"Anamorphic lenses are either prohibitively expensive, or cannot focus using one single control"
This is a myth.
mythogeny \ mə̇ˈthäjənē \
1: formation or production of myths
2: the tendency to make myths or to give mythical status to something (as a tradition or belief)
We have developed a new way to make rack focusing possible (and accurate and easy) while using anamorphic adapters in front of standard lenses.
A solo cinematographer on a tight budget can now accurately and smoothly rack-focus an anamorphic lens, even handheld!
We believe that this is a significant development for indie filmmakers and are excited to share the discovery here.
If you are reading this and know about anamorphic lenses already, you might want to skip to the most important part. In brief, a very simple observation in how certain lenses behave during focusing has led us to creating bespoke single-focus anamorphic solutions for cinematography (and creative still photography) from existing components (a traditional camera lens plus an anamorphic projection/adapter lens).
Otherwise read on to find out the background behind our interest and developments in anamorphic lenses or contact us to ask questions.
Anamorphic lenses were originally created in the mid twentieth century to allow the displaying of high resolution widescreen cinema within the limitation of the narrow film that was used to project an image on the cinema screen.
This was achieved by optically compressing the image horizontally on the film (by using elliptically shaped lens elements in the anamorphic lens on the camera which heavily distort the image, squashing the image sideways) and then later in the cinema a very similar anamorphic projection lens was placed in the path of the projected squashed image to once again restore correct proportions and at the same time creating the intended wide screen image.
WHY USE ANAMORPHIC TODAY?
Anamorphics have a certain 'look'. It is very distinctive, and visually obvious to the viewer at least once you know what to look for. At a subconscious level this look makes us recognize what we are viewing as being cinematic. Because of this for many cinematographers this is perhaps the best choice that can be made when shooting on digital in order to create what is known as the 'filmic' or 'cinematic' look, which is a much sought-after characteristic for many productions. Apart from big-budget movies frequently being shot entirely using anamorphic lenses they are also often used when filming entire music videos, short films and commercials.
THE 'LOOK' EXPLAINED
Watch this video for a brief visual explanation of the 'look' that is characteristic of anamorphic lenses.
Even though we 'correct' the 'squashed' image by stretching it back out either optically or digitally before viewing it, many unique and very visible optical characteristics remain.
In an anamorphic lens, where the lens elements are elongated ellipses, the soft, out of focus areas mimic the shape of the lens elements and are therefore also elongated vertically (or perhaps better expressed as squashed horizontally), even when the image has been corrected. This provides images and footage with out of focus backgrounds with a characteristic appearance that is often described as 'waterfall bokeh'. This is further accentuated by the fact that anamorphic lenses have inherently less depth of field than the equivalent spherical lens, making it easier to separate a subject from the background in terms of optical sharpness, or, in other words, it is easier to intentionally blur the background under identical shooting conditions.
The non-spherical shape of the lenses also leads to 'excessive' optical aberrations such as a softening and distortion towards the edges of an image, but retaining a more 'correct' proportion of subjects near or at the center of the image. This creates an illusion of three dimensions, and has the added effect of permitting ideal human face proportions to be retained even when the effective angle of the lens is a wide angle.
Practically all lenses exhibit some flaring when pointed into a bright light source. In spherical lenses this manifests as circular patches of light. Anamorphic lenses flare quite differently, and produce horizontal lines of light right across the frame, often either blue or orange depending on the particular lens. This has become a recognised characteristic of science fiction cinema but is seen in many other high budget and indie productions.
Anamorphic lenses are available with varying degrees of optical 'squeezing'. This is usually expressed as 1.33x, 1.5x or 2x.
The greater the squeeze factor the more accentuated the characteristics that we want from anamorphic.
CURRENT ANAMORPHIC OPTIONS
We could buy an anamorphic lens, costing tens of thousands of dollars.
We could rent one, but where is the fun in that? And that's still thousands of dollars and not everyone has access to such rentals.
Most indie filmmakers attach an anamorphic projection lens to the front of their existing lens (a selection shown in the image below). This has the potential to work just as well as a native anamorphic lens at least for static subjects (although subjects or cameras that don't move are not very common in good cinematography), but in practice such a combination usually doesn't work very well even for that.
A selection of anamorphic projection lenses suitable for fixing to the front of a taking lens ready to make an anamorphic lens.
We can buy relatively cheap clip-on anamorphic lenses for mobile phones, but these do not make the most of the optical characteristics that make anamorphic lenses special, as they have limited amount of squeezing (1.33x) and small sensor cameras have too much depth of field to make the most of any waterfall bokeh.
Companies such as Sirui make cheap single focus anamorphic lenses but again the catch is they are 1.33x squeeze, and whilst better than phone adapters they do not come close to the look of a 2x anamorphic, and so for true cinema results we (normally) have to go back to the expensive options.
THE PROBLEM THAT NEEDS SOLVING
The problem is either not being able to rack-focus the lens, or the prohibitive cost of the lens.
It is common modern day practice to attach an anamorphic projection lens to the front of a standard or portrait lens to create an anamorphic 'rig' to create anamorphic footage or images, and in that case each of the two lenses in the rig requires separate and accurate focusing, which makes it impossible to rack focus the combined rig. It doesn't matter whether it is on a tripod, or you have the help of a dedicated focus puller assistant, you still cannot rack focus. Run and gun handheld work is impossible. So you accept that you cannot follow focus on a subject or talent if they or you are moving, and all filming for any particular shot has to be done assuming a preset distance at which the rig is focused. And it can be notoriously difficult to get this static focusing point setup in the first place as the focus of one lens has an optical affect on the other and you have to get both focus positions on them exactly right to achieve sharp results on the subject. And with rig setup being important for repeatable results even when trying to achieve a simple static shot becomes a minefield for exhibiting your ability to create poor footage. The internet is full of embarrassingly blurry footage that seems to have become the accepted look of amateur anamorphic footage, and probably puts more people off than it converts to the potential beauty of the anamorphic look.
