Lens Test: Comparing 5 Different Anamorphics on RED Weapon vs. ARRI Alexa
How do five anamorphic lenses—Cineovision, Angenieux Optimo, Kowa Prominar, Cooke, Vantage Hawk C-Series, and Vantage Hawk V-Lite—stack up?
[Editor's Note: No Film School asked Martin and Oscar Ubilluz to compare five sets of anamorphic glass and record their impressions.]
My brother, Oscar Ubilluz, and I own MU2 Productions in Miami as a director/DP team. One of the most common questions we get: "What's the difference between the anamorphics you have, and how do they look on each camera?"
We decided to do a comparison so our clients can see for themselves.
We designed the below "unscientific" lens comparison not as a shootout, but rather an attempt to see the differences between different sets of glass. There is no single "best" anamorphic lens; everyone has their taste. As such, deciding to shoot anamorphic is not as simple as just picking any set of lenses. They all have different—and sometimes drastically different—looks.
In the world of high-res, sharp, and clean cameras, anamorphics give a bit of texture and feeling to the image.
The two most popular cameras on the market for shooting anamorphic are the ARRI Alexa with 4:3 sensor and the RED Weapon, which we decided to use for the comparison. Because each camera has a different sensor size, anamorphic lenses will look different on each camera: the RED will have a noticeable amount of cropping into the lens, while the Alexa, which uses a 4:3 sensor, will not crop, so you will get the full benefit of the image coverage area. (Anamorphic is a 4:3 image before the squeeze, so it requires more height in a sensor rather the more width.)
What is the "anamorphic look"?
The classic anamorphic look could be characterized as:
- Producing a 2.40 ratio image after de-squeeze
- Focus fall off/defocused on the edges
- Sometimes less contrast
- Stretched oval bokeh
- Shallower depth of field due to using longer focal lengths to match spherical counterparts framing
- Horizontally stretched flares
- More highlight roll off
- Lens breathing
- Outward bowing distortion
Many of these anamorphic properties can be minimized when stopping down the lens. In fact, a new breed of anamorphic is emerging, which is slowly eliminating the magic of these unique properties. We think this undermines the very purpose of anamorphics!
Anamorphics were originally made to gain the most resolution out of a film negative. Now, in the digital era, they are used solely for their look. (Anamorphics do nothing to gain resolution in digital format.) For this reason, it’s important that we ask our lens makers to stay in touch with the classic anamorphic look so we can enjoy lenses with modern mechanics and the true old-school look. In the world of high-res, sharp, and clean cameras, anamorphics give a bit of texture and feeling to the image.
For the comparison, we chose to test the Cineovision, Angenieux Optimo, Kowa Prominar, Cooke, Vantage Hawk C-Series, and Vantage Hawk V-Lite lenses. We also love Panavision vintage anamorphics; frustratingly, we weren’t able to include them in the comparison, since the company's rental-only model means we don’t seem them much here in Miami.
For brevity's sake, we only picked out four focal lengths to focus on per set.
- Shot 1: Straight shot, no movement (look at bokeh, focus, top and bottom de focus, bowing)
- Shot 2: Side to side pan (look at edge sharpness, light fall off, distortions associated with motion)
- Shot 3: Rack focus
- Shot 4: Flares
This is not meant to be a camera evaluation. We used two cameras to show the differences in cropping so you can plan shots better for your productions. Also, different resolution and sensor technology will often shot flares differently, and since we had the two bodies, and anamorphics are known for flaring, it’s a worthwhile to show both. We made the comparison to better see the characteristics of the lenses.
We did no color correction and used a simple white balance on a white board. Don't focus too much on the color here—all of these lenses are capable of color before and after correction. Of course, some lenses are lower in contrast than others, which will affect color.
Also, 800 ISO on the Alexa is about the same brightness as 1600 ISO on the RED, so instead of changing the lights around, changed the ISO on the RED to match the levels on the Alexa. We didn't want to use shutter speed, as it would have affected the motion part of the test.
Note that not all vintage lenses are the same due to variations in age and maintenance, so it’s important to find out when they have been serviced and to test them out before renting them. In this comparison, we worked with lenses that have been completely overhauled by top technicians—no scratches, no fungus, no cleaning marks. Every set of glass is pristine. If you’re renting or buying a good set of glass, these are the same results you should experience.
