Preview: SLR Magic ANAMORPHOT 1,33x 50 anamorphic adapter

Andrew Chan shows us a prototype of his innovative 1.33x anamorphic adapter

[2013.10.22 update: availability will be June 2014]

At Art Adams's behest, SLR Magic's product manager and lens designer Andrew Chan stopped by on Monday morning, fresh off the plane from Hong Kong. Andrew is on a whirlwind week-long tour, showing off his new ANAMORPHOT 1,33x 50 anamorphic adapter (US$800).

Anamorphic Background

Anamorphic adapters turn regular lenses into anamorphic lenses by squeezing the image horizontally, like a fun-house mirror. In post, the image is unsqueezed the same amount, yielding a widescreen picture – wider than the camera's native format. Adapters with a 1.33:1 squeeze were popular a decade ago at the start of the HD transition (like the Panasonic AG-LA7200 I wrote about in 2004); you can put one on a 4×3 SD camera and get an image that, unsqueezed in post, is 16×9.

On a 16×9-native camera, a 1.33x adapter lets you capture a 2.37:1 image – Cinemascope, or near enough as makes no difference.

SLR Magic's Andrew Chan, captured in 2.37:1 'scope with his own lens

SLR Magic's Andrew Chan, captured in 2.37:1 'scope by his own adapter on a Nokton 25mm / Panasonic GH3.

Anamorphic adapters also give you elements of “the 'scope look”: horizontal streaks and flare from light sources, and ellipsoidal out-of-focus areas instead of round smears. Cinemascope film anamorphics used a 2x horizontal squeeze, so a 1.33x lens won't give you the same degree of anamorphic artifacts, but the look is there. (Another vintage line of adapters, the Iscoramas, uses a 1.5x squeeze; these give a 2.66:1 image from a 16×9 capture.)

Anamorphic adapters also come with a unique limitation: because they magnify horizontals and verticals differently, they also affect horizontal and vertical focus differently. Most anamorphic adapters will let you focus perfectly at full wide aperture at a single distance; the Panasonic LA7200 seems to be optimized for infinity focus. At all other distances, you can focus either horizontally, or vertically, but not both at the same time! Practically speaking, this is overcome by stopping down the lens; increasing depth of field increases the range of focal distances over which you can capture a sharp image.

With a close subject and a wide aperture you can focus H or V, but not both. Stopping down solves the problem.

Focusing on a test chart: with a close subject and a wide-open aperture you can focus H or V, but not both. Stopping down solves the problem and lets you get the entire image in focus.

In 2004, I tested the LA7200 on the DVX100 and created the following chart:

Map of widest acceptable apertures by focal length and focusing distance.

Map of widest acceptable apertures by focal length and focusing distance. Numbers on gray are DVX100 EVF readout values.

Similar limitations occur using these adapters with modern rigs; on my GH3 with a 25mm prime, the LA7200 focuses both H & V at infinity wide open, but at three feet it needs to be stopped down to f/5.6 or smaller. In general, the closer you get to your subject, and the longer your lens, the more likely you are to run into the differential H & V focusing issue, and the more you have to stop down to avoid it. 

People using anamorphic adapters often work around this by attaching diopters (close-up lenses) to the front of the adapter, changing the diopter depending on the working distance. This, however, has its own drawbacks: more glass surfaces to flare and reduce contrast, more lens changing, and the substantial cost of large-diameter diopters and a mounting mechanism for them (the LA2700 has a squared-off hood with no filter attachments, and the 100mm+ diameter diopters required can easily run in the $300-$500 range).

Panasonic LA7200 adapter, Voigtlander Nokton 25mm, GH3 camera

Panasonic LA7200 adapter, Voigtlander Nokton 25mm, GH3 camera, and lots of gaffer tape to hold it all together.

Art Adams has an excellent article on working with traditional 2:1 'scope anamorphics; well worth the side trip to read before proceeding.

SLR Magic ANAMORPHOT

SLR Magic is a Hong Kong outfit best known for their NOKTOR micro-four-thirds and E-mount ultra-wide-aperture primes (“HyperPrimes”). They sell lenses directly and through a limited number of distributors, including Adorama in the USA.

The ANAMORPHOT 1,33x 50 is a new adapter, still in prototype form. Andrew Chan, the lens's designer, is on a trip through the western US with this lens. He stopped off briefly to show it to Art Adams and me, and we put it on my GH3 for a quick look.

Bear in mind that this is a hand-built prototype. While the general design is in place, the details aren't. Construction materials, fit-and-finish, markings, clamping hardware, lens coatings, and flare characteristics are all still subject to change. This is a preview, not a review: think of it as a sneak peek at a work in progress, not an analysis of a finished product.

