What Makes for a Good Zoom Lens for Video?

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Markr041 Veteran Member • Posts: 8,651
What Makes for a Good Zoom Lens for Video?

Apart from the standard characteristics of a good lens - resolution, contrast, flare, coma, etc. that are tested in most lens reviews - here is what are some especially useful features for video:

1. Quiet autofocus.

2. Quiet and good optical stabilization, especially for long focal lengths that IBIS cannot handle well.

3.  Multi-speed power zoom - for smooth zooms under control.

4. Parfocal zoom, or near - the lens does not lose focus completely (at a minimum) and never loses focus at best throughout the full zoom range. Fast AF can sometimes mimic true parfocal.

5. Quick and accurate continuous autofocus if the camera can handle it.

6. Minimal "focus breathing" - so when you shift focus from a near, say, to a far object the objects do not change size!

Almost no zoom lenses for hybrid cameras have even a few of these features. I have yet to find an mft lens from Panasonic and Olympus that does not lose focus completely while zooming, or at least fails enough to not be reliable. None of the few power zooms for mft cameras pass the zoom focus test.

This brings me to the Sony RX100 VI and VII cameras - they have the same lens, a 24-100mm power zoom, with multiple speeds. But do these have the other desirable characteristics of a good video lens? If they do, that would make these cameras among the best video cameras available.

How is the OSS? Is the zoom lens parfocal? In this short 4K video I shot almost all clips at the long end - 200mm handheld (the second clip you see has a close-up shaking branch, so you watch the background for steadiness). I also shot two zooms across the full focal lengths of the lens - 24 to 200mm handheld:

How about AF and focus breathing? How quiet is AF? This short video tests for these features, but starts with a zoom. All these shots are on a tripod, since the issues are about focus not stabilization:

Both videos were shot in 4K using the HLG3 picture profile. As of yet YouTube has not rendered the 4eK versions, so ignore the resolution for now (it makes a big difference contrary to what some people think).

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Andrew S10 Senior Member • Posts: 1,337
Re: What Makes for a Good Zoom Lens for Video?

I would also add that it's nice if the lens doesn't "trombone" when you zoom, and power zoom is nice to have.

I think for MFT you get the best results adapting a 2/3" ENG lens, which are cost prohibitive for most of us. I've read that some of the 1/2" ones have a big enough image circle and sharp enough optics to get you by on the cheap, relatively speaking.

The Sony 18-105mm is the cheapest power zoom APS-C lens I've run across, at $380-$500 on video forums. It's not the greatest lens by a long shot, but it gets the job done.

JasonTheBirder
JasonTheBirder Senior Member • Posts: 1,610
Re: What Makes for a Good Zoom Lens for Video?

I would add to your list a smooth and dampened focus ring with a linear focus option for smooth manual pull focus. I sometimes use manual focus primes for pull focus because the focus rings on some are just buttery smooth and perfectly dampened.

Michael Thomas Mitchell Forum Pro • Posts: 12,158
Re: What Makes for a Good Zoom Lens for Video?
1

I'm not exactly certain I have an answer to your question, but I can tell you that I'm not terribly interested in any sort of powered zoom, as zooming during a shot can look very amateurish. Eliminating that feature would broaden the choice of lenses that fulfill your criteria.

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uncle dunc Senior Member • Posts: 1,125
Re: What Makes for a Good Zoom Lens for Video?

I've found with my Panasonic M4/3 zooms - the 14-140 kit lens and the 35-100 F/2.8 - if I zoom first, focus, and then unzoom and start shooting, focus is more or less retained when I rezoom, but I'm not doing critical shooting.

The Olympus 12-40 F/2.8 Pro Zoom has a manual focus clutch. When you pull the focus ring towards the camera, it disengages AF and gives you a manual focus emulation. It's not 100% accurate, in that if you set up a follow focus, set your in and out points, and then shoot the scene multiple times, focus will drift eventually, but if it's for a single shot, or two or three shots in a row, it's pretty reliable.

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Leswick II Senior Member • Posts: 1,681
Re: What Makes for a Good Zoom Lens for Video?
1

Don't wish to sound absolutist, but I do agree with Michael above.  No serious visual artist (film/video) would use a zoom.  Urrr, rarely one is used for "accent" and the zoom is so slow, that most viewers are nearly unaware of it.

Overall, zooming reminds me (too much) of ol Super 8 home movies.....because they could.

OP Markr041 Veteran Member • Posts: 8,651
Re: What Makes for a Good Zoom Lens for Video?

Michael Thomas Mitchell wrote:

I'm not exactly certain I have an answer to your question, but I can tell you that I'm not terribly interested in any sort of powered zoom, as zooming during a shot can look very amateurish. Eliminating that feature would broaden the choice of lenses that fulfill your criteria.

Zooming is essential for sports video. Used appropriately, it is also useful for narrative film. Just because something can be used badly does not make it unuseful, of course. But it may be less useful for some purposes than others. \

The same argument is made about AF - people swear by only using manual focus, although as AF has gotten much better, there is less of this. AF is essential for action, maybe not for other uses. etc.

