The ultimate anamorphic lens test – all the anamorphics you could ever want, in one place

Brent Barbano says he “fell into lens testing” – as co-founder of “the Airbnb for Production” ShareGrid he wanted to produce a resource for his members that would showcase the range of glass available to rent from industry peers.

That desire led to the creation of the original lens test resource The Ultimate Vintage Lens Test – an extensive and incredibly useful array of test shots from a wide variety of vintage cinema lenses. Also, a rabbit hole and a happy way to lose an afternoon.

Follow that

Anamorphic lens test
Brent shooting BTS footage and keeping one eye on the crew.

Brent knew that any follow-up would have to be special, and the resurgence of anamorphic shooting provided him and co-executive producer and director, Mark LaFleur with an opportunity to assemble an unmatched collection of anamorphic lenses for a weekend of testing.

Anamorphic Lens Test
Now THAT’s an anamorphic lens…

The lenses ranged from early Panavision anamorphic lenses that “should be in a museum” to the Atlas Orions – some of the newest prototype anamorphics, with everything in between.

Altogether the Anamorphic Lens Test compares 13 brands and 40 lenses in over 500 individual tests. That’s a solid effort for a volunteer crew over a long holiday weekend in LA!

Testing testing

Anamorphic lens test
You want charts? There are charts and charts. PLenty of charts.

The tests themselves cover a ‘real world’ scenario filming a model, distortion characteristics and focus breathing.

Anamorphic lens test
The setup of the ‘real world’ test.

The aim wasn’t to find the ‘best’ lens, but rather to explore the unique characteristics of each set of lenses – yes they had complete sets of each type on test – to allow viewers to judge for themselves and see what might be suitable for their next project.

And a shout out to the project’s extremely patient model Kori Agee, who now surely has done her 10,000 hours of ‘turning to face the camera.’

Do you speak Anamorphic?

Talking to Brent, it’s clear he has a real passion for the craft and technology of filmmaking – and now with a wealth of experience of the practicalities of working with different anamorphics, he has a few tips for anamorphic shooting:

  • Physically anamorphics aren’t like spherical lenses. They’re bigger and heavier, so will often need support, and you’ll need longer to change over between focal lengths.
  • Framing works differently in an anamorphic world as well – there’s a sweet spot in the centre of the frame that’s so central, the rule of thirds isn’t always a helpful guide. Your compositions will be different and so will your image: you’ll have a wider field of view but shallower depth of field.
  • Above all, test! Every anamorphic lens is different and you should try and get time to test with the set you’re considering.

Where, what how?

And if you’re having difficulty deciding on the look that you want, that’s where the Anamorphic Lens Test website comes in. It’s really impressive and allows you to choose different lenses to compare side-by-side.

Anamorphic lens test
Barbano had to turn away willing volunteers to crew the shoot.. apart from these willing volunteers!

Thanks to the “insanely well oiled machine” of production during the test process, each clip lines up with the others in any given selection to allow you a proper apples-to-apples comparison. If you’re considering shooting anamorphic for your next project, you owe it to yourself to check out the site before you make any decisions about lenses.

An amusing reference to the Force goes here

Apparently that’s what Greig Fraser, ASC did for his next project. And frankly, if it’s good enough for the DoP of Star Wars it might do for the rest of us too.

Put a pot of coffee on and check out the ShareGrid Anamorphic Lens Test website here. Just remember to look away again at some point this evening…

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