How to Choose an Anamorphic Lens

When choosing an anamorphic lens, the amount of options out there can feel overwhelming. Virtually all anamorphic lenses available for sale are no longer in production, haven’t been for many years, and are generally poorly documented and tested. Endless combinations of cameras and prime lenses make it extremely difficult to pick the anamorphic that’ll work with your exact kit and your style as a filmmaker.

To help narrow down options and be sure that you get the right anamorphic lens that’ll take your cinematography to the next level, we’ve put together this quick guide.

A DSLR anamorphic setup consists of the following:

A typical anamorphic setup with the Isco Micro

Although we sell full ready-to-shoot setups in our store, each of the components can be purchased separately and there are many other lenses that are available outside of our store.

So which camera works best? Which primes? Which anamorphic? Here are the three most important things to consider when choosing an anamorphic lens:

  1. size and weight of the anamorphic
  2. single or dual focus
  3. your DSLR and prime lenses

What is an acceptable size and weight?

Many anamorphic lenses were made in an era where size and weight were secondary considerations to build quality. Vintage Isco Schneider lenses from the 1960s and 1970s were built from solid brass, and are built as solid as a tank. Over 50 years these lenses have developed few problems, and only need to have their focusing mechanism re-greased and a simple cleaning at best (we do all of this with our store lenses) to keep them in top shape.

Consider the size and weight of adding an additional lens to the front of your prime lens when choosing which lens to buy.

Large format anamorphic lenses

For those that are more budget-conscious and shoot with locked-down tripods, the full size anamorphic range (Isco, Schneider, etc) can be a great value option. Early models of these large format lenses are approximately 3lb/1.3kg in weight and approximately 10 inches/25cm in length. A 15mm rod support isn’t needed, but recommended, as the full setup will have the profile of roughly a zoom lens.

Other alternatives to the Isco Schneider models include Japanese-copy Kollomorgen and American copy Bell & Howell.

Generally, these lenses focus from infinity to 10-12 feet (3m).

Medium format anamorphic lenses

If you’re more of a run-and-gun shooter looking for a lighter rig, medium format lenses like the Isco Micro and the Kowa B&H would be preferable. Made in the late 1980s and 1990s, these lenses combine the top German build quality of the large format anamorphics and the pristine optics into a smaller, closer focusing package- approximately 3-5 feet (1m).

We’ve stripped down the Isco Micro to bare minimum components for lightest weight (approx 1lb/0.45kg). Medium format anamorphic lenses are a great balance of value for most DSLR shooters.

If you’d like a lens with unparalled sharpness, the Schneider Anamorphic is an excellent choice.

Medium format lenses can be mounted on gimbal systems such as the DJI Ronin and the Zhiyun Crane.

Isco Micro on the Zhiyun Crane

Small format

Small format lenses like the Baby Hypogonar and the Baby Isco provide anamorphic quality in the smallest possible package. Generally, these lenses have a diameter no wider than 52mm, so if you’re interested in using these lenses, you’ll need prime taking lenses with a smaller front diameter to avoid light transmission losses.

We do not carry any of these lenses in our store as we’ve found the optical quality of these lenses to be not up to professional standard- shooting at a minimum of f/5.6 isn’t really desirable for the pure run and gun shooters a small format anamorphic would appeal to. These lenses can generally focus closer (5ft) but can sometimes strangely lack the ability to infinity focus. If you’re doing exclusively gimbal shooting, or used to extremel light weight, choose a small format anamorphic lens.

Do I need Single or Dual Focus Anamorphic?

The vast majority of anamorphic lenses are focused by both the prime taking lens and the anamorphic lens. Dual focusing is not difficult once you get the hang of it, but some filmmakers prefer single focus especially if working with narrative shoots with an AC and follow focus system. Consider if it is worth the additional investment for a single focus system.

Pure single focus anamorphic lenses

A few anamorphic lenses, including the Isco Rama 36, 54, and our custom single focus anamorphic, can be focused by setting your taking lens to infinity and focusing only with the anamorphic. This solution is by far the easiest to shoot with.