Some say they always use gimbals or sticks so they don't need OSS or IBIS, etc.

All of these features permit more possibilities; none hamper them.

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OP Markr041 Veteran Member • Posts: 8,651
Re: What Makes for a Good Zoom Lens for Video?

Leswick II wrote:

Don't wish to sound absolutist, but I do agree with Michael above. No serious visual artist (film/video) would use a zoom. Urrr, rarely one is used for "accent" and the zoom is so slow, that most viewers are nearly unaware of it.

Overall, zooming reminds me (too much) of ol Super 8 home movies.....because they could.

Video cameras are used by more than "serious visual artists" - for sports and action, for example.

I agree with you that zoom is actually used more than people think because it is used slowly, in small bits and discreetly. We are not talking about crash zooms. And of course there is the famous dolly zoom (Spielberg and Hitchcock) But they would gag if called "serious visual artists."

But again, just because there are really awful uses of zooming does not mean it is not useful. Same could be said of panning, or slow motion...

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AZMario Regular Member • Posts: 215
Re: What Makes for a Good Zoom Lens for Video?

I have been the videographer on more than one event typically 3 cameras with 2 locked down and one operated. Once i set up for an event cameras do not get relocated. Without the ability to Pan tilt  and zoom I might as well just lock down the third camera as well and just miss the shots that could have been.  Used well a zoom is just one more tool in the tool box.

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NickZ2016 Senior Member • Posts: 1,932
Re: What Makes for a Good Zoom Lens for Video?

Some of that is camera control. Power zoom requires the camera and mount to offer it. Same thing with AF . Same issue with in body ND filters.

The rest? Don't virtually all Cine lenses provide the other items on your list?

Okay they aren't cheap but they're hardly rare. Fuji makes MK lenses for the E mount. Plenty of other companies make lenses .

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OP Markr041 Veteran Member • Posts: 8,651
Re: What Makes for a Good Zoom Lens for Video?

NickZ2016 wrote:

Some of that is camera control. Power zoom requires the camera and mount to offer it. Same thing with AF . Same issue with in body ND filters.

The rest? Don't virtually all Cine lenses provide the other items on your list?

Okay they aren't cheap but they're hardly rare. Fuji makes MK lenses for the E mount. Plenty of other companies make lenses .

I agree good AF is mostly a camera property, but it requires a strong, quiet motor in the lens.

As for power zoom, most of the lenses have their own power servo. It is rarely a camera body feature.

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OP Markr041 Veteran Member • Posts: 8,651
Re: What Makes for a Good Zoom Lens for Video?

JasonTheBirder wrote:

I would add to your list a smooth and dampened focus ring with a linear focus option for smooth manual pull focus. I sometimes use manual focus primes for pull focus because the focus rings on some are just buttery smooth and perfectly dampened.

I agree, but cameras with touch screens provide even more accurate, smooth and precise focus pulls using AF. See the OP video testing focus. The focus pulls are smooth and repeatable. The speed can also be set - faster or slower than what is shown. No bounce, hesitation, etc.

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NickZ2016 Senior Member • Posts: 1,932
Re: What Makes for a Good Zoom Lens for Video?

I wasn't thinking about the motor but the controls. The same way some cameras can do pull focus with the right controls you should be able to do the same sort of thing with power zoom.

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Pete Silver
Pete Silver Contributing Member • Posts: 895
Re: What Makes for a Good Zoom Lens for Video?

In my 30 odd years as a professional ENG camera operator we used Fujinon and Canon zoom lenses.  If you want to have all the features that you want they come at a price.

I think my last lens (a Fujinon) was about £20,000. You could set a slow zoom - push a button and it would do it for you. Ideal for slow, smooth zooms on an interview for instance. A built in extender doubled the focal length of the lens if needed.

I did a lot of concerts and a zoom was a must, used properly it was great.

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Pete Silver

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OP Markr041 Veteran Member • Posts: 8,651
Re: What Makes for a Good Zoom Lens for Video?

NickZ2016 wrote:

I wasn't thinking about the motor but the controls. The same way some cameras can do pull focus with the right controls you should be able to do the same sort of thing with power zoom.

No, mostly the controls (rocker switch) are on the lenses as well. This is true for the Panasonic and Olympus mft system, Sony Alpha cameras, Canon EOS SLRS etc. On real video cameras, the controls are on the body but still many pro zoom lenses have their own rocker switch and motor. No "hybrid" camera I know has a zoom control on the body. The exceptions are the 1"-sensor cameras from Sony, Panasonic, Canon, like the Sony RX100 VI that is shown by the OP and the new ZV-1.

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Michael Thomas Mitchell Forum Pro • Posts: 12,158
Re: What Makes for a Good Zoom Lens for Video?

Markr041 wrote:

Leswick II wrote:

Don't wish to sound absolutist, but I do agree with Michael above. No serious visual artist (film/video) would use a zoom. Urrr, rarely one is used for "accent" and the zoom is so slow, that most viewers are nearly unaware of it.

Overall, zooming reminds me (too much) of ol Super 8 home movies.....because they could.

