What Is the Best Lens for Vlogging? The Tamron 20-40mm f/2.8
Vlogging has exploded in popularity over the last decade-plus, without a doubt. However, surprisingly, the best lenses for vlogging have been very hard to find until recent years. Why is that? In this article, we’ll try to answer this question, and more importantly, we’ll tell you what to look for in a good vlogging lens, what to avoid, and why we think the Tamron 20-40mm f/2.8 (and a few others) are one of the best lenses for vlogging.
Why Has the Best Vlogging Lens Been So Hard to Find?
Photographers and videographers both used to focus on being behind the camera. Certain focal lengths and zoom ranges were optimal for that purpose, such as 24-70mm. Also, being a camera operator, you have the luxury of either holding the camera closely against your face or mounting it on a tripod, both of which are scenarios where camera weight matters a lot less.
Lastly, because the modern camera industry mostly got its start making cameras for photography and not video, sometimes even the best zoom lenses did not consider things like focus breathing, quietness, or the balance of weight when zooming, either.
Unfortunately, whether you’re making photos or videos, being behind the camera is very different from being in front of the camera, …as the person who is holding the camera, or interacting with the scene itself.
At first, most vloggers simply “made do” with existing lenses. A giant 24-70mm f/2.8 lens isn’t very practical at all to vlog with, but a 24mm or 20mm prime is alright. A 16-35mm f/2.8 lens has an ideal focal range, but usually, they are a bit heavier.
Simply put, here’s what caused lens makers to take this long to start making excellent vlogging lenses: First, everyone had to realize that vlogging was indeed catching on. Then, it took a while for the style and format of vlogging to become consistent and predictable enough for lens makers to actually know what a “best lens for vlogging” even was! Lastly, it usually takes a few years to develop and deliver a lens, of course.
With that being said, what makes a lens so good for vlogging? Let’s talk about that next!
Things to Look for in a Good Vlogging Lens
The short version is this: The best vlogging lens is usually going to be a wide-angle, lightweight & compact zoom (or prime) with a fast aperture and good autofocus. However, which specific lens is best for you will depend on your style of vlogging. What type of content are you creating? There is a wide range between the outdoorsy, wanderlust adventure travel/vanlife vlogger, and the beauty/fashion/gaming vlogger!
To be quite honest, if you are the latter, and your setup is completely static, (you sit at a desk to make your videos) …then you might be fine with a common prime lens; whatever suits your desired framing and lighting conditions.
However, if you are the former, if you do any sort of active vlogging for your content, there’s a good chance you will be better off with a very specific type of lens. That is what we’re here for today!
Focal Length (Zoom Range)
For vlogging, you are going to be holding your camera roughly at arm’s length. So, first and foremost, how long your arms are could dictate which lens you choose! Of course, you might also be able to use a gimbal or a selfie stick, to get just a bit more distance between you and the camera.
With this in mind, we recommend that you look for a lens that is at least as wide as 24mm for most types of vlogging. 28mm might be optimal, too, if you have longer arms. If you have steady hands and strong arms, and if you want a good balance of filling the frame with your face yet still including a fair amount of your background, then 24-28mm is a good start for a wide variety of vlogging styles.
However, some vloggers may find that either their arms aren’t long enough to make 24mm work. Also, many vloggers may find that they want to de-emphasize their own face and include a bit more of their surroundings, so 20mm can be even more ideal for that.
There are a couple of good reasons to go wider than 20mm, which we will get into soon, but it is important to note that if you go too much wider than 20mm, things can start to look weird. At 14-16mm, for example, your arms can appear in the frame if held too far away from your face. Oppositely, if you hold the camera too close to your face, those focal lengths will really distort your facial features in an unflattering way, usually.
The Best Vlogging Lens: Prime or Zoom?
As mentioned, if you’re doing very static work, then a prime might work well. However, as soon as you want to go out and vlog in any type of active situation, then a zoom lens is optimal. Herein lies the problem, though: virtually all mid-range zoom lenses don’t go wider than 24mm. In fact, very few zoom lenses reach or include 20mm, and meet all of the other criteria we’ll be going over, such as lightweight portability, and achieving shallow depth…
Shallow Depth (Background Blur)
Being able to blur a background is a powerful storytelling technique that all vloggers should have at their disposal. When you are able to achieve shallow depth, the viewer instinctively understands that you, the vlogger, are where they should focus their attention.
