Anamorphic lenses have a unique look favoured by many cinematographers.

They originally allowed for a wider aspect ratio on 35mm but their aesthetic appeal has carried on beyond traditional film and into the digital world.

So how do they work? and what visual characteristics do they have?

History

Initially a technique for capturing wider aspect ratios by filling the entire film area on a standard 35mm, it soon became the choice lens for many cinematographers due to the visual characteristics.

At a time when television was on the rise, filmmakers needed to keep viewers interested in cinema and the impressive wider aspect ratio helped this. With most T.V displaying in 4:3, cinema had an opportunity to go wide and draw in audiences.

Anamorphic lenses create ultra-wide aspect ratio, bluish horizontal flare, oval shaped bokeh (the way out-of-focus points of light are rendered) and have a shallower depth of field. These features helped create that cinematic magic that makes film stand out.

Anamorphic lenses History GripUp

How do they work?

Spherical lenses project a circular image onto the film whereas anamorphic lenses project an oval-shaped image.

Originally anamorphic lenses had a 2x squeeze, this meant that they captured twice the amount of horizontal information as a spherical lens.

A standard spherical lens at a ratio of 2.39:1 would only fill 50% of each frame’s area whilst an anamorphic fills 100%.

To fill 100% of the film an anamorphic lens compresses the projected image along the longer dimension, this means it needs to be stretched in post-production to display as intended.

The end result is an aspect ratio of 2.39:1 and a higher vertical resolution than a spherical lens cropped to the same ratio.

anamorphic lenses how do they work GripUpExample of spherical lens cropped to 2.39:1 ratio and anamorphic stretched to 100% of a 35mm film.

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Characteristics

Anamorphic lenses produce some interesting visual effects that give a movie that “Hollywood look”.

Horiztonal Flare

  • Horizontal flare is caused by bright light hitting the cylinder of glass located in the front of the lens and streaking across its horizontal axis. It is often blue due to the lens coating.

Oval Shaped Bokeh

  • Very noticeable in anamorphic shot films, oval bokeh is caused by the oval entrance pupil on the lens. This is then squeezed onto the film or sensor causing further elongation. The reason they do not unsqueeze like the main subject is because objects out of the focus plane are stretched further than objects in focus.

Shallow Depth of Field

  • Technically spherical and anamorphic have the same DoF but to get the same angle of view, a longer focal length is used in anamorphic. This means at the same magnification a shallower depth of field is created.

Higher vertical resolution

  • To achieve a 2.39:1 ratio with a spherical lens you would need to crop/mask the image, resulting in less vertical resolution. Anamorphic uses 100% of the frame and therefore has a higher resolution.

Anamorphic lens visual characteristics GripUpExamples of lens flare and bokeh from anamorphic lenses.

Going Digital

Digital sensors have a wider format than traditional 35mm film and a 2x anamorphic lens on a 16:9 sensor could produce a super-wide 3.55:1 ratio. To achieve a more traditional scope companies have started producing 1.33x and 1.35x anamorphic lenses.

As obtaining wider shots is now easier due to larger sensors, cinematographers are using anamorphic primarily to get the characteristic bokeh, flare, vignetting and depth of field.

What are your thoughts on shooting in Anamorphic?

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