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Anamorphic lenses are awesome for creating a cinematic look. They capture a wider view than traditional spherical lenses, create beautiful oval bokeh and cool horizontal flares.
The only drawback is the cost of anamorphic lenses. Top anamorphic lenses are costly.
For micro four-thirds (MFT) sensors, it’s no different as anamorphic lenses tend to be more expensive than spherical lenses.
However, they are still way more affordable than, e.g., a set of Cooke anamorphic you typically see on an ARRI or RED camera on big-budget productions.
Plus, with MFT-cameras such as the Panasonic GH5 or Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K (BMPCC 4K), you have the option to adopt lenses designed for bigger cameras or even vintage anamorphic, which makes this system a great way to get the anamorphic cinematic look at a low cost.
That, however, is a totally different topic for another topic, and going down that rabbit hole is very time consuming.
Plus, not everyone wants the hassle of searching the web for vintage taking (prime) lenses and old projector lenses or to deal with the complicated single or dual focus lens setups.
Luckily, you can get modern anamorphic lenses that are easy to use and come with everything packed into one body. So if you want to enjoy the advantages of an anamorphic lens on a smaller budget, here are five of the top choices.
1. Vazen 40 mm T/2 1.8x Anamorphic Lens for MFT Cameras
The Vazen 40 mm T/2 lens is the first anamorphic prime lens with a 1.8x squeeze factor designed for micro four-thirds cameras.
The image is then stretched 1.8x times to achieve the 2.39:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The 1.8x squeeze offers a wider field of view to some of the more affordable 1.33x options.
The lens uses T-stops, with a maximum opening of T/2 and a minimum opening of T/16. This is comparable to a photography lens with an aperture range of f/1.8 to f/16.
T-stops are commonly used on cinema lenses, as they offer a more accurate measurement of light. So if you use other cinema lenses may prefer using an anamorphic lens with T-stops due to its consistency.
The lens has a focal length of 40 mm, and the minimum focus distance is 2.7’/0.82. The front diameter of 95mm, which makes it usable with standard matte box designs.
The smooth manually focused lens has a focus throw of 300°, and the focus rings are built for 0.8mod cine gears (32 Pitch).
You may notice slight distortion when shooting close-ups due to the shallower depth of field. However, you also get a natural-looking perspective. And the bokeh and flares are beautiful.
- 1.8x Anamorphic squeeze
- Beautiful bokeh and crisp, sharp center image
- Durable, high-quality components and glass optics
- Bulky (not gimbal or run-and-gun friendly – see the Vazen 28mm below instead)
Check the current price on Amazon.
2. Vazen 28 mm T/2.2 1.8x Anamorphic Lens
The Vazen 28 mm anamorphic lens is the second lens in this category released by Vazen.
Due to the smaller focal length, the 28 mm lens weighs less. It weighs just 1.59 pounds, making it less cumbersome when mounted on a lightweight MFT camera. It’s a compact lens that works well on a gimbal.
The Vazen 28 mm lens has a wider field of view than the 40mm, as it offers the same 1.8x squeeze factor.
The 28 mm focal length is also ideal for close-ups and shooting in cramped spaces. The minimum focus distance is 2.7’/0.82m.
The maximum T-stop of T/2.2 (and the minimum is T/16) is slightly smaller than the T/2 opening found on the 40 mm Vazen lens.
The quality of the lens matches the quality of other Vazen lenses. You receive a carefully constructed lens that should offer many years of use with proper care.
Even though the 28mm is smaller, it still is manually focused with a focus throw of 300°, and the independent aperture and focus rings are built with 0.8mod cine gears (32 Pitch).
The front filter thread diameter is 77mm, making it easy to find and use, for example, a variable-ND filter for the lens.
This lens’s front diameter is 80mm, which is different from the 95mm you find on both the Vazen 40mm and 65mm lenses. This is something to keep in mind if you decide to purchase these three lenses as a kit and use a matte box.
- A high-quality lens with great clarity and sharpness
- The 28 mm focal length is useful for smaller spaces
- Compact, light-weight, and gimbal-friendly
Check the current price on Amazon.
