10 Best Zoom Lenses For Filming On A Budget

The lenses you choose to shoot with are just as important as the camera, as they help build the composition and look of your shots. But what lenses should you choose? Today we look at some great zoom glass for filming on a budget.

Note: The lenses I mention are ones that I would recommend from experience, as well as what we’ve reported on here at cinema5D. There will never be a right or wrong choice of what kit you use!

Shooting Micro Four Thirds and APS-C

Focal lengths of lenses on MFT or APS-C cameras get a bit confusing sometimes. A 17-50mm isn’t actually a 17-50mm. The focal lengths are multiplied by the camera manufacturers ‘crop factor’, which on Canon APS-C cameras is 1.6x and on MFT sensors like on the GH4 is 2x. That wide angle you were looking for with the 17-50mm zoom? Nope. It’s actually around 27-80mm.

While in the topic of wide angles, capturing such perspectives is often difficult without compromising distortion, a slower aperture or price, but still top of the list is the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8. It has noticeable barrel distortion at the wide end, but after zooming in slightly, this is somewhat reduced. The wide aperture of f/2.8 is ideal for low light situations, but does get soft towards the edges of the image. The equivalent focal lengths are around 17-25mm (APS-C) and 22-38mm (MFT).

budget zoom lenses 1

One of the first lenses I used with a Canon 60D quite a few years ago was the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8. It has a fixed aperture of f/2.8 and better optical quality than the Canon 18-55mm f/3.5 – 5.6 kit lens you get in the box. It also has ‘Vibration Control’ (VC), Tamron-talk for image stabilization, critical for steady pictures for video. Equivalent focal lengths are 27-80mm (APS-C) and 34-100mm (MFT).

For shallow depth of field, both the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 and Sigma 50-100mm f/1.8 hit top marks. Being a fast zoom lens, the wider aperture gives using a smaller sensor camera much more flexibility with light. These lenses are pricier, but you pay for the Art quality of the Sigma lenses and that wider aperture which isn’t seen in any other zoom lenses. A combo of these two is a great kit with equivalent focal lengths of 28-56mm (APS-C) and 36-70mm (MFT) for the 18-35mm, and 80-160mm (APS-C), 100-200mm (MFT) for the 50-100mm.

Another option if you don’t use lens adapters and shoot on an A7S II or E-mount camera is the Sony 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 , great for gimbal work with its optical stabilization and wide angle. I’ve used it a couple of times on the a7S for this specific application because it is light and has auto focus functionality when it’s directly mounted to the camera.

If you’re a GH4 user, there are many great lenses from Panasonic available that keep the camera and lens combo compact. Two I can highly recommend is the Panasonic Lumix 12-35mm f/2.8 and Panasonic Lumix 35-100mm f/2.8 (the 24-70mm and 70-200mm full frame focal length equivalent). Both have O.I.S built into the lens to keep images steady, and the constant wide aperture is needed for those shallow depth of field shots on this small sensor.

budget zoom lenses 2

Of course, it’s still possible to use some of these lenses on larger sensor (S35 and full frame) cameras that have a sensor crop feature, like the A7S II, FS5 and LS300, so their uses aren’t limited if you step up to a different camera.

Shooting Super 35 and Full Frame

Here’s where there is a step up in pricing, but also in optical quality. In some cases, if you’re looking at buying your first camera that is APS-C or S35, getting a full frame zoom lens will give you better quality images than the APS-C equivalent, but it will cost you more.

At the wide angle end, prices vary for lenses depending on their aperture. For example the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L comes in at $999.00 compared to $1499.00 for the non-IS 16-35 f/2.8L II model.  The latest version of that lens will set you back well over $2000. For a wide angle lens under $1000, the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 is the next best thing but lacks image stabilization. I haven’t personally used this lens, but at $689 it’s half the price of its competitors. If image stabilization is key for you (for Steadicam and gimbal work for example), the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 lens coming in at just about $1000.

