$150 lens vs $15,000 lens: Can you tell the difference?

by Bret Hoy9 Comments

Thinking of investing in a new lens? Renting for the new film project? You should check out this video by the filmmakers over at Rocket Jump Film School before doing so. They pose, and test a very important question: Can you ACTUALLY tell the difference between that Nifty Fifty you’ve had for years and a Zeiss Ultra Prime, or something of similar quality

Your first reaction might be to scoff at the legitimacy of such a test. Of course, there are plenty of differences between the performance and usability of these lenses, but when you use each lens at their optimal settings, those differences start to fall away.

Watch the video and decide for yourself. Is that Zeiss worth the clams you’ll lay down to get your hands on one?

Of the points addressed in the video, the one that resonates the most is the rule that should be adopted by all of us: It’s not what gear you have, or how expensive it is—it’s how you use it.

$150 lens vs $15,000 lens: Can you tell the difference?

Via Youtube Description:

How much of a difference is there between cheap and expensive lenses? In this video, Freddie takes 3 sets of lenses in the low, mid, and high price ranges, and uses them in different filming conditions. Then he puts Shaun, Jon, and Jamie to the test to see if they can tell the difference!

Think you can beat 'em? Test yourself here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=z121kt4aPHI

Let us know how you did! Discuss this video with us in our forums: discuss.rocketjump.com/t/lens-comparison-test-official-video-discussion-thread/2040

(cover photo credit: snap from the video)

Bret Hoy

Bret Hoy is a filmmaker, photographer and writer based out of St. Louis, Missouri. Mainly focused on documentary and experimental film, he has produced, directed, shot and edited many short films and a few long form works.

He shoots a lot and often.
Bret Hoy


  1. Yet another waste of time. All this test shows is that any differences are minor when the image is presented at 480 lines.
    Still photos — especially ones of subjects specifically selected to reveal differences in sharpness, contrast, color rendition, bokeh, shadow detail, etc, would be far more useful. But it’s just too much trouble to do that, isn’t it?

  2. What the quality of this lens shoot out video clearly shows, is that the quality of the work both before, during and after the shoot –  lighting, camera and post are far more important than expensive lenses.

  3. almo100  Okay, but how am I or anyone else supposed to tell from such a poorly conceived test?

  4. William Sommerwerck almo100 You don’t. If you have the budget to rent that type of glass you should either know what it can do for you or you have the budget to have it a few days before for your own testing.

    I am renting an FS7 for a 5 day shoot (and that’s only an $8000 camera). Already I have spent 10 hours reviewing videos and tutorial plus the manual.  On top of that I will rent the unit three days before the shoot to do extensive testing of my own.

    Online test only take you half way there.  In the end it’s your name on the product and you should be educated on whether a piece of gear will make your project better.

    These are silly test and only prove that you can get a great image for a cheaper price.  But it would be simply ignorant to use it on a large budget that requires a precision type of equipment that could make a difference in the end.

    I have been doing this 10 years.  Guys doing it 2 don’t see much but I have also worked with guys that have done it 20+ years and they see things I don’t.  Experience dictates what your eye has been trained to see and how it may effect the overall image and feel.  Cinematography is about the subtle things.  The small nuances are not supposed to be noticed by the average viewer.  All together, these little things make up part of the story.

  5. almo100 William Sommerwerck  You’re very correct. Experience should never be discounted. What also should be learned is that it’s not always prudent to spend money on the highest end glass if you’re stretching and sacrificing in other places to do it.
    The test, while slightly silly, imbues confidence in a shooter that feels their image quality will suffer dramatically. Also, it can motivate a shooter to use what they have to it’s fullest potential, rather than just say they’re at the will of the budget.
    What you say is right, the online test will only take you half way there. I think this test goes further than just implying that you don’t need to spend the money on the lens. At it’s heart, it’s saying, “Know your gear.”

    Inspecting and pixel peeping aside, for 95% of your viewers, regardless of their education won’t truly feel the difference unless there’s a direct comparison. John Seale mixed a BMPC with an Alexa on Mad Max– if there were frame comparisons, maybe you’d be able to tell the difference. As it is, it delivered fantastically and no one was removed from the story, and that’s the most important part.

  6. Don’t take this the wrong way, but these images hardly test the potential of any lens, cheap or expensive but more so represent an amateur attempt at entertainment.

  7. What a shame and a wasted opportunity to have that glass in your possession, the time and the camera to actually do a proper comparative test but decide waste it on shots that hardly show what any of these lenses are capable of in terms of sharpness, bokeh, fall off, aberration, etc. Why not show how they render  hot backgrounds, flare, etc. Really sad.

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