinon Cine 85mm t/1.5 De-Clicked Aperture

Rokinon CV85M-C 85mm t/1.5 Aspherical Lens for Canon with De-Clicked Aperture and Follow Focus Compatibility Fixed Lens

If you have the first two lenses I mention above you’re off to a good start. Want to get fancier without breaking the bank? Try this Rokinon. It’s a “Cine” lens which in this case means the aperture has been “de-clicked” – so instead of adjusting the f-stop using the camera controls, you’ll adjust it by rotating the ring on the lens. Obviously don’t buy this lens first, it takes practice. Everything is manual. So it’s not ideal for run-n-gun. I still carry it with me when I have a few extra minutes, especially at night. I can dial in a cinematic scene and the results are often spectacular. Keep in mind most Canon DSLRs feature a APS-C sensor, meaning they are not full frame (like the Canon 5D Mk III). The crop-factor is about 1.6x. Meaning this lens will in fact result in a shot that is more like ~ 130mm. I like this one for filming people from a distance. Again, that filmic look! Lists for $399, but priced extremely well at about $330 on Amazon.

4. Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM L

Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM Lens

Sigma set the camera world ablaze with this new lens. All you could hear anyone talk about in 2013, especially those into DSLR video, was that new Sigma lens… and its incredible sharpness and overall performance (rivaling that of glass costing two- to three-times as much). Many even suggest that because this lens is so good that it is in essence three primes in one: 18, 24, and 35mm. In fact that’s exactly how I treat it. With the above mentioned three lenses I’m covered for image stabilized zoom from 18-105mm, have a sharp 50mm, and cinema 85mm for artistic stuff. This Sigma give me wider angles and superb low-light performance (F1.8). An instant classic. $799 on Amazon (don’t look for discounts on this one quite yet!), but goes in and of stock because of the off the charts demand.

Again, no image stabilization. Keep that in mind.

Still, I shot this artsy (okay, quirky) “Napa Gras” video on it handheld, using modest warp stabilizer here and there in Premiere CC.

VIDEO EXAMPLE: Sigma 18-35mm Art Lens

Napa Gras: ‘A Sensory Odyssey’ at Raymond Vineyards (Premiere Napa Valley) from Stark Insider on Vimeo.

5. Canon 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM Lens

Canon 10-18mm STM Lens

This is a new lens that comes out this summer. I have not tested it. But I’m adding it to the list because it’s (a) only $300; (b) features STM meaning it will focus without noise and pairs well with Canon camera bodies such as the 70D and T4i/T5i; and (c) should give nice wide angle shots, especially for outdoors. It has IS so it should be suitable for handheld work. It’s not a fast lens (f4.5-5.6) so I’d avoid low light shoots. Note: wait for the reviews on this one just to be sure before you buy. $299 on Amazon.

5 Lenses to Rule the World

… and scene!

With these 5 lenses in your bag, you’re pretty much set for anything (invasion of Godzilla excluded). The 18-105mm with STM is a perfect all-rounder, ready for just about any occasion, easy to use and almost silent. It’s on my 70D about 90% of the time. If I want to get some filmic looks I’ll swap it out for the Canon 50mm or (if I have extra time) the Rokinon 85mm. In low light I’ll switch to the amazing Sigma 18-35mm and zoom… using my feet! Finally for wide angles I’d use the new Canon 10-18mm STM – I could see this coming in handy, say, for sweeping shots of Napa, San Francisco and in and around Silicon Valley where Stark Insider is based.

What about L Glass?

I didn’t recommend any of Canon’s premium L glass. Am I crazy? Well, okay, you might have a point. If you have the budget I’d consider swapping out my #1 lens with a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L. It’s a professional staple. With a pro price to match: $2,300. Is it worth it? If you’re just getting started with video I’d say probably not – there’s too much to learn first, and besides you can get great results from the lenses I mention above. If you’re a pro, then you likely already own this lens (or rent it). It’s a classic. Phenomenal performance. Again, remember, “best lenses” is a very subjective matter!

Parting Thought: The Beauty of the EF Mount

All of these lenses I’m recommending above use Canon’s EF mount. I love it. Among videographers and filmmakers the EF mount has become an industry standard (much like PL for high end work). That means if you decide to take the leap and invest in a so-called cinema camera body, such as the lovely (albeit quirky) Blackmagic Cinema Camera EF or superb Canon EOS Cinema series (C100/300/500), you’ll be able to  use all your existing Canon glass. Bellissimo!

