Vimeo Video School: Why Lenses Are the Secret to Great Video

Vimeo's Video School is putting the tools of the DSLR revolution in hands of the people. For those unfamiliar with the term, the DSLR revolution refers to the radical leap in low budget filmmaking made possible by HD video-enabled still cameras like the Canon 5D Mark II, released in 2008. Since then, the 5D and others like it have produced thousands of gorgeous music videos, documentaries, independent films, and even TV episodes, earning a fanatical following among filmmakers. A number of factors make DSLRs superior to the older generation of HD video cameras, but the real secret to their magic is their lenses. A new series called Behind the Glass from Vimeo's Video School will show you why. 

Vincent Laforet, the first filmmaker to release a short film shot on the 5D, and Blake Whitman, Vimeo's VP of Creative Development, dress up as a viking and an astronaut, respectively, to demonstrate different shots and tell you everything you ever wanted to know about lenses but were afraid to ask. In this three-part series, they break down three key elements: lens length, depth of field, and focal length. 

They say size doesn't matter, but lens length sure does. Behind the Glass: An Introduction to Lenses illustrates how framing works with each lens, stacking shots in concentric frames from 16mm to 200mm. 

The experience of shooting video with a stills lens for the first time is both exciting and awkward. Focusing manually on the fly in the middle of a shot is tricky, especially when you have so many options. Behind the Glass: Focal Length brings framing together with focal length to show how it works.

Hassle aside, the payoff to working with these lenses is huge, largely thanks to Depth of field. Depth of field is the magic dust that makes DSLR video look amazing, letting an image slip from super sharp focus into a lovely, atmospheric blur. Behind the Glass: Depth of Field defines it more literally as the part of your image that is in focus.

Vincent Laforet's film Reverie, which makes an appearance in this tutorial, was the first widely released short film shot in 1080 HD on the Canon 5D Mark II. It sparked the revolution, quickly generating two million views in its first week on Vimeo. If you're curious, you can watch it here:

Showing rather than telling is the secret to making the math of F-stops and lens lengths easy to understand, and Vimeo Video School nails it with each simple tutorial. As more creative people pick up DSLRs to incorporate video into their work, and as film school becomes a less feasible option for most aspiring filmmakers, Vimeo's Video School will increasingly be a go-to resource. As someone who was cutting 16 mm film with a razor in college not that long ago, I'm amazed at how far our tools have come in just the last 10 years. 

For more lessons from Vimeo Video School, visit

Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.

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