Created a century ago for practical reasons, today anamorphic lenses are a way to get a characteristic picture. The horizontally compressed image expands the frame, adds “air”. Demand for such lenses is growing, and leading photo brands have even begun to produce anamorphic lenses for standard mounts. We understand what is the secret of the popularity of anamorphism and how to choose high-quality optics
What is an anamorphic lens
An anamorphic (sometimes you can come across the name “anamorphic”) lens has a special lens structure, due to which the resulting image seems to squeeze from the sides, and the picture looks elongated vertically.
For the first time such lenses began to be used by directors in the last century. The widespread use of anamorphic lenses in the cinema environment was a trick: this is how directors tried to fit more into a standard 35mm film frame than a “regular” lens and frame size would allow.
The cinema format of 17x4 or 16x9 is the norm today, but earlier it was difficult to obtain such an image stretched to fit the cinema hall format. The film gave a standard frame size: the panorama could not fit there even with the widest angle lens. You could just crop, you say, but then the image would lose quality.
In addition, anamorphic attachments provide a number of visual effects, which today are closely associated with an attractive “movie picture”.
How an anamorphic lens works
The principle of operation of anamorphic lenses lies in the special structure of the lens group. If the front lenses of standard lenses are convex, then anamorphic lenses are vice versa. Imagine that you took a piece of paper and folded it in half without breaking it in the middle. This is what a curved anamorphic lens looks like.
Due to this structure, the lens compresses the image horizontally and covers a larger visible spectrum of the image. Standard lenses cover approximately the same visible area on all four sides — anamorphic lenses are much more horizontally than vertically.
If the resulting image is not processed, then an image will be obtained as in a crooked mirror: a standard-format image, but highly compressed and stretched up and down. Previously, movie theater projectors had a reverse anamorphic lens. She returned the image to its original viewing angle.
Today, a special reverse lens is no longer required to stretch an image into a familiar format. You can return the picture to the “standard” state in any graphics editor. Simply change the number of horizontal pixels by multiplying it by the aspect ratio of the lens/attachment.
The coefficient is always indicated on the lens itself. 2.0 / 1.9 / 1.6 are the most common values. So, if the original image has a resolution of 3000x4000 pixels, then you multiply the last number by the compression ratio and enter the resulting figure into the value horizontally. Do not forget to uncheck proportional resizing in the program window: you only need to change the horizontal value, the vertical remains the original.
It would seem, why so much trouble with changing the picture, if you can just shoot with a regular wide-angle lens? Everything will fit, there are no difficulties with the image, there is no need to fit more into a standard film frame. However, the popularity of anamorphic lenses is only growing, and big brands are releasing more and more new lenses and attachments, including for phones.
Anamorphic lenses captivate with their special cinematic picture. Due to this manipulation with compression, the image receives pleasant visual bonuses. Let’s figure out which ones.
1. Shallow depth of field. Yes, you can take a photo at an open aperture and get a beautiful blur of the background even with a familiar lens from the standard line, but it will still differ from the image that an anamorphic lens gives at the output.
Any large movie portrait you can think of is a living example of this. An anamorphic lens allows you to create what today is informally called a “cinematic effect”. The image in focus is crisp and sharp, and the background has a nice, almost picture-like blur.
2. Bokeh. Bokeh is a common thing in photography, however, unlike standard lenses, anamorphic images due to vertical compression give an oval-shaped bokeh when stretched.
3. Lines from light sources. The most recognizable effect for which many photographers and videographers opt for anamorphic optics is the characteristic rays emanating from the light source. Take a closer look at the movies: in the evening scenes, horizontal blue beams will emanate from car headlights / street lamps / flashlights.
The effect is obtained due to the fact that the front lens of the objective has a cylindrical structure inward. So, a direct beam is reflected from the walls of the cylinder and creates a spectacular strip of light to the left and right.
4. Glare from light sources. The notorious oval “hares” that form a beautiful highlight in the frame, all from the same light sources into the camera. The effect is created if the light source is directed slightly to the side. A bonus is the iridescent highlights, which can also be caught from the light source at an angle.
5. Colored veil. Just like the light that is reflected by the cylindrical shape of the lens, the light falling on it can also create a kind of veil in the foreground. This reduces contrast and creates smoothness in the frame, even though the rest of the frame remains contrasted and in focus. Two in one: another “cine” effect that is difficult to achieve without the use of such a lens.
Types of anamorphic lenses
Modern anamorphic lenses can be divided into two categories: lenses and attachments that can be mounted on top of standard lenses. Next comes the division depending on the depth of image compression. So, most often you can find lenses in the range from 1.5 to 2 times, 1.3 and even 2.5 are less common.
Both the lenses themselves and the attachments have advantages and disadvantages. For example, if you want to get the most recognizable visual effects from an afocal optical system, then your choice is a lens that was originally assembled according to this principle and sharpened to produce such images. On the other hand, the anamorphic attachment is easier to work with in photography if you don’t have your own production, it is lighter and costs several times less.
There is no right answer, the choice is always subjective. Take a closer look at glasses from Carl Zeiss, Sirui and Schnieder Krueznach. In the niche of anamorphic lenses, these manufacturers are best known today.
Pros and cons of an anamorphic lens
Cinematography will objectively brighten up any photo shoot, but shooting with an anamorphic lens has both its pros and cons. Whether such a tool is suitable for you is an open question.
Advantages of an anamorphic lens:
- suitable for both photos and videos;
- beautiful artifacts in the form of bokeh, rays, veiling and highlights.
Cons of an anamorphic lens:
- converting an image to its original format takes time;
- predominantly manual focusing (can be both a plus and a minus, depending on your preferences);
- the weight. Anamorphic lenses are quite heavy and bulky;
- aberrations and distortion. This can be both the desired stylistic device, and a minus, based on your request.
Based on such data, it is up to you to decide whether such a tool suits you or not. Anomorphic lenses are not a mass story for daily shooting. However, undoubtedly, such a lens will add to the frame that very “special atmosphere” and the notorious cinematography.