Clint’s 5 best lenses for shooting video with a Canon DSLR:

1. Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM $540

2. The “Nifty Fifty” – Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II $110 (a crazy bargain)

3. Rokinon Cine 85mm t/1.5 De-Clicked Aperture $330 or less

4. Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM L $799 (amazing lens, used by filmmakers, but keep in mind no image stabilization)

5. Canon 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM Lens $299 (handy for wide angles, establishing shots)

Have fun shooting video with your DSLR!

Clint

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  • Chris1701

    Hi Clint, great article with plenty of emphasis on keeping your feet on the ground if you’re just starting out. I’m a professional videographer in the UK and use several different cameras for work, including a 5d mkii – my favourite by far despite not being a dedicated video camera.

    I’m looking to buy my own kit now, and the 5d mkiii is just too expensive here and IMHO not entirely worth it compared to the price of a mkii. So, I’ve also been looking at the 70d with the 18-135 STM lens you mention above as a budget alternative. A couple of questions for you: was the ‘Wrong’s what I do best’ video shot on the 70d? And if so how do you find the focussing? I was about to buy one when I found numerous forums with people petitioning Canon to recognise an issue with the focussing, but I think this May have been restricted to stills only.

    • Thanks. Yes Wrong’s What I Do Best is all 70D. Mostly 18-135mm STM kit lens which is a beauty. Some of the exterior shots are with the Sigma 18-35mm – stellar too, but lacks stabilization.

      Focusing for video with 70D is just brilliant. No issues for me. It’s fast, and I love that I can touch the LCD to chose focal point. I can even simulate some pull focus shots. The only challenge is occasionally the focus will shift off the subject even when they are the majority of the frame. I’m learning to hold AF-On button to hold focus lock. Net-net: 70D is phenomenal!

      • Chris1701

        Thanks Clint, my mind is made up! 70d it is :) Will also be getting the 18-135 as it’s the same as the one I use on the 5d and flexible enough for most situations. Bit of a bonus here in the UK at the moment, as Canon are running a summer cashback scheme – so looks like I should get £100 back for the 70d and £40 for buying the lens :) I’ve also been looking at the BeachTek Pro external sound unit which can accept dual xlr inputs and seems to do a better job than the camera’s internal preamp (can also provide phantom power). Anyway, I really like the video and your creative shots – thanks for the extra info!

      • Leon Kennedy

        From what i can understand,to film the 2 most important lenses are a 50mm for close ups, and a 24 mm for the rest. True or false?
        Rest is just extra stuff

  • i really considering 18-135 STM and the 10-80 STM

  • Kuy Ty

    Thanks a lot

  • Mikkel I. Karlsen

    Great article! I’m setting up a kit to shoot instructables/info-videos lasting 3-8 minutes (or so I think).

    I have a Canon Eos 550d (the 2ti rebel in the US, yes?), and need pretty much a budget-kit to help me get started. I’ve identified light as a major concern – do you have any tips? Videos will be shot near a whiteboard or similar, so I’m looking to find a 3-point setup that can help eliminate shadows and reduce noise in the picture.

  • Josh

    Hi Clint, hope you are well. Thanks for this article, it’s really informative. Could you tell me a little bit about your sound set up, as in the picture of the camera above with the mic mounted on top? Do you the Zoom positioned inside that set up? Thank you! Josh

    • Thanks- that’s a Sennheiser MKE600 shotgun mic. I use XLR to mini cable and plug it right into the 70D. Audio is excellent. A notch up from the Rode Videomic Pro (which I think is great for the price). On talent, I use Zoom H1 with lavaliers, and sync in post. Occasionally I use a Zoom H6 too to capture concert audio. Works well!

      • Josh

        Thanks Clint, I didn’t realise XLR to mini jack exists, that’s great, and with Senn, audio worries should be solved! Can I just finally ask what that mount is between the camera and the mic? Thank you and have a great weekend.

  • Tom

    The first lens is an ef-s lens, I thought those only fit on crop bodies, so no upgrade compatibility?

    • Kelleytoons

      Both the first and the fifth lens (which has been out a while and gotten really good reviews — I have it and like it) are EF-S lenses and, yes, they don’t fit full frame bodies well (if at all — some of them can be fitted but have poor vignetting and some just won’t fit no matter what).

      But if you’re going to FF you’re going to change cameras as well — if you intend to keep your cropped sensor as a backup (which is a good idea — no matter who shoots what you should always have at least two cameras unless you are just playing around. In which case you won’t be going FF anyway) you will need lenses for it, so no big deal. If you intend to sell your cropped camera you can sell it with the lenses, which will give it more value.

