As far as budget anamorphic lenses go, this lens is very interesting in my journey as a filmmaker. There has been one major goal that I have wanted to achieve, and that was the ability to shoot on anamorphic lenses. Now I've gotten a chance to shoot with some amazing cameras and some amazing lenses in the process, however, when it comes to anamorphic lenses, this has been something that I've been striving for but honestly have been unable to obtain.
Many of your favorite movies and TV shows are shot on anamorphic lenses because they come with a very specific look. This anamorphic look gives you some amazing characteristics that spherical lenses don't, like oval bokeh and flares.
Reason that I've always wanted to play with these lenses, to test them out and use them, but the problem has always been with the price: anamorphic lenses are not cheap. That's why when Sirui reached out to me about testing their new Saturn anamorphic lens, I was beyond excited.
The Lens and the Job
If I'm being honest, I was also very apprehensive. Budget anamorphic lenses tend to have certain quirks. I don't want to call them problems, but they're problems. There's a reason why high-dollar anamorphic lenses are so good and cost that much. Anamorphic lenses are not easy to produce. As great as budget anamorphic lenses can be, there are still some quirks that I want to be fully honest about when it comes to using these lenses.
When I test out gear, I want to take it out into the field and put it into some real-world scenarios. So I decided to partner up with my friend Johnny who is currently on his fitness journey, and he wanted to create a video that showcases his fitness progression. It's very important to take out the gear and use it in actual production, that way you can see what is it like using it on set because the last thing you want to do is take gear out on a professional job and then find out that it just doesn't hold up.
We were going to shoot a mock commercial for a clothing brand, and our shoot day started at about 4:30 in the morning. We arrived early because we wanted to be able to shoot at sunrise. For this project, I decided to shoot everything on this anamorphic lens with the red Komodo. The main reason why I went with the red Komodo was because of the global shutter: whenever I'm shooting fast-paced action, I like to work with the global shutter because you're going to have a less rolling shutter, and you're going to be able to get crisper images. The other reason why I did this was that the red Komodo gives you the ability to do an anamorphic de-squeeze on camera.
How do Anamorphic Lenses Work?
If you're new to anamorphic, you may not know exactly what de-squeezing means. The way that anamorphic lenses work is that they literally curve your image to fit your sensor, and there's a squeezing happening to your image. Whenever your image has been written to the sensor, it's being written squeezed, and then in your editor of choice, you have to go through the process of de-squeezing that image. However, with the right camera, you can see what this de-squeezed image will look like while filming, and this is crucial to getting proper composition. This 35mm Saturn anamorphic lens has a 1.6x anamorphic de-squeeze. With anamorphic lenses, your frame is going to be so much wider so you have to plan for your framing to take advantage of that extra real estate.
My Experience With The Lens
As we started getting some of our shots, I quickly realized that I needed to get very comfortable with framing with this camera and this lens. So we just started off doing some very basic shots: shots of him looking at the camera, looking away, and just getting some detailed stuff so that I could kind of start getting more familiar with the lens. This is where I actually found one of the first major problems with this lens - at least that I ran into - and that is the close focusing distance.
With this lens, your subject needs to be at least three feet away from the sensor for you to be able to accurately pull focus. And if you're using it at its most wide-open aperture at T2.9, I found that this was even more difficult to do. Typically this is not that big of an issue, however, with this being my only anamorphic lens, I realized that it was going to be more difficult to get a decent variety of shots. When I'm filming, I like to be able to get mediums, close-ups, extreme close-ups, and extreme wide shots. But with this lens, I was unable to get any close-up or extreme close-up for that matter because of that focusing distance.
I enjoyed the challenge because it made me start thinking outside the box, to figure out a way to get shots that have a variety and have a different look even though I can't get closer to my subject. It's for this reason that I quickly realized that if I had more than just the 35mm lens, like if I had one of their tighter focal lengths, I knew I'd be able to get a better variety of shots. But as you guys can probably imagine, once you start working with anamorphic lenses, you kind of have to shoot the entire project with those anamorphic lenses, so I decided to shoot everything just with the 35mm anamorphic lens.
