Venus Optics makes some fascinating lenses, and between its incredibly popular probe lens and its very useful Zero-Distortion wide lenses, the company already has a place in many indie filmmakers' lens kits. But with the launch of its new Nanomorph lineup of lenses, it should also be a name to keep in mind for anamorphic work, as well.
The Nanomorph lineup is (at launch) three lenses, a 27mm, a 35mm, and a 50mm, all with a 1.5x anamorphic squeeze factor.
What is a 1.5x anamorphic squeeze factor? Well, traditional anamorphic lenses had a 2x squeeze, designed to work with a sensor that has a 4:3 aspect ratio, so they would roughly double the width out to around 2.39:1 or so (once cropped to get rid of edit lines). With modern sensors being formatted in 16:9, a 2x squeeze gives you something closer to 3.5:1 when expanded, which is very, very wide. So lens manufacturers started making other squeezes, with 1.5x being very popular to give you something close to 2.66:1 or from a 16x9 sensor.
With a 1.5x squeeze, you are getting most of the anamorphic characteristics, which means you'll get some streak flares (though not as heavy) and some pleasantly stretched bokeh, but not as much as with the full-on 2x lenses. But you'll also tend to have fewer anamorphic artifacts. For a lot of jobs, it ends up landing in a sweet spot.
Laowa's Nanomorph lineup opens up to a nice T/2.8 for the 27mm and T/2.4 for the 50mm and 35mm, which is roughly normal for a 'scope lens. But that's exactly where the "normal" stops. They come in under 400 grams and are physically very small, and that's where the adventure starts.
You can use these lenses on cameras as light as the DJI 4D (with its very tight weight limit) and other smaller cameras and walk away with amazing imagery. They even come natively available in the DJI D-mount, indicating that Laowa sees that platform as a likely combo for these lenses.
I got a chance to work with them on a job I'm directing (shot by DP Donna Del Castillo) and walked away very impressed with the performance that was packed into these affordable, and amazingly lightweight, units. We were working with the 4D for action work (paired with an Alexa with Atlas 2x anamorphic lenses for A-camera), and were completely satisfied that the two cameras would intercut seamlessly.
Mostly we keep each camera package to either the "action" scenes or "narrative" scenes so there isn't a lot of intercutting between the cameras within a single scene. However, there is one scene where we are planning to intercut the two cameras, and based on initial dailies it seems like we're going to be able to do so.
One fun part of the Nanomorph lineup is that you can purchase them in blue, warm, or clear (silver) flares. They have tuned the lens coatings to push those anamorphic flares into certain directions. We shot with the blue flares and were very happy with the results. The blues weren't too heavy or distracting, and even occasionally went a bit green in a pleasant way, and we liked it.
However, we really like the clear flare option. With HDR delivery, heavily colored flares can be a distraction, so for a job that was focused on its HDR output, we leaned toward that option. The flares on the silver lenses are not heavy by any means, so you could get away with color flares if you like, of course.
The one thing to be aware of with these lenses is that the T/2.8 isn't quite as sharp as T/4. This is incredibly normal for anamorphic lenses. The vast majority of anamorphic glass, including popular lens lineups and almost all vintage glass, is best at least 1 or 1.5 stops in from wide open. We were incredibly happy with the results on these lenses at T/4, T/5.6, and T/8. At a T/2.8, it was a teeny tiny bit soft.
If you are shooting a night exterior, and have your ISO up to 2000 and it's a high-contrast situation (as many night exteriors are), can you get away with the 2.8, and no one will notice? Absolutely.
In certain situations, it's going to be the best choice and you'll love the imagery. But it's not going to be quite as clear and clean as the 4.
Since we were doing action work and focus was tricky, we occasionally shot down at an 8 (which is something you'd rarely do on a traditional A-camera shoot), and the lens held up well.
Working at. a 4-8 really hit these lenses sweet spot.
Hope for the Future
At this price point, at this weight, these lenses are performing far better than we would've expected or reasonably hoped. They are completely satisfying.
What I'm personally really hoping for is a 75mm or 85mm addition to the lineup. It might have to be a hair heavier, but the ability to get some real close-up work with this lineup would be a nice bonus. Of course, for a lens maker to be interested in offering more focal lengths in a lineup, it has to be a hit, but we suspect that if you are looking for a flyable, actionable, independent anamorphic solution, the Nanamorph will end up being the top of your list.
Available now on Indiegogo, and most likely in normal retail channels after the official release.