Exploring the unique look of anamorphic lenses

Sometimes I like to experiment with different shooting styles to jumpstart my creativity. While thinking of different looks I could explore one day, I saw an article about anamorphic lenses. Normally used for cinema, anamorphic lenses are placed in front of your regular lens to widen its horizontal field of view without affecting the vertical. You can find some old ones for $100-300 and get a clamp to fit them onto your own camera lens.

I bought a 2x anamorphic lens by Isco from eBay. In order to use it you’ll want a clamp (you can find them at Vid-Atlantic) and probably a step down or step up ring to fit it onto the front filter of your camera lens. The whole setup looks like this:


Usually I see these sitting on top of rails so the lens can be supported while the camera’s on a tripod. However I haven’t taken the time to rig up such a system, so I’m relying on the filter thread to hold the whole weight of the lens. Not a good practice but I’m lazy…

Sentinel Levi

The main purpose of an anamorphic lens is to widen your image. It does this by squeezing the picture into your normal frame, which you then have to un-squeeze in post. Mine says it has a 2x squeeze, although in practice it’s closer to 1.75x. This number is what you’d divide the image height by to get it looking normal again. In my particular setup, I start with a 3:2 aspect ratio. The anamorphic lens adds a 1.75x multiplier to the width. So the result after un-squeezing is 5.25:2 or 2.625:1, which is very close to the CinemaScope ratio.

Phat Company Rise Kujikawa

There is a learning curve to using these kinds of lenses. You’ll most likely need a tripod or some kind of support for your camera. The first step is to lock focus on your camera. I like using a long telephoto lens as you avoid vignetting and get better control over what’s in your frame (I shot most of these with a 100mm lens on an APS-C body). Next you attach the anamorphic and focus that. Doing this in live view makes things a lot easier. Since the anamorphic lens only squeezes in one direction, you’ll also need to make sure its vertical alignment is correct. If it’s slightly off, you can fix it in Photoshop using the skew transform tool.

Phat Company Rise Kujikawa

The signature look of the anamorphic lens is the vertical bokeh it produces. One way to use it is to widen the field of view of your shot while preserving shallow depth of field. However I like to stop down a bit, as the extra depth of field helps to add some context to the photo. I shot the below photo of Mari wide open, and it doesn’t look very impactful:

Yamato Mari Makinami

But now check out this shot from my Kongou review:

Phat Company Kongou

The subject isolation is still good but you get a better sense of the environment. It looks awesomely cinematic!

You can probably simulate the anamorphic look, but it’s difficult to get such a wide field of view while maintaining a telephoto look at a reasonable working distance. With anamorphic it lets me visualize compositions that I normally wouldn’t with a 3:2 frame. That’s basically what this is all about; it’s a different look and sometimes you need that to get the creative juices flowing.