For those interested in shooting with anamorphic lenses on a DSLR, one of the most common concerns include which prime lens (or taking lens) to pair with the anamorphic lens. Our tests show the Helios 44-2 and the Jupiter 9 to be best prime lenses for anamorphic.
Let’s start by showing how anamorphic lenses on DSLR work. The process is the same for any DSLR.
An anamorphic setup transforms your existing prime lenses into anamorphic lenses with a 2x stretch factor. An anamorphic setup includes these components:
- The DSLR camera
- Taking (prime) lens
- An anamorphic clamp attached to the front filter thread of the taking lens
- An anamorphic lens
The prime lens is obviously one of the key components of the anamorphic setup. Certain prime lenses tend to work better than others, and of course focal length plays a major role, along with f/stop. Because anamorphic lenses are adding elements to your “signal chain”, they can add sometimes-not-undesirable artifacts like chromatic aberration and softness. Ideally, you’ll want to invest in an anamorphic lens that features the highest quality elements and is designed to work at fast apertures. But what about your prime lens?
Modern Prime Lenses
Manufactures make modern lenses with many glass elements inside. They also coat each element multiple times to minimize internal reflections and flaring. However, flaring is one of the common desirable characteristics of an anamorphic lens, and clinically sharp images resolved by lenses are contrary to the barrel distortion, compressed bokeh and character of an anamorphic lens.
That isn’t to say that modern prime lenses can’t be used at all with anamorphic lenses. We actually shoot a lot of our anamorphic work on Zeiss ZF prime lenses (18, 35, 50, 85, 100) and the results are quite pleasing. But of all of the lenses we’ve tested with anamorphic lenses, we have found that inexpensive vintage lenses can pair most effectively with anamorphic lenses.
Vintage Prime Lenses for Anamorphic
Because of their simpler optical design and more subtle coatings, vintage prime lenses work very well with anamorphic lenses- especially when pairing with a single focus anamorphic like our vintage looking custom build.
eBay offers a large selection of inexpensive, Fast prime lenses in Canon FD mount (pre EF mount), Nikkor AI-S lenses, and M42 mount. You can find prime lenses for as low as $50 for a pristine example! But as purchasing on the used market can be a minefield with poor documentation, sparse examples, varied conditions.
Here are some steps that will help you select a quality vintage prime for anamorphic:
Step 1 – Determine your prime lens focal length
Begin by determining the anamorphic focal range you need for your camera and sensor. As one of the key benefits of an anamorphic lens is the ability to double your field of view- 100mm lens becomes 50mm, 50mm becomes 25mm, etc.- it is important to carry a set of primes in the range that’ll work with your vision and your camera. We have built an anamorphic calculator here that will help you determine what focal range will work best.
Step 2 – Find a lens mount that will work with your camera
Vintage prime lenses were made with antiquated mounts for camera systems that are no longer manufactured. Fortunately, you can purchase inexpensive mount adapters for most systems today. The most compatible vintage mount is likely the m42 (micro 4/2) standard. M42 lenses are screw thread mounted, so you can simply purchase an adapter to your camera and screw the prime lens on to the mount. M42 lenses are plentiful, compatible, and because of the relatively long flange distance work for almost all systems- Canon, Nikon, m43, Sony, and more.
Stay away from difficult mounts like Kiev. Always search and see if a mount adapter exists for your camera and double check any listings before you purchase.
Step 3 – Search the focal length you like, and check the specifications and conditions
A simple search (50mm f/2 m42) will give you a starting point to finding vintage primes in a market. When checking out individual listings, observe the following:
- How many aperture blades does the prime lens have? More aperture blades (6 or more) provide better quality bokeh- which is important as this is a defining cinematic quality of anamorphic lenses. Check to make sure that the aperture works smoothly and that the blades do not have oil
- How heavily coated is the front element? Check listing pictures for obvious blue, purple, or green hues in the reflections. Heavy coatings minimize the reflections that give anamorphic lens their unique flare quality
- Do not worry so much about internal dust or cleaning marks (minor scratches) in vintage prime lenses. These will not perceptively affect the image- even surprisingly so.
- Do worry about fogginess or fungus inside of a prime lens. This will drastically affect your contrast and sharpness and can be quite difficult or even impossible to clean.
List of Vintage Prime Lenses
We recommend the following prime lenses for anamorphic DSLR shooting:
|Lens||Focal Length||Max aperture||Aperture blades||Mount||Est. Price|
|Vivitar Auto Wide-Angle||28mm||f/2.8||6||m42||$75|
|Canon FD 35mm SSC||35mm||f/2||8||FD||$200|
|Asahi Pentax Super Takumar||50mm||f/1.4||7||m42||$80|
|Asahi Pentax Super Takumar||85mm||f/1.9||6||m42||$250|
What about Zoom Lenses?
Zoom taking lenses theoretically can work, but often have too many variables to be reliable with anamorphic lenses. Manufactures often build zooms with a rotating front element which will skew the anamorphic stretch and make the system unusable.
More anamorphic stuff
If you’re looking to test out exactly what lenses will work for your DSLRs, head on over to our anamorphic lens calculator to test. Select your sensor size, your aspect ratio, and you are informed and ready to shoot! Our anamorphic lens comparison chart allows you to determine the size and weight of the anamorphic lenses in our store.
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!