Can a $500 lens possibly perform as well as a $26,000 lens? Let’s find out
Seems like a perfectly idiotic question right? I mean, how could a $500 lens possibly be as good as a $26,000 lens? And who drops that kind of money on a lens anyway? Filmmakers, that’s who! This interesting video from Film Riot compares a $500 35mm Rokinon lens with a 32mm Arri Zeiss Master Prime lens that costs mega-bucks.
The video compares various shots taken in a studio setting and outside, and although it’s not done scientifically, the results are certainly interesting. So how do they stack up against each other?
Firstly the studio set-up shots. I am having a difficult time telling the difference between the two lenses in this setting. And when they reveal the results it’s pretty clear that the differences are quite minimal. The Rokinon lets in slightly less light than the Master Prime and has a slightly warmer colour cast with the more expensive lens being truer to real life. However, that’s pretty much it. In this instance, I’d say you can save yourself $25,500!
The colour seems to be the greatest difference between the two lenses. Now looking at the bokeh the Rokinon has slightly less nice bokeh balls. Moving outside created a few extra differences, mainly that the cheaper lens suffered more from purple fringing while the expensive lens was totally clean (as you’d hope for that kind of budget).
So what’s the main takeaway from this? Well, obviously the Master Prime lens is better than the Rokinon, particularly when shooting outdoors and with wider apertures. However, is it $25,500 better?
The answer then, as always, is “it depends”. It depends on the final output of the film. If it’s going to be compressed and viewed mostly on YouTube and social media, then no, you probably don’t need to invest in the big-budget lenses. If it’s destined for the large screen anywhere, then yes, perhaps it is worth the budget.
The other thing to bear in mind is that the Master Prime lenses will be much more consistent across a set. So if you are filming in multiple locations across the world and need to rent gear in different places, there is a much higher guarantee of consistency with these lenses than with the cheaper ones. Typically a less expensive lens will have its own quirks which will not be consistent from lens to lens.
As they say in the video, you can always add filters and effects to a great lens, whereas fixing problems later on is much harder. But of course, the upshot is that the cheaper Rokinon lenses do a pretty phenomenal job, and if you’re not producing Hollywood quality films, then don’t let a cheap lens stop you from creating.
Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe