I've always dreamed of making a movie. But if there's one thing I'm not good at, it's planning, and planning's kind of the whole thing with movies that it requires so much coordinating, thinking ahead, logistics, and communication. So what if you could just pick up a camera and have whatever you pointed at look like a movie?
What are anamorphic lenses?
For someone like me, that's kind of the dream. Obviously, there are hundreds - if not thousands - of factors that go into what makes something look cinematic, or look like it's from a movie. And one of those many different possibilities happens to be anamorphic lenses. If you're unfamiliar with that, it's essentially just a lens that squeezes more horizontal data into your sensor so you're able to shoot a little wider horizontally, you get this aspect ratio that you're seeing right now.
As a result, you also get this crazy dreamy elliptical bokeh. That's kind of hard to explain until you see it. And then you also get really unique lens flares that are just characteristic of anamorphic lenses. Historically though they've cost in the tens of thousands of dollar range, so basically they just didn't exist for normal people, but thankfully that has finally changed.
SIRUI Venus 35mm FF Anamorphic Lens
We now have options like this lens: the Sirui Venus 35mm full-frame anamorphic which comes in at a reasonable prosumer-level price point. It's definitely not cheap, but it's very similar to any other full-frame lens that you would get for a mirrorless body. Sirui sent me this one to try out and they've been really cool about it, just kind of letting me do whatever with it, which is great because I'm definitely not a gear reviewer. I'm really uninterested in talking about tech specs, the edge sharpness, and whatever else you talk about with a lens. I'm far more interested in what type of feeling I can create with a piece of gear, as well as how does that piece of gear make me feel when I'm using it.
Benefits of SIRUI lens
Overall, this lens has just gotten me stoked to go out and shoot. It's a unique experience that it causes you to look at framing differently because of the different aspect ratios it shoots in. I'm a big fan of the distortion that you get on the edges of the frame. When you get lines or buildings on the edges of the lens, it has this really surreal feeling, like walls are kind of warping in.
The lens flares seem to be a pretty divisive topic for people. Some people are adamant that the lens flares are terrible and they're the only downside of anamorphic lenses, while others seem to only want anamorphic for the lens flares. I kind of land somewhere in the middle, like there are certain situations like when I was driving through this oil refinery by my house, it's a very grungy industrial kind of feel, so for me the lens flares look sick in that situation, like it's really fitting for the scene.
But then when I'm at home and it's supposed to be a bit more relatable and just normal looking, I feel like in that scenario the lens flare becomes a little more distracting.
But don't let anyone tell you if they're great or terrible. In my eyes, it's just a creative decision you can make if you like them or don't like them. If you don't like them, you can find ways to avoid the lens flare.
Downsides of SIRUI lens
As far as downsides, there are honestly not many. The main one that comes to mind is just the minimum focus distance, which on this lens is three feet or 0.9 meters. Right now I'm as close as I can possibly get to this lens and have it be in focus.
So you're not going to get anything very tight, to get good like macro details. But as far as I'm aware, that seems to be a pretty common characteristic of most anamorphic lenses. There are different screw-on diopters that can help you achieve a closer focus, but so far that's just kind of been a factor that I've worked with.
Beyond that, there are a couple other things that definitely aren't even downsides, but just factors that are worth mentioning first. Of all being, it's only manual focus. I feel like that goes without saying, but when you're in the YouTube space you just kind of get very used to autofocus and it comes on a lot of lenses now, so I just had to note that it's manual focus only. Depending on your camera, you might also want a monitor. I shot this video on Sony FX3. When I first got the lens, it didn't have any de-squeezing, so I had to learn to shoot with it weirdly squished and it was kind of strange to figure out how to frame shots. Since then the FX3 firmware has been updated, so I can de-squeeze the footage while I'm shooting. But if your camera doesn't have that option, then a monitor might be used so that you can de-squeeze as you shoot.
My new perspective on gear
Other than that, I'm mostly just glad that Sirui sent me this lens because otherwise, I'm not sure I would have realized what I was missing out, not just with this lens specifically, but with gear in general. There's this whole debate of “gear matters” vs “gear doesn't matter”, which is so tiring at this point. Both sides of that debate are applicable in different scenarios, they're both helpful for different situations, but I've always kind of leaned more towards the side that gear doesn't matter. And trust me, I know how annoying that is to hear from someone on YouTube who's just shooting on incredible gear. But I've always leaned towards the side that gear doesn't matter because I've loved the freedom that gives you to just work with what you've got and go for it. But because I sided with that, as I continued to upgrade my gear, I never really considered anything unique. I mostly just stuck with the most common recommendations that I've seen other people doing. But lately, I've had different pieces of gear coming into my collection that actually just inspired me to shoot purely because of the gear. It kind of started with the Blackmagic 6K Pro because the image was so incredible, and the files were so big that it made me shoot way more intentionally. Then after that, I also got the Fuji X100V that really changed my outlook on photography. But now this Sirui lens is just another piece of that puzzle where it's something unique, something that gets me stoked to shoot and achieves a look that's just not possible with any of my other pieces of gear.
So if you're looking for something unique and something that makes everyday normal life look just a bit more like a movie, this might be something to consider.