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Anamorphic

The Truth About Phone Anamorphic Lenses

July 24, 2019

If you’re anything like me, you have an eBay saved search with the keywords “anamorphic lens”. If you’re a little more like me, you check that every day. I do it in the morning, before getting to work. I had eBay ping me every time something new popped up, but those times are gone. I almost don’t buy lenses anymore but I still check the search. It’s my way to stay up to date on prices, what’s more common and what disappeared from the market.

In recent times, I noticed an increasing number of phone anamorphic lenses. Not just used ones in the wake of Moment’s Kickstarter delivery last year, but completely new brands, with prices ranging from $20 all the way to $150+.

This happened in a matter of months. What has changed?

An overview of Kickstarter campaigns and marketing

Anamorphics for phones first came to life in the end of 2013, also through a Kickstarter campaign, but by Moondog Labs back then. It got funded on time, sold a little over 450 units and reached $57k in funding for their $30k set goal.

Moondog Labs had a product aimed exclusively at iPhones, which needed to be updated every time Apple released a new iPhone model. Their product was so different that there weren’t even apps for desqueezing the image on your phone at that time.

The lens costed $125 on Kickstarter and has been priced at $175 after its release. I’d say it was a fad. Some people thought it was cool, “Tangerine” was an interesting movie shot with it in 2015, I made a review for it years too late. The need to buy a new lens every time you upgraded your phone was a big let down for me, plus it was incompatible with anything but iPhones.

The whole thing kind of faded into the background.

In 2017, BeastGrip tried their luck with the same market, also on Kickstarter. Same price point as Moondog Labs, but with 37mm rear threads and a weird case to hold it in place. The project was funded in little under ten days, sold roughly 350 units and raised $155k for an original goal of $80k. It sold less than Moondog Labs’ lens, but Beastgrip’s campaign focused on other products too which helped getting the whole lot funded.

Beastgrip’s PRO 1.33x anamorphic lens + phone cage

It also didn’t go very far and disappeared into the generic pool of phone lenses.

Last year Moment kicks their campaign online. They got funded in 40 minutes, reaching whooping $1.6M for a $50k goal and sold 9500 anamorphics on official pledges only (not considering add-ons). Their campaign also featured other items but its pinnacle was the anamorphic lens.

Moment’s anamorphic lens

The first thing we notice from watching the three campaign videos is how much phone cameras have improved in the last five years. The second thing to notice are the different approaches to the gear. Moondog Labs is straight to the point, technical, and fills their video with somewhat generic shots made with their lens. Beastgrip tries to be more exciting with some epic shots, but the video is more focused on their DOF adapter. They really want to turn your phone into a DSLR.

From Beastgrip’s Kickstarter campaign. I don’t want to attach my full size lenses to my phone. I got cameras for that stuff.

Moment did everything different. Their video, almost 25 minutes long, goes on a trip while they take the lens to several instagram and youtube influencers and film their (mindblown) reactions. They focus on how much fun they’re having while shooting and selling what comes to everyone’s mind when they think anamorphic (if you’re not sure, the keywords are “cinematic” and “flares”). The audience reach they got from the featured influencers is well above 4M viewers.

4M views is a large number but $1.5M in funding is the kind of number capable of motivating a market. That’s what happened. During Moment’s development and delivery, other companies realized there was money to be made from anamorphic lenses for phones. They also dropped prices much lower. So while you have Moment, MoondogLabs and Beastgrip priced to retail around $175, most of the generic versions on eBay range between $20 and $60, for they have no name to back a higher price tag. If you try Amazon the prices are more uniform, though, at $150.

Some examples from eBay. Have you ever heard of any of these brands?

Is this bad? Probably yes for Beastgrip and Moondog Labs, maybe for Moment too (although they just made huge bank) but for shooters, this is good. It creates variety, innovation and competitive prices as each company tries to get a larger share of the market.

Words of caution

For the beginners considering phone anamorphics as an entryway to shooting scope: these lack oval bokeh and many of the visual traits of real anamorphics. You’ll get flares and a wider aspect ratio, maybe some barrel distortion, but that’s about it.

A sample from Moment’s website/campaign. They picked super favorable lighting.

One thing fundamentally wrong with almost all of these lenses: their mounting system is garbage. Pretty much all of them have a different way of mounting to your phone (thanks to the endless variety of phones’ sizes and shapes). Beastgrip does the best job by making their lenses with 37mm threads. Moondog Labs also joined in this trend, although they offer different mounts as well. Standard threads give the lens more versatility, allowing you to connect it to regular photo lenses through the use of step rings, or to swap the phone behind it as long as you keep the 37mm threads in place. All other phone anamorphics are either dependent on special phone cases (such as Moment) or cumbersome attachments. There is an opening in the market for unifying these lens mounts – even camera makers could find some common ground and share lens mounts!

