Why Isco Anamorphic are the best anamorphic lenses for DSLR

Isco Anamorphic lenses are the very best anamorphic lens available for shooting with DSLR cameras. With fast and capable SLR prime lenses cheaply available, many inferior anamorphic glass smears at fast apertures unless you stop down to f/5.6. We bought our DSLR cameras with the dreams of shooting at twilight, in dimly lit rooms, and with a shallow depth of field for which to frame subjects. Generally, we recommend that the Isco Brand (Iscorama, Schneider, Isco-Göttingen) for anyone looking to invest in quality glass. Isco anamorphic lenses are a true relic of German optics manufacturing and are the best anamorphic lenses for DSLR.
Isco lenses are

Add some film grain for a vintage cinema look

Honorable mentions: Kowa Bell & Howell, Sankor, other Japanese clones of Isco can work well for DSLR anamorphic.

For more details, keep on reading. We have even adapted Isco Anamorphic lenses for single focus anamorphic shooting!

The history of Isco Anamorphic

Isco was founded back in 1936 in Göttingen, Germany, as Iosef SChneider Optik. They designed and manufactured a variety of lenses and precision optical systems, specializing in extremely high quality cinema projection lenses. They produced both anamorphic and aspherical (traditional) lenses, specifically for the popular m39 and m42 mount at the time.

Vintage Isco lenses. Photo by Uwe Kulick

Although anamorphic lenses for cinema date from the mid-1920s, they didn’t start to take hold until the 1950s. Filmmakers in that day were looking for innovative new ways to draw people away from television and back to the cinema. In the era of furniture TV with 10 inch screens, one of the main draws to the cinema was a massive projection screen for which to thrill audiences.

Around mid-century, Hollywood developed Cinerama, one of the first ideas for ultra-wide cinema. Filmmakers shot with three camera systems, and three projectors spread the image across the screen in alignment and synchronization. This resulted in an extremely wide aspect ratio. Effectively, it was moving panorama. For obvious reasons, this process was extremely expensive and cumbersome.

So filmmakers and manufacturers went to develop a different solution. Still looking to take advantage of the massive wideness available at the cinema (and not available on television), a manufacturers developed a unique solution to allow for shooting extra wide images on Super35 film.

The anamorphic solution

An anamorphic patent

The solution was a special lens that compressed the light before hitting the film negative. Then upon delivery (projection in cinema), the final film would be un-stretched via the same type of lens. This solution allowed filmmakers to compose with wide palettes without resorting to cropping, or wasting 33% of your film negative (or camera sensor) and luminance. An extra wide image could fit on the space Super35 allowed using these lenses, called anamorphic lenses.

Because anamorphic lenses compress the light and image, they need to be manufactured with precision. Soft or limited focus, aberration, and other undesirable effects will multiply using cheaply manufactured anamorphic lenses. By the 1970s, many manufacturers were working to provide lenses to this new wave of filmmakers. But out of all of them, Isco, already a leader in precision optics, offered the very highest quality lenses for 35mmm and 70mm high end cinema as well as 35mm photographers.

Panamorph vs Cylindrical

Manufacturers produced two types of anamorphic lenses. Panamorph, and cylindrical. Panamorphic lenses used a prism to modify the image. Schneider Group (Isco), produced cylindrical lenses as well. The main difference- especially as it relates to shooters today, is that cylindrical lenses are focusable. Panamorphic lenses are not. Without the ability to focus, panamorphic lenses are thus not very useful to DSLR filmmakers. We need cylindrical lenses- cylindrical lenses made with precision, lenses with such high resolution that will resolve light with 4K sensors and f/1.4 apertures with ease, and that finally leads us back to Isco.

cylindrical panamorphic anamorphic lens

In order to better resolve the image, an anamorphic lens must have at least four cylindrical elements. All Isco/Schneider Group lenses in our store have at least four, and later models introduced around the late 1980s even have five. Red or Blue Isco anamorphic lenses, although rare, have SIX elements and have tremendous resolving power. These Isco Micro anamorphic lenses have superior corner sharpness and unmatched corner-to-corner illumination. By the end of the film era, these lenses retailed for $4000 each. Many inferior lenses only use two elements, fixed or awkward focus systems, or are imprecisely aligned or manufactured. By the turn of the millennium, Schneider Group established themselves as the unquestioned leader in anamorphic lenses for cinema, winning the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences award for best cinema anamorphic lenses.

The insane clarity of an Isco Micro Cinemascope RED edition

A rare Isco Micro

The best Anamorphic lenses today

However, by the late 2000s, distributers were pushing cinema to adapt digital as a means of acquisition and projection. Cinema owners were forced to overhaul projection systems and left these tremendous film precision optics by the wayside. Unfortunately, owners left many of these originally $4000 or more lenses in warehouses to collect dust and rot.

Fortunately, we discovered that these Isco anamorphic models are the best anamorphic lenses adaptable for DSLR. While many were either too heavy, fused or chemically bonded together or integrated with prime lenses, not focusable (panamorphic), or of poor condition, several models proved adaptable with a few modifications to be able to work effectively. Our seamless lens clamps, front filter threads, and other modifications further make it much easier to use anamorphic lenses on DSLR as a single shooter.

If you are interested in shooting anamorphic, 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 blog for more anamorphic tips and tutorials!

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6 Replies on Why Isco Anamorphic are the best anamorphic lenses for DSLR

  • Andy says:

    I’ve been loving everything i see on your site and ebay store. I’m eager to start trying something on my Sony FS7 & A7s. I’m confused as to the differences between some of your lenses, though.

  • Hello, good question! The two biggest differences between the anamorphic lenses are- size/weight, and focusing ability. Some of our lenses require focusing two lens to achieve focus, and a few are single focus. The Isco Micro (dual focus) is the smallest and lightest anamorphic lens we offer and with the kit is probably the best all around anamorphic lens for the cost. If you have a larger budget to invest, our custom single focus anamorphic can be fully specced with a clamp, seamless follow focus gear, and is about as light in weight!

  • Robert says:

    I have a pentax 645D and I’m interested in whether I can shoot with anamorphic lens. do you have anything that works on medium format?

  • Anamorphic Lenses says:

    Hi Robert- yes, any of our lenses will work with medium format cameras- you just have to be sure you’re using at least 85mm (full frame equivalent) lenses or longer and you’ll be good to go! To test this out check out our anamorphic lens calculator

  • Jairaj Shetty says:

    Where can I get 1.43 anamorphic lens ? Can it be custom built?

  • Anamorphic Store says:

    Hello, you can purchase the LA-7200 or Century Optics adapters for 1.33x anamorphic shooting. However, we highly recommend 2x anamorphic instead. 1.33x adapters were originally made to convert 4:3 CCD video cameras like the DVX-100 to a 16:9 image. They have limited focusing ability, are not sharp, and are of low optical quality.

    2x anamorphic lenses were made to compress a wide image on to Super 35mm film. 1.3x anamorphics do not have much of an anamorphic look, however, 2x lenses have an extreme anamorphic effect most apparent in compressed oval bokeh. This is the classic Hollywood look recognizable in anamorphic lenses.

    If you are concerned with having too wide of a frame with 2x anamorphic lenses, you can crop your image to a 4:3 ratio, resulting in a 2.66:1 anamorphic image. Some cameras- Black Magic Ursa, GH5 and GH4, Canon Magic Lantern, Kinefinity, have settings to shoot natively in the sensor for 4:3.


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