I’ve been into shooting anamorphic on a budget for almost ten years now.
When I say “on a budget”, the number goes between $0 and $4000, which is very little when compared to Arri, Cooke, Hawk or Panavision anamorphic lenses.
Why should you care? Production value. Anamorphic adapters are special lenses that go in front of your regular camera lens. They squeeze more field of view onto the camera’s sensor, allowing you to create wider-than-usual shots. As this extra field of view is squeezed onto the sensor, it requires stretching in post. Without dwelling into all the math, shooting 16:9 video with a 1.33x anamorphic adapter results in the much desired Cinemascope aspect ratio, 2.36:1, that fancy Hollywood thing you do by adding black bars on the top and bottom of your shots. Except no more black bars.
I have tinkered with all you can think of when it comes to adapters and DIY solutions. You can check many of my experiments and reviews on my YouTube to attest that I’m not saying nonsense. It’s not often an adapter surprises me while testing. I was even more surprise because there’s so little praise (or information at all) out there for the Letus Anamorph-X 1.33x PRO.
Letus is an American company which started out making SLR lens adapters for DV cameras 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.
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.
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.
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 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?