Monthly Archives:

February 2016

Anamorphic

Anamorphic on a Budget – Isco Wide-Screen 2000 MC

February 28, 2016

One of the few adapters left in the Isco anamorphic family, the Isco Wide-Screen 2000 is a very compact, light and reliable lens.

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!

OVERVIEW
Well, hello there friends and family, Tito Ferradans tuning in! Anamorphic on a Budget keeps going on 2016, starting off with this Isco Wide-Screen 2000. It’s one of the few members of the Isco anamorphic family not yet reviewed. Following its predecessors’ pattern, the Wide-Screen 2000 doesn’t let down in terms of performance. With a desirable stretch factor of 1.5x and an even more desirable compact, lightweight (225g) and solid build, this is probably the best fixed focus (focus through) anamorphic adapter out there. Focus is fixed from 4m to infinity. Getting close focus shots without diopters is gonna seriously cripple image quality. All focus adjustments are done using the taking lens’ focus ring, exactly like the Century Optics.

I’ve had three copies of this lens. The first one came with its original clamp, the other two didn’t, so you should start looking for clamps. Designed as a projection lens, the Isco Wide-Screen 2000 doesn’t have any filter threads (neither front nor rear). In my case I used the Redstan clamps I had for the Kowa, which are considerably larger than the Isco, but they worked. Alignment is done by loosening the screws and rotating the lens until flares are horizontal.

JURY RIGGING!
Since the Isco 2000 doesn’t have any kind of filter threads, here’s a cheap and dirty way of embedding it with 72mm filter threads. Get some electrical tape, a 62-72mm step up ring and get to work. The step ring is almost the perfect size for the front of the lens, so just make it tighter with a couple layers of tape and then use some more tape to secure it in place for good. No clamp will ever be this cheap!

PRICE and AVAILABILITY
These were quite popular on eBay a while back, but seem to have vanished with the arrival of variable strength diopters, availability is really random for these lenses. Price ranges from $450 to $900 and every once in a while a good deal pops up.

RESOLUTION
In terms of resolution, this guy kicks the Century’s ass, specially around edges. It’s sharp even at large apertures, but definitely needs diopters to achieve top image quality in a production environment.


Mir 1B CENTER

Mir 1B CORNERS


Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 CENTER

Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 CORNERS


Helios 44-2 CENTER

Helios 44-2 CORNERS


Jupiter 9 CENTER

Jupiter 9 CORNERS


Tair 11 CENTER

Tair 11 CORNERS

DOWNLOAD FULL RESOLUTION SAMPLES HERE

FLARES
The lens label reads MC (Multi Coated), so don’t expect strong flares out of this one. It’s actually one of the most muted flares I’ve seen so far, even less than the Iscorama 42. If you’re into anamorphics but despise flares, here’s your pick.


Canon EF 40mm f/2.8

SENSOR COVERAGE
On regular shooting conditions, I’d say you’re free from vignetting from 50mm and up, like any other Isco. There is one exception I’m still investigating: Canon’s 40mm f/2.8 pancake lens. It doesn’t vignette at all and it even reinforces the anamorphic distortion across the frame. The reason I say this is an exception is because just 3mm shorter, with the Mir 1B already introduces heavy vignetting. Also, the aspect ratio here is 2.66:1 instead of 2.4:1 Cinemascope.


Contax Zeiss 50mm f/1.4


Canon EF 40mm f/2.8


Mir 1B

WORLD TEST
The biggest issue with this lens was finding the correct diopter for each shot. As you can see, it wasn’t such a challenge. Allowing for a good variety from wide shots to long telephoto, the Isco Wide-Screen 2000 is a great lens for any kind of anamorphic user. Image quality is above the average for its size and price range and the muted flares could be a down side for J.J. Abrams fans. Image quality around edges is also above average for a focus through adapter and, hell, it’s an Isco lens. Low light wasn’t an issue either, with great out of focus highlights and sharp focus at larger apertures. I think it can be an amazing lens to pair with a single focus solution and forget about diopters altogether. If you wanna see more good looking footage shot with this lens, head on to VintageLensesForVideo and check Alan’s review!

A few notes before I go: if you haven’t yet (seriously?) read my pitch for the Anamorphic Cookbook, click on this link to get a glimpse of what I’m proposing and sign up to help! Also, head on to the blog for much more anamorphic material – including the Anamorphic Calculator! – and don’t forget to subscribe to the channel for the upcoming videos. See you then!



