Ana-what? Anamorphic video – a low budget version!

“Anamorphic widescreen video” has been a hot topic for video geeks on Youtube lately. But what is it? And why should You be interested?

The filmic look

Square videos and “tall” 9:16 videos are best on social media. SoMe users rely heavily on their phone, which makes ie. Facebook and Instagram favour the two mentioned formats over the “standard 16:9” video format.

But many film nerds like the wider formats anyway, even if it doesn’t do that well on SoMe.

9:16 video frame
9:16 video frame
1:1 video frame
1:1 video frame
16:9 video frame
16:9 video frame
1:2.35 video frame
1:2.35 video frame

There’s something special about widescreen (widescreen, typically 1:2.35 or 1:2.39): It looks more cinematic because we’re used to seeing the wide and flat images in cinemas.

How to make widescreen video?

Essentially, You can just film in 16:9 4K/full hd video, and cut off the top and bottom part. But is that a good solution? In essence, You’d waste a lot of video data. And thats where anamorphic video gets interesting…

When filming anamorphic widescreen, You use a lens which can “squeeze” a wider image onto the cameras sensor. The image is compressed in the x-axis.

Anamorphic video before desqueeze
A 1:2.35 image forced into the 16:9 format – notice how everything is a bit too tall and narrow

When editing the video, the x-axis is “desqueezed,” by elongating the videos x-axis, while the original height is maintained.

Islands Brygge anamorphic desqueezed
Same image as before, but now desqueezed from 16:9 format to 1:2.35 format. Better proportions:-)

By squeezing and desqueezing, You can fit a widescreen 1:2.35 format image onto a normal camera sensor recording in 16:9 format. No wasted data that has to be cropped from the image:-)

Is that just it?

Other than just filming in widescreen, some other interesting aspects about the video also arise:

Elongated bokeh: The out-of-focus areas also get a characteristic look: The bokeh balls become elongated instead of round.

Normal, round bokeh from standard lens
Normal, round bokeh
Elongated, anamorphic bokeh from Moment Anamorphic lens (anamorphic lenses often give an elongated lens in the y-axis as opposed to the x-axis elongation from the Moment lens)
Elongated, anamorphic bokeh (typically elongated in the y-axis)

Long lens flares: Anamorphic lens flares are typically elongated, blue stripes on the screen. The lens flares look a bit sci-fi like, and are one of the desired characteristics of anamorphic video.

Islands Brygge anamorphic desqueezed
Anamorphic lens flare from small lightsources in the image

Magnification and proportions: As an anmorphic lens squeezes more into the image, You’ll typically be able to shoot with a lens with longer focal length as compared to shooting with a regular lens.

Portrait photographers often prefer longer focal lengths (tele more than 70mm) because it gives less distortion of the image, and therefore nicer portraits with better proportions. And that’s also the case with anamorphic lenses: When You can use longer focal lengths because of “the squeeze,” the proportions of the image look better, and gives Your image great depth.

So: Anamorphic video looks cinematic, and many video geeks love it. Have a look at Fair Luminous by Capion Studio for instance – a nice little video I have seen a lot of times:-)

What equipment should You use?

So far, Anamorphic video has been expensive due to specialty lenses. In fact, so expensive that film companies often rented the lenses instead of buying them. But that has changed:

Anamorphic equipment has become cheap, and with a camera like a Panasonic GH5 or a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema 4K, a nice kit lens, and an SLR Magic Anamorphot adapter, You can get a brand new anamorphic setup for less than 25.000 DKK (3500 Euro).

But it gets a lot cheaper! If You want to shoot anamorphic at low budget, You can buy a Moment Anamorphic 1.33x Adapter for Your Smartphone – this will get You up and running for less than 300 Euro (You already have a phone, right?).

Moment Anamorphic 1.33x

I personally made myself a little “Moment Anamorphic 1.33x on iPhone X” kit, and tested it in one of Copenhagens many city development districts, Islands Brygge.

Moment Anamorphic 1.33x on iPhone X with a Shoulderpod grip
Moment Anamorphic 1.33x on iPhone X

I chose to shoot at night in order to get as many light flares from street lights, cars, bicycles etc. as possible. I wanted the video to look a bit sci-fi like. The darkness was tough for the iPhone, but I did get some of those anamorphic flares now and then. Have a look yourself:

I personally find the flares from the backlight a bit too sharp with the Moment Anamorphic 1.33x lens, and I definitely miss more “anamorphic bokeh.” But I gues I can’t get everything when shooting on an iPhone:-/

The Moment app had a bit of lag once in a while, when shooting in 4K50p and desqueezing the image directly in the app. But otherwise, everything worked as expected.

Recommendations – SLR Magic Anamorphot?

Do You want to try shooting anamorphic video? Well, then just head out and buy a Moment Anamorphic Adapter, a camera stabilizer and the Moment app. I’ll definitely shoot with it again soon. But…

I also have another gadget, which I expect a bit more from: An SLR Magic Anamorphot 40 – 1.33x adapter. The cheapest anamorphic adapter on the market, suitable for smaller standard lenses. I think it is better value for money, if You already have a camera and a lens suitable for it. Because, as I see it, the fun part is to shoot anamorphic video at night. And shooting at night isn’t what an iPhone does best…

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