3. Vazen 65 mm T/2 1.8x Anamorphic Lens for MFT Cameras
Vazen released the 65 mm lens to complete its lineup of anamorphic lenses for MFT-cameras. It includes the same sophisticated design and craftsmanship found on the other Vazen lenses.
As with the 40mm Vazen lens, the 65 mm lens also has a 95 mm front diameter. This allows you to use standard matte boxes with any of the Vazen lenses. The filter thread is 86mm, which can be stepped up to 95mm with a step-up ring.
This lens is also manually focused with a focus throw of 300°, and the independent aperture and focus rings are built with 0.8mod cine gears (32 Pitch).
While the 28 mm Vazen lens is useful for smaller spaces, the 65 mm lens is better suited for filming distant objects (the minimum focus distance is 3.6′/1.09 m).
The focal length is comparable to a telephoto lens. You get a more compressed image and can isolate subjects from the background.
The larger focal length also increases the size and weight of the lens. It weighs just under four pounds, making it relatively heavy. For best results, use this lens with a camera mounted on a tripod.
- Provides greater resolution compared to 1.33x anamorphic lenses
- Minimum focus breathing
- Useful for telephoto shots and filming distant objects
- Not the most budget-friendly camera lens
Check the current price on Amazon.
4. SIRUI 50 mm f/1.8 Anamorphic 1.33x Lens
The SIRUI 50 mm f/1.8 lens is a relatively affordable anamorphic lens compared to the costly Vazen lenses. This is a budget-friendly option if you want a true anamorphic prime lens with an MFT mount.
Unlike the Vazen lenses, the SIRUI lenses use a 1.33x squeeze factor. The 1.33x squeeze provides slightly less vertical resolution, as it does not squeeze the horizontal plane as far.
The SIRUI lenses also use f-stops to measure the aperture opening, which is the same unit of measurement found on standard photography cameras.
While this will make it easier to set the aperture if you are used to working with photography lenses, f-stops lack consistency when shooting the same scene from multiple cameras.
Like the Vazen, the SIRUI 50mm features 0.8 gears MODs (32 pitch) for focus and aperture, but the focus throw is only 143.6 degrees. In other words, you don’t get as smooth and precise focusing as with the Vazens.
The filter thread is 67mm, so if you primarily have 77mm or 82mm filters, you need to use step-up rings.
- More affordable compared to Vazen lenses
- Adapters are available for mounting on APS-C cameras
- The 50 mm focal length provides versatility
- Offers less vertical resolution compared to Vazen lenses
- Lack of lighting consistency when using other cinema lenses with T-stops
Check the current price on Amazon.
5. SIRUI 35 mm f/1.8 Anamorphic 1.33x Lens
The SIRUI 35 mm is a compact anamorphic lens that works well for run-and-gun videography and gimbal work.
You get a wide, cinematic field of view with an aspect ratio of 2.39:1. However, the SIRUI lenses require you to use the 16:9 mode on your MFT camera, as they use a squeeze factor of 1.33x instead of 1.8x.
The decreased squeeze factor provides a reduction in vertical resolution compared to the Vazen anamorphic 1.8x lenses.
It features 0.8 gears MODs (32 pitch) for focus and aperture like the Vazen, but the focus throw is only 191.2 degrees. In other words, you don’t get as smooth and precise focusing as with the Vazens.
Like the SIRUI 50mm, the filter thread on the 35mm is also 67mm, so if you primarily have 77mm or 82mm filters, you need step-up rings.
However, this tradeoff is worth it because this lens offers a lot of bang-for-the-buck. The SIRUI 35 mm lens is one of the most affordable anamorphic prime lenses for MFT cameras.
- One of the most affordable choices
- The 35 mm focal length offers a wider field of view
- The lens is lightweight and less cumbersome
- No T-stops for setting the aperture to match other cinema lenses
- Provides slightly less vertical resolution compared to 1.8x lenses
Check the current price on Amazon.
What Is An Anamorphic Lens?
