Choosing a lens for your camera is a crucial decision, but it can be a confusing process. Houses of worship, like many other professional users, often look for a “magic bullet”: a single piece of glass capable of doing only what you need with nothing you don’t, at a price that doesn’t break the bank.
Like most everything else, however, the search usually isn’t so easy. Lenses are becoming more and more sophisticated, and the choices are expanding just as quickly. Purchasing the right lens can help make the most of your camera and get your message out clearly, while the wrong lens can limit your performance capabilities. The good news is that a little advance research can make lens selection a dependable, accurate and efficient process that will lead to great production values.
The first step is to look at your budget. You may only have so many dollars to spend on a new lens, or it may be going onto a camera that’s worth less than $10,000, which will immediately narrow the field of appropriate choices. Fortunately, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the quality and features of pro video lenses, which means new options for churches or congregations on a budget. Even a lens that isn’t broadcast grade can take on applications that would have been unthinkable in pro video lenses just a few years ago.
After that, determine what the primary uses of the lens will be. What size congregation will it be used to cover? Will it be used for remote broadcasts or open-air services? If you need to get good, tight shots of your clergy, and still need see the congregation and parishioners, a portable 19X (i.e. zoom ratio of 19) or 21X lens might be needed. The largest facilities may need a 47X or longer.
Another key aspect of the equation is whether or not to get a lens that is switchable, or capable of shooting in both the 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios. For houses of worship working in 4:3, who believe 16:9 may be needed at some point, a switchable lens is a flexible solution for a switchable camera, ensuring that that camera will be useful far into the future. However, adding switchability also adds significant cost, since a broadcast quality lens that costs $13,000 can increase to $18,000 when switchability is added. For pro video users, a front mounted wide converter can be added that makes up for the lost wide angle that occurs in switchable lenses.
There are three different categories of portable lenses: standard, telephoto, and wide angle. A common rule of thumb is that “wide” and “economical” usually don’t appear in the same sentence: making a lens wider while maintaining high image quality is a costly process. However, the exaggerated distance and depth that comes with a wide-angle view can also add the feeling of spaciousness, even to small congregations, which makes it an important consideration.
Supposing a standard lens, for example a 17X telephoto with a 7.7mm (17×7.7) wide angle doesn’t suffice, and you need more telephoto, portable zooms can come in sizes that range from 19×9 to 21×7.8, and wide angle lenses can range from 11×4.5 to 12×6.5 (all lenses noted here are in the 2/3″ format). Your specific application will help you decide which is right. When you’re talking broadcast grade, the 2X extender is a standard item on all lenses, and in pro video it’s an option worth considering. If telephoto will only be needed from time to time, a front-mounted teleconverter is a less expensive way to add 1.5X in focal length. However, this can also add weight.
There are times when a lightweight telephoto won’t do the trick, so a larger zoom must come into the picture. Sizes here range from 40X portable (but not hand-holdable) to a 47X box style lens or larger. If budget allows, HDTV and lenses with image stabilization are also available.
Another thing to think about is if the lens is going to be used in a place that gives the operator direct control of it. Jib arms or cranes are good ways to keep cameras out of the view of parishioners, but if they’re used, a built-in focus motor must be added to have electronic control of focus as well as zoom and iris.
The above checklist – budget, applications, switchability, telephoto and wide angle considerations – is a great path towards narrowing the decision of which lens to buy. With the wide range of choices trimmed neatly down to two or three top options, it will be much easier to start shooting through the right lens.