Anamorphic On a Budget – Chapter I

December 7, 2014


One of the main things for me in photography is the strong connection between technique and creativity one has to make to achieve good looking results. Knowing how the camera works isn’t enough. We need to understand human vision, composition, colors, light, and find/develop our own style.

When I started to attend to Film Production (Curso Superior do Audiovisual, at USP), in 2010, I was already taking pictures for and studying photography for a year and a half. It was my main hobby and entertainment while not studying the subjects that would get me into the university.

Coming from a very math-based background (Computer Science at Federal University of Bahia, UFBA), numbers were already pretty exciting to me. Through my four years at Film Production I started to develop and emphasize the creative part of the photographic process as well. Be it a single frame, be it moving pictures at 24 frames per second.

During summer break (winter break, for the north hemisphere), mid 2012 I was feeling bored and needed to learn something entirely new to me. I decided it would be a testing and experimenting year, very different from my standard, production-like work of the previous three years. Randomly roaming the web, came across a subject that had already caught my eye before: anamorphic lenses. That summer felt like the perfect time to go deeper into them. It was time to move from 16:9 TV standards to something more movie like as the 2.4:1 CinemaScope aspect ratio.

When I say I had already come across the subject before, it was around 2010 and, again randomly, read some articles about such lenses, that would allow shooting CinemaScope straight from camera instead of cropping the top and bottom of the frame. It was interesting at the time, but I lacked the technical knowledge to fully understand what was being said on those articles. Time went by and I ended up forgetting all about until 2012’s summer.

In the meantime whenever I considered shooting CinemaScope pictures, I always felt bad for discarding almost half the image through cropping. Such a waste of money and production value, right? Using the crop method for CinemaScope you either go ultra wide angle so you can frame your characters properly and end up with a ton of depth of field, or go with regular lenses and hope nothing too important ends up cropped off in post-production.

Without and with anamorphics aspect ratio comparison

After my initial readings I found out that with anamorphic lenses the image is squeezed before it reaches the sensor/film. Its horizontal correct measurement is determined by the image’s default width multiplied by a stretch factor (which may vary from lens to lens). You don’t discard parts of your frame, quite the opposite, you add more into it, you add stuff that would fall outside of a regular spherical lens angle of view.

From 2012 until now I’ve read countless articles, threads, forums, posts, ebay auctions and even a book entirely on the subject in order to better understand these lenses inner workings. It’s not all pretty and wonderful as it seems in the beginning, but they achieve a great deal of what I expected. There are various complications and quirks, but nothing that’s absolutely impossible to merge onto set work procedures.

I reached out for other anamorphic users in Brazil, lenses for sale, trade or testing, any kind of answer for my questions in my own language. Didn’t find anything at all, just a bunch of curious people like me. With the internet’s connecting power I went virtually abroad and started researching and experimenting. During this process, way over twenty different anamorphic lenses went through my own inspection and analysis.

This series of experiments were followed by ongoing posts on my personal blog (this one right here), aiming at introducing the subject in portuguese. I was pretty much obsessed with these lenses already and had to share my knowledge with whoever was interested, specially because I had a ton of questions at the beginning and couldn’t find any answers until I had the lenses in my hands and looking through the camera.

Research has been an amazing experience. During the process I ended up selling ALL my spherical and modern glass, keeping only vintage russian lenses and anamorphics. I don’t intend to leave them, it was a point of no return.

My main goal with this project is to share as much as I can of all I discovered and tested with these exotic and rare lenses, be it in terms of origins and history, as well as practical use in real shots.

I mean, amazing CinemaScope pictures in a camera that costs less than US$4k, when could I dream of this?


  • TFerradans. · Anamorphic On a Budget – Chapter II December 7, 2014 at 1:32 pm

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