- Camera: Alexa Mini Codec: ProRes 4444
- Color Output: Log C
- Resolution : 2944 x 2160 (2880 x 2160)
- ISO: 800 (Optimo @ 1600 ISO )
- Shutter: 180
- FPS: 23.976
- T-Stop: 2.8
- LUT: ARRI Standard LogC to Rec.709
- Image cropped to 2.35
RED Weapon specs
- Camera: RED Weapon Carbon Fiber
- Codec: .R3D
- Recode: 7:1
- Capture Resolution: 3792 x 3160
- ISO: 1600 (Optimo @ 3200 ISO)
- Shutter: 180
- FPS: 23.976
- T-Stop: 2.8
- Color space REDWideGamutRGB
- Gamma: Log3g10
- LUT: Rec.709
Cineovision / JDC
- 24mm T1.4
- 35mm T1.4
- 40mm T1.6
- 50mm T1.4
- 85mm T1.6
Cineovision, JDC, and XTAL lenses were all made by the same company in Japan from the 1960s and '80s, branded differently with different housings. Depending on the spherical portion of the lens, all had the same optical prescription. They are all comprised of Japanese glass in the front; on the back end, the spherical part of the lenses were made from either Canon K35, Zeiss Standard, Zeiss Super Speeds, Cooke Panchros, Canon FD, or Olympus.
The set we used is made from Zeiss Super Speeds. The exceptions to this are the 24mm, which is made from Canon FD, and the 40mm, which is made from Olympus. That being said, they all match and have the same overall look. The anamorphic element is in the front—they are 2x squeeze and the lens barrel extends out as it’s focused. These lenses have a wide range of weight, with only the 24mm and 35mm requiring support. The 40mm and 50mm are very small and compact.
What you'll see
Super-stretched, oval, “bokeh” with a unique look. Low contrast. Very easy to flare with strong horizontal blue flares. Focus fall off/defocus on the edges (a little more on the right and left side of the 35mm). There's outward bowing on the wider lenses and a good amount of breathing when rack focusing. When shooting wide, often the picture is soft-focused, but after T2.0, you’re good to go. After T2.8, the picture is very sharp. There's correct 2x squeeze across all lenses.
This is a great set of lenses that give a very impressionistic anamorphic look, with all the classic properties checked off. They are sharp, yet soft in the right places, render faces very beautifully, and flare very easily. Be careful: the bokeh can get extremely lens barrel moves when focusing, but a clip on matte box works well.
Angenieux Optimo Anamorphic Zoom
- 30-72mm As2 T4 (focal lengths used: 35mm, 50mm, 72mm)
The Angenieux Optimo Anamorphic is one of the new breeds. It has the anamorphic element in the back of the lens. It’s made in France with a slow T4 stop. It has a very lightweight anamorphic zoom, which is very rare. It also features 2x squeeze, amazing mechanics, and a long focus throw.
What you'll see
Very sharp across the zoom range when wide open. High contrast. Little to no flare. Inward pincushion bowing at all focal lengths. Absolutely no anamorphic oval bokeh. The lens seems to lose a bit of light on the edges and there’s no breathing when focusing.
In our opinion, this lens has absolutely no anamorphic properties. As far as we can see, the only thing that makes this lens anamorphic is the 2x squeeze. Needless to say, this lens makes us feel dead inside.
Kowa Prominar Anamorphic 35 BS
- 32mm T2.3 (with wide angle adapter .8)
- 40mm T2.3,
- 50mm T2.3,
- 75mm T2.8,
- 100mm T2.8
Kowa Anamorphic lenses were made in Japan around the 1960s and '70s. They are made out of Kowa sphericals. They're some of the lightest anamorphics on the market, with the weight ranging from 2-3 pounds. The focus throw on the lenses can be rather short. The anamorphic element is in the front and features a 2x squeeze.
What you'll see
Warm lens before white balance with good warm horizontal flares. Sharp when wide open. Stretched oval bokeh. Low contrast. Focus fall off/defocus on the edges, and a good amount of breathing when rack focusing.
The 32mm and 40mm exhibit quite a bit of distortion on the left and right sides of the lens when you move it from side to side, as if the image is getting scrunched. The 2x squeeze is not perfect on all focal lengths. Faces look smooth. There is outward bowing on the 32mm and 40mm lenses.
There is a beautiful bokeh, and skin looks very smooth and pleasing. The lenses give a nice, warm feeling are so small and compact that the focal length can be used on a Freefly Movi and it won’t kill your Steadicam operator. We do think the squeezing of the sides on the 40mm is strange, so we tend to shy away from that lens when there is a lot of panning involved. But as you can see on the RED camera test, the crop means that you don't see this effect as much as you do on the Alexa 4:3.
Cooke Anamorphic /i
- 32mm T2.3
- 40mm T2.3
- 50mm T2.3
- 75mm T2.3
- 100mm T2.3
Cooke Anamorphics are very modern and made in England. The anamorphic element is in the front. The mechanics are amazing, as with all Cooke lenses, with long focus throw. These lenses include “i” technology, which gives the camera lens distance, aperture, and depth of field readings. Aat 6-7 pounds, the lenses are a bit heavy, but they don't require support.