Video cameras are used by more than "serious visual artists" - for sports and action, for example.

I agree with you that zoom is actually used more than people think because it is used slowly, in small bits and discreetly. We are not talking about crash zooms. And of course there is the famous dolly zoom (Spielberg and Hitchcock) But they would gag if called "serious visual artists."

But again, just because there are really awful uses of zooming does not mean it is not useful. Same could be said of panning, or slow motion...

I'm not so sure anyone has said zooming is forbidden. It is obvious that good techniques can be used poorly and that poor techniques can be used well. Maybe we should stay focused on general use rather than the exception. Yes, Hitchcock and Spielberg among others have done some amazing things with zoom lenses. But you are talking about the lack of powered zooms, specifically. Are you also saying, then, that the use of zooming that you have mentioned (sports, Hitchcock, etc) require a powered zoom? Because I'm pretty certain that the famous scene in JAWS was done with manual zooming. Maybe someone else can say whether or not sports events are done with powered or manual zoom, but I wouldn't be surprised to find it's the latter.

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Michael Thomas Mitchell Forum Pro • Posts: 12,158
Re: What Makes for a Good Zoom Lens for Video?

AZMario wrote:

I have been the videographer on more than one event typically 3 cameras with 2 locked down and one operated. Once i set up for an event cameras do not get relocated. Without the ability to Pan tilt and zoom I might as well just lock down the third camera as well and just miss the shots that could have been. Used well a zoom is just one more tool in the tool box.

Setting aside the usefulness of a zoom lens for recomposing/reframing between shots, would the use of a zoom as you prescribe necessarily require or even substantially benefit from being powered as opposed to manual?

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OP Markr041 Veteran Member • Posts: 8,651
Re: What Makes for a Good Zoom Lens for Video?

Michael Thomas Mitchell wrote:

Markr041 wrote:

Leswick II wrote:

Don't wish to sound absolutist, but I do agree with Michael above. No serious visual artist (film/video) would use a zoom. Urrr, rarely one is used for "accent" and the zoom is so slow, that most viewers are nearly unaware of it.

Overall, zooming reminds me (too much) of ol Super 8 home movies.....because they could.

Video cameras are used by more than "serious visual artists" - for sports and action, for example.

I agree with you that zoom is actually used more than people think because it is used slowly, in small bits and discreetly. We are not talking about crash zooms. And of course there is the famous dolly zoom (Spielberg and Hitchcock) But they would gag if called "serious visual artists."

But again, just because there are really awful uses of zooming does not mean it is not useful. Same could be said of panning, or slow motion...

I'm not so sure anyone has said zooming is forbidden. It is obvious that good techniques can be used poorly and that poor techniques can be used well. Maybe we should stay focused on general use rather than the exception. Yes, Hitchcock and Spielberg among others have done some amazing things with zoom lenses. But you are talking about the lack of powered zooms, specifically. Are you also saying, then, that the use of zooming that you have mentioned (sports, Hitchcock, etc) require a powered zoom? Because I'm pretty certain that the famous scene in JAWS was done with manual zooming. Maybe someone else can say whether or not sports events are done with powered or manual zoom, but I wouldn't be surprised to find it's the latter.

Actually, some posters came close in saying they would never use zooming. And I agree there are two distinct issues: zooming importance in video/"film" and the importance of power.

The cameras used to record sports for live sports events all use power zooms. Weighted by hours of camera use that is the main use of zooming in the world. The recording of live stage events is done with power zooms (eg, Metropolitan Opera live broadcasts). And, yes, for these purposes all the camera operators would tell you they require a power zoom.

Cranes need power-zoom cameras for remote control. Drones require power zoom cameras for the same reason. Cranes and drones are common now in productions (I am not saying that all cranes and drones operate with power zoom cameras, but you can see that power zooms are obviously required if there is zooming).

Now I will be provocative: A power zoom easily outperforms a manual zoom in any use with the right controls (speed, acceleration). I don't think Hitchcock had any power zooms available. Since he was a techno nerd, I am sure he would have used them if he did.

Dolly shots with motors or someone pushes? Even diehards are now accepting AF, since it has improved greatly in recent years (AI and all that). Technology is swiftly eliminating manual anything.

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Michael Thomas Mitchell Forum Pro • Posts: 12,158
Re: What Makes for a Good Zoom Lens for Video?
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My apologies for misunderstanding the direction of this discussion. Your original post referenced Cybershot compacts and Panasonic and Olympic hybrids, but things quickly turned to live professional sports and opera, crane shots, dolleys and Hitchcock.

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AZMario Regular Member • Posts: 215
Re: What Makes for a Good Zoom Lens for Video?
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I find having the power zoom a real plus. For example it is not uncommon to have a primary speaker on stage defer to a specialist seated in the audience. With a lanc controller on the tripod arm I can pan tilt and zoom more smoothly and easily to the secondary presenter versus trying to do it with one hand on the zoom ring and another on the tripod arm. Hasn't been so much need since covid-19 but there was before and there will be again.

Much of the work I was doing had both a live and remote audience even before covid-19.

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