Another thing that worries me with this sudden flood of brands and products is quality control. Anamorphic glass is very finicky and doesn’t handle imperfections well. Bad quality control means poor quality glass getting to users and the loss in image quality is not negligible. If we see the impacts of sample variance with Kowas and Sankors that were never manufactured in stupidly high numbers, think of what would happen in a Helios 44 scale of manufacture. That is likely what is happening with all these new phone anamorphics.

I don’t believe there’s a difference in design. These basic 1.33x squeeze lenses follow the same formula as a Century Optics or Panasonic LA7200 adapter: two cylinders with fixed focus, failing hardcore at close focus and fast apertures. Your phone has no aperture mechanism, so that’s sorted out, only close focus still fails (and I’ve seen it happen with my Moment lens as well as the MoondogLabs back when I had it)

Panasonic LA7200 anamorphic adapter taken apart. Two cylindrical elements for 1.33x squeeze.

What should I choose?

To settle the matter of what’s the best option out there: when Moondog Labs’ lens came out, phones were not quite up to speed but they kept improving. Since everyone is using the same optical design the difference comes from the coatings. Coatings will determine light transmission, overall tone (warmer or colder), contrast, flare colors and fine resolution. I don’t trust the smaller brands with quality control, so the choice stays between the big three.

Moment, Beastgrip and Moondog Labs’ flares.

Moment’s flares take the color of the light source, Beastgrip’s are warm and green and Moondog Labs’ are purple and blue with some amber streaks. I’d go for Moondog Labs any day because of its consistency and its original goal: they didn’t want to be *lit*, or turn your phone into a DSLR. They made an honest product and kept working on it, hoping that the results would bring the audience (kind of what I do in this blog/channel). It takes a painfully long time for that strategy to work, and I hope it pans out soon.

Here’s a head-to-head comparison with footage to back up my theory!

Before you go: if you’re anything serious about shooting content on your phone you’ll need a few more things to get good-looking pictures. The first of them is the FiLMiC Pro app to desqueeze the image on the fly and give you manual control over your phone’s camera. Then throw on a variable ND for more control and a gimbal stabilizer. Your phone is crazy sensitive to movement and that translates into the footage. After all that you are ready to shoot some good phone footage using the anamorphic format!

TL;DR

Lots of options to choose from when picking an anamorphic lens for your phone. I’d steer clear of the cheap unknown brands. Try to score a used Moment or Moondog Labs (prefer the latter) on eBay (just follow the links) and gear up your phone before trying to shoot scope with it.

Anamorphic Day-to-Day

Trust.

July 21, 2019

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always had internet friends. Not some random person across town who I’d meet once in a while. My friends were people I had never met in real life. Interacting only through written form and trust.

When I moved to São Paulo in 2008 I had friends there before I boarded the plane. Now I’m gone, and so are they, living in Mexico. The same happened with Vancouver: some of the people I work with today were good acquaintances more than a year before I moved in.

I have intense trust issues in real life. Just like anyone else, I’ve been disappointed, tricked and felt helpless in the company of people I believed I could trust. So I changed. I don’t like to tackle challenges I couldn’t tackle by myself because if everyone else bails on me, I’ll still be able to get to the end of it.

This perception has always been different for me online. Maybe I just don’t feel as vulnerable as in real life, with anonymity walls and physical space between all involved parties. That’s where my friendships thrive. That got a huge boost because of the youtube channel. Suddenly people from all over were talking to me. With some of them I was able to strike meaningful and long conversations, going past the professional interaction.

That’s how I spent a month in Japan last year. That’s how I spent a month in Europe this year, went across five different countries and spent time meeting in person lots of folks I only knew through the internet.

It involved work, planning and going with the flow. As I come back home, I got a handful of white hairs from trying to figure out accommodations, juggling the money I had, understanding foreign languages, train schedules, bus schedules, plane schedules and, most importantly, people’s schedules.

With a tinge of pride, I say: all of this while being off Facebook. Ha! When I first thought of this trip I had imagined the social network would’ve been the hub for all planning and scheduling. Yet, I quit it in December and I held my ground, resorting to many other contact forms to reach people.

I come back home with a different mindset when it comes to trusting people and a very positive experience in Europe.

Keep being awesome, internet!

Anamorphic Specials

Atlas Lens Co. – Orion 40mm T/2 Anamorphic Review

May 12, 2019

Before I start the actual review, I must say that I’m a big fan of Atlas Lens Co.. Their Lenses are a huge step towards making anamorphics accessible, and accessibility is what my work is all about. I’m not saying they are CHEAP, but they certainly are cheapER than all other cine anamorphics – and that is fantastic.

OVERVIEW

I got the Orion 40mm back in December of 2018 when I went to Connecticut to spend the holidays with my girlfriend’s family. My flight came through New York and Nick Kova – who I met through the channel – offered to lend me his recently delivered Orion 40mm for the two weeks I was there. I am super thankful to Nick for trusting me with his lens – and so should you, otherwise this review wouldn’t exist.

