Here's our review of the SLR Magic anamorphic 35mm, 50mm, and 70mm glass.
After the success of its popular anamorphic lens adapters, SLR Magic has been steadily increasing focus on cine lenses. Due to high demand for anamorphic shooting on lower budgets, SLR Magic came out with a set of three PL-mount 1.33x Cine lenses last year.
I've been shooting with the lenses on a variety of projects for the better part of a year. Below, I'll share the pros and cons of the 35mm T2.4, 50mm T2.8, and 70mm T4.
These lenses have a beautiful bokeh and wonderful mix of softness and sharpness when you hit your focus marks.
Here's a quick lens test I shot using a combination of all three lenses (shot at 1920x1080 ProRes 422 HQ on Blackmagic Ursa Mini Pro):
The lenses are meant for a Super 35mm (or APS-C) sensor, but the 50mm and 70mm also cover full frame. The 1.33x squeeze factor is meant for use on 16:9 sensors and produces an aspect ratio of 2:35 when de-squeezed in post (in Premiere, a simple Modify --> Interpret Footage --> Pixel Aspect Ratio --> Conform to HD Anamorphic 1.333).
A filter size of 82mm allows the use of inexpensive screw-on filters, even stepping up from 77mm (except on the 35mm lens, where vignetting may occur). On these lenses, SLR Magic has added an "internal mask" that produces a flare effect closer to a 2x anamorphic lens.
Anamorphic is beautiful. I never really was a fan until I started shooting more of it, but it really does immediately transport your footage into a new aesthetic realm. It's certainly not applicable to every project, and often feels too overbearing or flashy for its own good, but when applied appropriately, it can be quite transcendent.
These lenses have a beautiful bokeh and wonderful mix of softness and sharpness when you hit your focus marks. The coating on the lenses creates that sought-after blue flaring, which, to me, locks it into the realm of modern lenses. (I think JJ Abrams really did kill the blue flare for the rest of us.) The flaring is a bit difficult to achieve in many lighting conditions; you need the sun or a strong source hitting the lens to get the flaring effect.
A common characteristic of anamorphic shooting on the wider end is distortion, and these lenses are no exception. Because it's anamorphic, the 35mm plays as a much wider lens than it suggests—it feels more like a 20mm or 24mm in practice. The distortion, when used on an S35 sensor, is quite noticeable. It certainly has a pleasing effect on static shots, with the ability to hold small or large spaces in beautiful widescreen. As soon as the camera moves, though, the distortion can become incredibly distracting. The effect becomes less and less pronounced as you go further up in lengths.
35mm: When I use the 35mm, I try to make sure whatever I'm shooting is as close to the center of the frame as possible. Some may consider the distortion on the 35mm unusable in many circumstances. After shooting a lot with the 35mm lens, however, I think I learned how to use it better and its quirks eventually starting becoming charms.
50mm: With most of the distortion taken care of, this is the workhorse lens of the set, allowing the most flexibility in shots. It has a pleasing effect on medium shots and even far away wide shots.
70mm: This is what I've been using if I want zero distortion or the closest thing to a close-up I can get.
One thing I noticed right away on these lenses is how they handle highlights coming up against the edges of shapes. The effect is very pronounced and occurs in many different kinds of glass. Even at the relatively low cost of these lenses (for anamorphics), I was surprised to see this. I'm sure someone who is more versed in color and VFX could remove this easily, but on a quick turnaround job, it ended up in the final product.
This lens is definitely designed with a crew in mind. You really need an AC to help pull focus, especially on these long throw lenses. I've done a lot of single shooter jobs with these lenses and have gotten used to focusing them—mostly by leaving the focus at minimum and moving the camera instead of the focus—but it's really difficult to hit critical focus without a trained AC.
The minimum focus on these lenses is pretty brutal, at 3.6' (1.1m). This means that if someone walks close to you, you better be ready to back up if you want them sharp.
In general, anamorphics are best suited to scenarios that aren't run-and-gun, where you can set focus marks and know where the action will happen. I've been shooting mostly handheld and single shooter with these lenses; eventually you get used to the minimum focus, but my style of shooting leads to a lot of soft-looking shots. To solve this, some people use diopters in conjunction with anamorphic lenses to get even closer focus on specific shots that require it.
Adapting from PL
A huge plus to these lenses is that they are easily adaptable to many other formats. The SLR Magic PL to EF adapter is the one I used, and it's one of the easiest and most solid adapters I've seen. The adapter itself is small and fits snugly. It's easy to quickly change lenses in the field—even if you only have one adapter.
There aren't many new anamorphic lenses coming out that are remotely affordable, so this strikes me as an ambitious lens project from SLR Magic. Certainly whether they are affordable can be debated, especially as they retail for $18,700 for the whole set (individually $6,000 for the 35mm, and $6,500 each for the 50mm and 75mm), but most newer anamorphic lenses are significantly more expensive — often 3-4 times as much. It's possible you could get away with one lens for many different projects, but all three lenses will definitely set you back. The pricing puts these more in the rental category, but unfortunately they aren't available to rent in most places yet.
These lenses definitely have their place in the market; I would use them for future projects, especially if I want an idiosyncratic anamorphic image. Using these lenses definitely helped me understand and appreciate why most anamorphics aren't in this price range. As rentals, these lenses can pack a lot of aesthetic punch to your project. As with any tool, the more you use it, the more you learn to make it work for your needs.