Watch: How Different Zooms Affect the Look of an Image

Understand how focal length, proximity, and subject placement all work together to produce different looking images.

When you're a lazy/noob filmmaker, zoom lenses are your best friend. You see a cool subject off in the distance or across the room, so you start turning your zoom ring, and boom! You've captured your image. But then you learn that you have legs—that move—and can effectively move you closer to your subject without having to zoom in with your lens. All of a sudden you've got a whole new image on your hands; one that looks totally different than the one you captured by zooming in. What's the deal?

Well, in this video, Jay P. Morgan of The Slanted Lens teaches you pretty much everything you need to know about the differences between lens zooms, proximity, and changing your subject's position, as well as how each of these elements affect each other and your image. Check it out below:

I am the absolute laziest person in the world, so I understand wanting to constantly use zooms to capture your images. However, zooming is not just a choice in convenience, it's a choice in style as well. It might be easier to just give your zoom ring a quick twist, but it will drastically change the look of an image: it will crop it, flatten it, and change the size of background elements. If that isn't your intention, then you might want to consider your other options: moving your camera closer to your subject, moving your subject closer to you, changing your lens for a different focal length, or any combination of these.

Understanding how these elements work and affect each other and your image is crucial if you want to be able to capture the images that you want. There's nothing worse than seeing the perfect image in your head and not knowing how to reproduce it in the real world, but getting an idea of how these things work is a big step toward being able to do so.     

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Same topic was discussed in french forum last week. I forget that thread link. But it was discussed in detail.

April 22, 2017 at 11:55PM, Edited April 22, 11:55PM

Kat Phill
Senior Editor

For the sake of filmmakers still wrapping their heads around this concept, I think it's critically important to be very conscious of word choice when describing what changing focal length actually does, because the decision to move the camera or change focal length will be decided by what you think each does (as the video gets at). This was a trap I was stuck in for a long time.

"It might be easier to just give your zoom ring a quick twist, but it will drastically change the look of an image: it will crop it, flatten it, and change the size of background elements."

Let's be 100% clear here: zooming ONLY crops the image (as the video says). It does NOT flatten or change the size of the background elements. The only thing that creates compression between your subject and the background is the position of your camera relative to these things, i.e. your perspective. Zooming just changes the field-of-view captured of the perspective your position provides.

Now, it's convenient short hand to describe zooms as compressing, but it's only true when comparing a change in focal length AGAINST a camera move that gives you equivalent FOV of your subject.

Why I think this is crucial is that if we teach young filmmakers and photographers that zooming "changes" the image (flattening, compression, etc) then it imparts a somewhat nebulous or magical transformative property to the camera/lens. Thus, your camera/lens choice become key players in the crafting of your composition.

This is NOT true, and forces an encumbering dependency on your camera when building your frame. Instead, we should be teaching folks to use their eyes and their feet to find the shot they want. Where your eyeballs are is what the camera will see (perspective wise), then you choose the lens (and/or sensor/film size) that crops the FOV to what you want to include in the shot.

That's it. The lens and camera have no impact on the perspective if you have access to the focal length that gives the crop/FOV you want. So use your head (and eyes, and feet) first, then set the camera up. It'll make the whole process easier, faster, and open up a world of possibilities because you won't be wondering in the back of your mind how the lens/camera will change the scene.

There was a video posted on NFS a few months ago that showed this in a studio by cropping in post vs. zooming.

April 23, 2017 at 11:13AM, Edited April 23, 11:15AM

You voted '+1'.
Christopher Green
Commercial Director and Cinematographer

Sorry... I am the laziest person in the world, you may be the next. Lol.

Thanks for this wonderful lesson.

April 24, 2017 at 1:06AM, Edited April 24, 1:06AM

Sameir Ali
Director of Photography

Nice run down... and if you are interested in a crazy lens test, check out this one done by DP Mikko Timonen ... crazy in depth.

April 24, 2017 at 7:58AM

Roberto Serrini
Director • Editor