July 25, 2019

Everything You Need to Know About Anamorphic Lenses

Mathieu Stern - Anamorphic Lenses
If you've never worked with this unique piece of glass, then this is the primer for you.

Anamorphic imaging was invented all the way back in World War I, when Henri Chrétien figured out a way to provide a wide-angle viewer in military tanks. Later, in Hollywood, as movies were competing with television for viewers, filmmakers decided they had to innovate.

Enter CinemaScope and anamorphic optics.

Mathieu Stern and Tito Ferradans have put together a great video on anamorphic lenses, their history, and why they work with them. Check it out and then we'll dive into some of the specifics. 

What are anamorphic optics?

The incorporation of anamorphic lenses into filmmaking came from the need to be bigger and better than television.

When filmmakers started using anamorphic lenses, cameras were able to capture a wider field of view at a higher quality. On a 35mm film frame, the picture would be bigger and at a higher resolution, but it would also be stretched. The film would have to be fixed in post-production or on the projector.

But once corrected, audiences would see a new, widescreen picture larger than what they were used to. This has given films their classic widescreen "letterbox" look.

Blade Runner Anamorphic
Credit: Mathieu Stern

Why use anamorphic?

Obviously, not many of us are shooting on film now, but there are still tons of options for digital anamorphic. Using anamorphic lenses now mostly arises out of the desire to achieve a unique, nostalgic look.

With anamorphic, you get that wide aspect ratio. You get an incredible depth of field. You get distinct, oval-shaped bokeh. You get interesting horizontal lens flares and vignettes. Each anamorphic lens has a different character and unique visual traits.

"I wanted to find lenses that made images a little bit different or more interesting," Ferradans says. "That maximized my use of the sensor. And that's what anamorphic does. It fits more footage onto the sensor."

Mathieu Stern - Anamorphic
Credit: Mathieu Stern

How to start shooting anamorphic

Ferradans says the most important advice for those just starting out in anamorphic is to read, study, practice, and... try not to spend too much money.

He suggests taking your time to shop for lenses and find good deals since anamorphic lenses tend to come with high price tags.

Familiarize yourself with anamorphic kits. If you're shooting with a DSLR and working on a lower budget, then you can't just slap an anamorphic lens on -- you need a taking lens (or prime lens), which is a normal spherical lens, then the anamorphic lens mounted on top of that.

Of course, if you've got an ARRI ALEXA or the RED DSMC2, then you can go for the higher-end lenses like the anamorphic primes from Atlas Lens Co.

Mathieu Stern - Anamorphic Rig
Credit: Mathieu Stern

What's next? Learn more about anamorphic shooting

Check out ShareGrid's deep dive into the testing of anamorphic lenses, and check out more of our tips for getting started with anamorphic. And of course, you can get into our CineGear coverage for pieces on new lenses like the Vazen 40mm.

Maybe you're not ready to spend thousands of dollars on new gear, and that's okay. We've got a tutorial that will help you get an anamorphic look without the anamorphic lenses!

What are some of your tips for shooting with anamorphic lenses? Share them in the comments!     

Your Comment

4 Comments

That is the most misleading title in a long time...
Why would i want to go to ShareGrid's deep dive if i have already learned EVERYTHING there is to know about anamorphic... what a waste of time.
A bunch of guys testing the first anamorphic lens they could put their hands on, and now they are suddenly experts in the field? Matthieu, even you don't believe this, do you?

July 25, 2019 at 12:55PM

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Yeah, NFS has the absolute worst headlines. And the "authors" just link a video and pretend they made it while offering little to no credit for the source video. Then they slap on some lazy editorializing. Plus, the videos are always worthless and misleading.

July 26, 2019 at 9:16PM

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The infographic is misleading. It seems to imply that Blade Runner (or any film shot on with anamorphic 35mm) was shot with 1.33x anamorphic lenses. These figures are true for digital cameras that shoot in a native aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in video mode. However, Blade Runner, like many others, was shot with 4-perf film which has a native ratio of 1.375:1 and used 2x anamorphic lenses.

July 26, 2019 at 6:21AM

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Damn, I needed this article very much in my life.
A great resource for anamorphic lens and how to know more about them. I saved Toto's blog and channel to know more about it.
I am planning to shoot my next film and I think this kind of knowledge will definitely affect my filmmaking and movie.
Understanding Anamporphic is something I have always found very difficult because in India there is not much access to Anamorphic lenses to filmmakers and whatever few there are, they are far too expensive for anyone to use them.
No producers allow too much experimentation there.
I think I am addicted to anamorphic lenses like other camera enthusiasts because it reminds us of the leagcy of cinema which is getting obsolete day by day.

August 9, 2019 at 4:40PM

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Shitiz Srivastava
Film Director/ Screenplay Writer
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