Of course, being able to achieve the opposite, (deeper depth of field; the background in focus) is also useful at times, especially for travel or adventure vloggers who may want to show off the beautiful locations they visit.
Achieving background blur is the more difficult challenge, and it involves both the lens and the camera sensor. Simply put, a fast lens aperture and a large sensor are how you achieve the most background blur. For this reason, many vloggers opt for a lens with an f/2.8 aperture or faster, and a full-frame camera body.
Keep in mind, of course, that a faster aperture on a smaller sensor can also give roughly the same level of background blur as a slightly slower aperture on a slightly larger sensor. For example, an f/1.4 prime lens on a Micro Four Thirds sensor, and an f/2 lens on an APSC sensor, and an f/2.8 lens on a full-frame sensor will all have about the same level of background blur. (This is definitely an oversimplification, but you get the idea!)
As you can note in the above animation, sometimes the very edges of your frame can appear to be zooming in or out a little bit when all you’re actually doing is focusing near or far. If this is minimal, then it’s not very noticeable, however, as soon as it becomes noticeable, it’s hard to unsee.
For vlogging in particular, this isn’t as much of a concern if you are actively hand-holding your video footage. However, if your vlogs involve general footage, B-roll video clips, etc, then your lens’ focus breathing could become an issue. Either way, we do recommend trying to find a good vlogging lens that doesn’t have too much focus breathing.
Autofocus Speed & Precision
Speaking of focus, this is something that is dependent upon the camera body quite a bit, but the lens still matters. The good news is that autofocus is usually great on wide-angle lenses, with the AF motors being both powerful, (fast) and precise. (Unless you’re vlogging in extreme weather, then I do prefer Sony’s Real-Time Tracking for face/eye detection!)
Autofocus is also one reason why we often recommend Sony cameras (and thus, the E-mount in general) for vlogging. This is because Sony has the best eye and face detection algorithms around, which ensures that even in tough, challenging conditions, you’ll still be able to count on the camera to focus on your face!
Weight & Balance
A good vlogging lens need to be as lightweight as possible, since you’ll be hand-holding your entire kit at arms’ length. Also, if you’re using a gimbal to vlog, you’ll want to consider the overall balance of the lens when zooming in or out, if it is a zoom.
This is because if the motors on your gimbal aren’t very powerful, then first of all they might not be able to effectively move the lens at all, but also, it might fail to balance if the weight shifts fore/aft too much when zooming in or out. Therefore, look for a lens that isn’t just lightweight, but also, barely shifts its weight when zooming.
Camera Sensor Size
Camera sensor size is directly related to the quality of your images and video. We already mentioned shallow depth of field being influenced by sensor size, but there’s more! A larger sensor also offers the lowest noise and the highest ISOs, too. This allows a vlogger to work in almost any type of natural light, and basically never have to worry about needing additional lighting.
Good news, though: these days basically all sensors offer excellent image quality, even in low light. Therefore, the “full-frame advantage” is mainly useful for those who are really pushing the envelope with their content, working in very low light, and/or creating significant background blur.
Camera Video Crop Factor
In our opinion, this is even more important than the sensor size itself. Unfortunately, it’s a bit complicated, so we’d better break it down.
- The framing of your video is often cropped in a little bit from the full size (width) of your sensor. This is because it’s usually easiest to just convert one sensor pixel into one video pixel, and many sensors don’t have exact pixel widths that perfectly match the resolution for 4K or 8K video.
- Some cameras offer full-width video at certain quality or resolution settings, but use a crop to achieve other video settings. For example, a camera may offer 4K 30p at full-width, but apply a slight (or significant) crop to achieve 4K 60p or 120p.
- Cameras that offer “digital stabilization” are going to add even more of a crop factor on top of the above items.
As you can see, in many cases, the lens focal length you think you’re buying will not be the final, effective focal length you end up working with, depending on the camera you have and the video settings you’re using.