Our pure custom single focus anamorphic lens

Calibrated dual follow focus

There are also several calibrated dual focus systems that are available for $500-1000 (Rectilux, Rapido) that will use one follow focus to calibrate the focus of both anamorphic and taking lens. These are quality components that don’t affect the quality of your anamorphic lenses with additional optics, but can be difficult to calibrate especially when changing lenses in the field. No optics are involved with this setup/

Anamorphic single focus adapter

Finally, any dual focus anamorphic lens can be “converted” to a single focus anamorphic lens via a rangefinder attachment. Attachments are sets of properly calculated variable distance diopters added to the front of your anamorphic lens (be sure to have a front filter clamp for your anamorphic lens or purchase one of our ready-to-shoot packages). You set your taking lens to infinity, your anamorphic to infinity, and focus with just the anamorphic rangefinder.

The Isco Micro, in our opinion, is the best quality anamorphic lens available at this price point. However, it can only dual focus, not single focus. So we decided to build our own custom anamorphic single focus adapter for not only this lens, but any comparable lenses like the Sankor 16C, Kowa Bell & Howell, and more. Simply attach this element to the front of your anamorphic and you can single focus. We also have built a limited number of full builds with the Isco Micro plus Rangefinder.

Isco Single Focus Setup on a GH5

Popular rangefinders also include the Aivascope, the SLR Magic Rangefinder, and our own Isco Rangefinder (also acts as a 0.6 wide angle adapter, increasing your field of view). The Aivascope and SLR Magic are both helicoid (rotating) focus, while the Isco Rangefinder is a push pull focus system. The Aviascope fits best with smaller anamorphic lenses, the SLR Rangefinder with nearly any lens at 82mm diameter, and the Isco Rangefinder with Isco lenses for best optical quality with the least amount of chromatic abberation.

Will my cameras and lenses work?

We prefer 2x anamorphic lenses for their intense anamorphic qualities in flaring and bokeh. 2x means that the stretch ratio gathers twice as much of a field of view versus a normal spherical lens.

Assuming that you are filming on a 16:9 sensor, your final image with a 2x anamorphic will have an extra wide 3.55:1 aspect ratio when unsqeezing in post.

1.33x, 1.5x, and 1.7x (rare) anamorphic lenses can also be found and adapted to DSLR. The 1.33x anamorphic is the most common, found in SLR Magic, Century Optics, Panasonic LA-7200, and others. These lenses don’t generally provide enough of an anamorphic look for our liking, but can be desirable to others.

Assuming that you are filming on a 16:9 sensor, your final image will have an extra wide 2.35:1 aspect ratio when unsqeezing in post.

Check out our detailed guide here on how to choose a prime lens for anamorphic setups.

Filming in 4:3

If your camera has the ability to film in alternate aspect ratios, this is a way to balance the extreme stretch and anamorphic quality of 2x with a more traditional cinema aspect ratio.

Cameras like Black Magic, Canon, Panasonic GH4 and GH5, Kinefinity, and more allow you to use the vertical size of the sensor to capture more of the anamorphic lens and unsqueeze to a resulting 2.66:1 image- just slightly wider than the ever-more-common 2.35:1.

4:3 mode in 3k- unsqueezes to 6k. You can even shoot 60p slow motion.

Our Anamorphic Calculator

Not every anamorphic lens can pair with every prime lens and DSLR camera. Generally, you’d like to use 2x anamorphic lenses with 85mm prime lenses on full frame, 50mm lenses on APS-C/Super 35, and 43mm lenses on Micro 4/3. Some lenses like the Isco Micro Anamorphic Lens can perform well with full frame cameras and provide a wide anamorphic view.

While this may seem restrictive, keep in mind that with 2x anamorphic lenses, you are doubling your field of view. So an 85mm lens with an anamorphic attachment will actually look like a 42.5mm canvas to paint your image. Simply divide your prime lens by two to get your anamorphic equivalent.

If you can shoot in 4:3, you can divide your minimum focal length by a factor of 1.3x. So on full frame 4:3, your minimum focal length will actually be 65mm.

