I’ve been into shooting anamorphic on a budget for almost ten years now. In that time I’ve never seen anything quite like the Letus Anamorph-X Pro.
When I say “on a budget”, the number goes between $0 and $4000, which is very little when compared to Arri, Cooke, Hawk or Panavision anamorphic lenses.
Why should you care? Production value. Anamorphic adapters are special lenses that go in front of your regular camera lens. They squeeze more field of view onto the camera’s sensor, allowing you to create wider-than-usual shots. As this extra field of view is squeezed onto the sensor, it requires stretching in post. Without dwelling into all the math, shooting 16:9 video with a 1.33x anamorphic adapter results in the much desired Cinemascope aspect ratio, 2.36:1, that fancy Hollywood thing you do by adding black bars on the top and bottom of your shots. Except no more black bars.
I have tinkered with all you can think of when it comes to adapters and DIY solutions. You can check many of my experiments and reviews on my YouTube to attest that I’m not saying nonsense. It’s not often an adapter surprises me while testing. I was even more surprised because there’s so little information at all out there for the Letus Anamorph-X 1.33x PRO.
Letus is an American company which started out making SLR lens adapters for DV cameras. Nowadays makes niche high-end gear, such as the Helix gimbals and various adapters. The subject today is their 1.33x PRO anamorphic adapter, which follows the original Anamorph-X 1.33x, released in late 2013 and discontinued shortly after. The first Anamorph-X was a good sketch of an adapter but it had many quirks. To name a few, a massive size, uneven stretch across the frame and not so impressive resolving power.
Speaking to a representative from Letus, they told me the glass in the first version was almost a copy of the Panasonic LA7200. The LA7200 has been out of production since the late 2000’s, but is still loved by many DIY anamorphic enthusiasts. After the initial release of the Letus Anamorph-X, their optical designer came up and said “I can do better!”, pushing higher quality glass and redesigned lens elements, leading to improved image quality and addressing the issue of anamorphic mumps (the cause of stretched out faces in the center of the frame especially at close focus, which you can clearly see in my tests).
The Anamorph-X 1.33x PRO
For their second, or PRO, version Letus redesigned the entire lens, improving its size, mechanics and, most importantly, the optics. I had the chance to play with both the first and the second versions of the Anamorph-X. The difference between them is like night and day. It really shows when it comes to size, corner resolution and how wide you can go.
One thing many anamorphic shooters struggle to achieve is truly wide shots. Many adapters already show vignetting at 50mm on full frame sensors, with very few being usable at 35mm. The Panasonic LA7200 – Letus’ starting point for the Anamorph-X – was able to clear 28mm, which turned to 21mm horizontal field of view (hFOV). Pretty wide, right? As soon as I unpacked the Letus I noticed the gigantic front and rear elements. I needed to put them to the test. That’s how I learned that with the right lens you can go as wide as 21mm (15mm hFOV) on full frame. If you want to learn more about these calculations, check out this hFOV calculator I made.
When pushing this far into wide-angles and combining them with anamorphics you start to notice bent lines. This forms a special type of distortion that people go through great lengths to simulate. Once I realized the footage was looking much more expensive than what the gear actually costed, I decided to go beyond testing just the lenses. I decided to also test the audience. That’s how SCOPE was born.
This is SCOPE
For SCOPE I matched the Letus Anamorph-X with a modified Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 CINE. I inserted an oval cutout at the aperture of the Rokinon in order to make my anamorphic bokeh more pronounced. Most 1.33x adapters struggle in that sense, so I was giving it some incentive. Then I added the Blackmagic Video Assist 4K for external recording at higher bitrates. After that I went out and shot some footage emphasizing bokeh and distortion.
In post I used VideoCopilot’s Optical Flares plugin for After Effects. With that I created my own unique anamorphic flare to fit the fictional lens. Then I carefully applied it to the shots I wanted to highlight how incredible the flares were. Important to say the Anamorph-X’s natural flares are quite muted). The video went up on April 1st. It worked so well I got no negative feedback on the footage’s image quality. Lots of negative feedback on the fact that it was a prank, though.
Check out below a photo of the handheld setup I used. The whole setup goes on 15mm rails because the adapter is pretty heavy (900g). To make it easier it has a 1/4″ hole in the bottom that makes it super easy to mount to the rails and keep it aligned. The Anamorph-X has a small tolerance for racking focus just with the taking lens. For that reason I was constantly adjusting focus on both the adapter and the Rokinon to get sharp shots.
The downsides, but really?
The process of focusing both lenses to achieve sharpness is called double focus and it is one of the biggest challenges when it comes to anamorphics. This leads into my issues with this lens. Double focus is one of them, but it’s not as hard as other adapters I’ve played with. For me the real challenge was to switch focus direction. This adapter focuses Nikon style, while everything else out there focuses in the opposite direction. So while operating I had to focus one way for the taking lens and the opposite way for the Letus. Talk about crossed wires!
I already mentioned I wanted stronger flares, and Letus said they can deliver different levels of coating. If I was buying one of these for myself (and I’m seriously considering), I’d ask for a flarier lens. This is a personal preference though; there are lots of shooters out there that prefer a clean look over something straight out of Star Trek.
Being able to call up Letus and ask for a modification or give them feedback and suggestions to be incorporated in a future version of this lens is where I believe lies the utmost advantage of this adapter. Most anamorphic adapters have been kicking around for 40+ years. There are very few companies making them these days. If you don’t like something in the look coming out of an old lens, there’s nothing you can do about it. Except maybe choose a different lens that will give you a different look.
In this case you can send Letus your feedback and make the adapter better – just like they did from the first version to the PRO -, dialing in small changes instead of completely different looks. My biggest suggestions would be flipping focus to the proper direction and making the huge mattebox optional to make the prices more competitive.
The current version of the Anamorph-X is pretty awesome to begin with. I hope you can see from all the footage I shot with it. Plus the effort I put into making the reviews as well as writing this article. I’m still surprised with how little info and video others put out there about it. What did you think of the footage and its features?
Since I moved from Brazil to Vancouver in 2014 Vancouver International Film Festival is my most anticipated event every year. I always attend and watch all sorts of films. I work in film, so watching stories from places other than Hollywood, in languages other than English, on the theatres with lots of people is something I treasure immensely.
Two days ago I went to watch “Baikonur, Earth” with Ariana. It’s a film about a little town in Kazakhstan. That’s where Russia launches all of its satellites. It’s a visual documentary so I didn’t see much of a “story” to it. Ariana didn’t like the film and I enjoyed lots of it – I like pretty visuals. Andrea Sorini, the director of the film was among the audience, so there was a little Q&A. Things got really interesting when one of the questions was something like:
“I’m from there, Baikonur. I grew up in that place and I came here tonight to relive a little bit of it. I was hoping you’d make me cry, but… You didn’t. You chose a very cold approach to the place and its culture. Having lived there, I can tell it’s one of the few places in the world I feel we, humans, exist as a species, as a civilization. People are happy and they celebrate lots of things, but your film doesn’t show that. What you chose to show is actually very different from the place actually is”.
An academic debate did not follow. The director highlighted he was showing his perspective of the place. He reinforced that they had been there for only fifteen days to shoot the film. During that time they didn’t quite have time to check out other things than the ones they were specifically looking for.
After leaving the theatre, Ari and I argued for a long time about which side was right. In one corner, the filmmaker with a vision, trying to convey a feeling with images and sounds. In the other corner, the guy who lived there most of his life. I went down the path that any film, by choosing to show something, automatically chooses to NOT show something else. There is no film that covers all perspectives. Not even the news do that these days.
The next day we went to watch “Amateurs” (Amatörer).
“Amateurs” is a Swedish film about the small town of Lafors which is candidate to receive a big foreign investment. To make sure they’re going to be picked, they start to work on a film showcasing what makes Lafors special. They have no budget though, so they go to the local school and encourage the students to make films showing why their town is great and deserving of the big investment.
Obviously the student films don’t cut it as what the city council is expecting, so they bring in an experienced filmmaker to make the video. The movie is then intercut between the pro – and the city council – making the showcase of what they value in Lafors, and these two students that won’t give up on making their own film about the town.
This has to tie with the beginning of this post somehow, right? At the end of “Amateurs” we get to the same discussion we witnessed the previous day. One of the films looks great, everyone enjoys, is short and pretty, and it shows an idealized version of the city. The other one is five hours long, but it shows everyone’s perspectives. It succeeds, to some extent, but most of the audience gives up and leaves before the end.
The only person that stays in the theatre until the end besides the girls is a member of the city council. Their work touches him.
Throughout the film there are discussions about being foreign, discrimination, class differences, what is the truth, and how much of cinema is far removed from reality, as well as how boring and bland reality is. “Amateurs” also addresses the frequent question of “who are we trying to reach with this film?”, whenever we’re making something new. All of these themes are a big deal for me.
“Amateurs” made me cry hard at the end and it provided me food for thought for months to come – much of it because I had watched “Baikonur, Earth” the night before and engaged in a giant argument about it.
Films influence how I see the world. They offer me different perspectives and make me change how I make my own films. One day I’ll get one of mine up there and I can only hope to inspire others the way they inspire me.
I love that I have the chance to experience this every year thanks to VIFF