Don’t be offended if I sent you this link and said nothing else. Please understand that replying to individual questions about this or that lens eats up a lot of my time and prevents me from developing original content for a larger audience – yourself included. So read the post and watch the video below as I did my best to answer your (and others’) request. If you still have questions, I suggest you join group discussions either on facebook or EOSHD and do some more research on your own. There’s no absolute answer to “which lens should I buy?”. It’s all in your heart and mind.
All the RED links on this post are part of eBay’s Partner Network, so if you purchase anything through them, you’re helping me to keep this project going.
Tito Ferradans here from the Anamorphic on a Budget guide and the upcoming Anamorphic Cookbook. So, there’s this question I get asked AT LEAST twice a day: “Hey dude, I watched all your videos and errrr… I still don’t know what lens to buy! Can you help me?” and, sure, I can! I replied to every single message I got so far. Facebook, emails, comments, instagram, whatever. The problem is it takes me quite the time to help each person and that’s not an efficient solution because tomorrow I’ll end up replying something very similar to somebody else. I was inspired to write this post after reading a great reply by Chris Bold on EOSHD and decided to write this post to help anyone tormented by the question of “which anamorphic should I buy?”
“There’s really no one piece of advice that’s going to fit everyone’s needs. The best way to decide on your first anamorphic is to research, research, research.
Tito’s Anamorphic blog is one of the best starting points. And you won’t find a larger collected body of anamorphic knowledge than this forum. Search it deeply! Also look at test footage on Youtube and Vimeo of various lenses to see if a particular brand of lens produces an aesthetic that really appeals to you.
Watch some films shot with anamorphic. I just re-watched the original Mad Max, and realized there are some shots with horrible aberrations at the edges, and the film has barrel distortion throughout. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. What matters is how the images made me feel, not how razor sharp or technically precise they were.”
– Chris Bold, 2016
This is oriented to those who never used an anamorphic lens before and desperately wanna be a part of the game. No, it’s not the final word about which lens should one choose and there are PLENTY of different ways to approaching anamorphics, but, once again, if you’re starting out now, you better start with the basics. There are usually a few other branches to the original question like I want sharpness!, I want flares!, I have so and so as taking lenses, I use this or that camera, I want it for less than $50 bucks, I want something easy to use!.
Heads up: nothing fulfills all of these requirements.
“Once you find a lens or two that falls within your budget, search EOSHD and other forums to see what others have built to get the most out of those lenses. You’ll find that there are different strategies to mounting them… from ‘bailing wire & bubble gum,’ to buying specialty parts, to custom-fabricating parts on your own, and many options in between.
1.33x adapters don’t have the sharpest image quality and don’t do well in low light, but are often the easiest to use. They tend to be lightweight and adapt easily to taking lenses. Usually good flares but less oval bokeh. They are relatively easy to acquire and will run you between $500-800. Not a bad choice for starting anamorphic.
Big projector lenses will give you that nice 2x oval bokeh, but vary wildly in terms of flare and image quality. They are invariably heavy so they require a certain amount of adaptation and support (which adds even more weight).
Although I don’t have one, there are some dual-focus lenses that appear to deliver great images. But dual focus seems to present another set of headaches if you’re shooting something with lots of movement. Probably not something you want to take on as a beginner. Dual focus owners can speak better to the learning curve and the time involved to get good focus during dynamic/complicated shots.”
Anamorphics don’t have a 24-70 f/2.8 – a lens that can shoot pretty much anything. Each adapter has its quirks and widely different price tags. In this post I’m aiming towards simplicity, towards a learning journey and not for a definitive answer. Most of the lenses I picked as “beginner” lenses have 1.33x stretch, which leads to a resulting aspect ratio of 2.36:1, almost perfect Cinemascope with no need for cropping or tweaking the camera settings. One step at a time and you’re gonna feel at home shooting anamorphic in no time!
The Panasonic LA7200 is one of the most common entry-level anamorphics. Its advantages are clear, it has large glass, light build, not extremely hard to find or super expensive and it’s a focus-through adapter, meaning that you’re gonna handle your camera the same way you always did, focusing with your spherical lens. It’s a great match for modern zooms like the 24-70 and it’s the widest anamorphic adapter out there, going as wide as 28mm with no vignetting on Full Frame. Oh, you want sci-fi flares? Sure, the Panny’s got them.