I am unable to lie: I had a blast shooting with the Orion 40mm. This was actually my first time using a proper cine anamorphic lens and it changed many things on how I perceive anamorphic shooting. First of all, 40mm with 2x scope is incredibly wide. I am used to shoot with both eyes open – one eye in the viewfinder for focusing and the other eye on my surroundings for moving around. This was the first time I felt a lens was just as wide as my natural field of view.

One might think a wide angle is good for establishing shots but the close focus capabilities of this lens allowed me to make some of my most interesting close up shots, showing a fair amount of background along with my subject.

I shot all the footage using both the Sony A7s2 and Panasonic GH5, and while the GH5 has its own anamorphic mode, the Sony offered no support, making an external monitor key to framing. Due to gear incompatibility and form factor (I wanted to stay as small and light as possible) I ended up shooting everything handheld. Handheld as in camera + lens + (sometimes) monitor on the hot shoe mount.

This made for some really shaky shots every once in a while, a huge arm workout, wobbliness in some of the footage (see below), and the ability of stuff the camera in my backpack when I was not shooting. Not to mention every rack focus shot was a finger workout.

Even though the lens can go to T2, I found my sweet spot to be between T2.8 and T4 for best out-of-focus areas and decent sharpness that I could boost in post-production without hurting the footage. You can see this in more detail at the Sharpness &Resolution section.

If I had the money right now, I would not bat an eye investing in one of these. Even among the whole Orion lineup I feel the 40mm is the most versatile and interesting focal length. I shot for full two weeks with it and never felt I needed a longer or wider lens.

The price tag is still prohibitive if you are comparing this to adapters, but the reliability of it makes up for a big chunk of that cost difference. A cine lens will not let you down or have you struggling with clamps, focus, diopters and whatnot. That is where I am headed in terms of investing: getting out of the adapters game and moving into cinema anamorphics.

What are the downsides of the Orion 40mm then? Some people claim it is a really soft lens, but that was not my experience. Sure, at T2 things get a bit mushy, but no lens is super sharp wide open. I was doing great at T2.8 and I feel the lens loses its magic past T5.6 because the background starts to blend with your subject in terms of sharpness. Bokeh feels strange at times (more on that later) and flares are quite saturated. Those two aspects do not bother me, but they might be red flags for other shooters.

TECH SPECS

The first thing I noticed when I picked up the case with the lens is that this baby is HEAVY. It is a solid cup of metal filled with thick slabs of glass. At 2.2kg (5lbs), the Orion 40mm made both the Sony A7s2 and Panasonic GH5 feel like little toys.

Not only heavy, the lens is also pretty big: 18.9cm (7.4″) in length with a 114mm (4.5″) front, a standard value for cinema lenses, making it compatible with countless filters and matteboxes. The gigantic front made me work extra hard to find perfect lighting, unable to rely on a variable ND. I had packed the Fotodiox ND Throttle adapter, which has a built-in variable ND, which made things easier for shooting with the A7s2.

Orions’ data chart from Atlas Lens Co.’s website. 40mm highlighted for this review.

Speaking of adapters and lens mounts, the Orions come in PL mount by default, with an optional EF mount at extra cost ($XYZ). The one I used was already fitted with an EF mount. If you are swapping mounts you will end up using a handful of shims (provided by Atlas Lens Co.) to adjust your flange distance properly. I have heard from a few different sources (including a rental house) this is a time consuming challenge, especially because it is hard to spot critical focus when the lens is wide open and tell if you have the perfect distance between the lens mount and the camera sensor.

Still on the subject of weight and size, all my adapters sucked. There was a noticeable amount of play either between the lens and the adapters or between the adapter and the camera body because of how heavy the lens is. The adapters I was using for the Sony were the Fotodiox Pro Fusion ND Throttle and the Metabones Mk IV. The Panasonic had the Mitakon Zhongyi Lens Turbo V2 for focal reducing capabilities. I have been using these adapters for years without ever having this issue before.

A couple ways to solve this play would be to use adapters that have a foot for support and connect the foot to the rig’s rails or the camera cage. This addresses body/adapter play. The Metabones and Fotodiox had a foot, but I was shooting without a rig, silly me. The second part is to use cine-type adapters that have a twist lock onto the lens, like a cine camera does. These are on my list for future upgrades.

I only noticed the play was visible on the footage many weeks later when I edited this video and threw out too many shots due to the footage looking extra wobbly. This was not the Orion’s fault in any way: it was mostly my loose adapters, lack of a proper rig, IBIS going crazy with anamorphic and rolling shutter plus slow motion on the A7s2 – known Sony issues.

Focus goes from infinity down to 0.56m (2ft) at minimum focus, with 300 degrees of throw and markings in both feet and meters. Iris ranges between T2 and T16, featuring 14 aperture blades for smooth bokeh. As one would expect from a cine lens, both rings are geared for motors/follow focus. The lens does not change size while focusing since all the movement is internal, that also means the front does not rotate, which is great (#iscoramaFlaws).