Anamorphic

Anamorphic on a Budget – SLR Magic Ep 05 – Variable ND

February 14, 2016

Fifth and last – for now – episode of the SLR Magic series. This one is about their new Variable ND filter. It’s a great piece of gear, not only for anamorphic users but anyone looking for control over exposure without loss of image quality.

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 checking in for the last episode of the SLR Magic series and also the very first video of 2016! In this episode I’m not talking about anamorphic gear per se but something that can definitely benefit us all. ND filters. Actually, variable NDs or faders. If you haven’t thought about it, a variable ND is simply a pair of polarizers stacked against each other and by changing the angle between them you get to cut down light transmission. I’ll get to some issues of that a little further ahead, but, for the time being, having variable NDs make life much easier than having a whole bunch of regular NDs.

What are NDs, after all? Well, ND stands for neutral density, which means it’s a piece of glass without any color tinge or effect. It follows photographic standards of how transparent it is, so it cuts down the light coming from the world and into the lens in a seamless way without any side effects. NDs are the best way of controlling your depth of field in strong lighting conditions by cutting down the light and allowing you to open up the aperture – while keeping your shutter angle at 180 degrees, unlike I’ve been doing so far.

SLR Magic’s Variable ND MkII claims to have improved performance over its contenders by keeping color and sharpness under control even at its strongest setting. Here’s where that “two polarizers thing” comes into play. When you’re twisting the light like that, you’re prone to get artifacts. Most strong variable NDs get a LOT of color shifting and loss of sharpness at their strongest position, even the most expensive ones. Rob helped me in this video by lending me his various NDs – Tiffen, Lightcraft Workshop and Singh-Ray. Each of them has different maximum light stopping power. SLR Magic’s cuts from 1 1/3 to 6 stops, which isn’t a HUGE amount, but it’s good enough for most outside shots – if you’re not riding your ISO through the roof, that is.

This variable ND has 82mm threads (but you can get a 77mm version too) and markings from 1 to 10 according to its strength at the moment. These are very useful for keeping tabs on how much ND you’re applying to your shots. One thing I hadn’t seen before is this little lever on the side so you can rotate it without touching the ring – that usually leads to messing up shots and fingers showing up in the frame by accident more frequently than anyone would want.

SLR Magic’s Variable ND MkII is available at B&H, Adorama and SLR Magic’s website. The 82mm version goes for $189 while the 77mm is $149. Price fits the same range as its competitors – except for the Singh-Ray, which goes for a lot more than that.

One issue that comes up from the combination of polarizers and lenses with rotating front elements is that, even though the exposure won’t change, the polarization will and reflections go haywire across the frame as you can see in this shot. Another thing deriving from that is that polarizers cut reflections while standard NDs wouldn’t. This is a common issue with any other Variable ND. Once you screw it in, polarization is set for good. SLR Magic’s isn’t, though. You have this other ring in the back, which operates just like the locking mechanism for their anamorphics, and you can rotate the filter until you’re happy with polarization, and then lock it in place! For the following samples I kept the ISO and aperture identical and only made changes to the shutter speed according to the level of ND applied so exposure remained constant. You can also download them or check them at 1080p resolution on flickr!

Sharpness is barely – if any – altered at all, and colors go a little warmer, but not much. You can probably white balance it out in camera, or easily dial it back in post. Ghosting artifacts – quite common with other faders – are also fixed in this one, which highlights how much work they’ve put into this filter to make it stand out from the crowd by fixing all these flaws inherent to Vari NDs in general.

I was very pleased with this filter – I think it’s a great starting point for me that never use any kind of filter, but that might spoil me a bit too! – and it’s needless to say I’ll keep using it along the next reviews, trying to keep my shutter speeds lower since that was one of the main complaints I heard so far! Rotating front elements are a little annoying, but that only applies to rack focusing, so all my “locked down” shots are easy to do. Thank you very much, SLR Magic and Andrew Chan for providing me with this opportunity, and I look forward to seeing your anamorphic primes soon!

Lastly, if you haven’t checked my idea for an in-depth anamorphic guide, you’re missing out on it! I need all the help I can to get this done and you can be part of this journey. Subscribe to the channel for the upcoming videos and head to the blog for the rest of the reviews and much more! Tito Ferradans out!



Anamorphic

Anamorphic Cookbook – hFOV Calculator

February 13, 2016

UPDATE – DECEMBER 2016: I updated the calculator! Click here to check the new one. It is more accurate and complete than the original version.