One of the solutions often used to correct the problem of not being able to focus the combination of lenses easily is to first focus both the taking lens and the anamorphic adapter and then install a variable dioptre 'focusing unit' in the front of the rig, and focus using that. It's not a bad solution, but makes the rig front heavy, and often sharpness is still significantly compromised which we know we don't want to happen.
So again, it seems we are back to the expensive options if we want our production to look professional.
But maybe not.
My 'Eureka moment'. The key to my single-focus anamorphic design.
Most lenses (the sort we would use as a 'taking' lens in an anamorphic rig) when changing focus from a close subject point to a far subject point, get physically shorter overall.
Anamorphic projection lenses (which we attach to the front of our taking lens), when changing focus from a close subject point to a far subject point, get physically longer overall.
If you can match the amount of shortening of a particular existing taking lens with the amount of lengthening of a particular existing anamorphic projection lens for the same focus range, then following mechanical modification to (1) allow the anamorphic lens to achieve focus by a simple push-pull mechanism, and (2) keep the overall length of the combination the same, focusing only the taking lens will simultaneously focus the anamorphic lens perfectly. Voila.
"What's really cool is that this is a technological advancement in 2021 that could have been implemented in the 1950's"
So as a practical real world example, let's say we measure the change in length of a particular 85mm lens and find that when we focus it from the 1.5m focus mark on the focus ring to infinity the lens gets 5.6mm shorter overall (unless the lens focuses internally it will always get shorter).
I refer to this measurement as the "focus throw index" and it is the primary method of matching lens to suitable anamorphic projection lenses.
Now let's say we have an old anamorphic projection lens and we measure the same thing, we will always find that the lens gets longer, not shorter. And if this amount of lengthening just happens to also be 5.6mm, then it will be a perfect match for the taking lens we measured above. The key of course is that one is getting longer, and the other is getting shorter, and by the same amount.
Now that we have found a perfect combination of taking lens and anamorphic adapter (projection lens) we physically attach the anamorphic projection lens to the front of the taking lens much as you might normally have done. But now we remove the normal focusing ring from the projection lens to find that we can now move the front part of that lens's mechanism in a push-pull manner in order to focus it. Now we manufacture some way of fixing the very front part of the projection lens to the back of the taking lens (or at least to behind the part that moves during focusing), and now when we turn the focus ring of the taking lens to rack focus from the 1.5m mark to the infinity mark, the fact that the taking lens gets physically shorter means that the front part of the taking lens will literally pull on the back of the anamorphic projection lens, and because we have fixed the front part of that lens in place, the anamorphic projection lens gets longer and so the action of focusing the taking lens automatically focuses the anamorphic attachment on the front of it!
An early MYTHOGENY working prototype, showing the brace to maintain the same overall length of the anamorphic rig.
JOINED WITH A BRACE
Another example during development of the concept; we have lost track of the number of MYTHOGENY prototypes as many different combinations were used in the quest for focusing smoothness, accuracy, repeatability and general usability.
THE ULTIMATE EXAMPLE
A recent MYTHOGENY example lens,
an AUTOFOCUS version!
The flat underslung brace of earlier prototypes is now replaced by a machined cylindrical aluminium housing which is much neater, more robust and facilitates much better alignment. Seems obvious in hindsight, as does the whole idea behind these lenses!
This is an AUTOFOCUS anamorphic lens, and so perhaps the ultimate example of what is possible considering that our challenge was to create an indie anamorphic lens that could be focused using a single control. I'm not saying that using autofocus is the best way to film anamorphic footage, but as an example of what we have achieved it really does prove the point. And actually it's very useful handheld where physically turning a focus ring by hand tends to impart a slight twist to the camera which is accentuated by anamorphic distortion and not able to be fixed in post.
As with all our bespoke anamorphic lenses, this lens uses existing (legacy) lenses. In this case the lens comprises a Minolta 100mm AF macro lens as the taking lens, and an Elmoscope II anamorphic projection lens as the anamorphic adapter, housed together in a custom made aluminium housing to keep everything rigid and the same overall length (to allow our method of focusing to work - in the video you can clearly see the front of the taking lens pushing in the back of the anamorphic projection lens). These two lenses are matched (following some modification of the Minolta lens) in terms of their 'focus throw index', and the Minolta lens is unusual for AF lenses (as it is an older design) in that it doesn't focus internally which is perfect for our needs. Using a Sony adapter this lens is being used on an E-mount camera.
BUILD YOUR OWN ANAMORPHIC LENS?
Well, the theory says that if we can develop and build our own in a humble workshop with no custom tooling, so can you.
The simplicity of the concept belies, however, the degree of research and experimentation that has led to our breakthrough methodology, and belies just how difficult it is to align everything optically and physically. And our most valuable measurement to determine compatibility of the two lenses, that which we refer to here as the "focus throw" IS NOT AVAILABLE ON THE INTERNET! You basically have to have a battery of lenses and anamorphic adapters available and measure them yourself before you can even start the process. We can advise of course, and intend to publish a (growing) list of focus throw values for various lenses.
So our mission (should you choose to accept it) is to provide you with either a custom-engineered single-focus anamorphic lens for well under $10K, or the basic knowledge to be able to create your own. Although the overall concept is simple, because of the huge number of variables involved, and the fact that each lens requires a matching of existing lenses only available in the used marketplace, we invite you to contact us directly to discuss your requirements and we can begin the process from there.
Please get in touch with us to discuss what you would like to create: