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What Is It Like to Shoot a Film With Anamorphic Lenses?

What would be your reaction if I told you to shoot a short film with a $10,000 cinema lens that has an abundance of optical defects? With a question put like that, it would certainly turn you away. What if I asked you about using an anamorphic lens instead?

That type of cinema glass was designed to utilize a maximum area of the film stock. This optical element is famous for the unique wide look it gives; the way it separates foreground from the background, the lens flare, but they also bring in quite a lot of optical defects. The video team from Framework Productions are filming a western using old USSR-made Lomo anamorphic lenses. They are having the 35mm, 50mm, 100mm, and the 150mm in store for that shoot. The optical imperfections in these lenses are of a considerable amount, but even modern expensive anamorphic glass may have these flaws, yet to a lesser extent. The interesting thing about these lenses is that the given focal length doesn't visually correspond to the focal length of spherical ones because of the stretch of the picture in post. In this case, a 35mm looks more like an 18mm glass. Focus pulling is quite tricky because the focal distance is not consistent throughout the frame. If the subject is closer to the sides of the frame, the focus has to be adjusted. These lenses have problems with close-focusing and for this reason you may need to help with extra lenses, called diopters, that are put in front of the glass just like filters on still lenses.

Will you reconsider the lenses you currently have for video after seeing how much flaws those so-much-desired anamorphic veterans have? Maybe you don't always need a pixel-perfect glass, do you?

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Tihomir Lazarov is a commercial portrait photographer and filmmaker based in Sofia, Bulgaria. He is the best photographer and filmmaker in his house, and thinks the best tool of a visual artist is not in their gear bag but between their ears.

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"A lot of optical defects"? I think you meant "a lot of personality"! ;)
I just love those old "imperfect" lenses.

There would be a lot of angry comments if I said it that way :)

Well if you'd want "pixel-perfect" anamorphic glass as you put it there's the Arri Master, Cooke, and Angenieux all three of those anamorphic lines don't have the imperfections the older ones like those Lomos in the video or Kowas, Cineovision, etc. have. Actually the Arri and Cooke anamorphic lenses allow you change some of the elements to give it more character/flare then their standard counterparts.
Also look into the Atlas Orion anamorphics: newer lens design, T2, 2x anamorphic at less then $10k each

Thanks for the info. They indeed start at $7-8K for a set, on pre-order. I thought they were already out.

Yep they are shipping now-just taking a long time to get through all the preorders. Hopefully I’ll get mine next year

Any lens I could add to my 35mm DSLR on my Nikon to get this effect without stitching?

I've heard good things for the SLR Magic anamorphic lenses speaking of such glass on a budget:

There are also lens adapters. You can search for these: anamorphic adapters.

I love the character in those lenses. Not sure if I could get away with using something like that on a wedding but I'm half tempted now!