Why Do Anamorphic Lenses Flare?

The most exciting characteristic of shooting with an anamorphic lens- approaching magic hour, and the sun is just about to fall behind some trees beyond the horizon. Your actor faces the horizon, camera behind his back, handheld, tight frame. As the sun sets, the frame just catches the edge of the sun and the anamorphic lens just blooms with excitement, scattering light and color on to the silhouetted frame of your actor.

Flare with our Single Focus Anamorphic

Why do lenses flare?

Flares are not unique to anamorphic lenses. In fact, intentional flaring is a relatively modern phenomenon due to simply cinematographer aesthetic. Flares used to be seen as an undesirable characteristic and great care was taken to prevent them with flags and matte boxes.

Augustin-Jean Fresnel first determined the equations that are now known as Fresnel equations. If you’re familiar with 3D applications and material settings, this is where the fresnel setting comes from. Essentially, light never moves perfectly between air and transparent surfaces.

Flares are achievable with most any lens, as all film and photography lenses are manufactured with several lens groups. Lens manufacturers often list the number of elements and groups as a selling feature. For example, the Canon 70-200mm f/4L contains 20 elements and 15 groups. With so many groups of glass within a lens- each with different transmission values- light will reflect, refract, ghost, leak, and more or less bounce all around before hitting the sensor of your DSLR camera.

The inside of an anamorphic lens

To combat this, lens manufacturers (and filter manufacturers) coat their glass with multiple layers of nano-coating to reduce flaring and reflections as much as possible. (If desired, the coating can be removed, and we have done so for a few of our customers who have requested it.) But when working with a high dynamic range of light and extremely bright sources – pointing your camera at the sun- there is so much light bouncing around in your lens that it is essentially impossible to not flare.

Already have an anamorphic lens kit? Looking to increase flaring?

Check out our anamorphic lens coating removal tutorial on how to easily increase flaring on your anamorphic lens kits. We also sell uncoated anamorphic lenses in our store as well.

But what is it about anamorphic lenses that causes them to flare?

As we know, anamorphic lens elements introduce many characteristics to an image. The cylindrical elements of a properly-made anamorphic glass will provide at least two groupings of two lenses, if not more in addition to the number of elements and groups in the prime taking lens.

Basically, just adding more elements means more flares, created before or after the anamorphic components. Our single focus anamorphic anamorphic lens build contains 6 different elements and blooms and flares with ease!

In addition, the stretch factor of anamorphic lenses enhances the flare effect. Anamorphic lenses compress the horizontal field of view of the image. The greater the anamorphic stretch factor, the greater the anamorphic effect. Correcting the image in post-production will stretch out any distortions. This includes all of those internal reflections between elements inside the lens barrel. Any spherical (circular) flare now becomes a sharp horizontal line parallel to the anamorphic axis. These long vertical streaks are probably the single most defining characteristic of anamorphic lenses.

But I can flare with a filter, right? Or in post?

Post production flares can indeed produce effective results. Animating the flicker settings in Video CoPilot’s Optical Flares plugin and tracking the flare to a light in 3D space can produce some pretty realistic results, and the flexibility to design your own flare allows for fun and endless possibilities.

Filters can achieve a passable effect as well. Simply stretch a fishing line across the front diameter of a lens. The thread will be beyond of the minimum focal range of the prime lens and won’t be visible, but it will cause a single strong internal reflection perpendicular to the direction of the thread. Different colors and thicknesses of the line can be used to try out different effects.

Essentially, whether one is better than the other comes back to the old argument of analog vs. digital. Digital is flexible, easier to pick up and get decent results from, and cheaper. Optical Flares is a great plugin. Threads can imitate the effect in a pinch.

Optical Flares by Video CoPilot

But there is a certain je ne sais quoi with analog: vinyl music, acoustic instruments, and anamorphic lenses. There are amazing virtual piano VST plugins for composers, both sampled and computed. But no matter how meticulously sampled, or no matter how complex the computations are, there are simply too many elements at play to calculate for the incomprehensible number of factors in between a piano: the resonance of the wood from which it is made, the reverberations and reflections of the room, how the strings vibrate and resonate with each other.

Could you simulate the effects of anamorphic lenses? Sure, but there’s still something much more special about the real thing, especially in the hands of a master artist.

If you are interested adding anamorphic flares to your toolbox, please visit our anamorphic lens store for demos and examples. We have spent several years collecting, modifying, and testing anamorphic lenses to weed through the junk, make needed modifications, and assemble ready-to-shoot packages.

If you are interested in learning more on working with anamorphic lenses and DSLR, please check out our anamorphic tutorial blog for more anamorphic tips and tutorials!

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