The look of anamorphic lenses is absolutely fascinating. The widescreen aesthetic, the oval bokeh, the distinctive flares, the ability to render out-of-focus areas as a mesmerizing mess; these are all things which many filmmakers strive for with their images. There are ways to accomplish most of these things without using an actual anamorphic lens such as letterboxing, adding flares in post, or even using filters on the front of your lens, but when it comes down to it, they don't provide the same aesthetic as a real anamorphic lens. Though the anamorphic process can be difficult to understand at times, Luke Neumann has put together a video that demystifies this awesome technique and gives you all of the resources that you need to get started shooting anamorphic.
When it comes to shooting with actual anamorphic optics -- optics that compress the captured imaged so that it can be stretched out to the proper aspect ratio in post production -- shooters these days have several options. The first, and the one that most low-budget filmmakers use, is anamorphic adapters. These are optical elements that sit in front of your existing lenses. The other option, one which can be prohibitively expensive, is traditional cine-style anamorphic lenses.
Here's Luke Neumann's excellent video, which breaks down these different methods of anamorphic image capture and explains the theory behind "squeeze factor" (as well as how different squeeze factors affect various native aspect ratios.)
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oar3rXa8fXI
For me, the best reason to shoot anamorphic has to do with the incredibly unique aesthetic that the higher squeeze factors produce when they are corrected. It's one of those aesthetics that really differentiates cinema from other visual mediums.
Perhaps the best example of this aesthetic from recent memory comes from the opening scene of Killing Them Softly, which uses the anamorphic look to its full potential. Unfortunately, the version that's embedded below is pretty crappy in quality, and the aspect ratio is wrong, but you should be able to get the idea.
Unfortunately, it's very difficult to produce this type of effect with lower-end cameras that are limited to 16:9 readouts of the sensor due to the fact that a 2x squeeze factor lens or adapter will produce an image with an absurdly wide aspect ratio; something like 3.55:1. It's through adding vertical resolution to the sensor readout that these ratios come closer to the traditional widescreen 2.39:1.
Hopefully in the coming years, camera manufacturers will begin to implement anamorphic shooting modes (with high-resolution 4:3 sensor readouts) into their lower end cameras (are you listening, Blackmagic), so that the unique and unparalleled aesthetic produced by anamorphic lenses and adapters can be available to low-budget shooters.
What do you guys think? Do you have any tips for folks who are looking to get started with shooting anamorphic? Let us know in the comments!