After being asked thousands of times “how wide can I go using this camera, so and so as taking lens, X anamorphic and, oh, I’m also using this chinese focal reducer!”. A few comments on that: there are way too many cameras out there. I use a 5D3, a camera that’s already four years old – so I’m not too into what’s trending now – and has a full frame sensor. The main reason I chose full frame is because I hate crop factors; I hate doing that math. I haven’t used other cameras since I got the 5D3; I don’t know – and I don’t WANT TO know – all the specifics for all cameras available at all times in the market. Gladly, they can be grouped in categories based around crop factors and sensor size.

With a little bit of research, many hours of coding (and a super helpful plugin) I came up with this calculator. It should answer most questions about vignetting and horizontal field of view (hFOV) while using anamorphic lenses. All settings are picked from the dropdown menus, except the taking lens, where you can input whatever weird glass you like. Of course, you can override any of them with your own custom values. Below are a few notes about each setting. Enjoy.

CAMERA: The standard crop factors are here. If you don’t know your camera’s sensor size or crop factor, Google “NAME_OF_YOUR_CAMERA_HERE crop factor” and you’ll know what to pick from the list. If you’re recording with a different crop, check the “custom” checkbox and input your crop factor manually. Blackmagic instated chaos and every single one of their cameras has a different crop. I’ve included the URSA (because of its anamorphic mode) and the Pocket Cinema Camera (because of its popularity) on the list, but if you’re using something else, input it manually.

FOCAL REDUCER: RJ Focal Reducer and Vizelex’s Light Cannon are filed under “Others”. Metabones’s SpeedBooster is 0.71x. The numbers of focal reducers are also growing, so if you can’t find yours in the list, select “custom” and input the number.

TAKING LENS: Write here whatever’s listed as your focal length. If you don’t know your lens, sorry, I can’t help you! If you wanna know which taking lens will give you a specific hFOV, tick the “I want a taking lens” box and input a focal length in the Resulting hFOV field that shows up.

ANAMORPHIC: I wanted to add the names of the lenses here but the dropdown would be endless and there would be a lot more detail to this calculator. Maybe in the future. For the time being, just pick your stretch factor from the list. If you’re unsure about your stretch factor, google it. I added two variations for the 2x and 1.33x scopes, since they change the math of vignetting a little bit and were worth the modifications. Thanks to all the people who came up to me and pointed this out.

SENSOR ASPECT RATIO: More and more people are shooting with a window other than the default 16:9 This affects vignetting and hFOV directly. If you’re shooting 16:9 and cropping the sides in post, put that ratio here too, since it works the same way. If you have a specific odd final aspect ratio in mind and want to know how your sensor aspect ratio (AR) or settings should be, check the “Tell me my Crop” option and let the calculator know your desired Resulting Aspect Ratio in the field that shows up.

NOTES: All the math revolves around the 1920×1080 proportion. The GH4 anamorphic mode acts a little different as well as Canon with Magic Lantern shooting raw because both cases allow you to change the recorded height (pick these options at the Sensor Aspect Ratio menu). If you’re shooting at different resolutions, adjust your numbers accordingly to match the 1920×1080 proportion before input here or accept the slight differences you might get from not doing so.

Also, if you’re interested in more anamorphic content, check the overall ideas for the Cookbook and the already available for free “Anamorphic on a Budget” Guide!

DISCLAIMER! This is not a scientific tool, it’s designed to get you in the ballpark of which anamorphic goes with each taking lens. There are a few exceptions to the rules shown here and you should do some extra research on your specific anamorphic. Baby Anamorphics (Möller 8/19/1.5x, Baby Hypergonar, Iscomorphot 8/1.5x) are a notable exception to the presented by the calculator and vignette more easily on larger sensors, but they play along fine with smaller taking lenses and sensors. Also, about the GH4, there are some weird situations in which its behavior doesn’t match the math, so be careful and do some more research on your own.

DISCLAIMER 2! I’m officially not replying anymore to questions about “how wide can I go with this anamorphic”. If you wanna know, check the calculator and do your individual research. Post in public places, facebook and EOSHD are great places to start. I might even show up to reply, but there are plenty of people with much more experience than me willing to help beginners and people with questions.

DISCLAIMER 3! I know the calculator could have a lot more intricate fields, more cameras, more lenses, but this is as far as I’m going with it right now. If you wanna work on an advanced version, be my guest. If you want me to repost it, I’d be honored.

UPDATE – DECEMBER 2016: I updated the calculator! Click here to check the new one. It is more accurate and complete than the original version.

[CP_CALCULATED_FIELDS id=”6″]
Day-to-Day

A brief commentary on Zhang Yimou’s “Movie Night”

February 3, 2016



In “Movie Night”, Zhang Yimou plays with the idea of a village coming together around cinema, which works both as a metaphor about the Chinese film industry as well as speaks to the experience of going to the movies. It is his way of showing that cinema is a very special art form which can bring people together in times of hardship. In Zhang’s short film the movie going experience is special to anyone who sits in front of a screen surrounded by others; going to movies is a collective experience. “Movie Night” feels like a love letter to the medium which he dedicated his life and work.

Zhang Yimou is one of the key elements in what is called the Fifth Generation of Chinese filmmakers. The Fifth Generation – a part of the overall artistic resurgence that grew after Mao Zedong’s government – is composed by many of the first graduates from Beijing Film Academy at the end of the Cultural Revolution (a socialist dictatorial regime that ensnared China from 1966 to 1976). “Fifth Generation films are characterized by their emphasis on cinematic qualities, unlike traditional Chinese cinema which attaches prime importance to plot, melodrama and literary adaptations. . . . [M]elodrama is rejected in favour of formal innovation and experimentation” (Ng). These changes in form quickly launched China among overseas audiences and pleased the domestic public with titles such as Yellow Earth and One and Eight – Zhang worked as the cinematographer in both films (Farquar).

Zhang is not only a director, but also a producer, former cinematographer, actor and writer, winning awards or honors for all of these positions. This wide range of knowledge over every aspect of movie making is not an essential quality for directors, but provides them with useful tools: the directors that understand every aspect of the process of making a movie are able to achieve outstanding results because they translate their vision easier to each department’s own language as well as understand and address their concerns. Zhang Yimou’s films have a special quality about them: there’s nothing out of place; every little thing has been meticulously planned and executed.

Graduating from Beijing Film Academy in 1982, his career as a director would only start in 1987 with the release of Red Sorghum, which uses of strong colors and beautifully presents a mundane story (opposed by the military epics of the Cultural Revolution) regarding a small village and one of its inhabitants (a girl who worked at a sorghum distillery). Zhang Yimou breaks the paradigm of what viewers expect of Chinese movies, falling into the graces of art film critics and broader audiences. This film granted him the Best Picture award at Berlin’s International Film Festival in 1988. In 1989 he released Ju Dou, shot in the outdated Technicolor process, which yields incredibly vivid and saturated colors. This movie also takes place in rural areas and tells a story of ordinary people, common themes in Zhang’s career. Ju Dou became the first ever Chinese movie to be nominated for the Oscar of Best Foreign Language Film.

Besides the ordinary aspect of the stories – all very personal and character focused -, one of the strongest characteristics in Zhang Yimou’s work is the visual finesse. He presents this in his movies through the use of colors – both intense and saturated, adding depth to the stories. His second nomination for the the Oscar of Best Foreign Language Film was for Raise the Red Lantern in 1992. Desson Howe, a film critic for the Washington Post, wrote:

There isn’t an arbitrary hue in the movie. In purely aesthetic terms, ‘Raise the Red Lantern’ is breathtaking.. . . Whether color — and other aesthetics — can carry an entire picture has been raised before in connection with Zhang’s work . . .. In “Lantern” he comes close to pulling it off. Passion for the spectrum (particularly the redder end) suffuses . . .  this tale of a power struggle in 1920s China. Chief among things vermilion are the titular lanterns. In this movie, they represent the pinnacle of power. (WW50)

Colors are symbols, standing for different aspects of the universe and characters, transmitting raw emotion and meaning without ever being directly explained in the movie itself.

“Movie Night” is a 2007 three-minute short film Zhang Yimou directed for the Cannes Festival DVD anthology To Each His Own Cinema. It is interesting to observe that some of his trademark features can be noticed in just over three minutes. This short film leads us through the arrival of the projection crew in a small village.

The film starts with a close up of a young boy’s face, it is safe to say he is the protagonist of this short film. We then hear a truck approaching and the boy runs towards it, joining a much larger group of kids that are already following the truck. We are introduced to one of the projectionists in a close up and then have another of his romantic counter-part. As they enter the village, the number of people running after the truck increases and their average age does the same. Every step of the setup amazes the little boy and other kids – they jump after the screen, he is startled by the speakers turning on and watches carefully while the men load film rolls into the projector. At this point the entire village is hovering around the area, perched on ledges, benches and chairs they brought from their own humble homes.

There is a gorgeous moment when we cut from the large audience to a wide shot of the village and see the Sun setting behind one of the houses. Then Zhang cuts back to a wider view of those people gathered around the screen. It seems the entire population of the village is there, waiting for the dark so the movie can begin.  Then the sun finally sets. The sound reinforces the strength of the night by quickly muting all the insects and birds we could hear in the background during the day and bringing in full, undisturbed, silence.

