I Recently Learned How to Shoot Anamorphic... And I don't want to go back...
It's a fun word to say, and it's been getting a little more traction lately thanks to the impeccable video features from brands like Panasonic paired with the newest line of lenses from Sirui at very affordable prices.
But what, truly IS Anamorphic? What makes it different and why have I suddenly found it so damn enjoyable to shoot in?
Let me explain.
THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE TWO
For those of you who are reading this and don't know the differences between the two lens types for cinematic shooting, let me briefly explain the differences as simply as I can without coming off like a technical know-it-all.
There are two lenses; spherical and anamorphic.
Spherical lenses are what you'll find to be the most common, and what most people will tend to err towards. This is because spherical lenses give you circular Bokeh effects, they tend to have a larger degree of sharpness to the images, they're less heavy, they're less expensive and they don't require resizing in post which cuts down on your edit time. Additionally, spherical lenses tend to house the majority of their glass and elements towards the front end of the camera.
Anamorphic lenses, do the opposite in a manner of speaking. They are less sharp, the Bokeh is more oval, your FOV massively expands but the lenses are incredibly heavier with more glass and more elements.
So then, you might be wondering, why would anyone prefer Anamorphic lenses when they seem to have a noticeable difference in quality compared to their more circular brethren?
So there are three main reasons that I can point to that professionals would prefer one over the other, so I'll mention those before I say why I personally prefer it.
The first reason, lens flares. Lens flares are pretty much exclusive to anamorphic lenses. Not entirely, with the right lighting setup and the right aspect ratio, you can absolutely get flares from spherical lenses as well. But to the Anamorphic, these flares are natural and easy to create. Hell, look at this image here:
This tiny match, in ultra lowlight with no additional lighting setup, still produces a lens flare from the perspective of the Anamorphic lens I shot it on.
So that's the first thing.
The second reason, is the LACK of sharpness. I know, crazy right?
Here's the thing, for some intentions and styles, sharpness can be a point of contention and not what the DP is going for. I'll go more into that in the personal section.
The last reason, and probably the most obvious one, is the massive FOV that Anamorphic provides for you.
So obviously, this picture isn't the BEST representation because the subject is in a different pose, and you can tell the camera is lower to the ground in the second image. BUT, it should still give you a good idea of the differences. You can get so much more of the image because you're talking about a 2.3:1 if not WIDER Aspect Ratio! Which is just insane to see in person by the way.
So, those are some of the professional reasons, why do I prefer it for my projects and shoots?
MY PERSONAL THOUGHTS
Now, I've only been shooting on Anamorphic lenses for about the last... Mmm... Maybe month or so. But I've self taught myself everything about it. I watched one video on the differences to get a better feel for talking about it, but in execution I learned it all by trial and error.
So this is why I prefer them:
First, the lack of over sharp images. Here's the thing for me, I understand that some DP's and some directors love that overly sharp look that spherical lenses can give you. They love seeing every pore and hair on an actor, every crack in the cement, every stain on a window blah blah blah. For me, I hate this. Because humans don't see the world that way. Sometimes, depending on the style, this can work. But I prefer images that are both more natural looking in their sharpness, but more colorful in the image's saturation and grading.
A good example of this is There Will Be Blood, which a lot of people will point to as a great example of Anamorphic, because it looks so real. And yes, a lot of that can be attributed to PTA's sense of style, but it's also because of the lenses that were used and by extension how the camera interpreted it.
Secondly, I love large scale FOV. Outside of film work, I do a lot of editing, occasional gaming and I am pushing further into photography than before. And I just love large scale shots that make the subject in frame either very small, or fills the viewer with a sense of wonder and awe.
It's why so many of the photos in my portfolio section are large landscape shots from around Colorado. Because I love massive sense of scale. And with the additional FOV that a 2.3:1 Aspect Ratio can give me, I can make subjects feel either very small or very compacted into the world that they inhabit and it gives me that same feeling of wonder or vulnerability.
The third reason that I love it? Honestly? It's more fun to me.
I love editing. I love post-production, I love color grading, I love resizing and trying new tricks in post. And for me, the extra step of seeing all of this extra space and all of this extra content to work with is just... It's fun!
This level of control and image manipulation I just don't find as feasible with standard 4K 16:9 shots. I feel far more limited with my framing, color correction, camera placement etc.
I feel... Well, ironically enough, I feel more claustrophobic when shooting with spherical lenses in smaller aspect ratios.
I mentioned in my previous blog post about how a recent film shoot reinvigorated my love for filming. But Anamorphic? It has just filled my brain with new ideas and new inspirations that weren't there before.
And I don't really plan to go back!