Before I start the actual review, I must say that I’m a big fan of Atlas Lens Co.. The release of the Atlas 40mm anamorphic lens was groundbreaking at the time. Their lenses are a huge step towards making anamorphics accessible, and accessibility is what my work is all about. I’m not saying they are CHEAP, but they certainly are cheapER than all other cine anamorphics – and that is fantastic.
I got the Atlas 40mm in December of 2018 when I went to Connecticut to spend the holidays with my girlfriend’s family. Nick Kova – who I met through the channel – met me in New York. He offered to lend me his recently delivered Atlas 40mm for the two weeks I was there. I am super thankful to Nick for trusting me with his lens. You should thank him too, otherwise this review wouldn’t exist.
I am unable to lie: I had a blast shooting with the Atlas 40mm Anamorphic Lens. This was my first time using a proper cine anamorphic lens. It changed many things on how I perceive anamorphic shooting. First of all, 40mm with 2x scope is incredibly wide. I shoot with both eyes open. One eye in the viewfinder for focusing and the other eye on my surroundings for moving around. This was the first time a lens was as wide as my natural field of view.
One might think a wide angle is good for establishing shots, right? But the close focus capabilities of this lens allowed me to make some of my most interesting close up shots, showing a fair amount of background along with my subject.
I shot all the footage using both the Sony A7s2 and Panasonic GH5. While the GH5 has its own anamorphic mode, the Sony offered no support, making an external monitor key to framing. Due to gear incompatibility and form factor (I wanted to stay as small and light as possible) I ended up shooting everything handheld. Handheld as in camera + lens + (sometimes) monitor on the hot shoe mount.
This made for some really shaky shots every once in a while. I also got a huge arm workout. The weight translated as wobbliness in some of the footage (see below). The compromise gave me the ability of stuff the camera in my backpack when I was not shooting though. Not to mention every rack focus shot was a finger workout.
Even though the lens can go to T2, I found my sweet spot to be between T2.8 and T4. This gave me the best out-of-focus areas and enough sharpness that I could boost in post-production without hurting the footage. You can see this in more detail at the Sharpness & Resolution section.
If I had the money right now, I would not bat an eye investing in one of these. Even among the whole Orion lineup I feel the 40mm is the most versatile and interesting focal length. I shot for full two weeks with it and never felt I needed a longer or wider lens.
The price tag is still prohibitive if you are comparing the Atlas 40mm Anamorphic lens to adapters. The reliability of it makes up for a big chunk of that cost difference. A cine lens will not let you down or have you struggling with clamps, focus, diopters and whatnot. That is where I am investing. It’s time for me to get out of the adapters game and move into cinema anamorphics.
What are the downsides of the Atlas 40mm then? Some people claim it is a really soft lens, but that was not my experience. Sure, at T2 things get a bit mushy, but no lens is super sharp wide open. T2.8 looks great. I feel the lens loses its magic past T5.6. The subject blends with the background and separation is gone. Bokeh feels strange at times (more on that later) and flares are quite saturated. Those two aspects do not bother me, but they might be red flags for other shooters.
The first thing I noticed when I picked up the case with the lens is that this baby is HEAVY. It is a solid cup of metal filled with thick slabs of glass. At 2.2kg (5lbs), the Orion 40mm made both the Sony A7s2 and Panasonic GH5 feel like little toys.
Not only heavy, the lens is also pretty big. The Atlas measures 18.9cm (7.4″) in length with a 114mm (4.5″) front. This front is a standard value for cinema lenses, making it compatible with countless filters and matteboxes. The gigantic front made me work extra hard to find perfect lighting, unable to rely on a variable ND. I had packed the Fotodiox ND Throttle adapter, featuring built-in variable ND. This made things easier for shooting with the A7s2.
Speaking of adapters and lens mounts, the Atlas’ come in PL mount by default. You can also get an optional EF mount at extra cost. The one I used was already fitted with an EF mount. If you are swapping mounts you will end up using a handful of shims. These are provided with the lens and you will use them to adjust your flange distance properly. I have heard from different owners this is a time consuming challenge. It is hard to spot critical focus when the lens is wide open. Because of that it is hard to tell if you have the perfect distance between the lens mount and the camera sensor.
Still on the subject of weight and size, all my adapters sucked. There was a noticeable amount of play either between the lens and the adapters or between the adapter and the camera body because of how heavy the lens is. The adapters I was using for the Sony were the Fotodiox Pro Fusion ND Throttle and the Metabones Mk IV. The Panasonic had the Mitakon Zhongyi Lens Turbo V2 for focal reducing capabilities. I have been using these adapters for years without ever having this issue before.