SLR Magic ANAMORPHOT 1,33x 50

SLR Magic ANAMORPHOT 1,33x 50

The adapter is a compact unit with a 62mm native thread and a custom 52mm adapter ring. The ring is scalloped to allow a better grip when mounting it or removing it. No other adapter rings are currently planned.

The lens it's fitted to should have a front element diameter smaller than 50mm or vignetting is likely, as the adapter's rear element (or its clean aperture, at least) is 50mm. Also note that the weight of the adapter makes it unsuitable for direct attachment to most servo-focus primes as the load on the focusing mechanism would be excessive. 

Looking through the lens you can see the 1.33x squeeze.

Looking through the lens you can see the 1.33x squeeze.

This is what an anamorphic does: light passed through is squeezed horizontally, but not vertically. Cylindrical elements make the magic happen.

 

 

Next: the ANAMORPHOT on a camera; sample images; tests on various lenses.

 


The same view, only with a camera behind it.

Looking through the lens again, only with a lens and camera behind it: Voigtlander Nokton 25mm on Panasonic GH3.

Viewed from the outside, the GH3's Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95 lens shows as an oval. The iris is set for f/2. Andrew said that his adapter worked well with this lens, so I used it for the bulk of our testing.

The adapter on a Nokton 25mm f/0.95, on a Panasonic GH3.

The adapter on a Nikkor 35mm f/2 D, via Nikon-to-MFT mount adapter, on a Panasonic GH3.

The adapter adds noticeable bulk to a small camera and lens combo. The front diameter of the adapter is 77mm and is threaded for filters.

The lens has three setscrews for rotational locking, and a NEAR/FAR adjustment.

The lens has three setscrews for rotational locking, and a NEAR/NORMAL adjustment.

Once the lens is snugged down tight in the filter ring, three setscrews are loosened to let the adapter rotate until its cylindrical elements are perfectly vertical. Three setscrews allow balanced tightening around the circumference of the locking collar; a single setscrew as used on the LA7200 may cause the optics to shift laterally in the mount, according to Andrew.

Here's the cool part: that NEAR/NORMAL ring is a sort of focusing mechanism. It's not used to focus the entire picture – you still use your main lens's focusing ring for that – rather, it changes the “sweet spot” (my terminology), the distance where H and V come into focus simultaneously. This lets you use the lens at much closer working distances without having to stop down or use diopters.

Andrew had a set of  77mm diopters with him, and we looked at near-focused images with the sweet spot adjusted separately with NEAR/NORMAL and with diopters. While it wasn't a formal test, there wasn't a noticeable sharpness or flare difference in the pictures; there was no reason I'd choose to use diopters if I had the NEAR/NORMAL adjustment instead (Andrew says that adjusting NEAR/NORMAL affects the “squish” of the bokeh, and that one might still want to use diopters to maximize the oval appearance of out-of-focus lights. I didn't have any such lights in frame for this particular test).

The NEAR/NORMAL ring moves the adapter's rear element.

The NEAR/NORMAL ring moves the adapter's rear element.

NEAR/NORMAL adjusts the position of the rear element of the adapter. The front neither moves nor rotates. Because the amount of adjustment necessary for any given distance depends on the lens the adapter is used with, the ring can't be calibrated with a fixed distance scale.

Andrew says that it lets you use the lens at nearer distances, but cautions that it's still problematic for shots in which the subject moves towards or away from the camera. Since the ring rotation is independent of the main lens's focusing rotation, it would take two hands to smoothly pull focus and sweet spot simultaneously. I agreed that it was an added complexity, but that enterprising filmmakers would still embrace it – that's why you have a 1st AC! Still, Andrew has a point; many anamorphic shooters are one-man-bands, and riding two focusing systems synchronously doesn't leave a lot of hands free to pan and tilt, or a lot of brain free to watch composition, lighting, and performance.

A handy tip from Andrew: to align an anamorphic adapter, shine a bright light in the lens, and rotate the adapter until the flares are perfectly horizontal. I tried that with an iPhone LED, and liked the look, so I grabbed a frame… actually several frames. Then I fetched a large flashlight and flared the lens from farther back, just to see what it looked like. In the following images, the horizontal smears are entirely anamorphic artifacts; the “sunstars” are specific to the iris in the Nokton; other, radial flares result from the combination of the ANAMORPHOT, the Nokton, and the GH3, and may differ with other lens/camera combinations.  And no, the tripod wasn't level for any of 'em.

Andrew says he's still working on the coatings, hoping to get a bluer flare more like those of classic 'scope lenses.

