Anamorphic Lensing | Lomo 50mm Square Front - Part I

 When a project calls for widescreen (2.35:1, 2.40:1), there are a couple ways to approach it. The easiest and cheapest method is to shoot spherical and then crop the image in post. Though easy and cheap, it results  in a loss of resolution, and the quality of the image remains rather flat. The other way we can achieve a widescreen image, is to use anamorphic lenses. Anamorphic lenses stretch the image vertically (in this case 2X) onto the sensor. Though more complex and expensive, they lend a mysterious character and cinematic feel to a scene that can not be replicated with adapters, streak filters, or post-production processing/flares. Trying to rent a set as a DP is almost always unreasonable in a market like Cleveland, and I like the idea of creative freedom, so over the last few months I decided to build up my own set of 2X lenses. I thought it would be interesting to chronicle their acquisition and usage in a blog as time goes on. I'll start with the 50mm Lomo squarefront f2.5.

 Across the spectrum of anamorphic lenses available, there are levels of quality and resolve. The levels are subjective to a point, as each cinematographer has their own preference. Going all the way to the "top" you have Panavision (which are rental only), Arri Master, Cooke, Elite, and I suppose Hawk would settle in at the bottom of these. Moving down a rung, we get into purely vintage lenses that have been well used, and trading hands for decades. Popular amongst these are Kowa, Cinevision or Cineovision, Technovision, JDC, Todd AO, and probably the most prevalent - Lomo.

  Lomo 50mm f2.5 Squarefront Anamorphic Lens

Lomo 50mm f2.5 Squarefront Anamorphic Lens

 No longer manufactured, the hand-polished Russian Lomo anamorphics are really hit-or-miss when it comes to quality. There are some bad copies out there, or most likely copies that have not been serviced or collimated in years. The two main types of Lomo anamorphics you'll encounter are the round front and the square front primes, and they each have their own personality. It's agreed upon that the focus mechanism of the square front is pretty squirrely.

  I purchased a filter mount for the front of the lens from  RAF Camera  in Poland. This allows for 95mm filters to be threaded onto the lens, such as diopters or neutral density. The close focus on the lens is over five feet, so if you want to get close-ups or macro, you'll need a set of diopters.

I purchased a filter mount for the front of the lens from RAF Camera in Poland. This allows for 95mm filters to be threaded onto the lens, such as diopters or neutral density. The close focus on the lens is over five feet, so if you want to get close-ups or macro, you'll need a set of diopters.

 The front-most element of the lens is the HAC4-1 anamorphic optical block. The mother lens is encased in a barrel that spins independently of the optical block, so when you attempt to rack focus, the front element is going to rotate on you, creating uncontrolable flexing of the image.

  A  Zacuto  support system works to keep the front element from spinning freely.

A Zacuto support system works to keep the front element from spinning freely.

 The lens must be used with a rail support system to keep the block and mother lens from twisting the image askew. This is where the major complaints come in. With the external barrel being an added component, more torque is required to rack focus. If you have a bad copy, or your lens hasn't been serviced properly over the last thirty-odd years, a build-up of grease, or a lack of precision in the construction can make focusing a real bear. I acquired my copy from a reputable lens broker, so it focuses smooth, has a new Arri PL mount, and is collimated sharp.

 Let's get into the imagery. The following stills were captured using the Sony A7s. Yeah, I know it's quite possibly the worst camera for stills, but the camera accepts a PL mount, and I could shoot in APS-C mode so the lens would cover the sensor. In 3:2 sensor mode the 2X worked out to an aspect ratio of 3.00:1, which is wider than the 2.35:1 finishing aspect ratio for cinema. I'll get into that in part two. I opted not to edge crop here though, and leave it super-wide so you could see the full range of the glass.

Parliament Building - Hamilton, Bermuda Islands | Lomo 50mm squarefront anamorphic lens at f5.6, fader ND - 2768x1848 | Keith Nickoson

 The above image was captured with a resolution of 2768 x 1848. 