If this sounds confusing and you’re looking to quickly test out exactly what prime lenses will work for your DSLR, we’ve developed an anamorphic lens calculator to help you test before buying. Select your sensor size, your aspect ratio, which lens you’d like to try, and you will be informed and ready to shoot!

I only have zoom/wide lenses!

While zoom lenses can work with anamorphic lenses, they aren’t preferable over prime lenses. Similarly, wide lenses can work, but might vignette and the anamorphic effect won’t be as strong with such a deep depth of field.

The good news is that prime lenses that pair nicely with anamorphic lenses are plentiful and affordable! Here are a list of nice pairings that can be found on eBay. Be sure to purchase them in compatible mounts- m42 and m39 can easily be adapted with inexpensive adapters to almost any DSLR camera.

Any of these vintage prime lenses will pair very nicely with anamorphic lenses. They all have smaller front filter diameters (perfect for medium format anamorphic lenses) and less lens coatings for more flaring.

The Helios 58mm f/2 prime is a great inexpensive prime lens for anamorphic shooting.

Summary

If you are interested adding anamorphic quality 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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7 Replies on How to Choose an Anamorphic Lens

  • martin says:

    i have a canon eos rebel t5 with a kit lens, what do you recomend?

  • Anamorphic Store says:

    Hi Martin, I’d definitely recommend picking up a fast, inexpensive prime lens to go with a compact anamorphic lens and make the setup really shine. This Helios 58mm f/2 prime lens here pairs extremely well with this compact Isco Micro lens. If you decide to purchase both, you will be ready to shoot anamorphic with no other gear or setup required.

  • Joseph says:

    Hello anamorphic! I have a Panasonic GH5. I was wondering what would be my best bet. I can use either my Nikon 50mm 1.4 (52mm thread) or my Lumix 20mm (46mm thread) as the throw lens. What would be the best way to get up and running with one of your packages? Any suggestions for what I need?

  • Anamorphic Lenses says:

    Joseph, thanks for reaching out! I would be happy to help you out.  

    First of all, both your camera and the prime lenses you listed are excellent pairings for shooting anamorphic. The GH5 in 4:3 mode really pairs nicely and renders a Cinemascope ratio in post. If you’re interested in exploring other inexpensive lens parings, feel free to read my lens guide. But your 50mm lens will work very well.

    My ready to shoot anamorphic lens packages include the following:

    This will be all you need to convert your existing prime lenses into anamorphic setups.

    When choosing, first consider- do you need a single focus lens? Single focus means that the image can be focused only by one lens, instead dual focus, where the image is focused by both the taking lens and the prime lens. 

    If you need single focus, then these lenses here would be your options. The Isco Micro single focus is very sharp, modern, and doesn’t flare very much. The custom single focus is sharp, vintage, and has lots of blooming and streaky anamorphic flares.

    If you’d like to make a smaller investment, you can always upgrade later to single focus (with this attachment) and get a dual focus lens to begin. For that I would recommend the Isco Micro. It is compact, light, and top quality glass and works extremely well with the GH5. See several demo videos here on the camera         

    If you have any other questions, please let me know!

  • Bradley h says:

    I have an old (regular) 16mm camera with Two vintage lenses: a zeiss 8mm wide angle and an angenieux 12-120 zoom. It seems easieR to fit the anamorphic onto the front of the Zeiss (49mm front thread) than adapting The anamorphic to the angenieuX zoom (~85mm front thread). Can i use the zeiSs as the taking lens or should i get another lens?

    Sorry for the weird question but i just starTed researching anamorphics and my head is swiMming lol

  • Anamorphic Lenses says:

    Bradley, thanks for reaching out. You shouldn’t have an issue with the Angenieux- the larger versions of our Isco lenses use 72mm clamps so 85-72mm step down will not be much of an issue. The Zeiss likely will be too wide of a lens to use with anamorphic. Anamorphic lenses double your field of view, so your 8mm Zeiss would turn into a 4mm anamorphic lens.

    This lens should work well with your 12-120. Here is the link to one of the latest versions on eBay.

  • yoon cook says:

    You mentioned about super scope which I understood as a wide angle attachment. What is it? and what x is it? 0.7x? 0.8x?

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