Pro video blog…Produced by Philip Johnston DoP/Editor

Growing up in the 1960s all the broadcast TV cameras had a turret lens system on them because zoom lens were not good enough yet.

For a more in-depth look at this lens system have a look at

Over at NAB 2019 the chaps at Cinema 5D caught up with Ian Kerr who has literally re-invented the wheel for some of todays modern cameras like the Sony FS7.


Having been working in the video business since 1988 I have amassed a great amount of knowledge of both the kit and production values over the last 30 years.

2 thoughts on “The 1960’s Turret lens makes a comeback

  1. I’m struggling to think if this would be generally useful, and think I’m coming to the opinion of (on balance) no!

    What you say above is fundamentally true – that zoom lenses did away with the need for turrets and prime lenses most of the time. There were (are) exceptions – primes gave superior optical performance in the past to early zooms, though that’s much less an issue nowadays. Similarly, primes tend to have a faster max aperture than most zooms.

    But with the vastly highly sensitivity of a camera like the FS7, the latter point is less relevant than in the past, and I just can’t help feeling that for most work, the increased front heaviness of the setup just isn’t worth the effort, over and above using a zoom? Certainly for most hand held work?

    One big difference between turret lens cameras of the 60’s and this seems to be being neglected – namely that if my memory is correct, on such cameras focussing was achieved by moving the tube. With this design, then focus is still on the lens? (With all three lenses having to be individually focussed?)

  2. Incidentally, the comment “Growing up in the 1960s all the broadcast TV cameras had a turret lens system on them because zoom lens had not yet been invented.” is incorrect.

    From Wikipedia, the first true zoom was patented in 1902, and for TV use Wikipedia says: “The most impressive early TV Zoom lens was the VAROTAL III, from Rank Taylor Hobson from UK built in 1953.”

    In the 1960’s zoom lenses tended to be limited in focal length and max aperture, and together with cost did mean their use was limited. It really took computer lens design to overcome a lot of that, though colour camera design meant it was far more desirable to keep to a single lens for technical reasons. I’m not aware of any turret colour TV camera?

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