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January 2016

Anamorphic

Anamorphic Cookbook – Variable-Strength Diopters.

January 16, 2016

I think we can all agree 2015 was the year of the variable-strength diopters or, as they’re popularly known, single focus solutions. Yes, I am talking about the Focus Module (FM Lens), Rectilux and Rangefinder. The FM had a good headstart, released to the public in late 2014, while the Rectilux and the Rangefinder started shipping almost at the same time, mid 2015. As much as you’d like, this is not the time I’ll throw them against each other. This comparison is coming soon and for now this is an in-depth explanation of how they work and why it took so long for them to show up. This is probably the nerdiest and most technical post I’ve written so far, so hold on to your optics knowledge and don’t hesitate to ask questions!

It all starts with the Iscoramas, back in the late 1960s. The Iscoramas were the first anamorphic adapters that could go on any taking lens and not have you worrying about dual focusing: focusing both lenses (taking lens and anamorphic) at the same distance. You set your taking lens to infinity and use the Iscorama’s focus ring, that was so basic they were sold attached to infinity-fixed-focus 50mm lenses. Isco Optics had developed their own way of achieving this result and patented its optical design – unknowingly set the prices through the roof forty years later. There are a few patents to be found on Google such as these three, two for the US, one for Europe (patent one, patent two, patent three), all filed by Isco or Schneider GmbH (the evolution of Isco Optics). The patent prevents other companies from making any lenses that work the same way, which ended up leading the Russians towards their synchronized focus rings for taking lens and anamorphics and depriving the world of any other single focus anamorphic adapters.

For the longest time everyone thought this was an insurmountable barrier since nobobdy was allowed to make a single focus adapter based on the same principles. Oh, yeah, and what are these principles? Let’s consider a three-part optical chain consisting of A + B + C, A being the focus group, B is the anamorphic group and C is the taking lens group, and A-B-C is the path light follows from the outside world to the sensor. For starters, we know the third group, the taking lens (C) has to be set to infinity. Then, we have the anamorphic block in the middle, (B), which is also set to infinity, and a third optical part, the focus group (A), that consists of… yeah, you got it right, a variable-strength diopter. We all know what diopters are and what they do by now, so the concept of a variable-strength diopter is simple: it’s a combination of optical elements that acts as a diopter by changing the maximum focus distance – infinity – to something else. While regular diopters have their power set in stone (or glass, haha), variable-strength ones range from +0, at infinity, to +1 (Rangefinder) or +2 (Rectilux), dragging infinity down to one meter or half a meter!

So why do the other components of the system have to be focused at infinity? For one, it’s well known that anamorphic adapters perform best at infinity, with sharper focus and their nominal squeeze factor, second, if you’d set the variable diopter at the +0, or infinity position (the same thing as not having it on the optical chain), the other lenses are expected to see an image at infinity, and the variable-strength diopter will bring “infinity” closer as you change its strength. Plus, this allows you to have distance marks on your single focus solution like the Rangefinder does, that relate directly to the diopter strength that is being used, converted into its maximum focus distance. Before I proceed, I thank John Barlow for this explanation, more than a year ago. I haven’t found an easier one to understand out there yet.

Now we know how the variable-strength diopter affects the entire system, but what took them so long to get here? My guess would be that everyone kept thinking about making a full single focus anamorphic adapter, and then hitting the patent wall. The moment they disconnected both parts – anamorphic block and variable diopter – the solution was found, since there were no patents preventing anyone to make variable-strength diopters. The requirements were hard though, since the glass had to be big enough to fit in front of most anamorphic adapters without (too much) vignetting and image quality couldn’t afford any hits – which is a serious issue with any other “photographic” variable-strength diopter you can find on eBay, as Jim Chang shows in his post at Rapido Technology’s blog – since anamorphics usually mess up your image quality enough. This technical demand is the cause for the high prices – plus R&D expenses!

