Photo Lenses for Video

Published February 8, 2011

Videographers and cinematographers are all incredibly excited about the great effects, narrow depth-of-field, and cost savings that they can achieve by using SLR sensors to shoot video. They’ve rushed into the technology with all the excitement and enthusiasm of a third grader who just tried his first cup of coffee and chased it down with a pound of sugar cookies. They’re uncontrollably excited and completely frustrated at the same time.

Like so many problems, the videographer entering the realm of photography lenses is crippled by assumptions. They assume photo lenses work like video lenses. They assume the terminology they used to describe lenses is the same as the terminology in the photography world. But like the English and Americans, photographers and videographers are often two peoples separated by a common language.

So this article is strictly for the video crowd, an attempt to rather briefly summarize the major differences between photography lenses and videography lenses.

Author: Roger Cicala

I’m Roger and I am the founder of Hailed as one of the optic nerds here, I enjoy shooting collimated light through 30X microscope objectives in my spare time. When I do take real pictures I like using something different: a Medium format, or Pentax K1, or a Sony RX1R.

Posted in Recommendations
  • Shark


  • I know my stuff

    Nikon 24-70 f/2.8g is not a parfocal lens. I just tested it on the D800. Not the worst performance, but the focus does shift as you zoom.

  • Marco

    The Tokina 11-16 doesn’t seem to be parfocal at least with metabones.

  • Very curious about the Canon 70-200mm f2.8 – I’m looking at putting that on an EF-mount BMCC.

    Anybody know if that would be parfocal on a BMCC EF mount, based on sensor size?

    And same question for that lens but with an EF->MFT metabones speedbooster on a BMPCC….

    Thank you!

  • Charles O. Slavens

    I made my living behind a motion picture camera in the 60s and 70s, and I’ve shot to a limited extent with professional video cameras. Now, while basically in retirement and doing private projects, I’m using a Canon 5dMK2. It delivers stunning quality images, but the compromises you have to make are very frustrating. Budgets aside… any serious undertaking would warrant the use of pro video gear.

  • Richy Lacey

    The Tamron 17-50/2.8 I own definitely isn’t parfocal. There are fairly dramatic shifts in focus between wide and long. Or at least there were until the zoom ring broke…

  • Sami

    The new EF 24-70mm 4L IS is parfocal -(at least very close).

  • So… this list does not apply when using full frame cameras? What about smaller sensors above 2/3″ like APS-C?

  • Roger Cicala

    This article is now a bit dated and I just want to point out to everyone that lenses that appeared parfocal on a camera with, say, a 2/3″ sensor may show themselves WAAAAYYYYY not parfocal when you’re filming on a full-frame sensor. Depth of field is dramatically different nowadays.

  • I don’t believe that any of the 4 Canon 70-200 zooms are parfocal. At least that is what I have read in several articles. Also the 24-105 is varifocal but minimal OOF issues compared to other Canon L Glass like the 24-70

  • Buck Brinson

    Tamron 17-50 2.8 and Sigma 50-150 2.8 are parafocal and work well for video.

  • Roger Cicala


    I’m not sure where you got that – the article doesn’t have anything about compatibility in it. The Sigma 12-24 (both versions) are certainly compatible with the 5D II.

  • Eugene Powers

    I don’t think 24-105mm is parfocal but it changes focus very little with the zoom so as far as video it could be considered as parfocal. Nevertheless it does change focus with the zoom.

  • Eugene Powers

    I guess according to you Sigma 12-24mm (both versions) is not compatible with my 5D2.
    What a shame I guess I have to put it on the shelf and just enjoy looking at it.

  • I can also attest to the fact that the 24-105L is parfocal. The zoom/focus rings are a bit tight to turn, we’ll see how this changes once I use it a bit more over the years. Definitely a keeper, even though there is a bit of barrel/pincushion distortion throughout it’s range. Sharp wide open.

  • My 24-105L is definitely parfocal. I’ve been reading that most of the Canon L series zooms are parfocal except for a couple, along with a few standard ones.

  • The Tokina AT-X Pro 28-80mm 1:2.8 lens is parfocal, and it is also internal focus and internal zoom… I know this as I have one, (although it ‘really’ needs a service… parfocals are like that I believe… the BMW’s of lenses…) Hope the service doesn’t cost more than the lens though! 🙂

  • Roger Cicala

    Nick, I don’t have information on that lens, although older designs are more likely to be parfocal than newer lenses.


  • Nick Junkersfeld

    This is a great piece of reference material, thanks for posting. I do have one inquiry however, I’ve heard that the older Tokina/Angenieux AT-X PRO 28-70 f2.6-2.8 is also a parfocal lens, is it possible that deserves inclusion here or can you confirm it is NOT a parfocal lens? Thanks!

  • What an awesome article. I have been trying to figure out which of my Canon lenses are parfocal for a while now. Thank you, thank you THANK YOU!

  • Roger Cicala

    Actually I’ve been thinking about just that. There are a few interesting combinations worth a quick blog.

  • Jason Attaman

    will you consider a blog post “Video lenses for photo?”

  • Pingback: - Photo Lenses for Video: There is no Free Lunch.()

  • 144Jim

    “This list isn’t the coolest lenses or the best special effects lenses or the sharpest lenses. This is a list of lenses that give nice sharp images, work well, don’t cause frequent problems, and don’t require special alterations of technique.”


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