Why Cinematographers Use Different Lenses

Lens choice affects everything about a scene in a movie. In this video for Vanity Fair, Newton Thomas Sigel explains some of the reasons why cinematographers choose wide angle, normal, and telephoto lenses.

Sigel is one of the best know Directors of Photography in Hollywood. He was the DP for films like "The Usual Suspects," "Drive," "Three Kings," and last year’s Queen mega-hit, "Bohemian Rhapsody" — all films with their own epic look. It’s safe to say he knows what he’s talking about.

In this short video published by Vanity Fair, he talks about and, best of all, demonstrates how wide angle, normal, and telephoto lenses make the same scene look different and why it’s important. He also uses footage from some of his movies to explain what feeling the director was trying to evoke in the audience and how the choice of lens and camera position played into it.

If you’ve ever felt claustrophobic watching a horror movie or detached from the action viewing a thriller, then you’ve felt the power of the cinematographer’s lens choice. Even if you’re familiar with the optical differences between wide angle and telephoto lenses, it’s still cool to see the impact demonstrated on screen. And, of course, you’ll be able to play around with the same ideas the next time you shoot portraits or a movie.

Harry Guinness's picture

Harry Guinness is a writer and photographer from Dublin, Ireland—though you'll rarely find him there. His work has been published in the New York Times, Popular Science, and dozens of other places.

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An interesting fact about the use of lenses:
Robert Bresson, probably one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, has never used anything other than the 50 mm

Can't wait for Vanity Fair to start publishing "Why I Switched to Sony" articles.

I love this video. Thought I already knew the material, the presentation is great for relating a craft choice. Good post.