The battle is on! This friendly lens competition pits the prime and zoom lenses of two multibillion-dollar brands. For seven years, we exclusively used Canon lenses for our video productions. Last year, we switched cameras, and are now using Canon MKIIIs for stills and Sony A7s camera bodies with Canon lenses for video. Today our new lenses from Sony arrived, so now it’s time to put these two brands to the test—against one another.
We will not be comparing camera bodies. All the video for this article was filmed on Sony A7s cameras. Our goal is to find out what lenses we need to use for our future projects that allow us to deliver higher-quality productions with the least amount of effort. Maybe you’re in transition like us, and don’t know what lenses to buy next. This two-part article will help you figure out your options. This month, we will be testing the lenses side by side with the same compositions, lighting, environment and angles. Next month, we will test the lenses against one another on actual productions on the West Coast and in the Midwest.
The Canon lenses we will be using are the 50mm EF 1.2, 14mm EF 2.8 and 135mm EF 2.0.
The Sony lenses are the FE PZ 28–145mm f/4 OSS, Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm ZA OSS and Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8.
The three lenses from each company are the most common ones we use in most of our film situations. We wanted to keep the testing simple, and felt this is the most fair lineup comparison from Canon and Sony.
We will be judging the lenses on the most important qualities that myself and the Switzerfilm team feel make a lens great. The categories are depth of field, color, sharpness, focusing, lens flare and overall performance (Part 2). Did you notice that price isn’t something we will be judging on? Buying lenses is one of the best ways to reinvest in your business. Quality used lenses hold more of their value than just about anything else you will purchase. Depreciation is much faster and greater with computers, cameras and other technology. So don’t be afraid to invest in these good-quality lenses.
Let’s look at each of these qualities more closely.
Depth of Field
Having a shallow depth of field allows you as the filmmaker to blur out unimportant backgrounds and focus on the important subject. Looking at the f-stop/aperture numbers, you will see that the Canon lenses provide us with a shallower depth of field. All the Canon lenses can produce a more blurry background and better depth of field. I’ve always thought that the most blurred-out background is the look we should go for on all shots to better bring our subject to life. When you review all the footage, you’ll notice that even though the Canon lenses had the better depth of field, it didn’t mean that your eyes favored it. We prefer to have super-low-aperture options on all our cameras. Canon wins the depth-of-field contest.
We had identical picture profile settings on both cameras. Our eyes were drawn to the color of the Sony lenses over Canon. As you’re watching the video, you can see the difference when I’m putting the tie on. The blue and black really stand out, and are more rich compared to the faded color of the Canon. None of the video clips was color corrected. You’ll notice you can’t tell the color differences as much on the wider shots. Sony wins on better lens color.
The majority of the time, you probably want your subjects as sharp as possible. The Sony lenses were sharper than the Canon lenses. Once again, the most noticeable difference was with the 50mm versus the 55mm for the close-ups. The subject pops more and looks crisp. This is good for videos because you can draw more attention where you want it. Sony easily wins the sharpness contest.
Most advanced filmmakers use manual focus so they can easily keep the subject in focus while shooting at low apertures. When I first started filming, I used automatic focus. For the past seven years, Switzerfilm has used only manual. Why? Because with auto, you lose control of what you want to focus on. With the Sony A7s, we now have four focus options (which we will cover more in depth next month in Part 2).
A typical example of when you would use autofocus is while tracking a bride walking to the groom. The manual focus on the Canon is simple: You just turn it, and it focuses. The Sony is more sensitive to the speed at which you turn the focus ring. Sony lenses have a reaction to your focus speed that can get your subject in focus faster. We were a little clumsy with Sony’s manual focus. Speed of focusing is important because you don’t want to miss out on any moments, but we have so much experience with the Canon focus ring that we still like it better.
We choose Canon focus just because it’s a more predictable manual focus even if it is slower. I have a feeling our opinion on this might change next week after we get some experience focusing with Sony. But let’s pick Canon as the winner for now.
When we film with our handheld stabilizers, we usually shoot into the sun or light source. Lens flare adds an interesting look, and we want to capture big lens flare anytime it’s available. These shots are filmed with a wide-angle lens. The camera used can make a difference in the size and shape of the lens flare. What about the lens itself? Canon’s wide-angle lens had much bigger lens flares. The Sony lens had a sharper lens flare. It’s Canon for the win because of the bigger, bolder and more noticeable lens flares.
The Bottom Line
The jury is still out on what lenses will be in our bag the rest of year. We can spend all day messing around in a park with these lenses, but we need to put them through the ultimate test. So we tried them out on a corporate shoot and a wedding shoot, involving superwide time lapses, ocean sunrises, stabilization, focusing on the fly, details of wedding rings, different skin tones, darkness, and both natural and artificial light.
This is like buying a car. It might look great on paper or feel good on a test drive, but perform terrible in the rain, snow or off road. For now, the Switzerfilm team will shoot with both Canon and Sony. If you had to choose today and you kept a tally, you too would know that Canon wins over Sony, with a score of 3 to 2.