Revealing the trick: an Iscorama is basically a high quality anamorphic block set to infinity fused with variable-strength diopter that ranges from +0 to +0.5 (which limits minimum focus at 2m!). Good thing for us we now have plenty of high quality anamorphic glass available – Isco Cinelux and Blue Stars, Kowa B&H, Hypergonars and so forth -, both modern and vintage, to suit every kind of look. Whereas the Iscorama is more like a mac computer (sleek design, light and powerful but you don’t have much control over what goes on in the inside), the alternative to them would be PCs, cheaper, bigger, but they allow you to control every aspect of what goes under the hood. You can pick your taking lens, your anamorphic and even choose from a few options of variable-strength diopters. Later, if you wanna tweak it, each of these elements can be replaced and upgraded at your will.

Anamorphic

Anamorphic Cookbook – Intro.

January 15, 2016

This is my second take on a Guide for people interested in anamorphic lenses. My first compilation, the Anamorphic on a Budget guide, was also my graduation work at University of São Paulo (Brazil). It explains most of the basics about the lenses and a little bit of their history, but there’s a lot of it dedicated to my final project, Zona SSP. This time I don’t have a project in mind. The Anamorphic Cookbook is the result of almost five years of experiments with various lenses, systems and cameras. I’m trying to bring everything I learned during this time into understandable (even though very technical at times) writing for all of those who are entering the anamorphic world or already experienced shooters who want to learn a thing or two about lenses other than the ones they’re used to. MOST of it isn’t science, but as close to it as I could get through repetition, discussion, analysis and comparison. All of what I write is true for me and if you get different results please don’t hesitate and shoot me a message or, even better, leave a comment, so the whole discussion can be public.

What should you expect to find in this book? Actually, before that and even more important, what are you NOT gonna find in this book? For starters, I won’t tell you what lens to buy, or what’s the best lens for beginners simply because there is no objective answer to these questions. I’ll analyze dozens of lenses, give you charts and comparisons tell you which style of shooting works best with this and that lens and it’s up to you to decide which one you feel more confident with. All adapters have their drawbacks, some will bother you more than others.

Another thing I’m doing is dedicating a lot more space to talk about taking lenses and their effect on the resulting image. Why do we keep hearing vintage optics work “better” than modern glass, the effects of multicoating, zooms versus primes, why does everyone love the Helios 44, and other questions like these. The order of the chapters might look a bit odd at first but I’m doing it the way I believe people should learn these subjects. For example it’s essential to understand diopters before we get to talk about any anamorphic adapters. Diopters are, by far, the most underrated subject when it comes to anamorphic filmmaking and these tiny pieces of glass can boost the character of your production tremendously by directly affecting bokeh and stretch factor, but nobody ever seems to really care about them. It’s always “do I need diopters with that?”

Since Anamorphic on a Budget was published there was an increase in the number of cameras featuring anamorphic modes and such, like the GH4, Ursa Mini, Alexa 4:3, and the never forgotten and super convoluted workflow of shooting raw on Canon cameras. Plus, everyone’s eyes are always shining and asking manufacturers “Will this firmware update offer an anamorphic mode?” even though I get the feeling that most users don’t grasp the advantages of such modes versus simply cropping the sides of a 16:9 frame. This time I’ll do my best to try these cameras personally and explain why these or those settings are a way to improve (or simplify) your workflow.

As any film school will teach you, you first got to learn the rules and know them by heart before you start breaking them. Anamorfaking is possible, but if you don’t understand how the real thing works, there’s a great chance your fake will yell “FAKE!” and bring your production value down instead of up. In this section I’ll talk about flares, filters, mods and post processing, all of them cheaper than the real thing, which is what makes them interesting.

There are also a few odd uses and unique products to be included, such as the Letus AnamorphX-GP for the GoPro Hero 3 (and 3+), Moondog Labs’ lens for iPhone, using baby anamorphics with phones, hacking and slashing bulky lenses to make them friendly, a detailed explanation about Variable Strength Diopters, yadda yadda. Lots of bits and pieces that I tried to connect together and eventually jammed into what might seem a random spot.