A couple ways to solve this play would be to use adapters that have a foot for support and connect the foot to the rig’s rails or the camera cage. This addresses body/adapter play. The Metabones and Fotodiox had a foot, but I was shooting without a rig, silly me. The second part is to use cine-type adapters that have a twist lock onto the lens, like a cine camera does. These are on my list for future upgrades.
I only noticed the play on the footage many weeks later when I edited this video and threw out too many shots due to the footage looking extra wobbly. This was not the Orion’s fault in any way: it was mostly my loose adapters, lack of a proper rig, IBIS going crazy with anamorphic and rolling shutter plus slow motion on the A7s2 – known Sony issues.
Focus goes from infinity down to 0.56m (2ft) at minimum focus, with 300 degrees of throw and markings in both feet and meters. Iris ranges between T2 and T16, featuring 14 aperture blades for smooth bokeh. Both focus and aperture rings have gears for motors/follow focus. The lens does not change size while focusing since all the movement is internal, that also means the front does not rotate, which is great (#iscoramaFlaws).
There is a fair amount of focus breathing, widening your field of view by about 5% when focused at infinity compared to minimum focus. It is not a big deal on most shots, but if you have a big rack focus you will definitely feel it. 5% at 40mm 2x Anamorphic is a pretty big deal as you can see in the shot below.
PRICE AND AVAILABILITY
Each Atlas lens costs $7,999. Payment is split into a $4,999 deposit and the remaining $3,000 to be paid before delivery. Talking to Dan Kanes and Forrest Schultz at NAB this year I learned that the average waiting time between putting down an order and receiving the lens is about six months in 2019.
There are two 3-lens sets of Atlas. The 40mm is the wide-angle of the original set, or the A set, matched by 65mm and 100mm lenses. Buying a set is the same as buying individual lenses ($23,995 for the set), split into a $7,995 deposit and 16,000 payment before delivery). The deposits are all refundable and you can easily upgrade from a single lens deposit to a full set deposit.
SHARPNESS & RESOLUTION
I had limited space for shooting these charts, so the focusing range is short. Still, we can see many things from these samples. Taken with the Panasonic GH5, these images have a higher pixel count than the usual ones I use, from the A7s2, allowing for closer inspection on how the lens performs.
At T2 the Orion is quite soft but you can still tell critical focus and read small text even 3m away. There is lots of blooming on all highlights in the center, intensified by purple fringing on high contrast edges. The blooming and fringing dials down towards the edges, where we see the usual loss of sharpness and considerable light falloff – about a half stop. The text is still pretty readable though.
As we stop down to T2.8 – which is my favorite stop for this lens – the blooming goes away and the purple tinge is under control. The image is not as sharp as T5.6 or 11, but calling this lens soft at this point seems like ignorance. The corners are still quite unsharp, not much improvement over T2, and just a bit darker – less than a quarter stop. The subtle light falloff and softness in the corners at this point contribute to creating mood in the shots, narrowing attention to the subject and not to over-detailed corners.
Speaking of detail, the lens is sharp from T5.6 onwards. Corners improve noticeably with just tiny smudges at the very edges and very little light falloff. Not much changes as you stop down from there, as we can see from T11. Sharpness still goes up a touch, making it sharp edge to edge and light distribution across the frame is the biggest difference at this point, with much more uniform values from center to corner. The one odd thing is, at minimum focus (0.6m) we start to see yellow/blue fringing on high contrast edges at the corners of the frame. These were not there at faster stops and are not quite visible with the lens further away from the subject.
The Atlas 40mm anamorphic lens has a horizontal field of view equivalent to a 20mm lens. It is expected that it would show warping on straight lines. Anamorphic distortion is a big deal and it greatly contributes to making shots more immersive. Distortion helps creating an extra layer of depth onto a two-dimensional image. Below is an animated grid going from rectilinear to the the Atlas’ distortion profile. Notice how the vertical lines have very little movement compared to the horizontal ones.
FLARES & BOKEH
The Atlas’ streak flares are a rich, saturated blue which, honestly, is a stone’s throw from SLR Magic’s flares. This blue is such a specific hue it can easily be picked in post-production. Then you adjust it to your liking – including color changes to some extent. You can also see some teal elements reflected in there, plus a short vertical streak that adds more dimension to the overall anamorphic flare.
The blue gives good sci-fi vibes – sci-fi and blue flares are in a tight bond since Alien (1979). Some rainbows are visible when the light source is up close to the lens. Blooming is pretty controlled when we consider a light source is pointed directly into the lens.