      Canon lenses have always maintained great resale value, and I would expect the EF-S line to continue that tradition. The fantastic STM lenses will definitely hold their value and their focusing abilities alone make them a good reason to use a cropped sensor as at least a backup. If/when you leave cropped cameras behind your biggest issue won’t be how much money you can get for the lenses, but for the camera (my Canon digitals from less than 10 years ago have absolutely zero value in them now, while all the lenses I bought for them are still only slightly discounted).

  • Elise Driver

    Im looking for a lens in which i can video a soccer match with. I need one that can zoom in on players who are one the other side of the field and on players on my side of the field. Any suggestions? I have a canon 1100d and i dont have a budget.

    • Kelleytoons

      If it were me I’d get the superb Canon 55-250mm IS STM — can be bought for around $300 and rivals even the much $$$ 70-200mm L lenses Canon sells. The 55mm should be excellent for your sidelines, while the long zoom will help with the other. It’s lightweight so easy to use all during the game, and the IS will give you great video (although I’d recommend at least a monopod — a game is a long time to be handholding anything, particularly a long lens).

  • sol invictus

    great article. I just got a 60d that has 18-135mm lens included I also bought a the 50mm lens you recommended(b4 reading this article actually). I’m about to shoot a documentary about crossing the border I’ll be traveling to Mexico and then cross back with a coyote. I’m trying to go as light as possible do you think the 18-135mm is my best bet for trek? Thanks.

  • Danny

    Thanks for this. I have the Canon T5i, 18-135mm STM, and the Canon 50mm f/1.8 combo and I’m glad to hear your positive opinion on those lenses (the camera does alright, too). I’m going to check out mics next — I’ll look at the Sennheiser you mentioned in the comments section. Thanks so much!

  • Sam

    Great article. Just a quick question, what lens would the best lens to get if you only had the budget for one.

    • Canon 18-135mm (~$500). Decent wide, and nice range. All-rounder. If you click through onto the Stark Insider home page, virtually any new video is shot with this lens.

  • Danny Diet

    What is the best pro camcord that uses DSLR lens that is CCD sensor?

  • Scott Warren

    I want to pick up the 70d but need a telephoto lens to film lacrosse. Suggestions?

  • Ernesto

    Hi I am shooting a dance performance so it will be dark, I have 10-18mm, 18-135mm and a 50mm 1.8 which lens should work best if I want everything in focus and what settings should I use to not have blurry movements, thank you very much

  • Kalaminator

    Nice article, thank you very much. The share dock on the left is very annoying and I don’t know how to disable it…

  • Kalaminator

    Question: Why a lot of people go for canon DSLR over camrecorders for youtube videos for example? Because I’,m thinkinh about uploading videos to youtube but I can’t really understand this.

  • Wes

    Great article Clint, I am a dentist and I do a lot of education for other dentist. Currently we use DSLR Canons with macro 100mm lense and ring flash for still intraoral photography. We are ready to take it to the next level and capture certain procedures in video. What setup would you recommend and also consider that I would love to mount the camera on a tripod so we could steady the shot. Moving around would be great too so focusing on the right area is important as we are looking a small feilds. Lighting is very good since we have LED head lamps and overhead spots.

  • raya

    Hello I have a question what would be the best lens to use for canon 6d EOS DSLR to shoot videos of recipes similar to tasty buzzfeed? I know the Canon EF 100mm 2.8L IS is a great one but I was hoping for something cheaper?

    • Craig Love

      The non L regular 100mm f2.8 macro should work just fine and it is half the price. The quality is the same pretty much. Check out Ken Rockwell’s reviews if you like. I have 4 Canon bodies and I must say that (for me) the APS-C bodies really rock for video. I have the 70D and 80D and about ten Canon lenses. Four are L lenses. If you are set with full frame and do not need to zoom and are shooting food, the 100mm I mentioned might be your best choice. Otherwise I have to agree with the author here. The 70D or 80D with the 18-135 is just so versatile. I shoot a lot of music in dark clubs and even though the lens is slower the quality is still excellent! Being able to tap to focus right on the tilt LCD screen is huge, just huge. It has face recognition and a little white square will stay right on the lead singer’s head. If you want to pull focus to the drummer, just tap the screen. Using my 5D3 is nowhere as good as the 80D as you never know where focus is without doing everything manually. I keep tapping the 5D3 screen and nothing happens! I shoot in HD with the same Sennheiser MKE600 mike and could not be happier with the results. Happy shooting!