Van Diemen Cine-Iscorama Conversion – Review.

May 8, 2014

Esse post é uma derivação de um tópico que criei no EOSHD. Mas como é relativo à pesquisa das anamórficas, vou colocar aqui também, só não vou traduzir porque, se você já leu o suficiente pra querer saber o que tá escrito abaixo, você já leu um bocado de coisa em inglês e o idioma não deve ser um problema! (e também porque eu tô com muita preguiça de traduzir)

A lot has been questioned about this subject since it first showed up in a couple pictures uploaded to Redstan’s flickr, or (four days later) in Andrew’s first post about them, in late July, 2011. Almost three years have passed and still we don’t have enough objective reviews and facts about this mod. I’m gonna try to achieve this goal here. I’m starting with a bit of history (which involves some guessing), but feel free to skip it.

At first, it seemed that Alan (Redstan) was the one responsible for the whole thing, but now I believe he was the one who presented the the job to Van Diemen, and made a whole bunch of them at a huge cost and time. I don’t think he sold any of these from the first batch, since we never heard of anyone reselling them, or using anything like that, but I might be wrong (Tony, feel free to chime in and correct me if this is wrong information). Then, time passed and a year and a half later comes Andrew Wonder, who was also featured on another EOSHD post involving a tuned iscorama, he called his Wonderscope and explained how he linked the pictures to Christopher Smith’s machining job at Van Diemen.

I come to believe it was only after this “indirect” advertising and lots of emails and questions from anamorphic shooters over the world that Van Diemen realised this “thing” could be a regular service they were the only ones able to provide. Partly thanks to Tony’s many inputs on the original design and partly thanks to the sudden interest in the subject. If I’m not mistaken, early 2013 was the moment when other shooters from this forum started sending their lenses over, and we had all the fuss regarding HUGE delays in delivery and processing orders. People had their lenses trapped there for over six months, etc. Just search the forum for “Van Diemen” and some of these will be listed, followed by multiple users asking various questions about the mod. Mainly “is it worthy?”, which is a VERY subjective question.

I’ve sent my pre-36 Iscorama lens from Brazil in early December, 2013, after extensive emails with Christopher, at Van Diemen. My main concern was the time it would take to complete the job. He assured me I would have the lens back in 90 days. Recently, other forum members have reported they’re speeding the process to only a week, which is amazing (of course, this doesn’t take into account the time spent during shipping).

The mod is listed on Van Diemen’s website, and costs £850.00 + shipping (and another £95.00 if you want special engraving). That rounds to about US$1500, which, we all should agree, is a big amount of cash. It’s important to remember that not all Iscoramas are eligible for the conversion as well. Tony has pointed out that the inner workings of the anamorphot are kept intact, so if you have defective glass or bad internal mechanisms, these will be passed onto the mod. Christopher confirmed this by informing that all lenses are verified once arriving at VD’s, and every single defect is reported back to the owner, as you’re asked if you want to proceed with the conversion (mine has some faint markings on the rear glass).

Now, what does the mod do, EXACTLY?

The original Iscorama 36 weighs about 400g, has a fully plastic housing (which is pretty fragile) and focuses down to 2m without diopters (or closer, through a hardcore mod). Rear thread is 49mm and you need some spacers to avoid hitting its rear glass onto the taking lens’ front glass. Goes as wide as 50mm on a full-frame sensor and has a simple button feature for alignment. Focus throw is long (around 8mm), and if you modded yours for close focus, you need special attention so you don’t drop the front element to the ground.

The VD conversion weighs 680g (220g lighter than an Iscorama 54, and still much smaller than the 54 beast), because the housing is solid metal. Also, it has standard 0.8 pitch focus gears. At some point during assembly, Christopher sends you an email, confirming if focus engravings should be in feet or meters, and it focuses down to 1.1m (or 3′ 7″) without diopters (it’s twists a little over 360 degrees, and that impresses me every time I do it), even though the closest focus engraving is 1.2m (the 1.1m mark would overlap with the infinity mark). Focus throw is 1cm long, beating the close focus mod and making your life really hard if you want a follow focus that is able to spin from infinity focus down to 1.1m.

Rear threads are 58mm, and it does increase vignetting a little. It shows very slight vignetting on a Helios 44 (58mm) if stopped down, on a full-frame sensor. Aligning is still very simple, much like 1.33x lenses, where you have a rotating part with a small screw that locks the lens into position. Mine had the alignment buttons in really bad shape, so this new housing made aligning really simple, and I don’t have to worry about breaking the lens apart in the process. They’re also kind enough to include front and rear lens caps for safer transport.

I also read – after my conversion was done – that Van Diemen redesigned the rear (clamp-like) part of the housing to avoid this extra vignetting. I couldn’t find the link pointing to where I read that. If someone knows what I’m talking about, please comment below and I’ll update the post! Also, if you want to improve it even more, you can follow jaquet’s tips and stuck it into a lens support so you don’t even need to align it ever again.

There’s a recurring comparison between VD and a 54, and they are, indeed, different lenses. First of all, VD isn’t necessarily multicoated, like all 54’s, it’s still a “medium” lens (not as small as the original 36 nor as big as the 54), but it doesn’t draw so much attention, so you still have the stealth factor. Front thread is 72mm, which is a blessing for finding and using diopters, quite the opposite of the 95mm filter threads on the Isco 54. Please consider that I’ve owned (and used) an Isco 54 for over a year, so these aspects aren’t guesses at all.

The full metal body is very nice too, since many Iscoramas have had rough times since they left Isco’s factory, 30-40 years ago. Mine had its filter thread broken to smaller chunks of plastic and was held together by an empty UV ring. This, added to the almost-stuck alignment mechanism, and close-focus mod made sure that I could not EVER rent the lens as it was. Damn, it’s a $4000 lens, it would be nice to make some money out of it, right? VD’s conversion lets you rest assured that your Iscorama will work like any regular professional lens should work: without any special information required (specially regarding quirks).

Also, some other useful information not entirely related to the conversion: You should check in your country’s customs office if there’s a special form or procedure for items that are being sent out for servicing abroad and will return later. This will avoid paying extra taxes over the conversion costs. I know Brazil offers this option, and it’s particularly useful, since I would pay a 60% tax over the declared value + shipping cost if it wasn’t through this method. Plus Christopher is a really nice guy, who replies all messages and addresses every question you might have about the service. A good seller makes a hell of a difference for me.

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