The Art & Science of Lenses

Tal Lazar

The Art & Science of Lenses

Tal Lazar
5h 49m
15 modules (view curriculum)

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  • Total Time:

    5h 49m


Lenses are one of the most important creative tools in cinematography. They are shrouded in mystery and most of their potential often remains unused. Join the select group of professionals who possess the knowledge to use lenses to their full potential. Learn the foundations of optics and gain the ability to design lens tests, collaborate with technicians and understand technical specifications.



Understanding lenses begins with understanding light. Learn what light is and how it behaves: particles, waves, interference, the inverse square law and more. This foundation is necessary to truly understand why lenses behave the way they do and why lens manufacturers make certain decisions. It will allow you to understand the problems manufacturers try to solve when creating lenses and come up with creative storytelling ideas using the behavior of light.


Light can be absorbed, reflected, transmitted, scattered and refracted. Usually it does all of it, to some degree, at the same time. Gain an in-depth understanding of each of these phenomena so that you can better predict the way lenses behave and operate. Learn basic optical equations which are used when designing lenses and gain a new view on the ways light behaves around us every day.


From mirrors to prisms and basic lenses: We start taking steps into optical designs by building on the knowledge gained. Learn about virtual images, internal reflection, spherical and aspherical lenses as well as the types of glass used to make lenses. Learn how to read a lens diagram and extract crucial information from lens specifications.


Photographic lenses create images. What are the characteristics that affect those images? Focal length and magnification, as well as the gauss formula and how basic lens systems are designed: a telescope and the Leko Source Four lamp are covered in this video.


Lens personality is expressed through its flaws: Aberrations. Learn all about spherical aberration, chromatic aberration, coma, astigmatism, field curvature, vignetting, distortion and breathing. Why do they occur? Are they a problem to solve or a creative opportunity to use? Learn about optical designs used to solve aberrations so that you can make informed decisions when picking your lens.


How are simple lenses combined to create complex systems? We will learn principles through examining common lens systems: Telephoto, Retrofocus, Telecentric, Macro and other designs as we use the principles and vocabulary gained.


A lens is not operating in a vacuum. Once a camera is connected, everything changes. In fact, lenses are often designed with specific camera types in mind. Learn what happens when a sensor receives an image created by a lens, and how the optical stack inside the camera alters the image, no matter what lens is attached. From film formats to digital sensors, image circle, crop factor and more.


One of the most creative tools in the lens, the aperture, is often misunderstood and misused. Gain an in-depth understanding of this unique tool: How does it work? Depth of field, circle of confusion, depth of focus, f/stop and T-stops, and why the same aperture setting does not mean the same thing across different lenses.


How does a lens achieve focus, and what happens when it doesn't? Learn all about depth-of-field, bokeh and focus splitting, as well as focusing technologies such as unit focusing or floating element focusing and how they affect the image created by a lens.


How does a zoom lens work and how to pick the right one for you? Learn about zoom technology, from parfocal to varifocal as well as aperture ramping. Additionally, we continue into other aspects of photographic lenses: lens mounts, back focus and the flange focal distance. Flare is examined in depth, covering its common types and causes: Veiling glare, ghosting, and narcissism. Finally we dive into lens coatings.


Lenses are often used along other tools and devices. We cover common accessories, as well as special lens types now that we are able to truly understand how they operate and the principles governing them: Converters, extenders, speed boosters, tilt & shift lenses, diopters, ND filters and IR pollution, polarizers and more.


A special video is dedicated to this unique type of lens which defined the word 'cinematic'. We cover the history and technology of anamorphic lenses and why they are so popular, as well as the differences between the different types of anamorphic lenses: front or rear adapter, as well as their combination with modern large format digital cameras.


Is it really all about sharpness? We look closely at the number one characteristic and learn how to look beyond the marketing hypes. Learn how to use lens testing charts, MTF diagrams and lens projectors, as well as what happens when photosites meet a high resolution image created by a lens. From the Nyquist sampling rate through resolution, the low pass filter and much more.


You are now ready to bring all the newfound knowledge together and design a lens test. Learn about quantitative vs qualitative lens testing, factoring a camera into the test as well as designing the test scene. Learn to analyze the results and make informed decisions.


We conclude our in-depth series by covering best practices when handling lenses professionally. How are lenses stored and handled on set? What happens when a problem occurs, such as dropping a lens and how to clean a lens without damaging it.

About the Educator

Tal Lazar

Cinematographer, Producer, Educator

4 Courses

Tal Lazar is a cinematographer and educator whose courses are taught at leading film schools such as Columbia University, the American Film Institute and Sundance Institute.


What an amazing course explaining everything from A to Z when it comes to the technical side of lenses!
Kaur Hendrikson

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