There is a fair amount of focus breathing, widening your field of view by about 5% when focused at infinity compared to minimum focus. It is not a big deal on most shots, but if you have a big rack focus you will definitely feel it. 5% at 40mm 2x Anamorphic is a pretty big deal as you can see in the shot below.

Rack focus from infinity to minimum focus at T16, rescaled to keep objects’ sizes constant and show vignetting to demonstrate focus breathing.

PRICE AND AVAILABILITY

In terms of price, each Orion lens costs $7,999 – a $4,999 deposit with the remaining $3,000 to be paid before delivery. Talking to Dan Kanes and Forrest Schultz at NAB this year I learned that the average waiting time between putting down an order and receiving the lens is about six months in 2019.

There are two 3-lens sets of Orions and the 40mm is the wide-angle of the original set, or the A set, matched by 65mm and 100mm lenses. Buying a set is not cheaper than buying individual lenses ($23,995 for the set), split into a $7,995 deposit and 16,000 payment before delivery). The deposits are all refundable and you can easily upgrade from a single lens deposit to a full set deposit.

SHARPNESS & RESOLUTION

My space for shooting these charts was limited, so the focusing range is short. Still, many things can be seen from these samples. Taken with the Panasonic GH5, these images have a higher pixel count than the usual ones I use, from the A7s2, allowing for closer inspection on how the lens performs.

At T2 the Orion is quite soft but you can still tell critical focus and read small text even 3m away. There is lots of blooming on all highlights in the center, intensified by purple fringing on high contrast edges. The blooming and fringing dials down towards the edges, where we see the usual loss of sharpness and considerable light falloff – about a half stop. The text is still pretty readable though.

As we stop down to T2.8 – which is my favorite stop for this lens – the blooming goes away and the purple tinge is put under control. The image is not as sharp as T5.6 or 11, but calling this lens soft at this point seems like ignorance. The corners are still quite unsharp, not much improvement over T2, and just a bit darker – less than a quarter stop. The subtle light falloff and softness in the corners at this point contribute to creating mood in the shots, narrowing attention to the subject and not to over-detailed corners.

Speaking of detail, the lens is sharp from T5.6 onwards. Corners improve noticeably with just tiny smudges at the very edges and very little light falloff. Not much changes as you stop down from there, as we can see from T11. Sharpness still goes up a touch, making it sharp edge to edge and light distribution across the frame is the biggest difference at this point, with much more uniform values from center to corner. The one odd thing is, at minimum focus (0.6m) we start to see yellow/blue fringing on high contrast edges at the corners of the frame which were not there at faster stops and are not quite visible when the lens is placed further away.

You can download the full resolution images used to make these charts here to inspect them on your own if you want to find answers to specific questions I did not cover.

DISTORTION

With a horizontal field of view equivalent of a 20mm lens, it is expected that the Orion 40mm shows some warping on straight lines. Anamorphic distortion is a big deal and it greatly contributes to making shots more immersive, creating an extra layer of depth onto a two-dimensional image. Below is an animated grid going from rectilinear to the the Orion’s distortion profile. Notice how the vertical lines have very little movement compared to the horizontal ones.

FLARES & BOKEH

The Orion’s streak flares are a rich, saturated blue which, honestly, is a stone’s throw from SLR Magic’s flares. I like it because this blue is such a specific hue it can easily be picked in post-production and adjusted to my liking – including color changes to some extent. You can also see some teal elements reflected in there as well as a short vertical streak that adds more dimension to the overall anamorphic flare.

Panasonic GH5 4:3 Open Gate + LensTurbo V2 + Orion 40mm – T2, ISO 400, WB 3200K, 180° shutter

The blue gives good sci-fi vibes – since sci-fi and blue flares are in a tight knit connection since Alien (1979). We also see some rainbows when the light source is up close to the lens and, all in all, blooming is pretty controlled for having a light source pointed directly at the lens.

On such wide angle, the flare becomes smaller and smaller as I walk away from the camera, meaning that if you want bigger flares from far away you should work on getting some big and strong light sources (did anyone say M18?).

If you want to see more flare samples, PremiumBeat has a free pack of Orion 40mm flares that you can take a look.

Iris pull from T2 to T16 on the Panasonic GH5 + Lens Turbo V2. ISO 1600, WB 3200K, 180° shutter. Lens focused at 0.6m (2ft). Distance to subject: 3m (10ft)

When I was testing for bokeh looking at a Christmas tree, everything looked great. But I noticed it can have a strange shape at times – I like to call it snowman bokeh, although it looks more like a bell-shape – and you can see it in the video at the top of this post between 0:35 and 0:55. I do not know what causes it. In other scenarios, as bokeh approaches the edges of the frame it starts to get cut off into triangle and bean shapes.

From my empirical observations, this has to do with the placement of the highlights and the focused distance. On close-ups these strange shapes almost never show up, but as soon as I started to get further from my subject, bokeh would get messy.

All of this to say that you can get amazing bokeh with the Orion 40mm – but you can also end up with some less-than-perfect ovals. Speaking of ovals, I noticed the stretched bokeh is not quite oval. Here is a quick comparison between the lens’ actual bokeh versus what an oval would be. If anything, the Orion has even more streched out-of-focus highlights, contributing for extra waterfall effect and subject separation.

Left: Orion bokeh. Right: Computer generated perfect oval bokeh.

SENSOR COVERAGE

According to the data sheet on Atlas’ website – also shown at the beginning of this post – the Orions cover a 31mm image circle. What does that mean? In quick terms, it means you are fine shooting with any S35 sensor (24.89 x 18.6mm), ARRI Alexa, all the way up to the 4:3 3.4K Open Gate mode (23.76 x 17.82mm) and RED Gemini (30.72 x 18mm), 5K 6:5 Full Height (21.6 x 18mm), the best RED camera for anamorphic shooting.

In my situation, the GH5 was absolutely fine with the 4:3 Anamorphic Open Gate mode even with the focal reducer attached. The interesting bit was to realize I could shoot fine on the Sony A7s2 if I was outputting a 2.40:1 crop using the center of the frame.

Sony A7s2 shooting full frame 16:9 4K + Atlas Orion 40mm T2 2x Anamorphic with aspect ratio cropmarks

On the first day however, I did not bother testing the sensor coverage on the Sony and shot some slow-motion footage using the A7s2’s S35 crop mode. This yields full coverage from the Orion and delivers the wild 3.56:1 aspect ratio of 2x scopes and 16:9 sensors. I particularly like this width and believe one can make very interesting projects with it, although I admit it is not the friendliest of aspect ratios.

CONCLUSION

When I started writing this review, I had not gone through all the tests and the data. All I had were my notes and my thoughts about the experience of shooting with the Orion 40mm. After a few days of looking at clips, creating distortion maps, analyzing flares and bokeh, drawing diagrams and interpreting charts, I like this 40mm better than when I had only my thoughts.

I can now notice and point out hard evidence of features I love about this lens and also be on the watch for its limitations. I am pleased by its distortion and focal length – 40mm is unattainable with 2x adapters. It allows for very strong compositions. Bokeh could be cleaner when we look at the snowman and triangular shapes and, if I am to be very nitpicky, flares could be less vivid for a “straight out of camera delivery” type of situation.

It is unfair to compare a cine anamorphic lens to adapters but I will do it anyway! The amount of time and stress I saved by having a single piece of gear to connect to the camera and head out to shoot made a huge impact on the images I produced. You can look at my previous videos and the tests on this post to compare. I had time to get perfect exposure, I was able to plan a shoot for magic hour and actually get it, I shot some pretty spontaneous stuff too which would have been impossible had I spent ten minutes fiddling with an adapter rig.

I know I am not the only one that struggles with adapters, especially at the beginning of any shoot and this is where cinema gear makes a difference and justifies its price tag. Skip alignment checks, clamp quirks, diopters and skip triple testing that every piece of the optical chain is in focus (check infinity on taking lens, check infinity on anamorphic, check focus on variable strength diopter). All of these things are already built into the Orion – or any cine lens for that matter.

If one chooses to focus on the negative side of things without any base in reality, one could argue that the lens is too big and heavy when compared to, let’s say, an Iscorama 36 or a Kowa B&H, but once the adapter rig is fully built, single focus and bulletproof, it will be just shy of the Orion’s weight and size. In some cases the adapter rig will be bigger and heavier!

The price tag is steep compared to adapters and even being the absolute cheapest anamorphic lens in the cinema league $7,999 is no pocket change. The issue here is that it is accessible enough compared to Zeiss’ or Cooke’s anamorphics at $30k+, creating a feeling of “just out of reach” that upsets the prosumer market. I made up my mind and, if I have the chance, I will get one of these for myself. I want to put it on a proper rig and shoot content other than tests with it.

In all honesty I am done stressing with adapters for my career and this is a perfect segue into better gear to match my skills while not giving up the budget aspect I value so much.

If you made this far into the article, I would love to hear what you think of the tests and results as well as your opinion on the price of the Orion lenses and what they deliver! Leave a comment!

Anamorphic Day-to-Day

Enough!

December 26, 2018

Hi, my name is Tito Ferradans, and today I’m here to say I’m done.

I don’t mean to sound rude, but I am really done. I thank all of you who engaged with me in this journey of teaching and learning, it’s been a blast, but it’s time for me to move on.

If you don’t want to bother with the rest of this post but still want to ask me questions: fill the form and make a donation. I still have answers, but they aren’t for free. I already put enough knowledge out there for free.

I’ve been talking about anamorphics for a while. The channel is almost four years old, the Portuguese version of Anamorphic on a Budget is six years old and the English translation is five. When I started this there were no SLR Magic anamorphics, there were no single focus solutions, there was only the EOSHD forum and a lot of hunting for information. When I became an admin of the Anamorphic Shooters facebook group it had little over a thousand members.

Look at where we are now. Atlas lenses are out there for a fraction of the price of other cine anamorphics, most adapters tripled or even quadrupled in price on eBay, anything can be turned single focus, the facebook group has more than ten thousand people in it and my channel is about to reach ten thousand subscribers. I get dozens of messages asking about lenses every month and I reply to all of them. Lately I’ve been encouraging people to make financial contributions, but I never held back information in exchange for payment.

I’m a strong believer that education is key for building a better world and sharing knowledge definitely fits in that category. On the other hand – I mentioned this before – making a living out of this has always been a hell of a challenge. For the previous three years, I wasn’t allowed to work in Canada – permits and such – so I took this project as my way to make ends meet.

The situation changed in October of 2017 when I finally became a Permanent Resident. This allowed me to work full time without worrying about being kicked out of the country. I didn’t go to film school three times to work on anything other than film, so that’s what I did. That’s what I’ve been doing. One could say I’m familiar with a camera.

If you’re into film, this is no surprise: film eats away all of your time. You’re either coming up with your own projects or toiling away, 12+ hours a day, on someone else’s film. I think I mentioned this before, shooting tests for the channel got me feeling stuck in a loop. It was like I was filming the same thing over and over again. It got to a point where I know what to expect from a scope by just looking at it. There was no surprise, no excitement. No more “wow”.

On that feeling I managed to add a few more mods to the facebook group and organize the wrapping process for the channel, Patreon and so on. You’ll be seeing a lot less of me in the near future. I’m quitting facebook altogether and switching gears on my career plans. I’m gonna put to use everything I learned making these videos and focus on shooting anamorphic projects – but not so much on teaching all there is to know about these lenses.

There’s also a “tiredness” factor. It’s four years of answering the same questions. “How wide can you go?”, “Which lens should I buy?”, “What lens works with my setup?”, “What is a good price for this lens?”. And I answered them all. All the times they came up. For free. But not anymore. If you’re a part of the Anamorphic Shooters group, you might’ve noticed my answers have been a bit harsher. I’m tired of all the gear-obsessing, camera-buying, pixel-peeping and hand-holding-while-I-break-it-to-you.

I don’t think I’m in a place of contributing to the community as positively as I used to. I want to talk about complicated things that beginners won’t understand – and not always have the ultimate answer. I want friends from whom I can learn new tricks. Not one-message strangers but friends I talk about things other than gear. I’m tired of feeling like the dad of the anamorphic community.

I’m Tito Ferradans and I won’t be back next week. See you around, and thanks for hanging out. It was a blast. Let’s make something awesome. I’ll still be writing and making occasional videos (there’s a few left pending I’d love to finish), so I’m not 100% gone, but simply saying “I want to shoot anamorphic on a budget” doesn’t summon me anymore. Thank you.

Anamorphic

Rectilux HCDNA Disassembly

November 7, 2018

It’s time to tear a Rectilux HCDNA apart for a mod project. It’s a useful tutorial for regreasing and general servicing.

USEFUL LINKS:

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.

You can support this project on Patreon. Make your contribution and help the Anamorphic Cookbook!

Tito Ferradans here for an oddly technical video on how to take things apart: let’s rip open a Rectilux HCDNA. The wisdom for this process was originally imparted on me by Ian Edward Weir – you should definitely check out his content – and you can find a link to his website as well as the written version of this tutorial in the description below.

Why am I taking a HCDNA apart? My fellow Vancouverite Victor Prokopowicz was having some trouble getting the HCDNA close to the front of his Kowa 1.75x. He wanted to mill the back of the HCDNA a bit wider, but wasn’t insane to try to do it with the glass still on. He was also not comfortable taking it apart by himself, so we made a deal I could make some episodes with his gear if I helped him out. Here I am.

Taking your HCDNA apart is also good to fix stuck-focus issues, regreasing, taking off excessive grease and cleaning in between the glass too. This was a much more challenging process than I expected, but everything and everyone made out alright. And you’ll be able to see the video about that Kowa soon, so hit subscribe now and be done with it.

Let’s go.

As an easy warm up step, let’s get all the clamping screws out. This will set up the mood for everything to come, and it’s an easy enough step that no one can mess up.

Now, with gloves and lens wrench, I’ll remove the locking ring for the rear glass. After that, carefully drop it onto your hands and place it in a safe area. Move to the front and remove the locking ring. These steps make me extra nervous because I can’t have the lens wrench slip and hit the glass. After removing the ring, turn the lens so the glass goes safely on your hand. Put it aside too.

Now, remove the three small screws around the focus ring and now it kind of spins freely, so I went to minimum focus and then pulled off the focus ring. Naked helicoid now. Lots of grease.

The next step is to take out the screws that lock the cam sheaves. There’s three of them. Move on to the drag ring that sits at the bottom of the main body. After that is removed, only the sheaves hold the focus mechanism to the main body of the Rectilux.

This is me just being stupid and trying to take out the sheaves from the wrong side. They’re held by pressure and you just need to push them from inside so they pop out. I tried to wedge them out and wasted a ton of time in that process. As soon as they get a little loose, the ring with the RECTILUX engravings comes out.

After that I realized my mistake and just used tweezers to push them out from inside and then pull the rest from outside. Tiny things for big fingers. That releases the helicoid, and you can say you’re done with the first part of the process.

We’re gonna mill out the area with the 75mm male threads.

And this is what we got. A few milimeters wider and good enough for the Kowa. So let’s begin reassembling.

We got the grease John Barlow recommended, Mobil-28, which is an aircraft grease. I used q-tips to spread it good amounts of it as evenly as I could over the helicoid. Also, I’m doing this without gloves and it really sucked. The best way to clean out the grease is lighter fluid and that messes up your skin. Don’t be like me.

After you have a good layer on the helicoid and the base piece, slide the helicoid in place and lock it using the big ring that goes on the base – add some grease to the bottom of this ring too. From my understanding, this ring controls the drag of the lens, if you want focus to be stiffer, tighten here more. If you want it to be more loose, don’t push this too far, but always keep it below the lip of the main body.

Check for grease spill and clean it. We are stuffing this baby with grease and there’s red stuff going everywhere.

Rotate the helicoid so the bottom of the cam curve aligns with the slots in the main body. Now slide in the piece with the Rectilux name (the name should be aligned with the white marking in the main body) and align the holes in it with the guides inside the main body as well. The cam sheaves have to go through all these pieces to lock everything in place. Once you put everything in place, push in the little pins, one at a time.

Make sure everything is flush and then put back the screws inside the cam sheaves. Do not overtighten, go just enough so they don’t protrute from the surface of the helicoid.

Slab some more grease on the outside of the helicoid and then slide over the focus ring. Align with infinity and insert the three tiny screws. Make sure they don’t go too deep, just enough to lock into place. John recommends using threadlock on these little guys and the drag ring inside. I did not do that. I’m traumatized from stripping screws.

Anyway, after you fit the focus ring and lock it, give it a whirl to make sure everything moves accordingly. Go to the minimum focus mark and let’s put back the rear glass.

Of course I got some grease onto the glass, so I had to do some passes of lighter fluid to get it clean. Dust off, and done with this. Move to the front glass and repeat the process. It would be really smart if I just switched gloves, but I ran out of gloves in the middle of the process, so I resorted to cleaning the glass repeatedly to get rid of the grease.

Once the glass is locked in place, do some repeated full focus turns to spread out the grease better. Some of it is gonna come out on the ring with Rectilux written on it, so you might wanna clean that off.

As I said, I got grase everywhere, so I spent a good amount of extra time wiping this entire thing with lighter fluid and making it clean. Our last step is the reverse of our first, putting back in place the clamp screws.

That concludes the process of putting it back together, now with a wider back that can fit bigger lenses. If you’re following these steps, please be super careful with everything, wear gloves, use proper tools, and I highly recommend filming everything so you can easily backtrack what goes where.

Like the video if you enjoy hardcore lensporn and if you have any comments, please leave them below! I urge you to subscribe before you go, as I’m always trying to grow this channel and make sure beginners have a reliable place to look for knowledge. Thank you for watching, and I’ll see you soon. Tito Ferradans out.

Anamorphic

SATEC Dyaliscope Champion

October 28, 2018

Following up on French scopes, this one was sent in by Justin Bacle and it’s a tricky one!

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Hey guys and girls, how’s it going? Tito Ferradans here for a review of yet another French lens! This one sent in by the French Justin Bacle! It’s a long projection lens, so you know what to expect. Let’s go.

This was a challenging shoot. The setup was pretty heavy, regardless of how light the Sony is, because the Dyaliscope is heavy. Focus was also stiff, so I did some modding to a Rectilux HCDNA in order to get single focus. When I had this setup mounted onto the 135mm taking lens, a passerby could claim I was shooting closeups through a telescope – and not in a good way. Overall the image looks “diffuse” to me and the highlights really bloom even when stopped down. It’s not a bad bloom entirely, but it’s a boom nonetheless. Bokeh gets quite smeary when wide open, giving a dreamy look that could be useful depending on the project.

The Dyaliscope Champion is a 2x stretch, double focus, large and heavy projection lens. Not the largest nor heaviest of the French batch, but still bad. The lens weighs 620g and – at least – features 60mm threads on the back, which allow you to use step rings or a clamp to mount it and align. At this load, I’d recommend using rails when shooting with this setup.

