Creative work

I might have found the best lens for vlogging on the Sony A6400 and A6600!

I recently switched from the RX 100 to the Sony Alpha 6600. I am very glad about that choice, but it comes with what I call »lens trouble«. Being no longer able to rely on a fast built-in lens, I wanted to find the best vlogging lens for my A6600, and I wanted a prime.

The integrated lens of the RX100 III did a good job and was rather powerful with its f/2.8. The kit lens of the A6400 in comparison starts at lousy f/3.5, which goes up to f/4—if you zoom in just slightly. The A6600 does not come with a better one. I actually only bought the kit lens because the body was cheaper with the lens on. And I guess it is still okay for daylight conditions.

However: I rarely ever vlog in broad daylight. And at the time I got the Sony A6600, I was in Sweden on a workcation. So most of the time I didn’t have a lot of light, especially indoors. It gets dark and moody in the afternoon in September, and I didn’t want to rely on artificial light.

Basically, I just need a lens that works in difficult situations. And the best vlogging lens is one that delivers the following qualities

  • fast
  • light-weight
  • brilliant auto-focus
  • sturdy, robust and small

Warning: Don’t buy a Sony A6400 for vlogging!

Now, before we get into the lens discussion, one serious warning. Do not get a Sony A6400 for vlogging. No lens will make up for the one big flaw this camera has. If you already bought one: Send it back. If you can’t: Sell it. This camera is not made for vlogging. It’s for photography.

Otherwise all you’ll do is warp-stabilize all your footage in post all the f_cking time, and if you can’t, you are screwed. I kid you not, get the A6600, like I did, one day after I ordered the A6400 and saw how awful it looked. I am not the type to fix sh_t like this in post and I think it just takes away from the process. Also, I don’t have Premiere Pro, so it is not an option anyway. So consider that before you buy a camera.

The Sony prime lens SEL20F28 might just be the best vlogging lens for a budget
The SEL20F28 prime lens by Sony: It’s a decent lens for vlogging and also lightweight and cheap.

Which Sony lens is best for vlogging with the Sony A6600?

So I started looking into decent and cheap lenses. And that is how I found the (in my opinion) best Sony lens for vlogging. (If you don’t like Sony, consider buying a Tamron. They are good enough for amateurs, and 99% of YouTubers are amateurs, including myself. They have a nice price-point.) In my opinion, the best lens for vlogging is the Sony 20:f/2.8 wide-angle prime lens (model number SEL20F28).

Sony does not manufacture many lenses better than f/2, and f/2.8 is a very decent f-number. In fact, I think that f/1.X lenses are a bit overrated. Sure, they are great in the dark. But you don’t need it to go to that extreme for vlogging. And the depth of field would be too shallow for filming vlogs anyway. For a head shot like that, you want a portrait-like imaging setup, not a blurry macro feeling. Unless you have really ugly ears, they should still be sharp while your nose is in focus.

You need a fast lens for vlogging, but not an ultra-fast one

So, in my opinion, you really don’t need an f/1.X lens. If you don’t believe me, just go and check the difference between an f/1.8 and an f/2.8 prime. The advantage of these lenses is the light they let in, at the expense of loss of sharpness. At this point, it is a bug that your background goes basically flat, not a feature.

Especially when it comes to YouTube videos. You don’t want to blur out your surroundings completely. Instead, you probably want your audience to see a little bit of your backdrop or the room you are in. You want them to have a feeling for where you actually are.

And in contrast to common assumptions, in macro situations it is quite similar. So much detail is lost with wide-open aperture shots. I think, it looks just boring. It looks like a beginner photographer wasted their money, just to play with the aperture priority setting.

99% of all standard photography situations—let alone something as primitive as vlogging—do not call for an f/1.X lens. They simply don’t.

Ultra wide-aperture lenses are a total overkill for vloggers, but the A6400 kit-lens is kind of an »underkill«

Don’t fall victim to »grearitis« when picking a vlogging lens. Get the best lens for your needs, not the lens you crave or the one your favorite influencer uses.

This is coming from someone who has worked with an f/1.4 Nikkor their »entire life« (and many other lenses). And I actually did professional photo shoots with that thing. It was such an amazing prime lens! But still, I would say, I did not need the f/1.4 aperture. And neither do you.

However, if you look at the zoom lens you get as a kit lens with a camera like the A6600… This is surely not the best lens for vlogging either. No zoom lens is, unless it is fast over the majority of the zoom range, which they all aren’t. I actually have no clue why they sell such awful lenses with their semi-pros. It seems like a waste of material.