What you'll see
Sharp lenses wide open and a good amount of contrast, similar to their spherical counterparts. Focus fall off/defocus on edges. Good amount of breathing when rack focusing, No anamorphic horizontal flare. Bokeh is not always oval and is not constant through each focal length; sometimes it even looked square, rather the oval. Depending on focal length and distance, this isn't the classic anamorphic bokeh. There is strange pincushioning/inward bowing on the wide focal lengths all the way up to the 50mm.
These lenses are great when you need lots of contrast and very sharp focus. They're mild, so they're great for when your commercial client is scared to go full anamorphic. The inward bowing of the sides seemed strange and not pleasing, and the lenses lose some of that classic anamorphic look. We did not mind the nonconstant bokeh, as all anamorphics have their quirks. We liked how the edges of the image fall out of focus.
Vantage Hawk C-Series
- 35mm T2.2
- 50mm T2.2
- 75mm T2.3
- 100mm T3
These were the first anamorphics developed by Vantage in Germany in the 1980s and '90s. They are based on Lomo Anamorphic design. The 35mm was specifically made for the Indian market.
The lenses are heavy and they all require support, except the 50mm (the lenses come with built-in support, but we found it is not needed on the 50mm). The lens barrel rotates and extends as you focus, so using a clip-on matte box is impossible. The lens gears also move in and out, so your wireless focus or manual focus needs to have extra wide gears attached, or you won’t be able to fully focus them. Mechanics and housing are very nice. There is a 2x squeeze.
Note: There are many copies masquerading as Hawks in the wild, but they are actually pure rehoused Lomos. Serial numbers should be verified with Vantage to make sure they are authentic.
What you'll see
A little more contrast than older anamorphics. The wide end of the set (35mm) has a bit more outward bowing than the other sets we compared. There's a lot of focus fall off through all focal lengths, but correct 2x squeeze. The flares are very nice and classic, though the 100mm did not have much of a horizontal flare. We stopped down a little bit past wide open to be very sharp, and above T3 on the 35mm to be acceptably sharp. There's noticeable breathing when rack focusing.
The Vantage Hawk C-Series are a good mix of old and modern anamorphic feel. We wouldn’t mind shooting wide open with this set. They're contrasty, so use them if you like contrast and don't want to deal with it in post. There's focus fall off/defocused on the edges of all the lenses (a little more on the 35mm). The focus gears and the lens rotating may pose a challenge if you’re not set up for it. If you don't want to go full modern but still want some of the classic anamorphic look—and if you can deal with the mechanics— these are great.
Vantage Hawk V-Lite
- 28mm T2.2
- 35mm T2.2
- 55mm T2.2
- 80mm T2.2
- 110mm T3
The Hawk V-Lites were created in Germany by Vantage from the ground up. These are some of the lightest modern anamorphics, ranging from 4-6 pounds. The housing, engravings, PL mount, and mechanics are all top-of-the-line and as smooth as can be.
What you'll see
Lots of contrast and color fidelity, a much cooler image, focus fall off/defocus on the bottom and top of the frame, sharp wide open. Bokeh highlights are bean-shaped on certain focal lengths. They have a slight vertical anamorphic flare, but it's not too pronounced. There's breathing when rack focusing and outward bowing of the image. On the 55mm, when pointed at a bright source or window, the lens will start to show internal reflections, and lights will show up as a reflection or ghosting. (It's similar to when you have an ND filter that has a light leak in your matte box and you start to see reflections and ghosting in the image.) If you watch the movie Moonlight, you will see this happening.
Nice contrasty image with lenses that can be shot wide open. We like the defocused bottom and top of the frame, which is more in tune with classic anamorphic lenses, but with less flare. This would be a good set to use if your client does not want to go full anamorphic but does want to retain some of the classic properties.
We did think it was strange that such a high-end set of lenses—and quite possibly the most expensive (if you can convince Vantage to sell you a set)—had the weird ghosting/reflection thing going on with the 55mm. This would make shooting against windows, bright sources, and lights challenging if you don't like that artifact.
One commonality we saw was quite a bit of breathing on all lens sets except the Optimo zoom. Also, some sets seemed brighter, and some darker, even though they were all set at the same T-stop.
Mistakes in our method
Framing was not 100 percent accurate for each focal length, but you can still see the differences in the cropping between the cameras. Due to our white balance and the fact that the flashlight didn't match the lights we were using, the flares came out very blue.
We would also like to note that the Kowa Anamorphics lens flares were noticeably more warm than cool, which is not shown in this comparison. Also, the Hawk V-Lites were filmed on a different day, and the model decided to change her hair color between our shoots.
On the RED camera, some shots came out a little soft due to human error on the wide lenses, so don't read too much into that—you can evaluate focus on the Alexa.