What Are Anamorphic Lenses, and Should You Get One?

Anamorphic lenses are unusual to work with and require particular post-processing attention, but they may produce a one-of-a-kind effect for both still photographs and moving images like films. Recent advancements in anamorphic lens technology have resulted in prices that are far lower than in the past. Is it thus the right moment to consider purchasing an anamorphic lens to add to your bag of tricks?

In this piece, I’ll walk you through all you need to know about anamorphic lenses, including how to use them for photography and filming.

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Noticing how the photo appears to have been compressed from left to right when you look at it? That isn’t a flaw in anamorphic lenses; rather, it’s a feature! It is for this same reason that you should consider purchasing one of these lenses in the first place.

After making the necessary adjustments to the image by expanding it once again, you would be left with more of a panoramic aspect ratio on your hands:

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In contrast to the distortion that is typically discussed in lens evaluations, anamorphic lens distortion serves a specific function. More specifically, it effectively enables the user to film or picture with an aspect ratio that is different from that of the camera sensor itself. (There are a few more one-of-a-kind impacts that anamorphic lenses will have on your photographs, which we will go into in a bit.)

When compared to regular, spherical lenses, anamorphic lenses feature lens components that are formed in a particular way. One of the characteristics of an anamorphic lens element is that its form is more cylindrical.

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It is necessary to “de-squeeze” photographs taken using anamorphic lenses before displaying them. During the days of film, de-squeezing could be accomplished by projecting the film through a projector that included its very own anamorphic lens. The de-squeezing operation is often carried out only within the post-processing software these days.

A multiplication factor, such as 1.33x, 1.6x, or 2x, is often used to indicate the degree to which the lens compresses the picture that is being captured. This determines how much space needs to be recovered once the picture has been compressed.

It is common practice to sell anamorphic lenses, particularly those designed for usage in video and film, as part of a complete set. Although they vary in focal length, the lenses included in these sets often have the same multiplication factor and have designs and handling that are comparable to one another.

Unique Qualities of Anamorphic Lenses

In comparison to ordinary lenses, anamorphic lenses are distinguished by a number of distinct characteristics, including lens flares, bokeh, and depth of field. The stretching effect that I just exhibited is one of these characteristics. I’m going to run through all of them here.

1. Lens Flares

The lens flare is one of the characteristics that help to distinguish an anamorphic image from other types. These lenses contain brilliant horizontal streaks of light that radiate outward from their respective light sources. You can see an example of this in the following:

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Even while specific anamorphic lenses have coatings that allow for varied colored flares, most of these streaks will have a bluish cast when viewed via an anamorphic lens. There are many different types of anamorphic lenses, and each one may be customized to reduce or accentuate flares, although most of them do feature flares to some extent.

It’s possible that the existence of these flares will have either a positive or negative influence on you. Although it is often used in filmmaking, the effect is typically not as appealing when applied to still photography. (Even in the realm of cinematography, it’s starting to feel like a bit of a cliche, and not everybody likes it.)

Anamorphic lenses, in addition to producing these linear flares, can also have an appearance that is less contrasty. Although they are not technically called “veiling” flares, the combination of the light pathways and the lens design tends to produce a softer and less contrasty appearance. This characteristic was especially noticeable in early anamorphic designs.

2. Bokeh

Bokeh and background blur in anamorphic photos may seem rather distinctive. Particularly noticeable is the way that highlights that are out of focus have been stretched into ovals rather than being round. When using an anamorphic lens, highlights that are out of focus will appear more elongated the higher the factor of the lens.

3. Depth of Field

When you use anamorphic lenses, the depth of field of your photographs will frequently seem somewhat different. This is because, once unsqueezed, an anamorphic lens of a given focal length, such as 35 millimeters, has a broader field of view than a standard 35-millimeter lens. Because of this, you frequently find yourself standing closer to the subject of your photograph, which is one of the factors that contribute to a shallower depth of field.

As a consequence of this, when used in practice, anamorphic lenses provide a somewhat greater subject/background separation than regular lenses do. The fact that you are standing closer to your topic is, of course, the underlying reason for this, but the end outcome is the same.

How To Desqueeze Anamorphic Photos

Although certain video cameras and even some of the displays that are built into the camera have the ability to de-squeeze images in the field, I am not aware of any still camera that has this capability. If you are reading this post with the intention of utilizing an anamorphic lens on a mirrorless camera, you should be aware that the view that you see via the viewfinder will be cropped.

To our great fortune, the distortion does not pose a significant challenge to the composition. After all, everything that is seen in the viewfinder gets caught; the only difference is that the final image will be stretched to accommodate it. When I was taking pictures for this post, I used a lens that compressed the image by 1.6 times, and I didn’t have any trouble getting the composition right. It should still be possible to read through even more severe 2x anamorphic lenses.

Almost always, anamorphic lenses are entirely manual lenses, meaning that both the aperture and the focus must be adjusted by hand. As a result of this, I discovered that my mirrorless cameras made an excellent combination with an anamorphic lens due to features such as focus peaking and the capability to preview the exposure in the viewfinder.

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If you intend to take still photographs using anamorphic lenses, you should de-squeeze the images in Photoshop or another program of a similar nature before using them. You have the option of performing de-squeezing either before or after the remainder of your processing; however, sharpening and noise reduction are two steps that I recommend performing after de-squeezing.

The procedure looks like this in Photoshop:

1. After opening your photo, go to “Image > Image Size” or press Alt + Ctrl + i on your keyboard (on a Mac, it’s Option + Command + i).

2. Turn off the “Constrain Aspect Ratio Lock” that links the height and width fields together.

3. Assuming that you took the picture horizontally, you should choose the “Width” box and keep the pixel value that is now shown. At the very end, write an asterisk (the symbol “*”), and then immediately type the de-squeeze ratio. When you are finished, the Width field, for instance, will include text that looks something like “8256 * 1.6.”

4. After you press OK, the new picture will immediately begin to expand.

Don’t forget to make use of the Action feature if you intend to take a significant quantity of anamorphic pictures. It is possible to de-squeeze a huge number of photographs in Photoshop with little effort on your part if you create and record an action that does these steps. You can go this one step further by combining it with the Image Processor option so that you can mass-process an entire folder of files. This is something that can be useful for de-squeezing an entire shoot.

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Anamorphic Lenses for Video

The 1.6x series from Sirui is likely to reach the sweet spot in terms of functionality, design, and performance for the vast majority of filmmakers shooting video with mirrorless cameras. The range consists of lenses with focal lengths of 35mm, 50mm, 75mm, and 100mm; all of these lenses have a squeezing ratio of 1.6x and similar ring positioning, making it simple to switch between them on a video setup.

The lenses are offered in a variety of mounts, including Canon RF, Sony E, Leica L, and Nikon Z.

I was able to put the 35mm 1.6x through some hands-on testing, and I discovered that it functioned exceptionally well, even when shooting 8K video on the Nikon Z9. The content that was created, whether for photo or video use, was just stunning. The anamorphic qualities were evident without being overpowering in any way.

After Sirui’s line, anamorphic lenses soon become rental possibilities rather than buy alternatives because each entry from Cooke or Arri/Zeiss costs tens of thousands of dollars. As a result, purchasing an anamorphic lens is not an option.

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In general, shooting stills or moving pictures using an anamorphic lens may be an intriguing experience, and it is unquestionably a method to differentiate your work from that of other people. The availability of anamorphic lenses has also significantly increased in comparison to the past.

Have you ever taken still photographs or shot videos with anamorphic lenses? Leave a comment below letting me know what you think about the overall appearance of these lenses, and don’t hesitate to ask any questions that come to mind.

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