Its downsides are softness around the edges and the need to stop down the taking lens to f/4-5.6 to get sharp images. Close focus is also an issue, with the extra challenge of “how do I cover this front glass??”. The cheapest way is taping the diopters to its front. Needless to say it’s quite risky, but works wonders. If you want more info, check the LA7200’s in-depth review!
The SLR Magic 1.33x Anamorphot is a renovation of the concept behind the Panny and Century. You still use your taking lens for focusing, but SLR Magic added a “Near” dial which allows for good quality and close focusing at the same time at the expense of infinity focus. It also has standard threads at the front and back, so no need for modding anything. This one doesn’t go as wide as the others but I had great results pairing it to Canon’s 40mm pancake. The recommended aperture is f/2.8 or slower, so it’s also not great for low-light and fast lenses. Flares are stupidly intense and that can be considered both good and bad, depending on personal taste.
These are the only projection lenses in the list – I’m considering them as identical – and the only one with 2x stretch. It used to be one of the most common and cheapest anamorphics on eBay because it “lacks” the “vintage character”. I won’t go into that subject in this video, so here are some advantages of the Blue Star: it’s sharp all across the frame (at any aperture), easy to buy and a the perfect candidate for single focus attachments (Rectilux, Rangefinder or FM) down the road. The 2x stretch leads to noticeably oval bokeh, an anamorphic trademark, but the modern coatings mute any strong flares, resulting in a much cleaner image. The widest you can go, on Full Frame, for full sensor coverage, is 85mm, but if you’re extracting a 2.4:1 crop from the center of the frame, a 60mm focal length should be enough!
These are my four strongest suggestions for anyone starting out with anamorphics. The Panny and the Century were two of my first lenses and I still like them very much today for their simplicity. Small steps is the best way to go since there’s A LOT to learn. Trying to encompass it all at once will very likely make you want to give up. Go out and get a lens, learn how to play with it an then start working on its downsides to improve them. This process will naturally lead you through all the steps in order to master anamorphic shooting and all of its quirks.
“Ultimately there is no perfect anamorphic solution. Every choice has benefits and drawbacks. The only way to know the best choice for your is to list our your needs, search through the options, and find the type of lens that most closely matches your needs.
What Bioskop said, [‘To hell with sharp, as Anamorphic lenses are all about the defects they produce’]. It is okay if your anamorphic images aren’t perfect – they aren’t meant to be.
Most importantly, MONEY = TIME. If you save money buying a cheap anamorphic, the more time you’ll have to spend getting it to work. So they key the questions are: what’s your total budget, and how much spare time are you willing to spend building your rig?
I saved money buying some B&H’s, but the time it took me to get them to where I needed was enormous. If I had to do it over again, I might have chosen a different route. Then again, I learned a LOT in the process.”
Buying your first anamorphic lens is an important step, but once you get started you’ll realize you are making it a much bigger deal than it actually is. I don’t have the first lens I bought anymore. Nor the second, third or fourth for that matter. I believe this is true to most anamorphic enthusiasts because going through the lenses is a very experimental process: sometimes I find a feature I really like in a lens and then I keep it for a while, then I get tired of it and let it go. Trying to find the perfect lens right from the start is not the right way to go because when you think you finally found it you’ll start to see its problems and get seriously disappointed.
Unusual review, for one of the strangest projection lenses around. Behold a 2x stretch native single focus anamorphic adapter! It was interesting, but the best results out of this lens are still to come!
Tito Ferradans here for an unusual review. If you read the Anamorphic on a Budget guide, you’ll know that I dislike projection lenses. They’re usually too heavy and bulky and yield poor results. Based on that, it might come as a surprise that this episode is about the Bell & Howell Anamorphic Projection Lens. No, not the Kowa B&H, the OTHER Bell & Howell. The long and weird-looking one. Not exactly light, at 500g, the Bell & Howell has a unique feature among projection lenses: it is a single focus 2x stretch adapter. Set your taking lens to infinity and do all the work on the anamorphic. My attention was to this adapter was drawn by an EOSHD thread by QuickHitRecord.
That all might sound super exciting now, but here come the drawbacks: this lens doesn’t focus to infinity, only to about 12m, and original minimum focus is at 2.4m, with almost three full turns of the focus ring. You can tweak it by loosening the two limiting screws on the head. Even though the focus throw becomes completely laughable (almost five complete turns), it focuses down to 0.6m without any diopters. That means you could live with more common and cheaper +1 and up 58mm diopters.
Ok, I just said 58mm diopters, but the lens doesn’t actually have 58mm threads. The front threads are very close to standard 55mm, but not quite, so I just taped a 55-58mm step ring to it and everything works great. The back is also very important in terms of threading: you want to make sure you’re getting one of these that has the silver ring screwed to the back of it. This ring is the key to mounting the Bell & Howell to other lenses since it has Series 7 threads and you can get cheap Series 7 to filter thread adapters. Mine didn’t have one, so I articulated a solution with Chris Bold, and he’s selling the rings for $30. These are made of polyurethane, which is a plastic, so the best approach is to screw in your S7 adapter and don’t take it out to avoid stripping the threads.
Due to its shape and size, I would strongly recommend using lens support to avoid stressing the filter threads.
Definitely NOT a knife-sharp killer, but decent enough for a lens that you can get for two hundred bucks. Holds up pretty nicely even when the taking lens is wide open – since its original taking lens is f/1.4, as the label states – and improves considerably as you stop it down (which worsens vignetting). It’s particularly fidgety regarding the taking lens’ infinity position, so test a nudge under infinity and see if the image quality improves. For me it made noticeable of difference.
Contax Zeiss 35mm f/2.8
Contax Zeiss 50mm f/1.4
Contax Zeiss 85mm f/1.4
Prepare yourself to be blown away by these flares. The most natural looking and smooth blue flares I’ve ever seen – and that teal tinge, oh man… Flares are, by far, one of strongest aspects about this adapter. I even got a coated taking lens so only the Bell & Howell’s flares would be showing.
Contax Zeiss 50mm f/1.4
Due to its long body, small optics and 2x stretch, the Bell & Howell vignettes easily. On full frame, for a Cinemascope crop you need to be over 85mm and for full sensor coverage, at least 120mm. Using the A7s2 crop mode (2.2x), I was able to get a clear 2.4:1 crop at 40mm and full sensor at 50mm.
Contax Zeiss 28mm f/2.8
Contax Zeiss 35mm f/2.8
Canon EF 40mm f/2.8
Contax Zeiss 50mm f/1.4
The first thing I concluded when testing this lens for real is that single focus is worth nothing if you have to twist the focus ring a thousand times to rack just a couple of meters. Also, the taking lens infinity setting is much more fidgety than expected, with constant back and forth to find the optimal position. As for low-light, you CAN get sharp images at fast apertures, it’s just a very hard challenge if there’s any movement in the scene, requiring focus adjustments. The infinity setting on the B&H is also not so great, because past a certain distance things start to become smudgy. The flares are beautiful on real life, though. The one trick I wasn’t expecting to work was when I put a diopter in front of it and things sharpened up nicely. In my opinion, the best shots in this test were made with the diopter attached.
The Century I used for this video came without its locking screw, so I had to go out and find it in the real world. If you ever come across this problem, the answer is 4-40 screws. Get a small one, cut it shorter and superglue a nut to the top so it’s easier to handle with your bare hands!
Hello ladies and gentlemen. Tito Ferradans here to test out another myth related to the small Century Optics adapter.
Back to business, if you have ever considered getting a small Century Optics, there’s a great chance you came across one – or more – posts by people claiming that flipping the rear element of the lens will improve its close focus capabilities and still allow for infinity focus.
“Diopters simply allow you to get really close focus, something that is often a issue in anamorphic world, since old anamorphic lenses typically have garbage CF. However, you are talking about an adapter, which makes things a bit different from the normal anamorphic lenses which is the base of my experience.
To my knowledge, the only way a diopter would make a lens sharper, is if the anamorphic adapter was not properly aligned to begin with, and the diopter serves to correct the adapter to it’s expected working condition. For example, if you have a diopter on your lens, and you can focus from relatively close distances to infinity… there was something wrong with your set-up before. The diopter didn’t improve your image, really than fix it. That may seem like semantics, but it would be giving the diopter too much credit otherwise.
“The Optex has a 1.33x squeeze ratio and produces more subtle flares than 1.5x or 2x anamorphic adapters. However, if you point it directly at a bright light, ala Spielberg, it will give you long horizontal flare beams.
Anamorphic adapters typically use two lens elements to produce a non-focused wide-angle adapter with different magnification ratios in horizontal and vertical directions. To produce sharp results, the astigmatism of the two lens elements must be aligned to converge close to the focal plane of the normal lens that you’re using with the adapter. The “focus” ring on an adjustable adapter allows you to converge the anamorphic elements manually.
On a fixed anamorphic adapter, the lens elements are set to converge at infinity and typically have a working range down to about 6-8 feet. You can use a diopter in front of the adapter to pull it in for close-focus shots. The Optex happens to have a rear anamorphic lens element that can be removed and put back in an inverted position, which makes it work in close-focus range without needing a diopter.” – LPowell, 2011
The question here is, if turning the glass around would bring such benefits, why weren’t they originally made that way? It’s time to check out if this works.
I’ve reached out to Brian Caldwell – designer of the glass for the Metabones Speedbooster – asking for his input on what I should expect after turning the glass inside out. Here’s what he said:
“Assuming the rear group is a cemented doublet with a leading negative element, then flipping it would move the principle plane of the rear group towards the front group. This is similar to focusing the adapter for a closer object distance. However, I expect that the aberration balance would be completely trashed, especially at longer focal lengths where you use the entire rear aperture of the adapter. Also, the squeeze ratio would drop, just like it always does when focusing a dual-focus adapter to a closer object.
Personally, I wouldn’t do it except as a fun experiment. I would expect much better results with a diopter.” – Caldwell, 2016
So here we go for an exciting round of testing!
On the first test I’m racking focus between 75cm (the first Lego set), 1.4m (the AT-AT Walker) and 2.5m at the wall. Since the goal is to test faster apertures, lenses are all wide open. Results are very poor at close focus for the unflipped Century. The +0.5 achromat improved focus for both the AT-AT and the wall, but not much for the close focus mark. I must say it was surprising to see how much better things looked with the flipped rear element – especially at the wider end.
Contax Zeiss 35mm f/2.8
Canon EF 40mm f/2.8
Contax Zeiss 50mm f/1.4
Then I went on to test chromatic aberration. With Canon’s 40mm I found myself an interesting scenario with lots of high contrast between bright and dark, with a relatively easy subject to focus on. Also known as “rug hanging on a tree”. Chromatic aberration is pretty bad on either cases, so, fortunately it’s not a big deal to have the rear element flipped or not.
Canon EF 40mm f/2.8
Canon EF 40mm f/2.8
From that I moved to test infinity focus on super wide shots. This is where the flip really struggled, as I could see the loss of sharpness much more easily, and the edge compromise creeping in much further into the frame.
Contax Zeiss 35mm f/2.8
The last test is for longer lenses and I used a Jupiter 9 – 85mm – at f/2.8 to see how it performed and if the stretch factor was affected by the flipped rear element. I won’t deny the mod is much sharper than the original configuration for close focus, but the stretch factor indeed decreases. In my case, I was getting around 1.25x. Also, you can notice the diamond shaped bokeh indicating that there’s something wrong with the setup (much like what I mentioned about the SLR Magic Anamorphot 1.33x-50)
Jupiter 9 85mm f/2
If you wanna do the trick to your own Century, just unscrew these two small screws at the back – they don’t come off completely – and remove the cover. Then take out the glass, flip it and close it back. Be careful because the entire back of the body comes loose when you do this! The process doesn’t take 5 minutes.
I believe it’s a useful technique for medium close ups. If you can’t afford a +0.5 diopter (seriously?!), I’d say it’s a reasonable solution. The edges become more messed up, but they’re already pretty bad on the original, so it’s not a huge deal.
The biggest issue is that now you’ll have to play to the Century’s strong side, using wider lenses and stepping away from pretty much anything above 50mm.
I’ll admit that the results for this video were very surprising, and I expected image quality to drop much more. What about you? Let me know if you’ll be flipping your Century, or keep on using diopters! If you want more tips, tests and tricks now’s a great time to subscribe to the channel, and if you want information in writing, head to the blog for an even larger amount of articles! See you soon, Ferradans out.