Anamorphic on a Budget – Bell & Howell Projection Lens

August 14, 2016

Unusual review, for one of the strangest projection lenses around. Behold a 2x stretch native single focus anamorphic adapter! It was interesting, but the best results out of this lens are still to come!


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Tito Ferradans here for an unusual review. If you read the Anamorphic on a Budget guide, you’ll know that I dislike projection lenses. They’re usually too heavy and bulky and yield poor results. Based on that, it might come as a surprise that this episode is about the Bell & Howell Anamorphic Projection Lens. No, not the Kowa B&H, the OTHER Bell & Howell. The long and weird-looking one. Not exactly light, at 500g, the Bell & Howell has a unique feature among projection lenses: it is a single focus 2x stretch adapter. Set your taking lens to infinity and do all the work on the anamorphic. My attention was to this adapter was drawn by an EOSHD thread by QuickHitRecord.

That all might sound super exciting now, but here come the drawbacks: this lens doesn’t focus to infinity, only to about 12m, and original minimum focus is at 2.4m, with almost three full turns of the focus ring. You can tweak it by loosening the two limiting screws on the head. Even though the focus throw becomes completely laughable (almost five complete turns), it focuses down to 0.6m without any diopters. That means you could live with more common and cheaper +1 and up 58mm diopters.

Ok, I just said 58mm diopters, but the lens doesn’t actually have 58mm threads. The front threads are very close to standard 55mm, but not quite, so I just taped a 55-58mm step ring to it and everything works great. The back is also very important in terms of threading: you want to make sure you’re getting one of these that has the silver ring screwed to the back of it. This ring is the key to mounting the Bell & Howell to other lenses since it has Series 7 threads and you can get cheap Series 7 to filter thread adapters. Mine didn’t have one, so I articulated a solution with Chris Bold, and he’s selling the rings for $30. These are made of polyurethane, which is a plastic, so the best approach is to screw in your S7 adapter and don’t take it out to avoid stripping the threads.

Due to its shape and size, I would strongly recommend using lens support to avoid stressing the filter threads.

While not so common on eBay lately, the Bell & Howell Projection lens goes for super cheap most of the time. You can get easy deals for less than $200, or go in a rush and buy one for $400.

Definitely NOT a knife-sharp killer, but decent enough for a lens that you can get for two hundred bucks. Holds up pretty nicely even when the taking lens is wide open – since its original taking lens is f/1.4, as the label states – and improves considerably as you stop it down (which worsens vignetting). It’s particularly fidgety regarding the taking lens’ infinity position, so test a nudge under infinity and see if the image quality improves. For me it made noticeable of difference.

Contax Zeiss 35mm f/2.8

Contax Zeiss 50mm f/1.4

Contax Zeiss 85mm f/1.4

Prepare yourself to be blown away by these flares. The most natural looking and smooth blue flares I’ve ever seen – and that teal tinge, oh man… Flares are, by far, one of strongest aspects about this adapter. I even got a coated taking lens so only the Bell & Howell’s flares would be showing.

Contax Zeiss 50mm f/1.4

Due to its long body, small optics and 2x stretch, the Bell & Howell vignettes easily. On full frame, for a Cinemascope crop you need to be over 85mm and for full sensor coverage, at least 120mm. Using the A7s2 crop mode (2.2x), I was able to get a clear 2.4:1 crop at 40mm and full sensor at 50mm.

Contax Zeiss 28mm f/2.8

Contax Zeiss 35mm f/2.8

Canon EF 40mm f/2.8

Contax Zeiss 50mm f/1.4

The first thing I concluded when testing this lens for real is that single focus is worth nothing if you have to twist the focus ring a thousand times to rack just a couple of meters. Also, the taking lens infinity setting is much more fidgety than expected, with constant back and forth to find the optimal position. As for low-light, you CAN get sharp images at fast apertures, it’s just a very hard challenge if there’s any movement in the scene, requiring focus adjustments. The infinity setting on the B&H is also not so great, because past a certain distance things start to become smudgy. The flares are beautiful on real life, though. The one trick I wasn’t expecting to work was when I put a diopter in front of it and things sharpened up nicely. In my opinion, the best shots in this test were made with the diopter attached.

If you think this is a lens with cool features and somewhat cumbersome, be sure to check the next video, which is about the custom mod developed by Chris Bold and how to apply it to your own Bell & Howell. To get that, subscribe now and wait until the notification pops up! While you wait, I highly recommend some light reading over at my blog about some other anamorphics and cool tutorials to improve your the look of your footage. Do you have a suggestion of what I should do afterwards? Please let me know in the comments below! Tito Ferradans out to hack some lenses open!