When shooting video should you choose a lens with wide aperture or image stabilization (IS)?

Very few IS lenses have apertures wider than f4.0 (there are now some f/2.8 and possibly lower, but there aren’t many) so it is a trade off between stabilization and shallow depth of field.

Obviously if you’re planning on getting really shallow depth of field, you want the widest aperture you can possibly handle. The question is will it be too shaky? (ignoring the trend of shaky hand held looking video to begin with)

Given that all other factors are equivalent, you should select the wider aperture lenses in two cases:

  • If you plan to always shoot with a tripod
  • If you plan to shoot in very low light

In any other situation, the IS lens will prove superior.

While it is true that f/4 lenses cannot always get a creamy bokeh, most often than not, it is enough to give your clip a distinctive cinematic look.

Don’t forget that most videos are shot between f/4-f/5.6 since using a wider aperture makes focusing more challenging. That being said, most advanced cinematographers like Shane Hurlbut, will shoot with a wide aperture of 1.2 to 2.8 if they possibly can.

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chief astronomer at planet5D LLC
Mitch "planetMitch" Aunger is the creator and mastermind behind planet5D.com — which covers every aspect of HDSLR cameras (and a whole lot of other cameras as well). A lover of photography since his early days, he graduated to selling stock photos to make a little bit of spare cash. It wasn’t much, but it allowed him to upgrade to better cameras as well as computers, and it wasn’t taking money away from feeding his family.
He loves the stories that the still image can tell. In the summer of 2008, he read a story written by Arnold Kim called “I Quit My Job” — Arn is the owner of macrumors.com. He started macrumors in 2000 as a hobby, and by 2008 he was making more money with the site than he was on his day job, so he quit. The surprise to the story is that he was a doctor making more than six figures! Right then and there, planetMitch dreamed about doing the same thing.
September 2008 rolled around, and Canon announced this new version of the incredible 5D — the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. It was the first Canon DSLR to shoot full HD video and the earth moved! (It really was a huge deal in the photography world.) planetMitch knew if there was ever a chance to ride a wave of something he was really passionate about, this was it — and the blog at planet5D.com was born. It is now one of the most popular HDSLR blogs on the planet, and he is making a full-time living from blogging. He couldn’t be happier!
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