The front is large, so large that your only option for clamps is making your own, through 3d printing. It’s in fact so large that a regular HCDNA won’t fit over it. The one I used for these tests was provided by Victor Prokopowitz, as we worked on getting it to fit a Kowa 1.75x. More on that in upcoming videos. So, unless you’re willing to mill out pieces of your HCDNA, your only option is diopters.

The price range for these on eBay is wild. I’ve seen them for a low as $150 all the way up to $400. If it’s a full, ready to shoot, rig, that’s not too bad of a price. But just this lens for $400 is far fetched.

The Dyaliscope shows consistent performance through the entire range of lenses I tested. It displays similar results on similar apertures regardless of focal length. That’s a positive thing. And the edges aren’t as bad as most scopes.

The flares are one of the highlights (heh, did you get it? flare, highlights?) anyway, one of the highlights of this lens, with shiny yellow colors and a good variety with elements. It reminds me of the Aivascope.

Vignetting on this one is worse than the Hypergonar I showed last week. This one shows intense dark edges at 50mm on S35 crop, which is concerning, and only clears at 85mm, which means the threshold for getting 2.4:1 clear on full frame with this lens is above 100mm. The frame is clear of any vignetting at 135mm on S35, which is just over 200mm on full frame.

Just like last week, this lens fuels my disliking for projection lenses. They’re a necessary evil in a market that gives us very few new offerings. This forces new shooters to hash through lots of repurposed things, many of them far from ideal. Some work out, others don’t. If you really have to make this lens work, you can, but it’s not something I’d recommend. The rig becomes impractical and the results are just ok.

Phew, I’ve been really going at it for projection lenses these days, huh? I shot most of these test videos in a row, so after struggling so much with projection lenses and heavy rigs, I was pretty upset at shooting anamorphic. Honestly, it’s not worth it if you hate the process. On that note, next week things are better, so subscribe to hear more about the Moller 32/2x and make sure to hit the like button before you go. If you have any questions or disagree with my harsh remarks about projection lenses, please leave a comment below and we shall talk about it. Tito Ferradans out.

Anamorphic

Why is no one talking about the Letus Anamorph-X?

October 24, 2018

I’ve been into shooting anamorphic on a budget for almost ten years now.

PAUSE.

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.

PLAY

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 surprise because there’s so little praise (or information at all) out there for the Letus Anamorph-X 1.33x PRO.

Letus Anamorph-X 1.33x PRO mounted to a Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 CINE and Sony A7s II

Letus is an American company which started out making SLR lens adapters for DV cameras and 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: a massive size, uneven stretch across the frame and not so impressive resolving power.

Letus Anamorph-X 1.33x, first version

Speaking to a representative from Letus, they said that the glass in the first version was almost a copy from another famous 1.33x adapter: the Panasonic LA7200, which was out of production since the late 2000’s, but 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 and the difference between them is like night and day especially when it comes to size, corner resolution and how wide you can go.

Review of the Letus Anamorph-X 1.33x PRO

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 and noticed the gigantic front and rear elements, I wanted to put them to the test. That’s how I learned that with the right base 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 and a special type of distortion that people go through great lengths to simulate. Once I realized the footage was looking much more expensive than the gear I had actually used to shoot, I decided to go beyond testing just the lenses and test also the audience. That’s how SCOPE was born.

This is SCOPE

For SCOPE I matched the Anamorph-X with a modified Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 CINE. The mod consisted of inserting an oval cutout at the aperture mechanism, 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 and shot some footage emphasizing bokeh and distortion.

THIS IS SCOPE – I’ve always dreamed of making my own anamorphic lens.

In post I used VideoCopilot’s Optical Flares plugin for After Effects and 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 (the Anamorph-X’s natural flares are quite muted). The video went up on April 1st and I got no negative feedback on the image quality of my test footage. Lots of negative feedback on the fact that it was a prank, though.

Below is a photo of the handheld setup I used. The whole setup goes on 15mm rails because the adapter is pretty heavy (900g), but 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, so I was constantly (literally all the time) adjusting focus on both the adapter and the Rokinon in order to get sharp shots.

The Letus Anamorph-X attaches to the taking lens through a built-in 114mm clamp. They also offer 77mm and 82mm adapter rings for lenses with smaller fronts.

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, as this adapter focuses Nikon style, while everything else out there focuses in the opposite direction. So while operating the Rokinon 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 that looks straight out of Star Trek.

The fact that I can call up Letus and ask for a modification or give them feedback and suggestions that could 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, which means that if you don’t like something in the look coming out of an old lens, there’s nothing you can do about it except choose a different lens that will look completely different.

In this case you can send Letus your feedback and make the adapter better – just like they did internally from the first version to the PRO -, dialing in small changes instead of completely different looks. For example, my biggest suggestion would be flipping focus to the proper direction, and making that huge mattebox optional to make the prices more competitive.

The current version of the Anamorph-X is pretty awesome to begin with – as you can see from all the footage I shot with it and 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?