There is something very special about the way anamorphic images look, something that’s not easy to replicate in post production. Sure you can shoot in 16:9 or 17:9 and crop down to the typical 2.35:1 aspect ratio and sure you can add some extra anamorphic style flares in post. But what is much more difficult to replicate is all the other distortions and the oval bokeh that are typical of an anamorphic lens.
Anamorphic lenses work by distorting the captured image. Squeezing or compressing it horizontally, stretching it vertically. The amount of squeeze that you will want to use will depend on the aspect ratio of the sensor or film frame. With full frame 35mm cameras or cameras with a 4:3 aspect ratio sensor or gate you would normally use an anamorphic lens that squeezes the image by 2 times. Most anamorphic cinema lenses are 2x anamorphic, that is the image is squeezed 2x horizontally. You can use these on cameras with a 16:9 or 17:9 super35mm sensor, but because a Super35 sensor already has a wide aspect ratio a 2x squeeze is much more than you need for that typical cinema style final aspect ratios of 2.39:1.
For most Super35mm cameras it is normally better to use a lens with a 1.33x squeeze. 1.33x squeeze on Super35 results in a final aspect ratio close to the classic cinema aspect ratio of 2.39:1.
Traditionally anamorphic lenses have been very expensive. The complex shape of the anamorphic lens elements are much harder to make than a normal spherical lens. However another option is to use an anamorphic adapter on the front of an existing lens to turn it into an anamorphic lens. SLR Magic who specialise in niche lenses and adapters have had a 50mm diameter 1.33x anamorphic adapter available for some time. I’ve used this with the FS7 and other cameras in the past, but the 50mm diameter of the adapter limits the range of lenses it can be used with (There is also a 50mm 2x anamorphot for full frame 4:3 aspect ratio sensors from SLR Magic).
Now SLR Magic have a new larger 65mm adapter. The 1.33-65 Anamorphot has a much larger lens element, so it can be used with a much wider range of lenses. In addition it has a calibrated focus scale on it’s focus ring. One thing to be aware of with adapters like these is that you have to focus both the adapter and the lens you are using it on. For simple shoots this isn’t too much of a problem. But if you are moving the camera a lot or the subject is moving around a lot, trying to focus both lenses together can be a challenge.
Enter the PD Movie Dual Channel follow focus.
The PD Movie Dual follow focus is a motorised follow focus system that can control 2 focus motors at the same time. You can get both wired and wireless versions depending on your needs and budget. For the anamorphic shoot I had the wired version (I do personally own a single channel PD Movie wireless follow focus). Setup is quick and easy, you simply attach the motors to your rods, position the gears so they engage with the gear rings on the lens and the anamorphot and press a button to calibrate each motor. It takes just a few moments and then you are ready to go. Now when you turn the PD Movie focus control wheel both the taking lens and the anamorphot focus together.
I used the anamorphot on both the Fujinon MK18-55mm and the MK50-135mm. It works well with both lenses but you can’t use focal lengths wider than around 35mm without the adapter some causing vignetting. So on the 18-55 you can only really use around 35 to 55mm. I would note that the adapter does act a little like a wide angle converter, so even at 35mm the field of view is pretty wide. I certainly didn’t feel that I was only ever shooting at long focal lenghts.
Like a lot of lens adapters there are some things to consider. You are putting a lot of extra glass in front of you main lens, so it will need some support. SLR magic do a nice support bracket for 15mm rods and this is actually essential as it stops the adapter from rotating and keeps it correctly oriented so that your anamorphic squeeze remains horizontal at all times. Also if you try to use too large an aperture the adapter will soften the image. I found that it worked best between f8 and f11, but it was possible to shoot at f5.6. If you go wider than this, away from the very center of the frame you get quite a lot of softening image softening. This might work for some projects where you really want to draw the viewer to the center of the frame or if you want a very stylised look, but it didn’t suit this particular project.
The out of focus bokeh has a distinct anamorphic shape, look and feel. As you pull focus the shape of the bokeh changes horizontally, this is one of the key things that makes anamorphic content look different to spherical. As the adapter only squeezes by 1.33 this is as pronounced as it would be if you shot with a 2x anamorphic. Of course the other thing most people notice about anamorphic images is lens flares that streak horizontally across the image. Intense light sources just off frame would produce blue/purple streaks across the image. If you introduce very small point light sources into the shot you will get a similar horizontal flare. If flares are your thing it works best if you have a very dark background. Overall the lens didn’t flare excessively, so my shots are not full of flares like a JJ Abrams movie. But when it did flare the effect is very pleasing. Watch the video linked above and judge for yourself.
Monitoring and De-Squeeze.
When you shoot anamorphic you normally record the horizontally squashed image and then in post production you de-squeeze the image by compressing it vertically. Squashing the image vertically results in a letterbox, wide screen style image and it’s called “De-Squeeze”. You can shoot anamorphic without de-sqeezing the image provided you don’t mind looking at images that are horizontally squashed in your viewfinder or on your monitor. But these days you have plenty of monitors and viewfinders that can “de-squeeze” the anamorphic image so that you can view it with the correct aspect ratio. The Glass Hub film was shot using a Sony PMW-F5 recording to the R5 raw recorder. The PMW-F5 has the ability to de-squeeze the image for the viewfinder built in. But I also used an Atomos Shogun Inferno to monitor as I was going to be producing HDR versions of the film. The Shogun Inferno has both 2x and 1.33x de-squeeze built in so I was able to take the distorted S-Log3 output from the camera and convert it to a HDR PQ image and de-squeeze it all at the same time in the Inferno. This made monitoring really easy and effective.
I used DaVinci Resolve for the post production. In the past I might have done my editing in Adobe Premiere and the grading in Resolve. But Resolve is now a very capable edit package, so I completed the project entirely in Resolve. I used the ACES colour managed workflow as ACES means I don’t need to worry about LUT’s and in addition ACES adds a really nice film like highlight roll off to the output. If you have never tried a colour managed workflow for log or raw material you really should!
The SLR Magic 65-1.33 paired with the Fujinon MK lenses provides a relatively low cost entry into the world of anamorphic shooting. You can shoot anywhere from around 30-35mm to 135mm. The PD Movie dual motor focus system means that there is no need to try to use both hands to focus both the anamorphot and the lens together. The anamorphot + lens behave much more like a quality dedicated anamorphic zoom lens, but at a fraction of the cost. While I wouldn’t use it to shoot everything the Anamorphot is a really useful tool for those times you want something different.