Anamorphic on a Budget – Elmoscope II vs Kowa Bell & Howell

November 6, 2016

Head to head comparison and double review of the Elmoscope II and Kowa Bell and Howell. Can the Elmo II go against the top of the projection lenses?


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Hello, hello! I’m Tito Ferradans and it is time to bring to the stage an interesting match. Ever since I laid eyes on the Elmoscope II, it’s similarities with the Kowa Bell and Howell were… impressive, to say the least. Long story short, they have the very same look on the outside, so I wanted to check if the same holds for the footage they deliver. Afterall, the Kowa B&H goes for around 900 bucks, while the Elmo II can be had for a third of that price with just a bit of luck. It would be more than interesting to know if the Elmo is underpriced (or vice versa!). Both lenses are vintage projection optics and dual focus setups by nature. The Kowa B&H is considered to be the very best among projection lenses, praised by many and sought after by many more.

A while back I worked on the shooting of the acoustic version of Hello, by Hedley, with the genius of Matt Leaf. It was a two-camera setup. For that we had both my Kowa B&H and Corey MacGregor‘s Elmo II, each one inside of a Rectilux and paired to Russian taking lenses (the usual, Mir, Helios and Jupiter). Can you spot the difference between each anamorphic? Shooting this piece only inspired me more to get both lenses in a more *sterile* environment.

DETAILED Spec Comparison

On a spec side, the Elmo weights the same as the Kowa, 500g. Minimum focus on both lenses is the same, 5ft – or 1.5m – as well as the sizes for the front and rear elements. For the sake of this review I designed a custom clamp to hold both lenses and 3d-printed it. The Elmo’s back is a little thinner than the Kowa, so you’ll need to print the spacer ring too. This clamp attaches to SmallRig’s 1651 lens support system and 951 rod. It uses M4 screws and nuts for holding the adapter in place and a 1/4″ nut to screw to the lens support. You can get the files for printing right here.

They don’t have front neither rear filter threads. If you want to add some diopters to them, a clamp will be required. Alignment is also set on the clamp – check out how to mount either of these lenses inside the FM or inside the Rectilux for single focusing.

For the following tests I’ll be pairing, side by side, shots with the Kowa and Elmo II with the exact same settings. For usability’s sakes they’re mounted into a Rectilux.

This is the time of the truth. While the Elmo manages to keep up at wider focal lenghts – it doesn’t do so well in fast apertures. When the lenses get longer, the Kowa states its supremacy, beating the Elmo in every single setting. These are 100% crops of 12 megapixels, so when shooting video, the difference shouldn’t be so noticeable. Take a look at the full res images here.

Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 CENTER

Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 CORNER

Contax Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 CENTER

Contax Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 CORNER

Contax Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 CENTER

Contax Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 CORNER

Contax Zeiss 135mm f/2.8 CENTER

Contax Zeiss 135mm f/2.8 CORNER

I dare you to say these flares are not identical. Warm long streaks and one green reflection.

Contax Zeiss 50mm f/1.4

Again, exactly the same results, with an almost usable frame at 40mm at 2.4:1. No vignetting from 50mm for 2.4:1 crop, but a little bit at 2.66:1. Step up to 58mm for 2.66:1 coverage, and clear the image completely at 85mm and above.

Canon EF 40mm f/2.8

Contax Zeiss 50mm f/1.4

Helios 44-2 58mm f/2

Contax Zeiss 85mm f/1.4

If you wanna see some test footage of these two inter-cutting together, as I mentioned in the beginning, check out Hedley’s Hello, acoustic version by clicking here. My half-cooked tests won’t come as close, so I won’t even try. Matt already did a great job with that!

This is the first video of the “Kowa month”, throughout which I’ll be showcasing different tweaks and tests focused around the Kowa Bell & Howell. These were all achieved in collaboration with other people – this time with Matt and Corey, there’s a few with James Price – to help you achieve the best out of your B&H – or Elmo II. It’s a seriesception, with a series inside of a series. If you’re interested in that and have the courage to open up your lens (it’s not that hard, I promise), subscribe and join me for this ride. For more detailed info – or if you hate constantly pausing the video – head to the blog for the written version of everything you see here.