Maybe this is far to broad a question, but I'm not sure I can do better:

I'm interested in using a cheap DSLR for movies (hacked Panasonic GH1). I am a good artist, but I don't know anything about lenses other than: more expensive gets you more light and less edge distortion. My only experience with a DSLR is 2 years with a K-x and the cheap 18-55 kit lens.

Do you have any general advice on which attributes of a lens are most important in getting a cinematic feel?

Let's assume for the sake of answering the question that otherwise I'm a cinematography pro.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Cinematic stills are on topic — cinematic digital video goes to avp.stackexchange.com. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Jul 2, 2012 at 22:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ That said, what you want is nice rendering of out-of-focus areas (good bokeh) and the potential for a nice wide aperture. I think the Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4 is almost a no-brainer. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Jul 2, 2012 at 22:16
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ And, if you're willing to entertain answers focused on stills rather than video, I'd love to see this question stay here rather than get migrated. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Jul 2, 2012 at 22:44

2 Answers 2


The comments about throwing the background out of focus are definitely on-the-money. I would also suggest that longer lenses tend to yield more "cinematic" results. (Which is not to say that wide / slightly-wide perspectives can't also be dramatic. But when shooting video with a wide lens, perspective distortion starts to get quite noticeable as you pan around.)

However, the lens is just part of getting a cinematic feel.

Just as important are using composition, lighting, and post-processing to heighten the dramatic feel. I'm going to do a Flickr search for "cinematic" and choose a few examples:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/garytube/6637602571/lightbox/ - Features of note:

  • Framing/composition within a "letterbox" aspect ratio.
  • Tight control of the color pallete
  • The scene is slightly flattened, which suggests that a long lens was used
  • Heavy vignetting


  • Letterboxed
  • Muted palette
  • Long lens


  • Letterboxed
  • Dramatic lighting
  • Slightly-wide lens


  • Look at that high-contrast lighting!
  • Muted color palette
  • Long lens (probably)

Also check out the Cinematic pool for more: http://www.flickr.com/groups/cinematicinfluences/pool/with/4112078800/

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I've undeleted this as it seemed to be a fine answer regarding getting that "cinematic" look and feel with a digital camera. I think the examples linked are good, although there might be some even better ones from that pool. \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Jul 3, 2012 at 3:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh! I've gotta say that I was a little surprised to find that my answer was still here =) For what it's worth, the reason that I deleted it in the first place was that marienbad specifically was asking about lenses and I was worried that I side-stepped the question too much. \$\endgroup\$
    – anon
    Jul 5, 2012 at 2:37
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Don't worry too much if your answer doesn't specifically answer 100% exactly what someone may ask. It is often the case that people do not know what to ask, and use the terms they are familiar with. Additionally, this is a community site, and answers usually have value beyond simply answering the original question. We are a prime target for internet searches, and many people might read the answers to a question...if the answer is somewhat broad relative to what was asked, that is ok, so long as it is a valid answer overall. \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Jul 5, 2012 at 3:36

A lens for cinematic effect can have two characteristics:

  1. A wide angle(for letterbox aspect ratio)
  2. With very high aperture(for getting bokeh effect ie. the out of focus effect)

A suitable lens can be as mentioned in the comment a Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4

Apart from this the most cinematic effect is achieved in post-processing of the image like letterboxing, reducing the saturation, adding viginity, etc.

  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ The resulting aspect ratio has very little to do with the angle of view of your lens. \$\endgroup\$
    – che
    Jul 6, 2012 at 8:06

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