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EF vs PL Lenses

If you’ve looked into renting cinema cameras these days, you’ve probably noticed the majority come in two flavors: EF or PL. The RED Weapon, Ursa Mini Pro, and even the C300 Mark II are all available in both mounts. But what is the difference? And when should you choose one over the other?


Canon has been in the business of building high-quality EF lenses for the better part of three decades. And the popularity of their DSLR line has convinced everyone from Tamron to Zeiss to contribute to the pool of EF lenses available in the world. There are a number of affordable options, but also a surprising amount of competition on the premium end.

Because it’s not just volume that is exploding - brands like Sigma are pushing the edges of quality and performance in DSLR glass. Even some cinema lenses are built with an interchangeable EF mount. Zeiss CP.2, Canon CN-E, Cooke Mini S4/i… the list goes on surprisingly long. You will not lack for options with an EF mount camera. 


ARRI introduced the PL mount to the world in 1982, and it has swept across the industry in record time to become a defacto standard for cinema cameras and lenses. The rigorous and demanding process of multi-million-dollar feature filmmaking bred a race of unflinchingly brilliant lenses from Zeiss, Cooke, ARRI, and others. Owning a PL camera is your admission ticket to this, the highest tier of cinema lenses available today. Just don’t expect it to be cheap.


A quick search on B&H will reveal a plethora of EF-mount adapters, bringing you access to everything from modern Nikon to classic Pentax lenses. Canon EF is not the most adaptable mount system in the world, but its popularity works in its favor. Everybody and their mother owns a Canon camera, and so the demand for lens adapters is high. You will most likely be able to find exactly what you are looking for. Yes, even a PL adapter. But that’s not always a perfect solution, because…


Cinema lenses tend to be big, heavy things compared to photo lenses. Their wide maximum apertures and heavy-duty metal bodies mean that primes can easily end up weighing 3-5 times more than their still-photography cousins. And zooms? Don’t even bother. The Canon EF mount was never designed to support a lens that heavy. 

It better be sturdy, with a lens like that
It better be sturdy, with a lens like that

To create a perfectly-focused image, your lens must be mounted precisely and within a very minute tolerance. The PL mount is built to accommodate that. It grips the lens firmly with a four-point friction lock instead of the EF mount’s leaf-spring bayonet, which is both more secure and more precise. A heavy cine-zoom lens is much more likely to shift slightly on an EF mount than a PL. These tiny shifts might not be noticeable to the average user or viewer, but if perfection is your game, then PL is the answer.


If your headline feature is autofocus, you're probably sticking with EF
If your headline feature is autofocus, you're probably sticking with EF

EF lenses frequently carry electronic contacts that, at a bare minimum, communicate EXIF data to the camera body that informs it of the focal length, f-stop, and the make and model of the lens. But this electronic communication also gives us the ability to autofocus. Especially with Canon’s innovative Dual-Pixel Autofocus system reaching real maturity in the C300 Mark II and the C200, autofocus is becoming a relevant tool that many filmmakers are making use of. With a PL-mount lens or camera, that option is off the table. 


While there is a lot of cross-pollination between each of these lens systems, they each have distinct advantages. Canon’s EF mount is a modern, electronic system that supports a plethora of lens options for every budget. ARRI PL mount is a sturdy workhorse in the cinema ecosystem, with almost universal buy-in from lens manufacturers and a reputation for performance. Choose wisely, my friend.

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