FAKING THE LOOK
In spite of all the magic involving anamorphic lenses, there are situations where it’s much easier (and cheaper) to fake the anamorphic look than to use the actual lenses. Over the last couple years a bunch of different options came up to achieve the main anamorphic features: the long horizontal flares and the oval bokeh. During research I’ve had the opportunity to test some of these methods and weigh their pros and cons.
Cinemorph Filter: Starting with Vid-Atlantic’s filter (the same one that makes the lens clamps), it comes in 58mm and 77mm sizes and has the goal of achieving both visual elements (flares and bokeh) through a very simple way. It’s a UV filter inside a rotating ring (like a circular polarizer), in which good part of the glass is covered by a black material, allowing light only through an oval area right in the middle.Splitting this transparent area in half there’s a very thin nylon thread.
The black vinyl shapes the bokeh. If light comes in through a specific shape, out of focus areas will follow the same pattern while everything that’s in focus behaves normally.
The nylon thread has the goal of “scattering” any direct light that comes upon it through its whole area. Since it’s very close to the lens, it will always be out of focus, creating flares for strong and direct light sources.
It works very well under ideal conditions, but struggles in many situations. One of these is keeping still. Since the ring can rotate, so you align the flares and bokeh as you wish, it doesn’t feature a locking mechanism, any bump or shake can spin it some more and make things funky (misaligned flares and bokeh). Its greatest advantage is keeping the simplicity and nature of working with spherical lenses and the ability to focus really close using modern lenses or even pulling focus during shots. The downside is that due to all the black area, light loss is around 2 stops.
Based on an extensive series of tests (still to be translated, sorry!) using this filter combined with several lenses and focal lengths I’ve reached the conclusion that it performs poorly with zoom lenses, casting heavy vignetting around the edges of the picture. It works well with primes from 85mm and up on a full frame sensor, which is a very restrictive number. Lenses wider than that end up being capable of seeing the edges of the filter, destroying the trick (and the image).
Besides that, every single highlight shows a thin semi-transparent line near its center, casted by the nylon thread. Flares are very subtle and for me the results didn’t make up to the costs.
Flare/Streak Filter: Professional version of the Cinemorph filter, doesn’t try to achieve two things at once. Its effect is exactly what the name says, it creates long and pronounced flares originating from strong light sources. It’s a simple square glass with many thin lines that go across its width, all drawn in the same direction. There are many variations for this filter, determined by two key factors.
The first of these factors is color. With a neutral filter, like this one on the picture above, flares keep the same color as the light source. If it’s a bright blue light, flares will be blue and so forth. If you have multiple colors across the frame, flares will have different colors as well. There are other versions in which the flare is tinted to a specific color which can better fool the audiences because most of the anamorphics don’t change their flare color, no matter what’s the color of the light source.
The second factor is the spacing between the lines, measured in milimeters. The closer they are, the stronger the flares. You can see the difference between the distances at Optefex‘s – filter manufacturer – website.
It’s a piece of gear that is quite hard to find since they sold out a long time ago. With some luck (and search creativity) you can find them on eBay.
The pictures below are a comparison between the real thing and the filter. The first one was taken using an anamorphic adapter – Century Optics WS-13 – and the second one using the streak filter. Taking a closer look, the difference is easy to spot, but on a moving picture the effect is good enough to be convincing.
And how can I disguise my spherical glass even more, having an oval bokeh? The following images on this test were taken using a FlareFactory 58 (described right ahead). As the filter has 4×4 inches size, you can’t screw it to the front of the lens and a mattebox is required for it to work properly. Alignment is quite simple to get this way as well as changing the direction the flares should go. Opposed to the Cinemorph, any mattebox has a decent locking mechanism for its filters so they don’t rotate out of control.
As you can see in the picture above, the streak filter has some side effects that resemble Cinemorph‘s. If you pay close attention to the highlights on the left side, it’s easy to see many thin vertical lines. These lines are the filter’s lines through which not enough light came through to “fill” evenly the bokeh. Another occasion in which it fails miserably is when you have a large and soft light source inside the frame such as the picture below. It’s easy to see a great flare/smudge around the chinese ball with many thin lines – also caused by the filter. For smaller sources such as flashlights, LEDs, car headlights or non-diffuse lights, the filter is very effective.
FlareFactory 58: As the name implies, these lenses have among their strongest features good looking flares. Sold by Dog Schidt Optiks, these are custom lenses, assembled from mods upon a prime lens, the Helios-44 (58mm f/2, M42 mount).
Among their customization options you can change contrast, aperture, external paint and, more importantly, how flares look. These lenses make strong tinted flares. A quick look at the optics in the picture below and you can have an idea of Dog Schidt’s madness. They’re currently provided with Canon EF or Arri PL mounts.
But how the heck these colors affect only the flares and not the whole picture? It does look like the glass is tinted in there. After careful analysis and talking to Richard Gale – main head behind the project – I’ve found out that what’s tinted are actually the lens’ inner walls between the glass, which are usually black to prevent unwanted light bouncing and… flares. Now that they’re tinted, the color comes through when light bounces around in there. There are many videos that show this feature.
Another mod they offer, besides flare color, is swapping the original aperture for a custom one. What they do is provide different shapes and sizes besides the traditional anamorphic oval (this mod sets the lens with a fixed aperture, on the downside).
These lenses’ idea was kicked off after Richard proposed, at EOSHD forums, developing special lenses in order to enhance the results achieved with the most common focus-through anamorphics (Panasonic, Century Optics and Optex). With these new lenses it would be possible to achieve the oval bokeh aside from the tinted flares that make the look very exclusive to each lens.
Their prices are high when compared to a standard Helios-44 lens, but acceptable when you take into account the huge number of mods they offer and how that makes every lens unique.
Richard has already announced that longer lenses are easier to mod in order to make FlareFactories with different focal lengths and wide-angles are harder to make changes. Other models are set to come out soon (this is already obsolete as Dog Schidt is releasing adapters for their lenses and not stand-alone units).
Modifying Lenses: The procedure here is to open up an Helios-44, rip off the aperture blades and replace it with a laser-cut acrylic disc with a 2:1 oval shape in the middle equivalent to an f/4 aperture. This way you avoid Cinemorph‘s greatest flaw, the black edges, besides killing the need for an extra piece of gear to be carried around.
After ripping off and replacing the aperture its value is fixed at f/4, but it’s an easy to use lens since it grants one of the key anamorphic features: oval bokeh. Besides, it’s very easy to focus close subjects as well as smooth rack focusing.
I was very curious when I first came across this solution and considering the Helios-44 regular price, decided to give it a shot. While the lens was in the mail I’ve sent a “hi there!” message to Amir – responsible for the video mentioned above – wanting to know hard was the modification process and asking if he could share the file with the anamorphic aperture template as well as if he would point out other simple design lenses that could go through the same process, such as the Pentacon Electric 29mm f/2.8.