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Full frame means brighter images with a shallower depth of field. Saying that, having the widest aperture possible is not always the best option in terms of sharpness. The Canon 24-105mm f/4L is still a very popular lens for filming, with many people I know using it on both DSLR, mirrorless and video cameras like the C1 Mark II, C300 Mark II and FS5. For $100.00 less, an alternative is the Sigma 24-105mm f/4 Art lens. I haven’t tried this out but if the build and quality of the Art range is to go by, its worth a try.

If your disposition is a wider aperture over focal length, the 24-70mm f/2.8 is your go-to choice. Don’t feel like you need to buy into the Canon ‘red ring’ club either, as there are many other lenses from Sigma and Tamron that are considerably cheaper than the Canon version. I personally use the Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 and I love it. It’s my go-to standard lens and is on the camera all the time. It stands up to the Canon in terms of optical quality and value for money, but I have had some compatibility issues using this lens with an EF – E mount Metabones adapter.

Your choice of lenses has a great deal to do with what kind of things you’ll be filming. For shooting events, wildlife or sports (particularly outdoors), the mid range telephoto Canon EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 is a good choice. It does have a variable aperture (meaning as you zoom in, the aperture will stop down), but it is sharp at f/5.6. The extra focal length taking it up to 300mm is ideal if you like to steer clear from your subjects. It also features 2 mode image stabilization, which is definitely needed at the telephoto end.

Again, if you need the option of a wider fixed-aperture telephoto, there are models out there from Canon, Sigma, Tamron and Sony with varying features and pricing. For telephoto lenses, optical stabilization is a must unless you have the option of in-body image stabilization, or IBIS, or you risk shaky shots on the long end. The Tamron and Sigma models are both less expensive than the Canon and Sony counterparts, and like the 24-70mm lens options, the optical quality is very good. On the longer end with a fixed aperture I recommend the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8.

budget zoom lenses 4

If you’re shooting with a Sony E-mount camera like an A7S, the Sony FE PZ 28-135mm f/4 G OSS lens is a great choice and has come down in price significantly. Understandably, it’s more than double the price of the other lenses mentioned in this post, but it’s a very good all-round ENG-style lens. It features a manual and servo zoom (although this is somewhat slow to respond), manual and auto focusing, and is native E-mount so there is no need for an adapter.

If you’re not interested in buying, what are your rental options?

Being flexible is part of being a filmmaker, as you never know what the next shoot will demand of you. If you’re in this boat, renting rather than purchasing lenses is an economical choice, and many of the above ‘photo’ lenses are widely available from rental houses across the world. You can rent the Canon 24-105mm f/4 IS II from lensrentals.com for $41 for 4 days, for example.

Depending on the production budget, you could of course stretch all the way up to an Angenieux. But on the theme of budget lenses, you’re more likely to have the option of the new Zeiss Lightweight Zoom 21-100mm T2.9 – 3.9, which can be hired for $332.00 for 4 days. The superior optics of this lens surpasses that of photo lenses, and you can check out our hands on with it at IBC 2016 here, and Nino Leitner’s documentary film and blog post about using the lens here.

Of course, this is a PL and E-mount lens, but what are your options if you’re a Canon shooter?

A good budget-oriented option for renting higher-end EF lenses is the Canon CN-E Compact-Servo 18-80mm T4.4 L IS EF, which has cinema grade optics, for $168.00 for 4 days. But as I mentioned above, there are a vast range of L series lenses, including the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II, that can be rented for a mere $63.00 for 4 days.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully you’ve found this post informative and helps narrow down your choice of zoom lenses for filming. There are so many to choose from out there, that ultimately your budget and what you shoot will determine the best decision. I’d urge anyone looking at purchasing a lens to check it out in person first; whether that is visiting your local camera store or renting one for a few days to see how it feels. A lens can look fantastic on paper, but feel completely different when you shoot with it. At the end of the day, it’s a personal choice, so never let anyone put you down for choosing the lens you want!