The anamorphic community is small and spread across the globe. If we weren’t so united this guide would not have been possible. Having a few safe havens is key. The EOSHD forum and the facebook group Anamorphic Shooters are my go-to places whenever I have questions or want to share any discoveries. There is still a lot to go, but I’d like to thank a few individuals in advance – this list will probably increase with the following chapters. Rob Bannister, Richard Gale, Cosimo Murgolo, Jim Chang, Andrew Chan, Alan Besedin, Matt Leaf and John Barlow helped me a great deal with several aspects of my research and deserve the recognition. Thank you very much for all the enriching discussions and explanations, guys.

This guide is still at its earliest stages and I have plenty of writing ahead. If you wanna stay updated about the Anamorphic Cookbook, subscribe to my youtube channel for all kinds of video, follow me on Instagram, send your name and email to news@anamorphiccookbook.com and I’ll let you know when new content is available! Also, you can just visit this blog every once in a while.

Day-to-Day

Sap.

January 12, 2016

I moved. Moved to a new home, a home without so many memories attached to it, without all the good and the bad, the best and the worse, a clean slate, a fresh start and all those clichés. I wanted to write this on my last night at the apartment as I took down the biggest and most unavoidable physical evidence of memory – the tree with photographs on the wall – but the earthquake startled me too much and I lost my train of thought.

I always had unacceptably high expectations towards that apartment. First of all because it wasn’t supposed to be just my apartment, but a welcoming environment to build a new life, a life we started drafting back home in Brazil, a life filled with dreams and plans, fun and enjoyable times. I won’t go again through what happened because there are already plenty of posts on the subject. When May moved out, there were still plenty of traces and evidence of “Tito and May”, some of it I was aware of, some of it was too ingrained in me to the point I only realized its importance and meaning when facing the unavoidable need to either tear it down, break it apart or pack it into a carboard box.

I get attached to things. Inanimate things that are not really valuable in terms of price but filled with important moments. I usually have them near me, in a notebook or a box. They allow me to recreate and relive these special times. It’s like an unwritten journal made of bits and pieces. A movie stub, a time stamped bus ticket, a post-it note, drawings and scribbles. Almost all of them are made of paper and among these, most have some sort of time record – day, hour, month – which are useful when combining some (or many) together in a string of events and recollecting the gaps between the tracks. I also get attached to plants since I feel they’re the closest things to pets I’ve had in the past years. It’s my duty to not let them die. If I don’t care about them, who will? I like to feel responsible for their well-being. Sometimes I fail and they die, sometimes I’m able to bring them back. I feel genuinely sad when one of my plants die, even when that is natural (like basil).

There was that tree on the wall. Both a plant and a time-stamped record. I had already taken down the photos a few weeks back, but the tree remained. I didn’t want to kill it, I didn’t think it was my right to kill it, but still, it was my last night there and it had to be taken down, with nobody else to do it. For most of my time living in that apartment I wanted to make something with that tree. An animation of some sort, I don’t know. I never got around to do it. Taking it from the wall was my closest chance of doing so, and that’s how I did. Slowly, revisiting each fruit that no longer hanged from the branches. Taking off each leaf at a time, handling each bird with care, leaving the main branches and trunk for last. Then, branches, as if the tree was growing, but in reverse, until there was only the roots and the base of the trunk, with a tiny leaf on top.

This was my way of not killing all the good we had together, but starting a new stage of our lives. Different from what it was, but that still requires caring and watering. I think this will be the last post on this subject. It was supposed to be before New Year, but since it’s on my New Year streak, it counts as 2015.

Day-to-Day

Recovery.

