Anamorphic on a Budget – Iscorama 54

June 12, 2015

First anamorphic review, I talk about the Iscorama 54, one of the largest and most desired anamorphic adapters. Please let me know what you think, what you like or dislike and what could I improve for the following videos.


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This is my script for the video and it should match almost every word of what I say. I’ll post these since not everytime we can be playing videos and reading can be a little faster due to my english. I’m putting the lens comparisons on the posts and, for the following videos, the download links for DNG frames will be here as well.

Hello everyone, I’m Tito Ferradans and this is officially the first anamorphic on a budget review. Our lens of choice for episode one is the almighty Iscorama 54. Released along the Iscorama 36 in the late 70s, the 54 is the biggest and heaviest member of the Isco family.

It weights around 950g, has a full metal housing and a smooth focus ring. The alignment mechanism is very simple, just press the button near the back and rotate it until it’s oriented properly.

What sets the Iscoramas apart from the other anamorphic adapters is their single-focus mechanism based on a variable strength diopter that acts as the focusing mechanism. All you gotta do, when using an Isco is set your taking lens to infinity and do all your focus work directly on the Iscorama’s focus ring.

The name “54” comes from the diameter of the rear glass of the lens. The same goes for 36 and 42. Their stretch factor is 1.5x and focus ranges from 2m to infinity, with a nice and – maybe too – long focus throw (near 180 degrees).

As the Iscoramas were developed for photography, they have standard filter threads on both front and back, making life much easier because you don’t need to worry about finding (or making) very specific clamps. A couple step rings will work just fine. This is what I have here, a 77mm blank and a 72-77mm step up so I can attach it to the taking lenses. The front thread measures 95mm, which is a big size in order to find decent diopters.

Available 95mm options are the Focar A (+1) and Focar B (+2), or you can use step down rings to reduce the size to 82mm or even 72mm without too much vignetting. I don’t have these rings here, so I’ll have to improvise when it comes to close focusing for this video.

Iscoramas are still the kings of anamorphic adapters. Their image quality beats the competition and the single focus solution makes life easy when working with them, that’s why they’re not the most common thing around eBay. Prices vary a lot, but the Iscorama 54 USUALLY goes between 2200 and 3500 USD.

I was doing things in a hurry since I needed to ship the lens right after finishing the video and ended up not taking the wisest routes for some of the tests, such as resolution. I should’ve taken stills instead of frames to be able to see detail much better. This, added to not having proper sized diopters might have messed up the frames a bit and that’s why I’m not uploading these for you guys. Sorry about that, and I’ll do it right for the next lens. On the bright side, even crippled, the comparisons work.

On the Mir 1B, besides all the vignetting (which I cropped here), we can clearly see a lot of softness around the corners but very little chromatic aberration. We can also notice the difference in compression around the edges, giving the image a bent look.



Softness around the corners is much better on the Helios, because it’s not as wide and doesn’t get that lower quality area of the glass onto the sensor.

Helios 44-2 CENTER

Helios 44-2 CORNERS

I don’t know if it’s my copy, but the Jupiter 9 performs amazingly well with any of my scopes and the Isco 54 is no exception.

Jupiter 9 CENTER

Jupiter 9 CORNERS

The Tair 11 is the one that shows most improvement when stopped down, being very soft at f/2.8 with a blueish ghosting aberration that is completely gone at f/4

Tair 11 CENTER


Since I had the chance, decided to do one last extreme test at f/1.2 using the Canon 50mm L Series at the Isco’s minimum and maximum focus settings thanks to diopters.

At minimum focus, things are hard and quality drops fast from the center.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L – Minimum Focus

Things are slightly better at infinity, but not much.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L – Infinity Focus

This version of the 54 is MC, or multi-coated, which improves light transmission and reduces optical artifacts, which, sadly, include flares. There are single coated versions of this lens around the world, but they’re much harder to find though. For the flare test I tried the Helios 44 first, but this lens flares way too much by itself and I was unable to identify the Isco’s flare among all the bouncing light.

Helios 44 Flare

Using Canon’s 50mm f/1.2L got me better results since it allowed me to isolate the Iscorama’s flare, this thin and faint blue line we almost don’t see. Multi coated Iscoramas have a little less charm, as we expected.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L Flare

When checking the widest possible taking lens I cropped the sides of the footage to achieve a 2.4:1 aspect ratio, the standard Cinemascope proportions. Even then I was unable to have a clean frame with the Mir-1B at 37mm, presenting heavy vignetting on the sides.

If I want to cover the entire full frame sensor for a 2.66:1 aspect ratio the widest pick is indeed 50mm.

Being able to rack focus just using the Isco speeds up shooting immensely. This combined with good image quality even at large apertures eliminates the need for a tripod and allows me to be always moving around when shooting, being a good setup for run and gun.

Minimum focus at 2m is kind of limiting and changing diopters on the fly wasn’t one of my most comfortable experiences of late. It’s less troubling if you group your shots based on their diopter needs or set your focus range within a single diopter, like the +0.4, maxing out at 2.5m.

On the bright side, you become crazy good eyeballing when things are closer than 2m.

This was just the first video, the next ones will be better and I have plenty of lenses to cover, so be sure to subscribe and check out my blog!

As an added bonus, here’s a decent gallery for the lens, if the video wasn’t enough, and here’s a link to it’s Lens-yclopedia page.

  • TFerradans. · Anamorphic on a Budget – Iscorama 36. November 12, 2015 at 3:46 pm

    […] released by Isco Optics and, needless to say, were a huge success, leading to the Iscoramas 42 and 54, as well as the Iscorama 2000 […]