Parfocal vs Varifocal Lens: What’s the Difference?

Parfocal lens, Varifocal Lens

Parfocal vs Varifocal Lens: What’s the Difference?

Choosing the right lens for the job is imperative for a photographer or cinematographer. So what is the difference between Parfocal and Varifocal lenses?

  • Varifocal lenses are primarily designed for photography and DSLR use.
  • Parfocal lenses are designed for cinema and broadcast use.

With Varifocal lenses, when you zoom in you are “varying” the focus. This type of lens was designed for photography so any reframing of the lenses will change the focus. This works fine for still images but can be a pain for video capture. For this reason, Varifocal lenses were not designed to maintain focus throughout the zoom range.

With Parfocal lenses, you can zoom in on your subject, focus, and zoom out and the subject always stays in focus. If you do the same thing with a Varifocal lens your focus will drift all over the place.

Another difference between Varifocal and Parfocal is the breathing. Varifocal breathe significantly, displaying an increase or decrease of image size when you pull focus. A Parfocal lens has very minimal breathing when pulling focus.

Check out the video below by the good folks over at Vistek | Your Visual Imaging and get the full breakdown.


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1 Comment

  1. Sean Emer on September 30, 2017 at 9:16 am

    The author of this article has no idea what he or she is talking about. How do you manage to screw up something this basic? Varifocal lenses don’t maintain the focal plane when zooming and parfocal lenses do. So for a parfocal lens to get your subject in focus you can zoom in, focus, zoom out and shoot. Varifocal lenses require you to set focus from the zoom setting you plan on using because the action of zooming cause the focal plane (the area in focus) to shift slightly forward or backward.

    This article took several paragraphs longer to explain this and didn’t even get it right. Like Number 3. Wtf are you talking about? Varifocal is no more appropriate for cinematography than parfocal. In fact parfocal is the desirable type. It’s just more expensive. The author should not be allowed to write technical articles again. Whoever approved this article should be ashamed.