January 11, 2016

The past two weeks felt more like two days. The whole process of moving is way more exhausting than the idea behind it. You think “pack, transport, unpack”. Yeah, right. It took me ages to identify where each box should go, or what to do with the objects inside – not to mention the ones with mixed contents: spices from the kitchen, cleaning products, some photographic gear, cables and wires, one or two books and my shampoo. Then, after unpacking there’s cleaning up – we took an entire week just to get rid of all the empty boxes and ended up dragging them in a very unsafe way across two or three major avenues to dump them at a supermarket – doing laundry, dishes, “what are we gonna do with all this bubble wrap??” and so forth. As I sort of mentioned in the previous post I decided to start 2016 fresh, so I hunted for a new phone, updated my notebook, fixed up a new desktop, disassembled a few other minor electronics and put them back together in working conditions – watch, flashlight, bike lights – and I think I finally finished it all.

In the meanwhile, my classes started, and I’m enjoying them. Being back in school actually feels very good. Gives me a sense of purpose, hard deadlines and makes me use my brain more, in less usual ways. Writing is something I like and it feels great to have the chance to go deeper into it – which also involves a lot of reading and practice. Posts should increase and diversify, but that’s not a promise! Hahaha!

Back to the new house, we spent a good amount of time mapping nearby places – post office, grocery stores (various options within a 5 minute walk!), hardware stores, thrift shops, downtown Burnaby, drugstores. The closest thing to home is a liquor store, literally across the street from us. Then, Real Canadian Superstore, which is a very cheap and huge supermarket. The first time we went there – Nicko, Vinicius and I – we spent two hours walking around before settling on what we needed to buy and, even then, we forgot some food. We just didn’t notice the time flying and we weren’t having that much fun! Just kidding, it was pretty funny and we got to see incredibly large packages of food – one of Vinicius’ favorite hobbies while grocery shopping here. I also found some exotic fruit which I haven’t seen yet (guavas and carambolas – starfruit?!) and got mangoes and pineapples for a fraction of the regular price downtown. Life on the outskirts has its perks.

So far I’ve been biking to school, which is a 10km ride, with plenty of uphills,that takes me around 30 minutes. It’s faster than taking the bus. The best part is coming back home which is mostly flat or downhill. The weather has been sunny lately but we’re supposed to get some rain this week. Let’s see how complex the ride gets.

This weekend was kind of a big celebration. Nati’s birthday was last Thursday and Ariana’s is today, so we mashed up birthday and housewarming parties on Friday. On Saturday we went to Metrotown for the sake of exploring – I had been there on Friday, facing what was probably my meanest uphill ever, on Rupert Street. Downtown Burnaby is so close to us it’s almost scary (“am I no longer a resident of Vancouver?”).

Everybody went to bed early because we rented a car for the weekend intending to go Whistler, the ski-paradise where everything is excessively expensive and there’s snow all year round. Four brazilians in a winter paradise. No need to say we were freezing to death. I was stupid enough to think I would be able to photograph anything and packed a ton of gear which was rendered useless by trying to stay warm and tubing. (portuguese explanation for tubing: sabe esquibunda? Só que na neve, usando uma bóia daquelas de câmara de pneu de caminhão. É uma idéia estúpida de tão simples). On my first ride I thought I’d die. I was absolutely sure I would flip, break my neck, wreck the gear on my back, be thrown out of the mountain, all that at the same time, while going down a frozen hill at stupid speed. When I got to the bottom – which takes less than 30 seconds), I realized it’s (nearly) impossible to die, so I ran up to the line again. I’m pretty sure we all got sunburned from all the snow.

Oh, yeah, and when we got there we saw a triple-bending rainbow. Even though I had six lenses on me, none of them were wide enough to capture the full picture. Nati got this with her phone and I’m referencing it here too. Down below are two of mine, with very little post-processing. We were in the middle of a cloud, and I still haven’t figured out the bent rainbow.

Triple rainbow #vancity #vancitybuzz #vancouver #explorebc #canada #nofilter

A photo posted by Natália Peixoto (@reinodanat) on


Snow and ice do an amazing job of twisting the light in – what are for me – weird and unexpected ways. My only real previous experience had been on top of Grouse mountain – a few weeks back. The weather was completely different yesterday, very enjoyable to observe. I think I might even be a little snow blind. Cool cool cool, at least it’s not a cold, but my eyes hurt.