On such wide angle, the flare becomes smaller and smaller as I walk away from the camera. This means if you want bigger flares from far away you should get some big and strong light sources. Did anyone say M18?).
If you want to see more flare samples, PremiumBeat has a free pack of Atlas 40mm flares!
When I was testing for bokeh looking at a Christmas tree, everything looked great. But I noticed it can have a strange shape at times – I like to call it snowman bokeh, although it looks more like a bell-shape – and you can see it in the video at the top of this post between 0:35 and 0:55. I do not know what causes it. In other scenarios, as bokeh approaches the edges of the frame it gets cut off into triangle and bean shapes.
From my empirical observations, this has to do with the placement of the highlights and the focused distance. On close-ups these strange shapes almost never show up, but as soon as I started to get further from my subject, bokeh would get messy.
All of this to say that you can get amazing bokeh with the Orion 40mm – but you can also end up with some less-than-perfect ovals. Speaking of ovals, I noticed the stretched bokeh is not quite oval. Here is a quick comparison between the lens’ actual bokeh versus what an oval would be. If anything, the Orion has even more streched out-of-focus highlights, contributing for extra waterfall effect and subject separation.
According to the data sheet provided by Atlas, their lenses cover a 31mm image circle. What does that mean? In quick terms it means you are fine shooting with any S35 sensor (24.89 x 18.6mm), ARRI Alexa, all the way up to the 4:3 3.4K Open Gate mode (23.76 x 17.82mm) and RED Gemini (30.72 x 18mm), 5K 6:5 Full Height (21.6 x 18mm). The Gemini is RED’s best camera for anamorphic shooting.
In my situation, the GH5 did great with the 4:3 Anamorphic Open Gate mode even with the focal reducer attached. It shocked me to get a clean crop the center of the frame when shooting with the A7s2. I managed to get a clean 2.40:1 frame after all!
On the first day however, I did not bother testing the sensor coverage on the Sony and shot some slow-motion footage using the A7s2’s S35 crop mode. This yields full coverage from the Orion and delivers the wild 3.56:1 aspect ratio of 2x scopes and 16:9 sensors. I particularly like this width and believe one can make very interesting projects with it, although I admit it is not the friendliest of aspect ratios.
When I started writing this review, I had not gone through all the tests and the data. All I had were my notes and my thoughts about the experience of shooting with the Orion 40mm. After a few days of looking at clips, creating distortion maps, analyzing flares and bokeh, drawing diagrams and interpreting charts, I came to a conclusion. I like this 40mm better than when I had only my thoughts.
It is easy to point out the features I love about this lens. I am also on watch for its limitations. I am happy with its distortion and focal length. 40mm is unattainable with 2x adapters. It allows for very strong compositions. Bokeh could be cleaner when we look at the snowman and triangular shapes. If I am to be very nitpicky, flares could be less vivid for a “straight out of camera delivery” scenario.
It is unfair to compare a cine anamorphic lens to adapters but I will do it anyway! The time and stress I saved by connecting a single piece of gear to the camera before heading out to shoot made a huge impact on the images I produced. You can look at my previous videos and the tests on this post to compare. Perfect exposure was achievable! Magic hour was doable! I shot pretty spontaneous footage too. That would have been impossible had I spent ten minutes fiddling with an adapter rig.
I know I am not the only one that struggles with adapters, especially at the beginning of any shoot. This is where cinema gear makes a difference and justifies its price tag. Skip alignment checks, clamp quirks, diopters. Skip triple testing every piece of the optical chain. No more checking infinity on taking lens, then on anamorphic, then on focus on variable strength diopter. All of these things are already built into the Atlas 40mm anamorphic lens – or any cine lens!
Focusing on the downsides, we can argue the lens is too big and heavy if you compare it to an Iscorama 36 or a Kowa B&H. But once the adapter rig is fully built, I bet it is just shy of the Atlas’ weight and size. In some cases the adapter rig will be bigger and heavier!
The price tag is steep compared to adapters. Even being the absolute cheapest anamorphic lens in the cinema league $7,999 is no pocket change. The issue here is that it is accessible enough compared to Zeiss’ or Cooke’s anamorphics at $30k+. This creates a feeling of “just out of reach” that upsets the prosumer market. I made up my mind and, if I have the chance, I will get one of these for myself. I want to put it on a proper rig and shoot content other than tests with it.
In all honesty I am done stressing with adapters for my career. This is a perfect segue into better gear to match my skills while not giving up the budget aspect I value so much.