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A great way to enhance your finished videos is to add in B-roll footage while editing. A-roll is footage that can tell the story on its own without anything added as explanation. B-roll is extra footage that doesn’t tell the story, but supports the A-roll in fleshing out the story.
How to actually get good B-roll video and edit it into your finished video requires some good choices. One choice is what lenses for shooting video to use. Other choices are where to add it and how much of it to use.
The Best Lens for B-Roll
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As far as useful video tips, the best one I ever got was to listen to everyone and everything, but then choose what actually fits me. As a new photographer, and even as an established pro, I received suggestions and tips about lenses all the time.
Certain lenses are better suited for some applications than others. The trick is to determine which lens best fits the applications you want to use that lens to accomplish. Two lens focal lengths that have both general and specific jobs they are well suited for are the 50mm normal lens and the 85mm short telephoto.
Crop Factor Confusion
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You may have noticed that I’m using descriptive labels for these lenses that correspond to full-frame 35mm format. If you are using one of the cropped formats like APS-C or MFT, then the crop factors of 1.5X and 2.0X applies to what focal lengths are equivalent.
To get close to the same field of view, lenses of 35mm and 57mm for APS-C are similar, for MFT it would be 25mm and 42.5mm. A quick search of actual lenses close to these numbers reveal several 25mm and 40mm lenses for MFT and 35mm and 60mm lenses for various APS-C cameras.
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Of course, you could also use the 50mm and 85mm lenses on the crop cameras, but crop factor will make them act like other focal lengths. MFT gives you 100mm and 170mm, APS-C gives you 75mm and 127.5mm.
It can get a little confusing to think back and forth about crop factors and focal lengths, so we will concentrate our discussion on full-frame format. Crop factor could fill up a whole article on its own. So, let’s examine our choices of 50mm and 85mm lenses.
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The Nifty Fifty
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One of the most versatile lenses for photography and videography is the 50mm normal lens. Using a 50mm lens for B-roll is one of the more beneficial video tips. It’s a good lens for general use and for A-roll, too.
The Nifty Fifty gives what is considered a normal perspective and field of view (FOV) in photos and video. They can be very budget friendly and are generally compact in size and have a wide maximum aperture. These lenses also tend to be close focusing and have pleasant bokeh when shot at wide apertures.
One of the better choices for many videographers could be the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 lens. Granted, this lens is in the Nikon F mount, so it is primarily meant to be used on Nikon DSLR cameras. With an f-stop of f/1.8, you can capture good images in low light or employ selective focus techniques.
This is also one of the most affordable lenses in 35mm digital photography. It actually costs less than several of the speedlights for Nikon cameras. All of these reasons make the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G lens one of the best lenses for shooting video and a great lens for B-roll.
Here is an interesting video covering the use of a 50mm lens for B-roll from Jeven Dovey, an experienced videographer and vlogger:
With all of these pros, it sounds like a no brainer as the perfect lens. However, as one of the most important video tips ever, I must sadly inform everyone that there is no perfect lens. So sorry!
Among the cons for this fine lens is the normal focal length itself. Even though you can focus very close with most 50mm lenses, if you focus close on a person, the apparent perspective will not be flattering.
While not as extreme as with wide angle lenses, the perspective exaggeration of a person’s face with a 50mm is enough to be noticable. So if you want to crop in closer on a person, either a headshot or head and shoulders, a short telephoto might be a better lens for B-roll.
Short Telephoto Lens - 85mm
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Long a favorite of portrait photographers, short telephotos in the approximately 80mm to 100mm range make excellent lenses for shooting video. What makes an 85mm lens a good lens for B-roll footage?
One of the finer examples of short telephoto lenses I’ve had the opportunity to use is the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM lens. If you are a Canon shooter, this lens is well worth the money. It’s expensive, as all of the L-Series lenses from Canon are, but the quality is outstanding.
One of the reasons for using an 85mm lens for B-roll is to avoid the the facial elongation seen in wide to normal lenses when shooting people close up. A fast 85mm also gives you great bokeh and separation of subject to background when shot at wide apertures. For an 85mm lens, f/1.4 is pretty fast.
Watch this video from Peter McKinnon that explains some of the advantages of using 85mm lenses for shooting video B-roll:
The cons of using a fast 85mm lens include the aforementioned high price, large size, increased weight, and generally larger filter diameter. For what you can get from a high quality short telephoto, those cons can be viewed as being just part of the deal for using it as a B-roll lens.
Quality B-Roll Equals Great Video
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Since you are going to all the trouble to shoot and edit it B-roll, you want to get the best out of your efforts. Both the 50mm and 85mm lenses are good choices as lenses for shooting video B-roll and primary footage.
Besides lens choice, other techniques, tricks, and tips for video B-roll can be found on our site. Browse around for ideas for videographers from beginner to advanced users. Whatever lens choice you make, shooting B-roll will enhance your videos. A 50mm and an 85mm lens are fantastic options, you really couldn’t go wrong with either one. Or both!