Overall, I found the lens pleasing in appearance and in use. On the Nokton I was able to get crisp images from infinity down to under four feet, depending on the NEAR/NORMAL setting, at apertures as wide open as f/2 or f/2.8 (which is as wide-open as I can go on the Nokton without the adapter if I want edge-to-edge sharpness), whereas with the LA7200 I'd need to stop down to f/5.6 or smaller for a comparably sharp image.  The ability to vary my working distance over such a range, while staying at a wide stop and not having to mess about with diopters, makes the ANAMORPHOT much easier, faster to use, and more flexible in real-word productions.

We also tried the adapter on a few other lenses:

A mess o' lenses: adapters, diopters, primes, and zooms.

A bunch o' lenses: adapters, diopters, primes, and zooms.

I put it on a Nikkor 35mm f/2 D (on a Nikon-to-MFT mount adapter) and got similarly pleasing results. A Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 D fared less well; it wanted to be stopped down to f/5.6 or f/8, as its optical formula didn't play nicely in general with that of the anamorphic, yielding somewhat smeary pix at wider apertures. 

I also handheld the adapter in front of a Lumix 12-35mm f/2 zoom (too much vignetting to be useful; the 12-35 is too large-diameter a lens to “see” cleanly through the adapter's 50mm rear element), Olympus 12mm f/2 prime (vignetting again; the 12mm is so wide it sees the inside edges of the adapter), and the Lumix 20mm f/1.7 pancake (with astonishingly excellent quality, even wide open: it seemed like a perfect match optically).

The variable results aren't a surprise: it's something of a miracle that a front-of-lens anamorphic adapter can be made to work in the first place, and expecting it to work equally well with lenses of widely varying optical and mechanical designs is unrealistic. While you'll be able to put the adapter on anything its adapter ring will fit, that doesn't mean its performance will be optimal: the adapter and the lens have to work together as a system. It's best suited for manual-focus primes of “normal” focal length on APS-C and MFT-format cameras. SLR Magic understands this (of course) and they're recommending only certain lenses for use with the adapter; initially their own 35mm T1.4 Cine prime (US$500 according to EOSHD; it's not on the slrmagic.com website yet). Andrew had an earlier prototype adapter on a 35mm E-mount prime attached to his Sony NEX-7, and it looked pretty sweet.

Overall? The SLR Magic ANAMORPHOT 1,33x 50 looks like a very promising development. Andrew says he's seeing lots of interest from Blackmagic Pocket Cine Camera shooters, where the 1.33x lateral widening of the field of view helps compensate for that camera's small sensor. I think that its good performance, combined with its reasonable $800 price, its NEAR/NORMAL sweet spot adjustment, and the fact that's a current product, makes it extremely attractive to all anamorphic aficionados.

Jon Fauer says that, historically, the rise and fall of interest in 3D is followed by a resurgence in anamorphic production. If history is any guide, SLR Magic's timing is impeccable. I look forward to seeing the release version of this adapter (and I'm wondering if a 15mm rod mount or matte-box fitting could be crafted to support it in front of the tiny Lumix 20mm; that would be one sweet, sharp little package!).

The adapter is scheduled to be available in June 2014, just before Photokina, though EOSHD discusses a volunteer program with early access (same link as above). Stay tuned…

Anamorphic selfie: Adam Wilt, Art Adams, and Andrew Chan.

Widescreen selfies? Adam Wilt with LA7200, Art Adams and Andrew Chan with SLR Magic anamorphics.

Disclosures:

SLR Magic did not offer me compensation or special consideration for this writeup (though when we went out to lunch, Andrew Chan insisted on paying. Whether a $4 slice of Pizza My Heart pesto consists of undue influence or not is open for debate; it is really good pizza). Andrew reviewed a draft copy of this article and caught a couple of factual errors, which I corrected, but the opinions expressed are mine alone. I own the GH3, Nokton, LA7200, and other Panasonic and Nikon lenses tested; all bought for previous projects. Both Art and I write for DVInfo.net as well as PVC, but I don't get any payments or kickbacks for referring to Art's article there. I don't get a kickback from Pizza My Heart, either.


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Adam Wilt

Adam Wilt

Adam Wilt has been working off and on in film and video for the past thirty years, while paying the bills writing software for animation, automation, broadcast graphics, and real-time control for companies including Abekas, Pinnacle, Omneon, CBS, and ABC. Since 1997 his website, adamwilt.com, has been a popular reference for information on the DV formats. He reviewed cameras for DV Magazine and started its “Technical Difficulties” column, and taught classes and led panels at NAB, IBC, and DV Expo. He co-authored the book, “Optimizing Your Final Cut Pro System”, part of the Apple Pro Training series. He currently writes for ProVideoCoalition.com and DVInfo.net, and creates iPhone apps like Cine Meter II and Wi-Fi WFM.