B – ISCORAMAS (1.5X)
Back in 2009, an Iscorama could be bought for little over a hundred bucks. Currently their price ranges between US$2500 and US$3500. It takes a lot of effort, patience and time to get better deals.
Iscoramas were made between 1970 and 1980, by ISCO Optics of Göttingen, in Germany, and work in a unique way. They’re adapters – in the sense that they fit in front of a spherical taking lens – and their high prices come from a great number of qualities. There are three main models, 36, 42 and 54, and their names come from the diameter of the rear anamorphic element. The weight difference between the three is drastic. While the 36 weighs around 400g, the Iscorama 54 goes over 1kg.
Stretch factor is 1.5x, which leads to an aspect ratio of 2.66:1, slightly wider than the CinemaScope standard. The widest one can go using an Iscorama on a full frame sensor in order to avoid vignetting is 50mm. Anything longer than that is safe.
Differently from focus through and double focus systems, which have improved performance between f/4-5.6, Iscoramas shoot properly focused images no matter what’s the aperture on the taking lens. Their sharpness is very very high.
Their biggest quality: all focusing is done based on the Iscorama’s focus markings, which is very accurate. The process consists in focusing the taking lens up to infinity and then working with the Iscorama, which has a minimum focus of 2m. It’s exactly the same thing as shooting with a regular lens, but keeping all the advantages of the anamorphic format. The way its focusing works is patented, which has never been bypassed, so these are the only adapters with single focus.
A couple of years after their original release, ISCO noticed that their adapters were being used paired with other lenses than the standard 50mm that came with it, so they took this chance to improve the glass and release them as individual pieces, without a default taking lens. That’s when the Iscoramas 36, 42 and 54 were born. They’re more modern and multi-coated, so less prone to flaring.
These lenses were designed for photography – not solely projection – and so they have standard filter threads (72mm, 82mm and 95mm for Iscoramas 36, 42 and 54 respectively), besides killing the need for special clamps on the rear element as well, since they also have regular filter threads (49mm, 62mm and 77mm respectively).
Their mechanism to align the stretch is also simplified, directly on the lens through the use of side buttons that must be pushed in so the user can spin and align the stretch axis.
As any other anamorphics, Iscoramas also have their exceptions. The first of them is the Iscomorphot – also known as baby Iscorama -, a version for 8mm movie cameras which shares the same optics as its bigger brothers: focusing done only on the Iscomorphot and taking lens set to infinity. This little gem can focus down to 0.5m without diopters, but its image has very little sharpness and contrast, with reasonable results from f/5.6 or smaller apertures. Combined with APS-C sensors, it’s vignette free from 60mm on. Doesn’t work well with full frame cameras.
The second exception to the Iscorama family is the Isco Widescreen 2000, which works just as a focus through adapter with improved optics and 1.5x stretch. With this one, focusing is done on the taking lens and the adapter is also fixed between 4m and infinity, requiring diopters for closer shots. It was used as a projection lens, so needs clamps and mods in order to provide regular filter threads.
Not taking these two exceptions into account, here goes the pros and cons list for the Iscoramas:
– Single focus: patented design, focusing is done only on the Iscorama;
– Simplified aligning process;
– No need for clamps;
– Strong flares (only with the Original Iscorama);
– Anamorphic bokeh;
– Great sharpness, even at larger apertures;
– 1.5x stretch which leads to an image close to the CinemaScope aspect ratio;
– Regular threads for diopters and filters.
– VERY high prices;
– Minimum focus down to 2m (can be solved through diopters);
– Multi-coated (Iscoramas 36, 42 and 54).
A brief note about the Iscorama 36: since the lens body is made of plastic, it’s quite common that as time goes by they are more prone to damage. Aiming at this valuable lenses market, british company Van Diemen developed a new housing for the Iscorama, fully metal made, with follow focus gears and a minimum focus modification that drops it to 1.2m instead of the original 2m.
The process costs £850 and has an estimated turnaround of 90 days to be completed plus mailing time. The conversion’s results are impressive but there are a lot of customers’ complaints about waiting a much longer time than advertised to get their lenses back.
There’s also a homemade modification to improve the lens’ minimum focus by unscrewing the front element and removing the original stopper. It’s risky if you’re not used to opening lenses, but works perfectly.
I’ve sent my Iscorama 36 for Van Diemen’s rehousing and wrote a full review of the process.