Anamorphic lenses allow photographers and videographers to capture footage with a cinematic aspect ratio (fx 2:39:1, 1:2.40, or 1:1.85) using standard format camera sensors.
Of course, you can shoot or crop your footage into those aspect ratios. This will still render those cinematic bars when viewing back on a wide-screen 16×9 monitor. But it isn’t anamorphic–it’s just the same aspect ratio!
Read here how to create cinematic black bars the right way.
The cinematographer Roger Deakins actually shot in 2:39:1 (1:90:1 in the IMAX version) with spherical lenses in Blade Runner 2049.
The lens squeezes the horizontal field of view (often with a factor of 1.33x, 1.8x, or 2.0x), which in essence lets you capture a wider field of view and squeeze that image onto the sensor.
Anamorphic lenses squeeze the image horizontally when capturing footage. The image is then unsqueezed when compiled in a video editor.
However, some cameras and external monitors allow you to view the de-squeezed image while recording, so you get a better sense of the final result.
In short, an anamorphic lens capture an image with a wider field-of-view than would normally be possible at that particular focal range and sensor size.
Anamorphic lenses produce several distinct characteristics:
One of the most noticeable features of an anamorphic lens is the oval-shaped bokeh. The bokeh is the quality of the blur on the outer edges of the image.
Due to the oval-shaped lens, the image’s horizontal edges appear to be more elongated than the center of the image, causing more blurriness towards the image’s sides than in the center.
Because of the squeezing of the image, the anamorphic bokeh balls are oval.
With a spherical lens, the bokeh balls are round and the bokeh effect is less prominent than anamorphic lenses.
Shoot close-ups while capturing the background at the same time
Anamorphic lenses were also created to give cinematographers a way to shoot close-ups without distorting the subject’s face and capture background action at the same time.
You can shoot close-ups and capture background action with a wide-angel spherical lens. But the problem is, that you need a really wide-angle lens to do so, which can create a distorted fish-eye effect on the subject in the foreground – especially if you want to capture a lot of the background.
Using an anamorphic lens lets you keep your actor in focus in an undistorted way, while still capturing important stuff in the background at the same time.
And if you stop it down and don’t shoot with a wide-open aperture, you can get a good background that isn’t too distorted as well.
Anamorphic lenses tend to capture horizontal flares. The flare is caused when bright light hits the glass and streaks horizontally across the lens.
The streaks extend horizontally from the light source and are more noticeable when the light is directed at the lens.
The bigger the stretch factor of the lens, the bigger is the horizontal flaring effect.
Streetlights, headlights, and reflections from the sun can produce the horizontal flare.
Some lenses flare more easily than others, as the number of optical elements and coating of the glass affects the effects.
The coating – or lack thereof – and the glass also affect the colors of the flares. While some lenses have bright blue flares (typically seen in sci-fi), others have other or multiple colors.
How To Fake The Anamorphic Look
While anamorphic lenses offer many advantages, there are other ways to create a similar look–at least to some extend.
An alternative to an anamorphic lens is an anamorphic filter. A filter allows you to fake the anamorphic look before spending money on a lens.
The filters may also be called anamorphic adapters. They are designed to fit over the standard prime lens on your camera.
The SLR Magic 1.33x Anamorphic Adapter is a great example. It adds the same bokeh and streaks associated with anamorphic footage. It converts the prime lens into an anamorphic lens.
The filter artificially adds horizontal flare and stretches or crops the image to achieve the 2.39:1 aspect ratio.
Digital and physical anamorphic filters do not produce a true anamorphic image. While a filter allows you to fake the anamorphic look, an anamorphic lens provides better resolution.
Add horizontal flares in post-production
Another way to fake a part of the anamorphic look is to add flares in post.
You can either purchase some stock-footage flares on a black background (alpha). You then add this as a layer on top of your footage and track the lens flares to match your light source in the scene.
Another route is to use the Optical Flares plugin for After Effects from Video CoPilot, which can create all sorts of lens flares (not just anamorphic).
How to Choose the Right Anamorphic Lens
Anamorphic lenses cover a niche market in the videography industry, limiting your selection of lenses. This is especially true when shopping for lenses for micro 4/3 (MFT) cameras.