Parliament Building - Hamilton, Bermuda Islands | Lomo 50mm squarefront anamorohic lens at f5.6, fader ND - 5536x1848 | Keith Nickoson

 Technically this is up-scaling, but to better illustrate the squeeze of the 2X lens, I adjusted only the width of the photo to achieve the proper aspect ratio. If the original photo was 2768 x 1848, doubling the width to 5536 and leaving the height at 1848 gets you the above image. An easy way to tell if it has been properly de-squeezed is to look at the clock face. If the image were skewed, the clock would still have an oval shape.  The lens may actually be a 1.9X factor, as some of the stills below look a little mashed. Or perhaps my math is terribly wrong. I'll follow up with the circle test if that's the case, but either way, the distortion still looks more interesting to me than a cropped spherical.

 For the record, I hate pixel-peeping and overly technical lens snobbery. If you came here to zoom in and reveal the fatal flaws we already know are there, then take a hike. This is all about feel. One of the wonderful things about this lens is that you can't really qualify what makes it better, or good or bad. All the flaws, quirks, and imperfections are what make it special. Love it or hate it, here's the Lomo 50mm:

Reid Street - Hamilton, Bermuda Islands. I'm stopped down to a f2.8/4.0 here. | Lomo 50mm square front anamorphic | Keith Nickoson

The lovely Olivia Otten on a bus in Hamilton, Bermuda. Though this picture is slightly out of focus, the quality of the skin and the blooming of the window are both a testament to how this lens handles these issues and still produces a pleasing image at an f2.5. | Lomo 50mm square front anamorphic | Keith Nickoson

Bermuda Aquarium, Museum, and Zoo - Flats Village, Bermuda. Wide open f2.5. | Lomo 50mm square front anamorphic | Keith Nickoson

Bermuda Aquarium, Museum, and Zoo - Flats Village, Bermuda. Wide open f2.5. | Lomo 50mm square front anamorphic | Keith Nickoson

Horseshoe Bay Beach - Warwick Parish, Bermuda. Looks like the cinematography from an old movie. | Lomo 50mm square front anamorphic | Keith Nickoson

Jobson's Cove Beach - Warwick Parish, Bermuda. The 2X looks vertically compressed a bit here. Is may be the distance of subject to lens that creates this effect. More experimentation will tell. Wide open at a f2.5. | Lomo 50mm square front anamorphic | Keith Nickoson

Horseshoe Bay Beach - Warwick Parish, Bermuda. Here the distortion of the lens is evident at the horizon. The personality this shot has beats-out a thousand boring straight horizons on boring ass spherical lenses. Wide open here again at an f2.5. | Lomo 50mm square front anamorphic | Keith Nickoson

Bermuda Breeze Bus - Bermuda Islands. Despite the tone of this photograph, the bus driver was a very nice and helpful fellow. Trying to keep some cinematic framing. Pinched down to an f4.0 here. | Lomo 50mm square front anamorphic | Keith Nickoson

Bermuda Aquarium, Museum, and Zoo - Flatts Village, Bermuda. I love this messy pic. Look at how swirly that background is. | Lomo 50mm square front anamorphic | Keith Nickoson

Grotto Bay Beach Resort - Bermuda. I am stopped down to an f5.6 here. You can see the tree in the frame left foreground is still out of focus, and I am probably a good twenty feet from it. | Lomo 50mm square front anamorphic | Keith Nickoson

Bermuda Aquarium, Museum, and Zoo - Flatts Village, Bermuda. This looks like a stuffed bird in a museum, right? It was alive and walking around, and this picture was taken outside. Wide open, f2.5. This picture says so much about the Lomo anamorphic. The distortion and bokeh are pretty darn cool. | Lomo 50mm square front anamorphic | Keith Nickoson

H&H Gombey - Hamilton, Bermuda. f2.5. | Lomo 50mm square front anamorphic | Keith Nickoson

Tobacco Bay - St. George, Bermuda Islands. This pic is un-squeezed at 5300x1848. That makes the aspect ratio 2.87:1. | Lomo 50mm square front anamorphic | Keith Nickoson

 If you've made it this far, you must be wondering where the flares are. My next post is going to cover the flare characteristics of the lens, and I'll take some time to go over aspect ratios and coverage on different camera sensors. Thanks for reading.