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Anamorphic lenses – the birth of widescreen

Anamorphic lenses – the birth of widescreen

Creating a cinematography masterpiece is no joke; besides a good story, there are rather technical aspects of filmmaking that play a crucial role in its success.

The creators are often presented with tough choices on how to make it appear great on-screen, and that’s when an anamorphic lens comes in pretty handy. Compared to more commonly used spherical lenses, which pass a circular image onto the camera sensor, anamorphic lenses project an oval-shaped image. Anamorphic lenses change the dimensions by squeezing in more imagery horizontally while leaving the vertical aspect unaffected. Their history dates back to World War I and were developed to yield a wider view of combat tanks.

At that time, the widescreen view was non-existent, and the audience was stuck to a typical 4×4 screen view. The film industry was also competing with the television that was making its way to people’s homes. However, the film industry saw the potential and quickly incorporated it to add more cinematic effect and bring realism to the image.

anamorphic lenses

The hype is real – Everything you need to know

While anamorphic lenses were developed to surmount the constraints of the 35mm film frame, they certainly infused a distinctive look to the images along the way. It’s like poetry on canvas and has a more nostalgic and emotional appeal to it. With anamorphic lenses, you get ultra-wide rectangular aspect ratios, long horizontal lens flares and vignettes, and oval bokeh that gives you the best cinematic effect that you could ask for.

Traditionally, these lenses have a 2x squeeze which means that they capture double the amount of information along the horizontal axis than a spherical lens; allowing to take a wider field of view by squeezing the image onto a narrow film strip. The stretched image over the standard 35mm film attains the intended 2.39:1 aspect ratio in the post-production.

The best part is that it doesn’t compromise on the vertical resolution, unlike the spherical lenses that require cropping or masking the top and bottom of each frame to get a similar 2.39:1 aspect ratio. This phenomenon of projecting a motion picture on the screen in a way that the image’s width is approximately two and a half times its height is known as CinemaScope.

anamorphic lenses

It’s all about preferences… the choice is yours

Well, one of the prime reasons for using the anamorphic lens is to break up the sterile-looking digital image and bring realism to it. It gives more of a dream-like vibe onto the screen. Anamorphic and spherical lenses can be used in different parts of the story, like different timelines, perspectives, and states of the mind. The epic examples of this can be “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Blade Runner 2049”. It all depends on what is the narrative and what one aspires to get out of the movie.

Moreover, the budget also counts. They come with a price tag. The anamorphic lenses have a downside to them, too. Yes, they are expensive, large, heavier, have comparatively more flaws, and it’s harder to get the focus. In any case of reframing, zooming, or punching into the image, the crop gets soft. Further, it can be a limiting factor for objects that are used in the corner frames based on the characteristics of the lens used, so it’s important to pay attention to details, as per Ridley Scott it’s all about designing the shots and props in a way that it fits the frame.

It won’t be wrong to say that it’s more about preferences. As Nikolas Moldenhauer said, “Anamorphic is about taste… do you like it, or don’t you like it… and what about it do you like… what do you dislike? Today, anamorphic is ultimately a matter of taste!”

Sources: Wedio, B&H, Nofilm School

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