Especially when it comes to digital stabilization; this is an extremely useful feature, even on cameras that also have IBIS (in-body image stabilization) because vlogging is a particularly shaky way to capture video.
In other words, you really do want to be able to use digital stabilization, if your camera offers it and if it’s not too harmful to your video resolution/quality. However, in order to achieve the ideal focal length of around 24mm that most vloggers prefer, there is no avoiding the fact that you’ll have to start with something a little bit wider.
For this reason, focal lengths like 20mm and 18mm or 17mm are often ideal, even for vloggers who actually want to achieve the look of 24mm!
Stabilization can come in many forms these days. A lot of camera bodies offer sensor-based stabilization, which is a huge benefit because it offers stabilization with every lens you own! This is highly useful for vlogging, because the majority of prime lenses, and often wide-angle zooms, don’t include optical stabilization.
Optical stabilization is great, however, due to the physics and optics of how it works, optical stabilization is significantly more effective at telephoto focal lengths, and less at wide angles. For this reason, when vlogging, in-body stabilization is a top priority, while optical stabilization is less of one.
Additionally, as mentioned above regarding video crop factors, there is digital stabilization. This can significantly improve the smoothness of your videos, especially if your vlogging style is more active. For this reason, we highly recommend choosing a camera body that not only includes IBIS, but also offers full sensor width video, too. (Not counting digital stabilization, which is also a very useful feature we recommend looking for.)
Things to Beware of When Looking for the Best Vlogging Lens
Are there things you should watch out for, and probably avoid when looking for the best vlogging lenses? Yes, of course. Mainly, you should avoid lenses that simply don’t meet the aforementioned criteria. Avoid large, heavy, poorly balanced lenses.
If you’re a more active, adventurous vlogger, then you’ll really benefit from having a zoom lens instead of a prime. Avoid a mid-range zoom such as a 24-70mm, and consider options that go a little wider.
Also, unless you only ever vlog outdoors in bright sunlight, and want to include a very in-focus background in all of your videos, you’ll want to avoid lenses that have slower apertures. This is especially true for those who are using smaller sensor camera setups, but it applies to full-frame cameras, too.
With all of that information, now, there are only a few lenses on the market that meet these requirements. Let’s dive into why we think the Tamron 20-40mm f/2.8 Di III VXD is one of the best vlogging lenses available. Plus, what are our top alternatives?
The Best Vlogging Lens: Tamron 20-40mm f/2.8
For full-frame mirrorless cameras, the Tamron 20-40mm f/2.8 is a perfect vlogging lens because it meets virtually all of the criteria we listed above. Furthermore, it does this in a very affordable package, too! Indeed, its price tag of $699 might be half, and in some cases a third or even a quarter, of the price of some similar wide-angle zooms.
As we’ve stated, 20mm is perfect for vlogging, because it affords you just enough “wiggle room” for the various cameras that may use a slight crop factor when capturing video, and/or a slight crop factor for using digital stabilization. Of course, 20mm is still very useful for wider scenes, even if you don’t have either of these issues; maybe you’re using a camera that offers full sensor width video, mounted on a gimbal.
On the long end, 40mm is longer than any other f/2.8 wide-angle zoom, making it a perfect lens not just for vlogging but also for quick misc. B-roll at a “normal” focal length. Whether you’re vlogging about your travels, or doing everyday fun activities around your hometown, 20-40mm is simply a nearly perfect all-around focal range.(If you do travel work, with a focus on wildlife or other telephoto subjects, you could get by with only two lenses total, this 20-40mm and either the Tamron 70-300mm for wildlife or the Tamron 35-150mm f/2-2.8 for portraits.
The only thing missing from the Tamron 20-40mm f/2.8 is optical stabilization. This is par for the course for Tamron’s lightweight, portable, affordable mirrorless lenses, and that’s okay because you’ll definitely be better off with IBIS at wider focal lengths anyways. Also, unfortunately, Sony’s E-mount IBIS technology is not capable of combining both optical and sensor-based stabilization. (As far as we know, at the time of writing this.) This means that if you have both, you can only use one. (Also, as far as we know, Sony camera bodies default to using optical stabilization, instead of IBIS, which again wouldn’t be to your advantage at 20mm!) So, would we have been willing to pay a higher price, and/or carry around a bigger, heavier lens if it had Tamron’s “VC”? Honestly, for vlogging in particular, the answer is no.