So yeah, an f/1.8 lens is almost too good, but an f/3.5 lens is not good enough. That’s why I think the f/2.8 lens is the best vlogging lens at the moment for any Sony APSC camrea with stabilization. And it beats the kit lenses at any time. I also advocate for a prime. And here is why.

Reasons you should use a wide aperture prime lens

  • less noise in low light
  • light-weight
  • cheap

First of all, I don’t have 1800€ for a wide-angle zoom lens. But also, I don’t wan to vlog using a 0.5 kg lens. I’m not the hulk. I’m a petite woman. I can only imagine how frustrating it would be to save all that money, then spend it on that ridiculous lens boner, just to find out that I’m not to weak to carry it. No thanks.

I also urge you to try vlogging with any heavy lens you have lying around your place. Just check it out to see that it is not practical. I go to the gym three times a week and lift weights. I’m rather strong, and my camera arm is bigger than my other arm even. So I’m fit and used to it, and I think it sucks. Do not deceive yourself. I don’t want you coming back and commenting that I was right. No, I want you to have the best vlogging lens from the get-o and be as happy as I am with mine. I really do.

When you vlog with a wide angle prime lense, it's really important to not get too close to the camera.
Me vlogging in front of a pretty door ;-D This photo was taken with my Fairphone 3 by the way… Holding this cheap and light pancake lens is a blast. It is so light, it’s even lighter than my 50 mil!

Vlogging with a prime lens

So I opted for a prime lens and I am pretty happy with it. Yes, it’s a bit wide-angly, as in:

  • You might need to bring the camera to a distance from your face you like
  • It looks a bit fish-eyish, but not that much that it is very disturbing, unless you bring straight objects very close to the lense (as in < a few meters)

So what this lens is perfect for in my opinion, and what makes it the best Sony lens for vlogging, is:

  • Excellent in evening light situations
  • Silent autofocus (all of the Sony lenses apart from that nifty 50 mm one have that, dang…!)
  • Good enough for macros, aka some b-roll on the side

The main argument of zoom lens advocates is wrong

For vlogging—in many cases—people will recommend a wide-angle zoom lens. I’ve heard that in so many videos now… Intuitively, this is a reasonable thought. You want to be able to zoom in when you switch from yourself to a far away object. And that is something that will eventually happen, especially when you film outside.

However, the good zoom lenses for the A6400 / A6600 are not budget lenses (as in made for beginner YouTubers that depleted their savings by buying the camera body). Also, the zoom is not even needed in most scenarios. In my opinion, it is pretty overrated. Use that money and get a good tripod.

A zoom lens as good as the one on the RX 100 is simply not available at that price-point for the A6400. Get it out of your head. That lens does not exist. The kit lens is worse than the whole Sony RX 100. Like seriously, just buy an RX 100 and take it with you next to the A6400, because it is both lighter and cheaper! No, I’m not even kidding. That would be the mother of all budget solutions. Also, for just vlogging, the RX 100 is completely sufficient. A decent camera. Nobody needs 4K. You’re not a pro. You’re not Peter McKinnon. And you also don’t need a 2000€ drone.

Don’t fool yourself…

Sorry, I needed to say that. Because so many people out there get caught up in equipment, with zero editing skills, no talent for story telling and 50 views on their 3 videos.

»The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool

Richard P. Feynman

Aww… I love when I have a good excuse to quote a fellow physicist and writer of many books I enjoyed!

Okay, now lets move on to my final thoughts on this lens…

Me in front of my computer, open tab of  my YouTube channel. Vlogging with a wide-angle prime lens works! Look at the straight lines in the back. Not too far off center they look just fine.
This photo was taken with the Sony Alpha 6400 and the 20 mm f/2.8 prime lens. I think it looks pretty decent, and all the leading lines and parallel-to-sensor lines are straight in the background. What more can you ask for? In my opinion, this silent lens is such a great budget option. And since it is a pancake lens, it is also super light-weight!

Why prime lenses for vlogging?

Well, prime lenses are cheap, easy to use and light. And when exactly do you really need that zoom anyway? Tell me one situation really. One that does not expose you as a total noob that should have gotten an RX100 in the first place. Tell me all about it. Because I certainly never ever need it when I’m vlogging. The Sony RX 100 is made to be taken out of your pocket and go »point and shoot«. That is the type of camera it is. It’s not made to be taken out of your bag and then you zoom around until you have the perfect frame. Literally nobody does that. (If you do, you’re a total weirdo. Not a nerd. Just a weirdo.) Don’t overthink it. Concentrate on your words, not your lens, right?

