A brief look at the Elite 24.5mm T2.1, 2X anamorphic lens | Written by Keith Nickoson
The Elite 24.5mm T2.1 is the most modern of my anamorphic lens set. It is also the widest focal length of the bunch. Before I pulled the trigger on it, I was briefly torn between the Elite and the Cineovision 24mm. But the soft optics and heavy flaring of the Cineovision were far too extreme for what might be the most important lens in the set. The Elite had sharpness, a fast aperture, good contrast, and the perfect amount of flare control that I was looking for.
The 24.5mm was built by JSC Optica-Elite, a lens manufacturer based out of St.Petersburg, Russia. They have discontinued the line of anamorphic lenses this one came from - opting to slim the design down, much like the Kowa Prominar's, I assume. (As of this writing, the new design has not been released yet.)
The 24.5 is a squat piece of glass that weighs in at over 6 pounds. The front diameter is an enormous 142mm. The construction is superb, with very little breathing and an approximate 300 degree rotation of the focus barrel. The maximum aperture is T2.1, and the minimum focus is 3'4". Just like the rest of my set, the crop factor is 2X.
Is this the most important lens in the set? You can almost always walk a 100mm in closer if you need to tighten up; but if you have to get wider, there's no option except the right piece of glass. The widest end of anamorphic focal lengths, in my humble opinion, need to be clear and sharp above all else. If I am photographing things that end up appearing very small in the frame, I can't afford to have soft optics and contrast reduction affecting the image and making the subjects a muddy mess. It sounds obvious, but when assembling a set of vintage lenses, the inclination might be to match them all up by brand. It was a personal choice not to do that. But do not be dismayed - this lens is not without immense character.
WIDE ANGLE ANAMORPHIC
A positively delightful thing that happens with a wide-angle anamorphic lens is the extreme curvature produced by the nature of the optics. It will wreak havoc on straight lines and bend objects into unnatural shapes at the edges of your frame. I don't believe there's a wide-angle anamorphic in existence that does not have a certain amount of barrel distortion. Subbing a spherical lens for your wide shots, then letterbox cropping is definitely a way to retain some purity in the geometry - but what's the point? These lenses are not intended to capture 1:1 reality. In my mind, narrative storytelling has a soulful responsibility to transcend reality. To alter the normal world we see. To transport you to a place where things don't make perfect sense.
To better illustrate the effect in cinema, I've included a few screen-grabs from major motion pictures. Notice the flexing of straight lines, and the aberrant edges present in the following pictures: The Professional | Cinematography by Thierry Arbogast, AFC - Technovision lenses (left), The New World | Cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki, ASC,AMC - Panavision C and E series lenses (center), Larry Crowne | Cinematography by Philippe Rousselot, ASC, AFC - Panavision G series lenses (right).
THE ELITE | IMAGERY
Below are a series of stills I took using the Elite 24.5mm on the Sony A7s, in 3:2 mode with the APS-C sensor crop. Except where noted, the pictures have been edge cropped to 2.66:1, which equates (approximately) to full gate when viewing 2X anamorphic digitally; e.g., with the RED or the ARRI Alexa XT.
Triggering flares on the Elite is not as easy as the Lomo or Cineovision. This is part of the reason I selected this lens to represent the widest end of my set. Don't get me wrong, it flares quite well, but not every single pin-point of light is going to transform into a bursting streak across the image. Can you imagine doing a night exterior filled with horizontal lines all over the frame? That's cool for the longer lengths, but I wanted to keep the wide clean. Check out the images below to see some flares from the Elite.
Thanks for checking out my review of the wonderfully cinematic, wide-angle Elite 24.5mm. Enjoy some additional images in the gallery below and feel free to leave comments or questions.