Getting Started with Anamorphic Lenses for DSLR

Anamorphic lenses for DSLR cameras is a system of lenses that compress the horizontal field of view by a factor of 2x, producing a distorted image that is un-distorted in post-production to create a widescreen edit.

 

Anamorphic optics are extremely difficult to manufacture. Anamorphic lenses manufactured with enough precision to resolve the high resolutions of DSLR and modern cinema cameras in good condition are rare and desirable.

What is an anamorphic lens system?

An anamorphic setup for DSLR cameras will be comprised of four elements.

Single Focus Anamorphic Lens Setup for DSLR

Anamorphic lenses can be either single focus or dual focus. Dual focus means both the prime (taking) lens and the anamorphic lens must be focused. This is not as difficult as it may sound. Single focus means that you set your taking lens to infinity and only focus with the anamorphic.

Some anamorphic systems also include a single focus element attached to the anamorphic lens. This element simply turns a dual focus anamorphic lens into a single focus system.

Will my DSLR work?

To get started with shooting anamorphic lenses on DSLR and modern cinema cameras, you will have to consider the camera setup (or system) that you will be using. The three factors to consider are:

To make figuring out which lenses will work easy, check out our anamorphic calculator.Use The Calculator

It is important to keep in mind that because anamorphic lenses compress the horizontal field of view, they are essentially behaving as 2x focal reducers. Thus, your final 2x anamorphic image will actually have the field of view of a lens twice as wide. So while it may sound restrictive to only use longer lenses, your resulting image will actually appear wider. For example, a 100mm anamorphic lens setup will look like a 50mm standard lens setup.

A 100mm anamorphic lens setup, looking much more like a standard 50mm

What are the main benefits of using anamorphic lenses on DSLR cameras?

The purpose of anamorphic is to achieve a very unique look that can’t be otherwise replicated. Surprisingly, the point of an anamorphic lens is really to appreciate the imperfections of anamorphic photography. Unique lens flares are far easier to achieve and appear as sharp horizontal streaks instead of diagonal or round blooming corners. You can even remove the coatings to increase your ability for your lenses to flare.

Beautiful anamorphic flares!

As 2x anamorphics have a significant vertical stretch, a subject is in focus is framed against a background with a very oval bokeh. This is traditionally thought of as a very cinematic effect popularized in the 1970s. Some characterize anamorphic bokeh as painted or watercolor-like.

Oval bokeh backdrop

Much of the recent interest in anamorphics is because many cinematographers desire to add strong organic qualities to their image by introducing technical imperfections such as the aforementioned lens flares and oval bokeh.

Extra-wide 3.55:1 ratio with slight flaring

What kinds of lenses work best with anamorphics?

Of course, the prime (taking) lens paired with the anamorphic will also greatly influence the final image. We recommend using vintage lenses, such as the Helios 44 (58mm f/2) or the Jupiter 9 (85mm f/2). These lenses are readily available for $50-100 on eBay and are single coated which results in more flares and a more vintage, organic look.

To determine which lenses that you have that will work for anamorphic, please visit our anamorphic calculator.

If you are working with a smaller crop sensor camera such as a Black Magic (BMPCC, BMCC, Ursa) or a Micro Four Thirds system like a GH4 or GH5, you can figure out what kind of lenses you can use by simply converting your lens to it’s natural crop factor. For example, our Isco Micro must be used at approximately 75mm on a full frame sensor camera. This means that for the GH4 (2.3x crop factor at 4k) you can use taking lenses that are 32.6mm or longer. Some lenses like the Isco Micro Anamorphic Lens perform well with full frame cameras.

 

75mm / 2.3 = 32.6mm

What are the different stretch ratios of anamorphic lenses?

Anamorphic lenses come in a few varieties: the most common of which are 1.33x, 1.5x, and 2.0x. This number refers to the power of the squeeze of an image. The higher the number, the greater the squeeze, and the wider the resulting image. Further, higher stretch ratios result in more prominent anamorphic boheh and flares, which is why we highly recommend them.

If you have a camera that has the ability to shoot in 4:3 aspect ratio (GH4, GH5, Kinefinity) or a custom aspect ratio (Magic Lantern Canon), then you have a very powerful camera setup for anamorphic. Because of the “taller” aspect ratio, you can shoot with wider taking lenses without vignetting, and your resulting image will de-squeeze to a very desirable 2.66:1 aspect ratio.

What accessories might I need for anamorphic lenses?

If you purchase one of our ready to shoot bundles on eBay, you will have everything you need to get started with shooting anamorphic right away! If you’re looking to add on a few helpful accessories to make shooting easier, we would recommend the following:

If you are using a single focus system, you do not need to buy a diopter! All close focusing can be accomplished by the anamorphic lens kit.

 

Where can I buy?

If you’d like more information to help sort through the options, check out our three considerations for choosing an anamorphic lens for DSLR.

If you are interested adding anamorphic 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.

In conclusion

Anamorphic lenses are a very exciting opportunity for the cinematographer looking to take an image to the next level. With the wide availability of large sensor DSLR cameras, the coveted shallow depth of field look no longer solely qualifies an image as “cinematic”. Anamorphic lenses are a great asset to have in the toolbox for projects that call for an extra-special sauce.

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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