Do You Want to Start Shooting Anamorphic? Here Is Your Complete Guide
Before you start creating your masterpiece, there are many aspects that have to be taken into consideration, starting from ‘what kind of story to tell?’ to ‘how do I make this story look good on the screen?’. There are many elements in between, but one of the most important ones is the choice of the lens that will be used.
Here is where anamorphic lenses come into the picture. An anamorphic lens is a favourite for many cinematographers for the unique characteristics it brings to the moving images.
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What are anamorphic lenses actually?
Shooting anamorphic refers to shooting a wider aspect ratio video or film, but on a much narrower image sensor.
In other words, anamorphic lenses project a version of the image which is compressed along the longer dimension (usually by a factor of 2). Anamorphic lenses, thus, require subsequent stretching, in post-production or at the projector, in order to be properly displayed.
Anamorphic is an old technique which was first used before World War I, but was not really used in cinematography until the 1950s, when television became very popular and filmmakers were looking to bring the audience back to the cinema by offering widescreen and more epic looking films.
This was achieved by using lenses that could capture a wider aspect ratio by squeezing the image horizontally into a narrow film strip.
Over time the anamorphic look started to be associated with many of the big epic films that used that technique.
Aside from the wider aspect ratio, the most common thing to the anamorphic look is the horizontal lens flares as well as the vertically stretch bokeh. Another thing to note is the distortion that happens, especially with the wider focal lengths, which gives the anamorphic footage an almost 3D feeling.
When shooting anamorphic you have to remember that your image will look squeezed horizontally, so in order to view it properly you will need to disguise the image in the editing program that you are using.
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What kind of anamorphic lenses are offered on the market?
When choosing to work with an anamorphic lens, the amount of options on the market can be overwhelming. There is an endless number of combinations of cameras and prime lenses that makes it extremely difficult to pick the anamorphic that will work with your exact kit and your style as a filmmaker.
To help narrow down your options and make sure you get the right anamorphic lens, which will take your cinematography to the next level, we have put together this little guide.
These are three main things you have to consider when choosing an anamorphic lens:
- Size and weight of the anamorphic
- Single or dual focus
- Your DSLR and prime lenses
What is a decent size and weight for an anamorphic lens?
If you are more budget-conscious and shoot with locked-down tripod, the full-size anamorphic range (e.g. Isco, Schneider) can be a great value option for you. These are the large format lenses, and early models of these are approximately 1.3 g in weight and around 25cm in length.
Alternatives to Isco Schneider models can be the Japanese copy Kollomorgen or the American copy Bell & Howell.
If you are more into run-and-gun shooting, looking for a lighter rig, then the medium format lenses like Isco Micro and Kowa B&H would be perfect for you. These lenses are a combination of the top German build quality of the large format anamorphic and the pristine optics in a smaller, closer focusing package.
Isco Micro is only 0.45 kg in weight, and is a great balance of value for most DSLR shooters.
Small format lenses like Baby Hypogonar and Baby Isco are providing anamorphic quality in the smallest package possible. Typically, these lenses have a diameter no wider than 52mm. So, if you are interested in using one of these lenses, you will need a prime taking lens with a smaller front diameter to avoid light transmission loss.
You have to keep in mind, that the small format lenses can lose their optical quality and not stand up to professional standards.
Single or Dual Focus Anamorphic?
The majority of anamorphic lenses are focused by both the prime taking lens and the anamorphic lens. Dual focusing is not very difficult, once you get to know it, but there are filmmakers who prefer single focus, especially when working with narrative shoots.
Pure single focus anamorphic lenses
A few anamorphic lenses, also including Isco Rama 36,54, can be focused by setting your taking lens to infinity and focusing only with the anamorphic. This solution is the easiest to shoot with.
Dual focus anamorphic
There are several dual focus systems that are available on the market, e.g. Rectilux, Rapido, which use one follow focus to calibrate the focus of both anamorphic and taking lenses. These are quality elements that don’t affect the quality of your anamorphic lenses with additional optics, but can nevertheless be difficult to calibrate, especially when changing lenses on the field.
Will your camera and lenses work together?
You should keep in mind that not every anamorphic lens can be paired with every prime lens and DSLR camera. Generally, you would like to use a 2x anamorphic lens with a 85mm prime lens on full frame, a 50mm lens on APS-C/Super 35, and 43mm lenses on Micro 4/3. Some lenses, as the Isco Micro Anamorphic Lens, can perform well with a full frame camera and provide a wide anamorphic view.
Remember, that with a 2x anamorphic lens, you are doubling your field of view. So, an 85mm lens with an anamorphic attachment will look like a 42.5 mm canvas to paint your image on. In simpler words, just divide your prime lens by 2, to get your anamorphic equivalent.
When to shoot anamorphic?
This answer to the question is: It is completely up to you and your personal tastes and preferences.
As Roger Deakins mentioned: ‘it’s not about the type or brand of your lens, it is about what it does for your story’. It is completely your choice how you want to tell your story, choosing anamorphic is just like choosing which focal length you want to shoot with.
It has to be mentioned, that shooting with the anamorphic lens allows you to have the sense of closeness, that you might not get from a conventional focal length. In some ways it opens a room for an actor to truly give his/her full performance, while allowing them to feel ‘warm’ and accessible on the screen.
Nevertheless, you shouldn’t limit yourself in your choices. Instead of listening to other voices saying that you have to do something, just because it looks good, consider what it actually does for your personal frame.
Many say anamorphic looks amazing on the screen and brings that taste of nostalgia we all have for classic films. It also might make you a better filmmaker, since it introduces your frame to new action and allows you to include more detail into each image.
4 Tips for shooting anamorphic
Everyone loves that flare that the anamorphic lens gives. It makes the image look beautiful, iconic and cinematic. It is that horizontal blue flare that is going across the frame, when it’s hit by a really strong light source. It looks beautiful and desirable, but you have to be careful because sometimes these flares can be really distracting and take the attention from an actual picture. You should consider your personal preferences and what you, as a filmmaker, are shooting. Just keep in mind, that overdoing the flares can be very distracting.
When using an anamorphic lens, you have to pay extra attention to the edges of the frame. So, when you pan the camera left and right, you put the subjects in certain parts of the frame.
Anamorphic lenses tend to force you to frame what is important towards the centre of the frame. When you pan the camera, the distortion happens, so at the edge of the lenses the optics of lenses are not nearly as clean, sharp or precise on the edges, as in the centre.
- Anamorphic Focus Fall off
Besides the distortion, you have to remember the focus and how sharp and accurate the lenses are. When you shoot something that is important and suddenly put the focus towards the edge of the frame, the subject will not be as sharp, as it would have been in the centre of the frame.
- Lens breathing
When you rack focus on anamorphic lens, you can notice that it ‘breathes’. In other words, the subject in front of the lens morphs and can get slightly transformed.
As an example, when you try to rack focus into the background, behind the person, you can notice how the person’s body and face morphs and changes.
It is just something, you can keep in mind, especially when shooting with anamorphic lenses, you might not want to have as strong rack or as fast of a focus rack, because it can be a little distracting.
These tips can help you when choosing whether to use anamorphic for your next piece. Remember, there is always room for learning and improving your skills.
Places for you to purchase and rent anamorphic lenses
If you are considering getting and start shooting with anamorphic lenses there are few options, where you can either rent an anamorphic lens or buy your own.
Rent from Wedio, a platform where you can find a wide range of options and prices, which will fit your cameras and your preferences.
Or purchase your own anamorphic lens adapter at Goecker.