So why would you expect a system camera to be like that? Why would you start missing a feature you don’t even use 90% of the time, because you point at things or your face anyway? And even if you use the zoom occasionally, why not just get closer to the object in those situations, huh? Or… because now you have a system camera… actually switch to a different lens, like a real photographer…!

System cameras aren’t »point-and-shoots«

But system cameras aren’t really like that. Inherently, they are way more complicated. And it is foolish to believe that you can have what you had with an integrated lens. You can not. You need to think like a photographer/videographer if you want to vlog with a system camera. They are the little sisters of DSLRs and they want to be taken seriously.

So treat the system with respect and adapt. I got it out of my head in less than two days that it would be possible to ever do everything with just one lens. There is no one lens anymore with a system camera. Kiss that thought goodbye and move on. What you need to understand instead is that this new versatility is power.

With a camera like the A6400 you actually have the possibility to switch to a lens that fits the situation and not just be stuck with what you have. That is more power, but also more trouble. But cameras like this are made to be used with different lenses, not made to be bought with a kit lens and then you never take that one off. Like why? Who would want that? And why would you pay a 1000 bucks for it? That would be so incredibly stupid and short-sighted. Enjoy that beautiful good camera and work it!

Switching lenses should come natural to you—otherwise buy a compact camera please.

So, I totally made my peace with the fact that I have to switch lenses, that the sensor might get dirty, the lens might get dirty, the other lens too, and that I have to carry it all with me. Well, you know how annoying all of this was in the early 2000s, when we only had shitty DSLRs that weren’t even as good as any of those mirrorless babies today? I started out on a D80. If you don’t know what that is, thank your parents!

But what do you combine that prime lens with?

First of all, you might not even need another lens (especially a zoom lens) constantly. Just think about it: What did photographers do in the olden days? They were flexible—because their gear wasn’t. It was heavy and expensive. So if your prime doesn’t show what you want to show: get the f_ck closer to the object. Or step back. If you can’t do that, switch the lens. I have a 50 mm (full frame) lens and the kit lens, next to my 20 mm (APS-C) vlogging lens. That is all I need for now.

If I’d get a zoom lens at some point, it would certainly not be a Sony lens. I’d directly go for a Tamron or some other budget option. The Sony lenses on the market are so good, they are pro lenses, and I am not a pro. It’s important to know your limits and stick to them.

For example, I never even cared about the 4K option. I don’t do stabilization in post (I’d rather buy a gimbal). I don’t want people to see all my skin impurities. And I don’t give a crap about huge landscape prints. I’m not Peter McKinnon, and neither are you. So don’t act like you’re about to become him. Also, I assume that he probably doesn’t put up with a Sony Alpha anyway…

Vlogging with the SEL20F28 prime lens: Does it look good?
When I take the camera close to my face, you can see the typical fish-eyeish wide-angle look. It’s not super flattering, but also not super bad. However…
SEL20F28 vlogging prime lens: How to avoid that the wide angle makes your shot look like a fish-eye lense
My experience with the SEL20F28 prime lense is overall a good one. If you don’t take it too close to your face, it doesn’t look too much like a fish-eye and depending how many straight lines you have in the background, it will also turn out alright.

Videographers can learn a lot from photographers, and it doesn’t have to be expensive

Good. Now that I have shared all my opinion on this, feel free to tell me yours. Keep in mind that this is not my first Sony or system camera and that photography/videography styles are very different and personal. I like it simple, and maybe that is why I like a good prime better than a lousy zoom. Just think about it, you might find that it’s not that dumb of an idea!

Because I believe that a lot of YouTubers think that videography is so different from photography. But it actually isn’t. For me, in the beginning, it was really hard. And I am still working on my technique and style. I am by far not great at this. But I am getting a hang of it and I want to share my experience to help you guys out. Don’t waste your money. Don’t be a fool. Videographers can learn a lot from photographers’ technique. So I try to bring my knowledge from that into filmmaking and vlogging, to create nicer videos.

Still, shooting photos comes much more natural to me. Personally, I like the viewfinder more than the screen. I enjoy being behind the camera better than standing in front of it. I prefer to show things, not talk about them. But I still want to make vlogs and I like video a lot. I like the social aspect of YouTube and the community that comes with being a YouTuber. And I truly think that you don’t need to spend a fortune to join the club here!

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