Anamorphic Lenses for 8mm Applications

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Anamorphic Lenses for 8mm Applications[edit]

by Martin W. Baumgarten

I have been shooting films in full CinemaScope (WIDESCREEN) since 1981 and love it. There are basically three main types of anamorphic lenses with varying compression ratios. An anamorphic lens compresses the image that is photographed thru it in one plane only. Upon projection thru the same lens or a lens of similar compression, the image will expand to its Widescreen projection "aspect ratio."

Anamorphic formats with approximate projection aspect ratios are as follows:

  1. 1.5x lens = 2:1 format
  2. 1.75x lens = 2.25:1 format
  3. 2x lens = 2.66:1 format

True aspect ratios vary slightly since projector gates vary a little bit here and there...however, suffice it to say these ratios are based on the 1.33:1 Edison standard in films. Some film formats have more rectangular frames thus yielding a wider aspect ratio. To avoid getting too technical here.....let me state that in professional use.....the final format whether anamorphically compressed or adjusted otherwise in the laboratory when the film are printed on whatever gauge they will be released in.....there are all kinds of "aspect ratios," and this changes in the theater (cinema) upon projection as well, based on the equipment a given theater(cinema) has to show the films with. Many times...films are drastically cut down from their intended projection formats.

Anyhow...how does all this affect the 8mm or Super 8mm filmmaker? All you have to decide on is what aspect ratio format you'd like to have, and hunt for a suitable lens. Since most 16mm release prints that are in WIDESCREEN, use the 2x lens, and also Super 8mm release prints that are in WIDESCREEN/CinemaScope also use 2x lenses......I decided long ago that I would film in this same format....thus having to only buy one lens initially. With this one lens...I could then film and project my own movies, as well as purchased prints....with the same lens. I also was able to shoot 35mm slides in this 2x compressed format for a stunning 3:1 projected aspect ratio.....SUPER WIDE!

Most any focusable anamorphic lens that you can find used...in SHUTTERBUG classifieds, on eBay, or other online used photo shoppers......will usually work for filming with. You will need to fashion up some sort of custom bracket to hold the lens in front of and in alignment with the camera lens. Also....if you use an anamorphic lens that is smaller than the diameter of your Super 8mm zoom lens for example....you'll be limited only to the longer focal lengths...often 40mm or higher.

As my lens of choice, I use the KOWA 16-H lens (also known and marked outside of the USA as the 8-Z) which is a 2x anamorphic lens focusing as close as about 5ft, and will match up quite well to any Super 8mm or Regular 8mm movie camera with a front standard filter thread in the 42mm to 52mm range. Matched to my SANKYO XL-620 Supertronic camera, I am able to film as wide as about 15mm on the zoom lens. Don't let this throw you off....remember that the 2x anamorphic lens will compress 2x the amount of information in the horizontal plane. Thus in reality, the 15mm setting becomes an effective 7.5mm focal length. So, even used on a camera where you are restricted to 20mm or 25mm, the effective focal length will still be a decent 10mm to 12.5mm range. It takes a little bit of practice to compose while seeing a compressed image in the viewfinder where everything appears tall and skinny...but you catch on quickly.

New lenses are still being made....such as the range of lenses sold by The Widescreen Centre...however..new lenses are VERY expensive. If you have the money though...and want a lens to fit some special rig.....new might be one alternative...but not one that I would recommend except to a professional filmmaking company perhaps.

Yes, you will either need to use the same lens to project with, or a similar or extra lens purchased just for projection. There are many smaller lenses for sale on eBay at times...for example the KOWA 16-D, which is fine for projection...but would only work for filming with small lens cameras or those having only prime lenses and no zooms. So, if you buy one of these at a lower cost than your main filmmaking lens....you will have one to dedicate for projection only.

To those of us hooked on WIDESCREEN filmmaking...there is no other way to film! Actually I film in both flat (normal?) and Widescreen formats.....but it all depends on what your intention is. If you're film is going to end up on a video format....I would say don't bother....as many don't like watching letter-boxed films on the screen. There is Widescreen television..but it is still very new....and I would advise caution and wait and see how things in that department develop. For films that you want to show as films only...and with real impact...nothing beats WIDESCREEN!

To attach the lens to the camera...the simplest method is using a stepup or stepdown ring. The problem here is that most Super 8mm and Regular 8mm zoom lens cameras, have the front standard rotate while focusing...in which case you'd have to realign the anamorphic lens each time after focusing so that the viewfinder image orientation is tall and skinny. This has to be correctly done...or you may film an image that is very skewed....in which case it would look as if everyone and everything is leaning to the right or left in the projected image. A properly made bracket will hold the A-lens(nickname for short) competely immobile in front of the camera lens, so that you can film, focus and compose thru it with minimal fuss. Also....most A-lenses require that you set the focus on both the A-lens and the camera's lens....but in use this is not as big a hassle you as may think. Single block and fixed focus type A-lens require you to only set focus on the camera lens. Iscorama lenses have a unique design in that they have you set the focus of the prime lens to infinity and then only set the focus in use on the A-lens itself. This applies only to their 1.5x compression lenses though.

The older anamorphic lenses made for Regular 8mm were generally all of the 1.5x compression format...however...they are still quite useable...and can be fitted to many smaller Super 8mm cameras as well. Some of these lenses are: YashicaScope, Bolex-Moeller Anamorphot, VistaScope, Delrama, Iscorama, KinoScope and others.

I hope this has given you some helpful information. For moredetails...visit my widescreen website which has links to some really helpful websites dedicated to Widescreen: http://members.aol.com/Super8mm/AWS.html