Am I looking extra cinematic today? That's because I'm filming with my new favorite lens. This is the Sirui 35mm full-frame anamorphic lens. Why do I like this lens? Well it's just so cinematic. Yes, I said it, I said the word, and I don't regret it. This you can definitely call cinematic because it just feels so different from any other lens that I've ever used. And fun fact: this is actually the first time I've ever used an anamorphic lens. I don't know how I've been a filmmaker for like 10 years now and never touched an anamorphic lens. I just love that. It has characteristics that are very unique compared to any other lens that I own.
What is Anamorphic?
But first, let's answer what is an anamorphic lens. You see these black bars on top and bottom? That comes from anamorphic lenses.
People usually just add black bars on top and bottom because they want this aspect ratio, and they're not actually using anamorphic lenses, instead they just kind of toss out a bunch of information from their sensor and cut it out completely. An anamorphic lens actually uses all of the sensors: it kind of spreads out the image over the whole sensor and then de-squeezes it so that it looks like this, and you get that black bar on top and bottom. You've used your whole sensor to get this image and not throwaway any of your sensor information, so your image is going to be of higher quality.
One thing that people love is the flares, which are quite known for anamorphic lenses. But for me, it's one of the least interesting things. These flares are not gimmicky, but they have such a strong look that a lot of times I would rather not have them. Still, they are very cool in certain situations, and I do like that the Sirui lens flare isn't overly dramatic. You can get some cool flares, but it's not coving your whole face and not all that you're seeing.
Another thing that I really like about anamorphic lenses is the oval bokeh. Pretty much every lens you probably ever used in your life has spherical or circular bokeh, but on the anamorphic it's oval and I find that this makes the backgrounds look very interesting to me. There's a nice quality to them and I think it makes the subject pop out a little bit more than spherical bokeh. Now that's a little bit of personal preference, neither is necessarily better or worse, but I really like this look.
My FAV Feature
The biggest thing that I like is that a 35mm anamorphic - like this Sirui anamorphic lens - isn't the same focal length as a 35mm spherical lens, or not capturing the same amount. The anamorphic lenses are way wider that you get all of this extra space on the sides, and I absolutely love wide lenses, so I really like this look. I like how wide it is without distorting my face crazy or anything like that. Vertically it's the same, you just get a whole bunch extra horizontally. I feel like that's often overlooked and people probably don't even realize that, but I really like it.
Why now?Honestly, when I first saw it, I thought it was a bit of a gimmicky lens to me, and I was like: there's no way it's actually good for it's too cheap and too small, and I've never heard of Sirui, so I kind of dismissed it. It's very rare to have a good, affordable anamorphic lens, but I was wrong.
I think one of the best things about this lens is that it's affordable and convenient to use. It's only 1,500 dollars and it doesn't weigh that much. You can get it in E-mount, RF Mount, Leica and Nikon mounts, meaning that you can put it on a bunch of cameras - like this Sony FX3 - and not have to use any adapters.
If you know nothing about anamorphic lenses, you may think that 1,500 dollars is expensive. Anamorphic lenses can be very expensive. In the perspective of where you are in your career, it can be either very expensive or very affordable. For example, I would have never spent 1500 dollars on a lens when I started filmmaking because I couldn't afford that, my whole camera package didn't cost that much. But now that I've been doing this for about 10 years, 1500 dollars for an anamorphic lens is very affordable. Just keep that in mind in the future when people say “affordable”, it's probably in the perspective of all of its counterparts.
Also, the biggest reason I'm talking about this lens right now is that I got a little bored with camera lenses. They're all clean and sharp, and I just can't tell the difference between a Sony lens and a Canon lens because they look exactly the same to me. This isn't sponsored by Sirui, but I'm just really happy that somebody's making lenses that have unique characteristics and look different than all of the other lenses right now.
Despite all the cool features, there are negatives. The first one would be that it's a manual lens. I'm so used to autofocus lenses. I did find a fix for it: with the DJI gimbal, the focus motor and the lidar, I can make a manual lens autofocus. I set it all up, but it’s not worth it. I feel like the software is just so buggy and it's all over the place. Technically, you can work without the gimbal, but I think DJI is gonna get there and this will work great. Right now it's just a little cumbersome, so I decided to just go manual focus. It's kind of nice to use manual focus again because that's how I learned pretty much everything I did up until around 2014. Everything was always manual-focused and it's kind of nice to have that fine control. You kind of treat the camera and the camera moves a little differently, but I do miss autofocus.
Another annoying thing about this lens is that when I look at the Sony LCD, it looks terrible because the whole image’s been stretching out, making it hard to focus, so you will have to use an external monitor where it looks normal.
Some cameras do have built-in de-squeezing but I can't do it now. Some cameras like the micro four-thirds ones are 4x3, so when you put an anamorphic lens on, they squeeze down the image and become 16x9. I like this aspect ratio when using an anamorphic lens, that’s really cool.
If I had to say what's wrong with it, it's the minimum focus distance. 90cm is as close as I can get, it's already out of focus if I go any closer. So I can't do close-ups with this lens, and that for me is the biggest bummer of this 35mm lens. It looks really cool, but I just can't get close enough. The background bokeh isn't as pronounced either, so that’s the biggest negative of this lens for me.
It's not an all-around lens that you would film everything with, but am I going to take it on my next travel field trip to wherever we go and film a bunch of stuff with this lens? Yeah, probably. I think it's very cool, I love the look I got from it! It's just nice to have a lens with some character. I feel like there's a huge hole in the market somewhere in between “it's great having these nice clean perfect lenses” and “but it would also be nice to have lenses that have actual, unique characteristics”.