Which Single Focus Anamorphic Lens to use for your DSLR?
Nearly all anamorphic lenses that are available are dual focus. This means that to focus, you must first focus the anamorphic lens, and then focus the prime lens that your anamorphic lens is attached to.
For nature photographers, and slower paced setups this is not an issue. Dual focus is kind of like “muscle memory”- once you learn where your anamorphic lens focuses, and how it pairs with your prime lens, you can get locked into dual focus.
Some anamorphic lens filmmakers of the “run and gun” style focus their dual focus anamorphic lens setup to a specific focus point- say, 8 feet. Then, all shots are captured at this focus distance- which can be pleasing for that anamorphic and prime lens combo that just sing so well together.
While “focusing with your feet” might be too restrictive for a creative director, the qualities of anamorphic at a medium focus distance and mix of compressed bokeh can be a truly attractive aesthetic that overcomes the need for wide and closeup shots.
Single Focus Anamorphic Lenses
Let’s review how an anamorphic kit is put together.
- The DSLR or Cinema Camera. The Panasonic GH5, GH4, Black Magic, Sony A7s, and Canon all work well
- A prime lens for the camera (preferably, around 75-80mm or longer)
- An anamorphic lens kit to attach to the front of the prime lens
- Optional- a lens component that turns the kit into a single focus setup
- Optional- the Superscope lens component that allows you to achieve wider shots
For this article though, we are going to focus on the single focus part of the kit. There are two types of single focus anamorphic lenses: natural single focus lenses, and single focus attachment kits.
Both operate the same way.
Throughout the history of anamorphic lens manufacturing, Isco and Schneider dominated the top tier of quality. The Isco 36 and Isco 54 were often considered the gold standard of anamorphic lenses for DSLR filmmakers, due to their quality and single focus ability. These are natural single focus lenses. They manufactured large format and smaller format anamorphic cinema lenses.
Simply attach them to your prime with our included clamp, set your prime lens to infinity, and you can completely focus using just your Isco anamorphic lens. Single focus anamorphic lenses can be used with follow focuses, and can work great on gimbals.
Single Focus Anamorphic Attachments
Lenses such as the Kowa BH, Schneider XL, and others offered nearly the same optical quality, yet in their stock form, can only dual focus. Why? Because Isco had patented their single focus mechanism, effectively capturing the market for single focus anamorphic.
This is where the attachment kits come in. A single focus anamorphic attachment is an optical element that attaches to the front of a dual anamorphic lens. Set your prime lens and the anamorphic lens to infinity, and you can simply focus exactly like the Isco 36, using only one set of optics.
The challenge, however, is that unlike modern lenses, the vast majority of anamorphic lenses were manufactured without a front filter thread. This means that you must use a front filter thread clamp to attach to the front of your anamorphic lens, to turn it from a dual focus into a single focus.
Effectively, you have taken a prime lens, added an anamorphic, and added a single focus set. Without premium quality optics, image quality can suffer and light will slow down from passing through too much glass. (This is why we developed our Premium Single Focus Anamorphic Attachment to be as transparent as possible- the glass is so clear it almost appears to be invisible!)
However, when paired with quality anamorphic lenses, single focus kits can transform a difficult-to-use lens into a cinematic tool to use on set. Most single focus attachments including our own also unlock the ability to close focus so you can leave the diopters at home, or even macro focus– something that a natural single focus lens cannot do.
Currently we have built 4 distinct single focus anamorphic lens kits.
The Schneider XL Single Focus Anamorphic Lens Kit
Schneider, parent of Isco, was a world-renowned German manufacturer of cinema glass. This is the best optical quality single focus that we offer.
The Schneider XL can be outfitted with our seamless clamp 72mm size for attaching to your prime lens. Step up or step down rings can be used for other filter thread sizes.
- Premium glass for maximum quality from edges to center
- Good flaring- moderate level
- Large rear element helps avoid lens vignetting
- Moderately heavy
The Isco Red Single Focus
Isco, formerly a rival of Schneider before being purchased, was also a premium German optics manufacturer.
The Isco Micro comes in three versions: blue, red, and gold. The blue versions are ultra-rare. Red versions are still quite rare, and the gold versions are the most common. We offer both red and gold single focus kits.
Although all of the versions are identical in design, the optics are slightly different between the three. The blue, red, and gold versions contain 6, 5, and 4 optical elements respectively, for slightly better corner performance and light transmission.
The Isco Micro can be outfitted with our seamless clamp 52mm or 58mm for attaching to your prime lens. Step up or step down rings can be used for other filter thread sizes.
- Compact, well built kit
- Great sharpness
- Expandable- you can purchase the base version and upgrade to single focus later
- Locking mechanism allows you to lock infinity on the Isco dual focus
- Smaller front element pairs better for wide angle shots with the SuperScope
- Not as many flares as other anamorphic lenses. The multi-coating can be removed to help improve anamorphic flaring.
Our Custom Single Focus Anamorphic
The used anamorphic lens market is a crapshoot. You could find gold or garbage. With the growth of DSLRs that support anamorphic lenses, stories of finding an Isco 36 at a barn sale for next to nothing are quite rare.
However, we found an old, unmarked lens in particular that has a really unique set of optics. With 16mm and American Made etched on the side, these lenses were likely used for home projectors to display anamorphic images. However, the image quality is surprisingly unique, with barrel distortion and sharp flaring.
Unfortunately in their standard form, they had no usability for DSLR cameras due to their ridiculously long or even locked focus throws, and generally unmaintained optics. But good glass is good glass, and we found a way to turn these lenses into unique single focus anamorphic kits for modern cameras.
The custom single focus anamorphic can be outfitted with our seamless clamp in 58mm size for attaching to your prime lens. Step up or step down rings can be used for other filter thread sizes.
- Very unique image with lots of anamorphic barrel distortion
- Lots of anamorphic flaring- this is the best kit we offer for flaring
- A unique vintage optics look
- While it is still usable at wide prime lens aperture, the custom single focus is not as sharp as the options above.
- Generally the lens will require longer prime lenses to avoid vignetting. Use longer lenses and our superscope attachment to shoot a wider image.
NEW Sankor Anamorphic Single Focus
Sankor (and Kowa, and others) were Japanese companies that set out to compete with the Germans for cinema lens dominance. The name has seen many variations Sankyor, Nissan, etc, and produced lenses of vastly varying quality. Some are soft and unusable, while others can hold their own with their German inspirations.
The Sankor anamorphic lenses we have selected are of good quality control, and occasionally, we get the opportunity to build them from still-in-box, new old stock!
The Sankor single focus anamorphic can be outfitted with our seamless clamp in 52mm or 58mm size for attaching to your prime lens. Step up or step down rings can be used for other filter thread sizes.
- Great color rendition and contrast
- A good amount of anamorphic flaring- more than the German lenses
- Very small and compact- our smallest single focus anamorphic available!
- The smaller size can lend itself to more vignetting on large front prime lenses
- Not as sharp as their German counterparts
Other Anamorphic Lenses: Kowa BH, Proskar, etc.
If you already own a dual focus anamorphic, and the size of the front of your anamorphic lens is around 65mm or less, you can turn your dual focus anamorphic into a single focus! You will simply need:
We have developed our single focus anamorphic lens attachment with maximum transparency using precise nanocoatings. This helps maintain as much quality of the base anamorphic as possible.
Additional Anamorphic Resources
If you are interested adding anamorphic lenses to your cinematography 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 or modern cinema cameras, please check out our anamorphic tutorial blog for more anamorphic tips and tutorials!