Shooting Anamorphic

I’ve done a couple of Anamorphic shoots lately and we used three different kinds of lenses.  Here’s a quick rundown.

TemaraKarma_1The first project I shot was a music video for Temara Melek, ‘Karma’s Not Pretty’.  We used Lomo anamorphics and an Arri Alexa, and I’m not sure I’d go for this combination again.  We had the 35, 50, 75, and 100mm lenses.  Remember in anamorphic, your focal lengths are longer than when using spherical lenses for the same field of view.  For instance, the 35mm Lomo seemed almost exactly the same as a 24mm spherical lens when it comes to how wide the camera sees.


Of course, we were framing for 2.4:1 aspect ratio.  The issue with using the regular Alexa and anamorphic is that you need to digitally un-squeeze the image in post, which reduces the resolution considerably (closer to 1280×720 than 1920×1080).  This creates a bit of softness, which is fine for the beauty look we were going for but not ideal for every project.  If I did anamorphic again with an Alexa, I’d probably insist on shooting with the 4×3 sensor version of the Alexa Studio.

Also, the Lomo lenses are large and a mix of different sizes and shapes, so they’re harder to accessorize with matte box and bellows and such.  I also wasn’t as fond of their flare characteristics, which I wanted more of.  The Lomos were marked in meters and not feet, so at the prep we took the time to re-mark them with tape.

IMG_1061 IMG_1060

On a second project, a short fantasy film about demon exorcisms, we shot with Kowa and Cineovision lenses and a RED Epic camera.  I found this much better.  The higher resolution of the RED (shooting RAW) made for a sharper unsqueezed image, and the Kowa primes were lighter, smaller and better matched than the Lomos.  We used the 40, 50, 75, and 100mm Kowas and the 24mm Cineovision.

The director, Scott Speer, really wanted to have a wide lens on a lot of shots, so we added the Cineovision because 40mm just isn’t wide enough.  The 24mm Cineovision seemed similar to a 14 or 16mm spherical format lens.   The thing about the Cineovision is that it flares very differently than the Kowas, with every highlight creating a colorful blue streak all the way across the frame.  It’s a cool look but I don’t recommend this lens if you don’t want the anamorphic flares.  We were going for that look.

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The 24mm Cineovision Lens flares easily all the way across the frame.

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The 50 and 75mm Kowa with more subtle flares

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The Lomos are Russian lenses while the Kowas and Cineovision lenses are Japanese.  The Kowas had a very different flare than the Cineovision, with a whiter, warmer flare and less streaky.  Of course, Scott loved to flare the lens so we would shine lights at the camera a lot.

The anamorphics also have a lot of bendiness to the image, especially in the wide shots.  Again, it’s a cool look that we wanted but not necessarily normal like a spherical lens.

Because you use longer focal lengths to get the same field of view, the depth of field is shallower in anamorphic.  I had great Focus Pullers on both jobs, and they also had to be fairly quick at changing out the lenses, which takes a bit more effort than normal prime lenses.

Stopping down the lenses really helps sharpen the images, which can be soft and fall off at the edges if left wide open.  The lenses ranged from a T2.3 to a T2.8 at their widest apertures, but we usually shot around a T2.81/2 or a T4.  The 100mm lenses in both sets have close focuses around 6’, so you need a set of diopters to really use them.  We usually didn’t go past 75mm, even for close ups, because of this.  Interestingly, we made good use of a +1/2 diopter (usually I use the +1 most frequently, but the ½ seemed more appropriate a lot of times).


I definitely enjoy working in the anamorphic format, but it’s not right for every job.  Because the digital cameras are so sharp and clean, many people want to create a more vintage look by pairing them with older lenses.  The Kowas were my favorite here, but the Cineovision offers a more kooky, extreme option if you want to mix it in.


About Graham Futerfas

I'm a professional Cinematographer working in Los Angeles.
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5 Responses to Shooting Anamorphic

  1. I often see people describing anamorphic post the way you do near the top (de-squeezing and therefore losing vertical resolution).

    I don’t understand why you would do it that way except for convenience, or if it’s for TV broadcast. Why not create a custom sequence that is 1080 high, with a width of 2592 (2.4:1). Then place your clip in the sequence and stretch the width by a factor of 2x? You’re going to soften the image a bit, but at least you won’t be throwing away a third of your vertical resolution.

    I’ve just never been sure why the consensus method is to scale DOWN the image to fit the frame.

    Very informative write-up though. This sort of article is shockingly hard to come by and information about those kowas is particularly scarce. What sort of diopter were you using?

    • Hi Russell, thanks for the comment. Thinking on your comment of a 1080×2592 finish: of the three projects I’ve shot in anamorphic in the last year, they all had to be delivered in 16×9 1920×1080 HD. One was a commercial for broadcast and one was a music video (also technically for broadcast). The clients approved delivering in letterboxed widescreen, but the video file itself had to be standard. So it wouldn’t have made sense to work with the extra pixels in post, and since we use the Epic on two of the projects, the edit was just an offline file anyway. Color and final render came from the original 5K RAW files.

      I guess my point is, there’s no standard place to show a 1080×2592 image, at least not yet… New 4K TV’s may change that, but then they’re still 16×9 boxes and you’ll want to letterbox anyway to 2.4:1.

      Diopters were just regular diopters, but they’re essential for shooting anamorphic. On a recent Chevy spot, I carried a +1/2, +1, and +3. We had some in Series 9 size that could just tape on to the 80mm front diameter on that job, because we wanted a low-profile camera in the truck – no matte box or follow focus.

      Again, thanks for the kind words!

  2. Nice write up man, and some nice frame grabs too! I’m doing to shoot something anamorphic, think I might just hire a set for the hell of it. Can we see the finished film anywhere?

  3. Thanks Matt, they’re great lenses. The Temara Melek and Chevy spot I did are both on my website. Temara Melek ‘Karma’s Not Pretty’:

    Chevy Silverado “The Road Home”

    And The Realm still isn’t out yet, although I’ve seen it mostly finished (still waiting on final sound and color grade). Would love to show it to you though. Hopefully soon.

  4. Chief 35mm Bear says:

    Hi Graham, great images. Looking into shooting a short film with Cineovision set. Only thing I am concerned about is the bowing on the corners. Do you ever use diopters to correct for this? thanks! Thom

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