I’ve always been fascinated by the cinematic look of movies. One of the many factors that go into making a movie look “cinematic” is the type of lenses that are used and there is one special type of lens that is almost exclusively used in cinema: the anamorphic lens.
Anamorphic lenses are quite unique in that they provide a wider image horizontally without changing the perspective of a shot vertically. Additionally, instead of a typical lens opening being circular, an anamorphic lens has an oval aperture that lends itself to create some rather unique bokeh as well.
I really wanted to take this iconic aspect of cinema and apply it to my own film photography, and it turned out that medium format was the way to go for me.
Anamorphic lenses 101
The way an anamorphic lens works is by compressing a wider horizontal image down to a smaller size to fit onto your image plane. If you had an 85mm anamorphic lens, for example, it would give you a wider image horizontally than that of a standard spherical 85mm lens and keep the same vertical perspective and field of view. This is how movies are able to capture the wide aspect ratios without having to crop the film on the top and bottom of the image.
There are generally two different types of anamorphic lenses available today, Arri PL lenses and projector lenses:
- Arri PL-mount cinema anamorphic lenses, and lenses used for projecting anamorphic film. Cinema anamorphic lenses are extremely expensive and can easily run up to $30,000 per lens, so for the majority of anamorphic lovers, we are stuck with…
- Projector anamorphic lenses just so happen to work in conjunction with normal camera lenses, allowing you to shoot through one to get the desired anamorphic look.
I have been shooting video with projector anamorphics for a few years now and one of the drawbacks to the particular lens I have is that the image is made 2 times wider by the lens. A 16×9 image, as a result, becomes almost unusably wide and usually requires cropping the sides to get a more “normal” widescreen image.
After enduring these extremely wide images for a while I had the idea of attaching one of these lenses to a medium format camera since the square format would stretch out to a more reasonable, but still cinematic, aspect ratio.
Designing, developing, machining, tweaking
My first attempt at mounting the anamorphic lens to a medium format camera was actually on a Mamiya C220 TLR. As you can probably guess, this setup was rather complicated.
A major drawback to using a projector anamorphic lens is that you need to focus both the projector lens and the camera lens to produce an in-focus image. With the TLR, I had first to mount the anamorphic to the top focusing lens to get the image in focus, and then move the lens down to the taking lens, all the while not moving the camera body or the focus of the two different lenses. With focus dialled in, I would then take the picture without being 100% sure that it is still in focus. Quite a hassle.
When I happened to pick up a Hasselblad 500CM some months later, I had another go at an adapter, this time with a simpler SLR set up. Only two lenses to deal with instead of three.
For the most popular anamorphic projector lenses from such brands as Kowa, Sankor, Isco, Schnieder, it’s a general rule of thumb that the widest field of view that you can shoot through the projector lens before you start to see the lens in the image is 85mm (in 35mm film/full-frame digital terms).
In the case of the Hasselblad, and as you can see above, I went with the Carl Zeiss Sonnar C 150mm f/4. The lens translates to ~85mm on 35mm film and provided me with the widest image possible without seeing too much of the projector lens.
In the shop
With host lens decided upon, I went about machining a new adapter to fit the (B50) bayonet filter mount of the V-mount lens to allow for a really easy mounting experience for the anamorphic lens. I took measurements of both the outer diameter of the anamorphic lens and the V-mount UV filter and tried to get both as close together within the adapter as possible to minimize any vignetting as best as I could.
After the correct holes were drilled and bored out and the lens and filter were fitting snug, I drilled and tapped holes for set screws to secure the adapter to the respective lenses. After the machining was finished I added some adhesive black optical flocking paper to the inside of the adapter to reduce the possibility of the shiny aluminum causing an internal lens flare.
Including the adapter that I made for the Mamiya, I have made three in total. The Hasselblad adapter had gone through two revisions. The second revision was mostly to have some footage of the build for my video, but I had made some small changes as well as changed the aesthetics to make it look a little better.
The GX-Pan in use
Once the adapter was built there was one other major issue to address: the dual focusing aspect of the anamorphic lens. Focusing was still quite tricky with the Hasselblad since you have to focus both the projector lens and the camera lens.
To complicate matters further, the distance scales on both lenses do not match up, so to focus you basically just have to hunt around until they both seem in focus which can be quite tricky on a ground glass.
My solution to this was to set up a focus test where I measured out focus charts to the distances labelled on the Hasselblad lens and focused the camera to each of these distances. When I was sure it was in focus at each different distance, I would mark a piece of gaffer tape on the anamorphic lens to match the Hasselblad.
Having dialled this all in, when I go to focus now, I just need to guess in the ballpark of the correct distance and then make a small adjustment to both lenses to get in focus – much better.
There is honestly not much that I would change for a future version of this adapter, other than perhaps a more professional way of marking the distances. I could make a metal collar to cover the old distance scale on the lens, but I lack the tools to engrave the numbers on the lens.
Working with “squashed images”
I mentioned above that anamorphic lenses give you a wider image horizontally than that of a standard spherical 85mm lens and keep the same vertical perspective and field of view. In practice, this means that the image will be compressed horizontally on the negative and scans need to be stretched out to their intended width in post-production as the video below shows.
In fact, here’s how the raw negatives look:
…and some before and after examples from a recent shoot.
The future of the GX-Pan
I’ve had a few requests for commissions of this adapter but I have not pursued any form of mass production at this point. As a one-man-band-hobby-machinist, the prices for these adapters would probably fall around $150-$200 with the time/materials I would need to invest in making them. Still, If anyone would be interested they can contact me via the comments below.
I think it’s really an exciting time for photography. With the democratization of fabrication and manufacturing, we are only going to start seeing more interesting stuff coming from makers/hackers pushing the boundaries of traditional camera tech. My idol when it comes to tinkering with cameras and lenses is the legendary Miyazaki-san of MS-Optical. What he does is a true inspiration and I would love to someday get to the point of making custom optics.
This project was conceived out of a personal need, but I hope that we start seeing these more niche camera and lens combinations coming out of the DIY community. With people like Miyazaki-san and Dora Goodman, just to name a couple leading the vanguard, I can only imagine what the community is going to be like in 5-10 years.
I also hold the belief that we are going to start seeing a lot of interesting and intriguing lenses and cameras coming out of China in the near future. They have extremely cheap access to manufacturing and the parts needed to make some cool stuff as things only become cheaper and cheaper to produce. They are basically tinkerers that happen to have extremely convenient access to some of the most efficient manufacturing in the world.
We live in exciting times for photography!
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