Monthly Archives:

March 2020

Anamorphic

Building a LOMO Anamorphic Squarefront Set.

March 22, 2020

This is a short version of my almost 2-year long journey hunting down and slowly putting together a 3-lens set of LOMO Squarefront anamorphics.

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All the RED links on this post are part of eBay’s Partner Network, so if you purchase anything through them, you’re helping me to keep this project going.

Tito Ferradans here today for a bit of story. It’s no secret I love Russian glass. I’ve modded the basic classics, I hunted down specific serial numbers and I’m writing a guide about Soviet era lenses. Combine that with my passion for anamorphics and you’d wonder why it took me so long to start posting about LOMO anamorphics.

LOMOs are the top of the top when it comes to Russian glass. Designed and manufactured as cinema lenses, for various reasons (price, age, build quality, image quality) they’re some of the few cine anamorphics that sell for a price that regular folks can pay if they set out to do so.

I’ve had a few LOMO anamorphics along the years. One of my first lenses was a 50mm two-piece squarefront in OCT-18 mount that I wanted really bad to adapt to Canon EF. I failed and ended up selling it. A while later I was able to grab an 80mm single-block squarefront, this time in an unknown mount. This was all in Brazil, so access to tools and people related to the subject was non-existent. Turns out I had to sell that one too.

Then I thought I had struck gold when I got a huge 12-120mm with a rear anamorphic adapter. Luck was still not on my side and the rear anamorphic was misaligned and wouldn’t produce proper images. Still in Brazil, still stuck. Sold them too. At this point is worth noting that all three buyers were very happy with their purchases and able to get the lenses fixed (sometimes their feedback took weeks, others it was months).

In 2016 I set out to achieve my long-dreamed goal and piece together a 3-lens squarefront set. 35, 50, 85, or something along those lines. I was gonna take my time until I found deals I could live with. I wanted to pay no more than $4k per lens and knew I would probably have to spend some more with servicing and upgrades.

You all know how the first part of that went, and that I almost lost $3k to a scammer after setting up an international operation. The second part, which I kept secret to avoid further bad luck, was when I was in Brazil, a friend of mine told me he was getting rid of his set. We met, tested the lenses, as expected, fixes were more than necessary to make them fully usable.

The price was within my margins so I went for it. This was July of 2016, and this is what I got:

A 35, 50 and 75mm set of squarefronts. Sounds great, but here are the issues: the PL mounts were sketchy, some too thick, some too loose. None of the lenses had proper rail support for the front block and alignment was pretty funky, with the locking rings coming loose and missing tiny screws.

On the 35, the rear anamorphic element was badly chipped. Unusable, I’d have to find a replacement. The front element also had a crack, but it wasn’t in any key part of the image. The mechanics were funky when focusing, with the front block popping out of the lock when close focused.

The 50 and 75 shared the same front element, which is a no-go for any set scenario, so I’d have to track down another identical copy of that, and fix the mechanical issues as well.

The next step was tackle the glass replacement parts, without which the whole project would sink. I spent about four months on that and got super lucky on eBay, being able to find the exact ones I needed, from the same seller, in different auctions and different moments in time, then I had to engage on bid wars, win the bids and be able to rely on the super-helpful Chris Bold for getting the lenses (the seller wouldn’t do international sales, no matter what, and Chris was able to pick them up personally then ship them up here).

All that was left now was disassembly, glass replacement, mechanical fixes and servicing. I contacted more than a few qualified pros for that and they all turned me down. It would either take too much of their time, or it would be too expensive for me. Plus it involved shipping non-tracked packages with contents worth thousands of dollars. I wasn’t feeling too comfortable with that.

Months went by before I could do anything, and then I got an interesting email from Van Diemen. This message was about their rehousing of LOMO squarefronts in single block designs. Convenient, huh?

This is the point I’m stopping this LOMO saga for this week, and next week will be focused on the process and results from Van Diemen. In this one I just wanted to cover my four-year journey of failures. Have you ever had a lens-saga like that? Tell me about it in the comments below! Now hit the like button and remember to subscribe for the final episode on this LOMO month! I’m Tito Ferradans and this is Anamorphic (hardcore) on a Budget. See you next week!

Very convenient, I thought, so I asked them a couple questions, argued about the price for a little more and spent a few months gathering the money I was missing.

Anamorphic

Anamorphic on a Budget – LOMO Foton-A 37-140mm f/3.5

March 15, 2020

This is my first time talking about actual cinema anamorphics. I decided to start with LOMOs because Russian glass has a special place in my heart, and the Foton-A is one of the rare lenses I’m never letting go.

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Tito Ferradans here for some rare glass. It’s time to tell you all about one of my most precious possessions: the LOMO Foton-A. This is a cinema lens made in the Soviet Union. It’s a long-range zoom, going from 37mm to 140mm, which allows you to shoot an entire show with just one lens. It’s got a ton of character and texture, awesome blue flares (anamorphic zoom flares are something special). I’ve used it in such way more than once – to get the clips you’re seeing right now.

LOMOs are the top tier when it comes to Soviet lenses, and LOMO anamorphics are in a category of their own, with several different generations and price tags. I would say this is probably the cheapest anamorphic zoom in existence, and in terms of performance, it’s more comparable to the first generation LOMO Squarefronts rather than the superior Roundfronts that came afterwards. As expected of a cinema lens, stretch is 2x, delivering stretched bokeh.

The first of the Foton-A’s many downsides is its speed. With a slow aperture of f/3.5 (T/4.4), all the way down to f/16. You really can’t do low-light or crazy shallow depth of field. It also features just eight aperture blades, which won’t smooth bokeh when stopping down. This lens won’t give you smooth ovals at any f-stop, just wide open. The second downside is its weight. This thing weighs 6kg or 13 pounds, which means it isn’t a handheld friendly rig, requiring lots of support and even a sturdy tripod. It’s true you can shoot an entire project with it, but moving it around is an intense process! The third downside is that the anamorphic and spherical blocks are not permanently connected – focus syncs through matching a pin on both pieces -, and that makes lens swaps super awkward. On the bright side, the whole setup doesn’t extend while focusing or zooming and you don’t need to realign it, ever.

The Foton originally comes in OCT-18 mount, which is a mount “inspired” by Arri Standard mount. Usually, OCT-18 lenses are a pain to convert and adapt, but the Foton features a mount-locking ring that allows you to easily swap mounts if you so desire. RAF Camera makes a few different ones and, in my case, I have both the EF and PL versions for it. Swapping them is a relatively simple process – especially when compared to usual mount changes that cost hundreds of dollars.

Focus comes down to 1.6m or 5ft. It’s not really a great minimum focus distance. The only way you can get closer is with diopters. I don’t have the original diopters, so I managed to find a 4×4 +0.8 Tiffen diopter that I rig to the front of the lens. Minimum focus performance isn’t crippled as other anamorphics, though. I believe mine could be improved with servicing, but I didn’t have enough time – or budget – to do so yet.

I’ve had two copies of the Foton-A since I got into anamorphics. I was lucky to get crazy good deals on both of them, but other than those two times, it’s hard to see it going for under $8-10k. One recently popped up on eBay for $4k and got me tempted. The spherical block is relatively common and sells between $800 to $1000, but the anamorphic block is hard to come across and I never saw it being sold separately. This lens also has its own diopters, made to fit perfectly around the front element (+1 and +0.8). Their regular market price these days is $500 each – if you can track one down. You can also do several upgrades for it, like de-clicking, installing focus gears for zoom, aperture and focus, or opting for levers instead of gears.

If you’re looking for resolution, this is not the lens for you. It’s not really sharp wide open, and even when stopped down, things can still be mushy – especially at longer focal lengths. This unit hasn’t been serviced, but the lack of sharpness is a shared aspect with my previous copy too. It’s up to you to decide if this is sharp enough for your purposes. If I thought it was unusable, I wouldn’t keep the lens. Here are different charts at different focal lengths.

The flares are outstanding, though. Thick, blocky, deep blue, they show up rather easily, even from light coming from the sides of the lens – as in “the source doesn’t have to be in the frame”. They’re very sci-fi-ish, and that’s one of my favorite aspects of this lens.

Vignetting is not really an issue. Designed for S35 film, you won’t get full frame coverage – at 37mm you see the inside of the anamorphic block, at 140mm there’s massive black edges. When switching to APS-C crop, all vignetting issues are gone.

I’m a big fan of the Foton-A. Maybe I’m just attached – the first copy I got had me jumping international hoops all the way from Brazil – or maybe it really adds layers of meaning to the cinematography of certain projects. I’m a fan of its low-contrast, low-sharpness look, I like how its distortion affects straight lines on the frame and the grittiness that all of its artifacts bring to the footage. It’s much easier to use and mechanically reliable than most adapter setups, it doesn’t require clamps, special support or a million step rings. It’s a very convenient zoom, but still affected by a slow aperture, super heavy construction and poor minimum focus. When it comes down to practical use, I’d choose this lens over most adapters too, simply because it’s practicality on set. No need to triple check focus, sync taking lens and anamorphic, or realign for every focal length change.

What do you think of this lens? Would you pick this one over an adapter? What did you think of its performance? This episode is another part of my LOMO month and if you liked it and want more info on these awesome anamorphics, you should subscribe now. Leave a comment below if you have any questions or suggestions and I’ll get back to you soon! Lastly, if you wanna help me out with all the research and costs related to keeping this channel alive, you can check my Patreon page for awesome rewards and a more direct contact line with me. See you next week, Tito Ferradans, out.