One last thing we really appreciate about the Tamron 20-40mm f/2.8 is that it uses a VXD autofocus motor. This means it will be a bit better than the predecessor, RXD, in terms of reliably nailing focus overall.
Runner-Up: Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8
As we mentioned, sometimes your camera’s sensor uses a crop factor to create certain video resolutions. Plus, digital stabilization will also apply a crop, too. It is very important to know your camera, and see if either (or both) of these conditions apply to you, because if so, you might want to opt for a vlogging lens that goes slightly wider than 20mm
This is why our runner-up favorite vlogging lens is the Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 Di III RXD. It’s a bit older than the 20-40mm, however, it is incredibly sharp and just a tiny bit heavier than the 20-40mm.
The main difference between these two lenses, besides the obvious difference in their zoom range, is that the Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 uses the older RXD autofocus motor. We’ve used the 17-28mm f/2.8 very extensively for wedding video as well as vlogging, and this has never been a problem.
The main reason we’re recommending the 20-40mm f/2.8 more than anything else is that it’s simply the lightest, smallest, and most affordable option, and because it offers a truly unique zoom range that is so well-suited for vlogging.
The Best Vlogging Lens For APSC Cameras: Tamron 11-20mm f/2.8
What about those who are working on an APSC crop sensor? Tamron makes mirrorless lenses for both the Sony E-mount and the Fuji X-mount, and both make cameras with a 1.5x crop sensor, while only Sony makes full-frame camera bodies.
APSC crop sensors are indeed an excellent choice for vlogging if you are looking for a more lightweight and/or affordable option. However, once you apply a 1.5x crop, let alone any additional crop for video and/or digital stabilization, things become challenging. First of all, f/2.8 becomes an absolute must, if you want to blur your background at all. Secondly, obviously, you’ll need to go much wider than 20mm.
This is where we recommend the Tamron 11-20mm f/2.8. It is also $699, just like the 20-40mm, and is slightly more lightweight. When calculating equivalent focal lengths, 11-20mm is indeed quite a bit wider than 20-40mm. So, why are we recommending it? Because of one of the biggest factors we mentioned towards the beginning: crop factors add up. For example, one of the most popular cameras that is specifically made for vlogging, the Sony ZV-E10, does not offer IBIS as its full-frame sibling (the Sony ZV-E1) does. Since the Tamron 11-20mm f/2.8 also lacks VC stabilization, you’ll definitely need to use digital stabilization. It works very well, however, it applies an additional ~1.44x crop. This means that, after you combine both crops, you’ll be back at (surprise surprise) roughly 24mm! Ta-da! (In case you’re curious, 20mm turns into about 47mm.)
Your own specific needs might vary, of course, depending on which camera you’re using for vlogging. For example, the Fuji X-S10 offers IBIS for under $1,000, with just a slight 1.1x crop. The Sony A6600 also offers IBIS and full sensor width video, too. Speaking of Sony again, if you’re starting off with an APSC camera but are hoping to one day upgrade to a full-frame camera, then a perfect compromise might be the Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8. It’s just wide enough at 17mm to get you by on an APSC camera, as long as the total crop factor isn’t too severe. Then, when you eventually buy, say, a Sony ZV-E1, you’ll already have a full-frame lens!
Conclusion | The Best Lens for Vlogging
After all is said and done, the best vlogging lens will definitely depend on your own creative style more than anything else. Also, unfortunately, you could be limited in your options if the camera you’re using has any crop factors when recording video.
Having said that, the Tamron 20-40mm f/2.8 DI III VXD gets our nod as the best all-around vlogging lens available. If you’re not working with a full-frame sensor, the Tamron 11-20mm f/2.8 is an effectively identical offering, too! Other than that, there simply aren’t very many wide-angle zoom lenses in this category, unfortunately! There are plenty that cost 2-3X more, and/or have an f/4 or smaller aperture, or have much wider zoom ranges, too. But, based on our criteria, and in our own experience going on some exciting adventures with it, the Tamron is the ideal choice.