A variety of manufacturers also produce anamorphic prime lenses for full-frame and APS-C cameras. However, only a few companies currently make modern anamorphic lenses for the MFT-mount.
You can go the vintage route, which I touched upon briefly in the introduction, which opens up to a whole new range of possibilities and worries.
Vintage anamorphic lenses can easily turn out to be a more expensive path to follow than getting a modern solution.
In the end it depends on your needs, time, and money you want to invest.
2.0x Versus 1.8x Versus 1.33x Horizontal Squeeze
Vazen and SIRUI use different comparisons for the horizontal field of view.
The Vazen lenses mentioned in this article increase the horizontal field-of-view (FOV) 1.8x times, whereas the SIRUI increases the horizontal FOV with a factor of 1.33x.
Compared to Vazen lenses, the SIRUI lenses offer less horizontal compression, limiting the advantages of using an anamorphic lens. You get slightly less of the oval-shaped bokeh effect and less vertical resolution. Because of this, the SIRUI options are more affordable.
In fact, price and horizontal squeeze factor are often connected. There are almost no modern native lenses available with a 2.0x for MFT, but they are tough to find. The only one that comes to mind is the SLR Magic 50mm T2.8 2x Anamorphot-CINE Lens with MFT Mount.
So if you want 2.0x squeeze, vintage is probably the way to go for now.
Aperture Settings – T-Stops Versus F-Stops
The next consideration is the aperture range of the lens, which is typically measured in f-stops.
The aperture of the lens determines the amount of light that reaches the sensor.
Generally speaking, with a higher aperture, less light enters the camera, which is better for wide, open shots. High aperture settings are commonly used for landscapes or group shots.
A lower aperture allows more light to reach the camera, which is often used for low light environments and a tighter focus on close subjects.
Along with the aperture settings, various factors influence the amount of light that reaches the camera sensor. Lens coatings, the glass’s quality, and small differences in the lens design can yield different results with the same aperture setting.
When editing camera footage from multiple cameras with various lenses, subtle differences in color and lighting become more noticeable.
T-stops were created to provide a more accurate measurement of light. Most cinema lenses use T-stops, as T-stops allow cinematographers to switch lenses and cameras and produce consistent results.
The anamorphic lenses from SIRUI use f-stops and have an aperture range from f/1.8 to f/16. Vazen uses T-stops for its anamorphic lenses. The smaller 28 mm lens has a maximum T-stop of T2.2 while the others start at T2.
If you have additional videography gear, including other video cameras and lenses that use T-stops, you may prefer the Vazen lenses’ consistency.
However, if you only use lenses with f-stops, getting a lens that uses T-stops does not offer a significant advantage.
Conclusion – What Is the Best Modern Anamorphic Lens for MFT Cameras?
Vazen and SIRUI are your main two options when it comes to anamorphic lenses for MFT cameras.
Vazen has the more expensive line of anamorphic lenses. The Vazen anamorphic lenses measure the aperture setting in T-stops, which is useful if you use other cinema lenses.
Vazen also features high-quality optics for increased sharpness, a bigger focus throw, and a bigger horizontal squeeze factor.
If you want the highest resolution and clarity, the Vazen lenses are the top recommendations. However, the SIRUI anamorphic lenses are a budget-friendly choice and a step up compared to using anamorphic filters.
The SIRUI lenses are more affordable, making them the preferred choice for those with less budget.
As the SIRUI lenses use a 1.33x squeeze factor, you get slightly less vertical resolution. You are also more likely to notice inconsistencies in color and exposure levels when using multiple lenses or cameras for the same shot.
When choosing the right focal length, the 28 mm Vazen and 35 mm SIRUI lenses provide the widest field of view. For greater versatility and distortion-free close-ups, consider using the 40 mm Vazen or 50 mm SIRUI lens.
If I were to pick only one lens out of these to start with, it would be the 28mm Vazen due to its versatility (light-weight, gimbal, and run-and-gun friendly size) and build-quality.
About the author:
Jan Sørup is a videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns filmdaft.com and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.