One of the big characteristics when it comes to anamorphic lenses that most people gravitate to is the anamorphic flares. Most people think of the anamorphic flares as those strong blue flares like you see in mini JJ Abrams films. I'm not exactly a huge fan of those flares unless they are in a sci-fi or high-tech-related film. In this case, we were shooting fitness, which as far as I'm concerned, I felt like the blue flares would be overwhelming. It's for this reason that I decided to go with the more neutral flare setup with these lenses, and that's something that I think is really cool about this new Sirui lens: you can get a version that has the high-end blue flares, but you can also get a version like mine that has more neutral flares. As you can see in this shot, you can still get those anamorphic flares, but they're just not as overwhelming as the ones with the blue flare.
As I continued using the lens throughout the day, there were a few things that definitely stood out to me as some major awesome perks of this lens. Starting with the overall size. This lens is fairly small and it's very light because it has so much carbon fiber on it; the other thing that I noticed with this lens is the fact that it does have some great focus gears, which is something that I didn't see in some of the Sirui previous models. This lens has focus and aperture gears, which means you can totally rig this up into a cinematic setup. Another thing that I loved about this setup was just all of the markings on it. This thing does work with T-stops as it is a cinema lens, but also when it comes to the focus, you're not only going to get meters as far as your focus distance, but you also get feet, and as someone who lives in the states, it's nice to be able to see feet markings on the actual lens. This lens also has a 58mm diameter for screw-on filters which come in handy because we were shooting during sunrise. I did need to throw an ND filter on this lens and it was very easy to do so while filming.
The Problem With Budget Anamorphic Lenses
When it comes to the Sirui lenses, there was one major thing that I was worried about with this lens. In the past, I've checked out these lenses before and I've watched other YouTubers’ reviews like Potato Jet and many others, and one issue that a lot of them complained about was the fact that as you adjusted the focus of the lens - if you're filming anything, this is something that you're going to be doing consistently throughout the shoot - the squeeze factor of your frame would change. And as far as I'm concerned, this is something completely unacceptable when it comes to using an anamorphic lens. I am happy to say that as I was using this Saturn lens, this didn't seem to be an issue. I was able to literally bring all of my footage into my editor and apply the exact same effect to de-squeeze them to all of the clips, and I didn't see any major issues going from clip to clip, so it seems like whatever issue they were having on previous lenses, Sirui has been able to fix that on this new Saturn lens.
When it comes to this specific lens, I can say that this 35mm lens is fantastic. It is great and I love using it. It does have a couple of things that kind of draw me away from it, like the inability to do close focusing, but as far as a budget anamorphic lens goes, it's pretty darn good. But this is just one lens, and that's kind of the issue - as I mentioned earlier - you can't shoot a project with just one lens, and once you go anamorphic, everything has to be anamorphic. If you are considering going anamorphic, you are going to want to look at getting the entire set and at this point I can't necessarily say how good the other lenses are. However, I do hope to get my hands on them very soon so that I can see how they work as a set.
The Finished Project
Spending the morning with Johnny and shooting this spec ad was a ton of fun. We had probably way too much fun making it happen, and I definitely enjoyed the challenge of working with a new type of lens, so I've shown you guys a couple of shots throughout this video of what the footage looks like.
Honestly, I think the video turned out all right, however, I do wish I had a tighter focal length in order to get some more close-up detail shots. Shooting the entire thing on the 35mm lens was definitely a challenge and I would love to see what another focal length would allow me to be able to create. This Lens comes in a lot of different variations - as I mentioned earlier - you can get the neutral or the blue flare, and then it also comes with a few different mounts. In my case, I went with the RF Mount so that it could work on my Red Komodos as well as my Canon mirrorless cameras.
There's definitely a look that you get with anamorphic lenses and it can take your shots to another level.