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Remco Guijs Reply
Remco Guijs November 1, 2016


Roland Guijs Reply
Roland Guijs November 2, 2016

Toen ze de basislens van de a5000 erbij zetten, verloor het artikel zn geloofwaardigheid 😅

Justice Ngwadi Reply
Justice Ngwadi November 1, 2016

Let me get two for myself

Mike Silverman Reply
Mike Silverman November 1, 2016

Lots of great lenses but I’m not sure that they’re for people on a budget. Many of them are $1000-$1500.

Ryan November 2, 2016

True. But some of these you can buy used at a great price. For instance, the Canon 24-105 is typically available for only $500 in excellent condition. I see a new one go up on Craigslist every day.

Although I still don’t understand why Sigma doesn’t make their 24-105 in a native E-mount. I feel like it would sell like crazy.

Sam Howells November 2, 2016

I think it would have been important to consider vintage lenses for this list. Not only are they usually cheaper on a budget, but also more fitting of cinema mechanics with manual apertures and hard stop focus mechanisms. It’s frequent to hear people say that Canon L series, etc. don’t stand up when blown up on screens for cinema, but there are still many vintage lenses worth their salt and getting extensive use on high end cameras. Even if they don’t all have constant apertures, it’s rare that productions shoot constantly wide open anyways.

Contax Zeiss lenses offer a huge range of lenses, many superb, and offer a more classic look than the clinical, neutral stills lenses.

Leica R lenses are widely popular for providing the Leica look on a budget, often still finding themselves paired with Alexa Minis and RED Dragons despite those projects likely having high budgets.

Cheaper than those are Olympus OM, Nikon Ai and Ais, Canon FD, and some Minolta Rokkor glass.

Many of these vintage lenses are beloved enough by professional crowds that they are willing to shell out over $15,000/set to get them rehoused for proper cinema use. This isn’t true of nearly any of the above lenses (besides Sigmas and a few Tokinas)

Adam Plowden Reply
Adam Plowden November 3, 2016

Sam, I do agree that there are plenty of vintage manual lenses out there that are still perfect for the job and fit the ‘budget’ line. I have a selection of manual lenses that are used for specific looks or jobs too.

Dennis Jordan November 3, 2016

Hi Adam,

Great lens recommendations. I think choosing a printer is almost as important as choosing a lens, so your photo quality isn’t destroyed due to a low-res printer.


Adam Plowden Reply
Adam Plowden November 3, 2016

Thank you Dennis, and yes you are absolutely right!

Yoyi P November 3, 2016

Nice post but hey, why don’t use the Sigmas (18-35 & 50-100) with the Super 35 cameras too???
That’s What I do with my C100ii and I couldn’t be happier.
For the wide shots, does someone recomend the Tokina 11-16 f2.8 for this camera?? Is it usable from f2.8?? (The Sigma 18-35 is just amazing from f1.8)

Adam Plowden Reply
Adam Plowden November 3, 2016

Yoyi, you are correct in the ability to use the Sigma lenses with s35 cameras, as mentioned above in the post.

David NJ November 4, 2016

The Sigma lenses on an APS-C sensor are easily the best choice on a budget. The Sigma lenses are the ONLY APS-C lenses that can come close to matching the 120-130lp/mm sensor density. They have very good color rendition and work with the Sigma USB interface.

Using them with the new Sony A6500 body (adding image stabilization which would benefit both lenses, especially for handheld video) may be the hot ticket.

I have the 18-35mm/1.8 and the now discontinued 50-150/2.8 OS (which is as sharp as the 18-35/1.8). Currently using a 7D with a Mosaic Engineering filter, I’ll be switching to the A6500 next Spring. I also have the Sigma 150-600C telephoto zoom, the Tokina 11-16/2.8 (wider, not in the same league for IQ), the Tamron 17-50/2.8 VC (great lens, just much lower IQ, my main lens for years, I use it when needing OS or for my wife). I also have lots of Nikon F primes and can’t wait to get the 300/4 ED on to the A6500.