How to Create an Anamorphic Lens Look for Less Than $10

How to Create an Anamorphic Lens Look for Less Than $10


Anamorphic lenses are mostly used by cinematographers to get a ratio of 2.40:1. The cinematic look these lenses offer has become popular amongst photographers lately. While such a wide ratio is not very practical for most genres, the squeezed bokeh and the unique flare these optics create is a way to stand out amongst the competition.

The first photographer I saw using anamorphic lenses was Sam Hurd. It got me very curious because I had never heard of them before. Intrigued as I was, I then discovered how much they cost. At around $850 for the cheapest 1.33x anamorphic adapters, or $800 for a 1.9x-2x lens, I thought it was a bit too much for something I would only use a few times a year. If you shoot video regularly, it might be worth the money. But as a photographer, I would rather spend this amount on a solid lens or a plane ticket. I didn’t regret not making the investment when I found that the look can almost be recreated with less than $10.

Anamorphic Bokeh

The first thing that can be noticed with anamorphic lenses, after the change of ratio, is the bokeh. Because of the image is squeezed by these optics, the out of focus parts of the picture are rendered differently. It will be more oval rather than circular.

The same effect can be achieved using a simple sheet of black paper. Ever seen those cheap-looking shots with heart or star-shaped bokeh? I am sure you have. Well, the principle is similar. Instead of cutting a heart or a star in a piece of paper, just create an oval and place it in front of your lens!

Cinematic Flare

Something else most people find interesting in the anamorphic lenses are the flares they create. The optics not being spherical, they render the flare differently. Many software and plugins try to emulate it, however, there’s no better way than to get it right in camera.

Several solutions are available. The first would be to buy a filter from Schneider. But, going for $215 up to $630 it is still quite expensive, and it might actually be better to invest directly in an anamorphic lens or adapter.

The two other solutions I know of are much cheaper and easier to achieve. One of them was shown in the video above. Simply using a fishing wire and placing it vertically, straight, in front of the lens. Note that different wires will yield different results, so feel free to play around and try multiple ones.

For the third technique, you will need to scratch a UV filter with sandpaper. You can take advantage of the different roughness of the sandpaper to achieve a more or less subtle effect. You don’t have to make the streaks across the whole filter either. This way you can get something different than with the wires.

Now, if it pains you to scrape a filter, there is always the very cheap solution of scratching a piece of acrylic, or like the video below shows, a CD tray.

With all this, you are now ready to go out and pretend to be J.J. Abrams on your next shoot! Although these techniques work perfectly, bear in mind they are not the real thing, and do not truly replace an anamorphic lens. But have fun anyways! 

Quentin Decaillet's picture

Quentin Décaillet is a photographer and retoucher based in Switzerland specializing in portrait and wedding photography.

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And it still wont look like a true anamorphic lens sadly, because you wont be getting that 2x crop cinema anamorphic lenses have. Remember anamorphic lenses where made to get the most out of film back in the day, and that squished the image which was projected with an anamorphic lens to get the widescreen look.

The reason this is important is it gave you twice as wide field of view horizontally while still keeping the same field of view vertically of the lens along with its compression. Anamorphic is a bit more than lens flare, and sadly the FOV look of anamorphic is the thing I want from it and its not cheap :(

Yes, you're right. But come on :) It' only a few dollars!

Could you add a post production crop, giving you the widescreen look?

It's all about quality. Crop in post is nice but in fact the idea of true anamorphic lens is you are "squeezing" the frame in order to gain better quality (more information in image). In cinema you don't see simply cropped image.

You'd be surprised how many films (even high budget films) finished in the 2:40 aspect ratio was shot on spherical glass and cropped. Even films primarily shot anamorphic mixes in some spherical lenses.

Oh you are 100% right that a majority of films that are in 2.4:1 ratio do just use a crop (ex:skyfall) They do this as spherical lenses are are optically more perfect when compared to true anamorphic glass.

But it's a different look for sure and maybe the average person wont notice it but I know I do, and when I think anamorphic I want true anamorphic usually for the fov effects rather than the flares or bokeh. Though I will say I have cropped for a film before, even the film that just got into cannes was a crop rather than anamorphic lensed film.

You're not entirely correct, this new generation of anamorphics isn't anything like what the classic Panavision, Kowa, etc. anamorphics were like-no distortion, next to no flares, and sharper then most spherical glass. I recently was on a shoot where we used the Zeiss Master Anamorphics and I was surprised that they didn't even flare (curse these modern day coatings) and the Cooke Anamorphics are similar with the lack of distortion/flares-which many people are complaining about. The only anamorphic characteristic they have is the horizontal squeeze to 2:40.

It's mostly because of budget why spherical glass is chosen over anamorphics... Or in the case of Skyfall like you brought up all the DP Roger Deakins shoots with now are Zeiss Master Primes-so more of a cinematographer's preference.

Or you could just buy a streak filter and not sacrifice image quality or damage gear.

haha you do realize you linked to a $280 dollar filter right? Not really comparable to damaging a a filter that most photographers have stacks of since they basically give them away with most lens purchases.

BH changed the price. They seem to have some issues with their site/invetory system. It was 72 bucks for an 86mm. 77 is $104

Not sure how adding a string or wire in front of your lens will "sacrifice image quality or damage gear.". But sure, if you have the money, streak filters from Tiffen or Schneider, as linked in the article, will do the trick as well :)

string gives you a shitty flare

A different flare, it all depends on the string, fishing line. It's also more of a pain in the ass to get to work but it works, or a scartched UV filter. It can work just takes more time and time is money.

Mmm, thanks for the article, didn't help but good for people who don't need the real anamorphic feel.