When the projector turns on, it is like a party. Everybody laughs and celebrates while throwing their hands up in the air and casting shadows on the screen. Right before the movie starts there is a very interesting scene in which the projectionists have dinner inside their tent with the light on. That is the only light source at that point, so their shadows are cast perfectly on the tent’s walls, a direct link to Zhang’s own To Live. It is a beautiful reference to the country’s original culture of telling stories before cinema, and everyone in the village watches those men’s shadows like they are actors in a play.

The movie finally starts and by then the little boy is too tired (or bored) to watch it. The magic is not exactly in watching a movie, but everything that surrounds that experience, the people gathering together, the waiting and expectation, staying in the dark. It is Zhang Yimou’s way of saying that, in moviemaking, the craft is more important and exciting than the end result.

From his traditional elements, it is easy to notice the mundane story, humble characters and the setting in rural China. The people coming together towards a common goal, unaffected by the challenges they have to face – though in this case, there are no life or death challenges. The camera work and compositions are all well thought out even though we lack his strong color schemes.

“Movie Night” has a more realistic approach to cinema. Instead of telling a fantastic story, like he does in his feature films, Zhang Yimou is trying to convey how it feels to be a Chinese filmmaker. According to Gerald Pratley about the rise of Asian cinema, “In China everything is falling apart yet it manages to hold together, nothing works yet it keeps on going, nothing is ever finished or properly maintained” (Kinema). This decadent yet functional aspect of the country is directly represented as the village and its people in Zhang’s short film as a metaphor for Chinese cinema: their work environtments are not that amazing, but Chinese filmmakers still put on hard work and achieve beautifully looking pictures.

 

Works cited

“Movie Night”. To Each His Own Cinema. Dir. Zhang Yimou. 2007. Cannes Film Festival, 2007. DVD.

Farquar, Mary. “Great Directors: Zhang Yimou”. Senses of Cinema 20.1 (2002). Web. 02 Feb 2016

Howe, Desson. “Tinted Love: ‘Red Lantern’”. The Washington Post 08 May 1992: WW50. Print.

Ng, Yvonne. “The Irresistible Rise of Asian Cinema 3”. Kinema 2.1 (1994). Web. 03 Feb 2016 

Pratley, Gerald. “The Irresistible Rise of Asian Cinema 1”. Kinema 2.1 (1994). Web. 03 Feb 2016 

Day-to-Day

Langara College and Freelancing.

February 1, 2016

Crap, it’s been a while.

I forgot to mention I started a new school. I’m now a student at Langara College, as a part of the Creative Writing program. This is reason enough for some possibly weird posts showing up here more frequently. Not everything I write is about true events. All the anamorphic posts are still safe, though, but I plan to start posting some fiction along with these day-to-day posts and not make an obvious statement to which ones are real and which ones aren’t. You’ve been warned.

Lately I haven’t had time to anything but work and school. The upside of an English-focused course is that my writing is bound to get better. The downside is the amount of pages per week I need to go through. Add freelance work for a short film and you got an explosive mix. Spring Break is coming next week and I can’t wait for it. I feel like sleeping for three days straight. The whole lens renting thing has been improving, but we still need more visibility. That’s another plan for Spring Break.

I’ve fallen behind on my weekly lens reviews but I’m working on upgrades to sound quality and changing a few things here and there. I haven’t abandoned my anamorphic readers though, posting some in-depth articles on variable-strength diopters – there’s one on regular diopters that’s coming out soon enough. The Anamorphic Cookbook is shaping up, but there’s plenty to write and test. To partially fund the project I’ll be selling gear soon – anamorphics mainly. I’ve reached that point that you look at your gear and think “well, this is a bit too much and there’s plenty of stuff here that I’ll never use”. Iscos will go, Century, some Canon glass, probably the 5D3 too (switching to the Sony A7s2 soon, which will get me a larger scope of available glass).

Working on the side of everything else, I’ve upgraded my notebook – extra hard drives for speed and storage – and replaced the battery which was dead for over six months. If you ever had a dead-battery notebook, you know how annoying that is. The hard drive replacement operation was incredibly convoluted and even though I read a lot on how to mirror them and tested different software, at least twice I thought I had lost my OS and would have to reinstall everything – which was the exact opposite goal of these upgrades. In the end it worked out, but not without some command line incursions to fix tables and partitions while trying to keep Windows intact.

Anyway, I can’t stay for too long, gotta get back to my assignments. Talk to you guys soon.

ps – Have I ever said how I dislike these pictureless posts? I’m working on that too.