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Super 8 Filmmaking!
Like all hobbies, the more you hang around, the more you start to like things you never thought you would have when you first started. And so it was with me and my new pursuit of a-n-a-m-o-r-p-h-i-c filmmaking. This is Part 1 - The Setup. Part 2 will focus on the results, to be published at a later date.
Generally speaking, anamorphic filmming means that you are squeezing fifty percent more image on each side of the original image into the same sized film emulsion dimensions. In super 8, that means that, according to wikipedia, the original super 8 film dimension of 0.245"W x 0.166"L becomes:
+ 0.245 + 0.245x50%)W x 0.166L
Amazing! Two times the horizontal plane squeezed onto your super 8 film. Wow.
This is the basis of the meaning of anamorphic; it has to do with using an optical trick to produce an image twice as wide as conventional lenses. There is a reason I highlighted the word "trick." It's because the very nature of non-4:3 format is based on a con. Yes, a con. Prior to the early 1950's, every major motion picture was based on the Academy Aperture of 1.33:1 (or 4:3). So, what happened back in the early 1950's? Television happened. And, television based their standard on the Academy Aperture standard. From there, the movie business considered television a threat. To fight it, they began to utilize the various lens tricks that resulted in NON-STANDARD formats. From Cinemascope to PanaVision, all of these experimental standards were used to differentiate one movie product from another. Later, tricks involving masking were also employed. All of this makes for a colorful past, for sure. Still, it makes you wonder why on earth we need three TVs to watch any given broadcast or DVD.
Oh, you may recall my Elmo F20S-XL superwide camera that has that fantastic 4.6mm lens. While it is an extreme wide-angle lens, it is not an anamorphic lens. The Elmo F20S-XL just captures a wide image in all dimensions. An anamorphic lens captures the same vertical image height as a regular lens but then goes on to capture twice the horizontal image width. You can see why in the picture below. The elements are curved along a single axis.
Let's jump ahead to the stuff you need to get going in anamorphic filming!
First off, you will discover there are quite a few lenses that were available back in the heydays of film (1970s). Most any of them will work for our purposes here. This list is pretty good on the types of lenses that were available: Martin Baumgarten's Widescreen Page
Specifically, there is reference to Kowa 16-H which was apparently named the Kowa 8-Z in Europe. Note, the article mentiones the 16-H/8-Z has a 52mm rear thread. My version does not. As 52mm is a standard Nikon lens size, I quickly determined the thread is much closer to 50-ish.And it's not 49mm since I tried that one too. My best guess is that it is something like a "Series 6" thread which is something like 49.5mm like you find on Som Berthiot and Angenieux lenses. It's not a big deal but something to be aware of.
My other A-lens is an identical Kowa lens but it is marked "2X Anamorphic for Bell and Howell." It is in every way the same as the 8-Z lens except that it comes with a slightly larger Series-7 rear filter thread. Fortunately, my 8-Z came with an adapter that converts the rear thread to a Series 7. If given the choice, I prefer the 2X B&H lens since it is all black and much more modern looking. That's just me.
Just a note to remind you that Series 7 is actually 54mm but you will not find filters (and step down rings) marked as 54mm. They will be marked as Series 7. The good news is that conversion rings are readily available online for about $10. Here's a hint: B&H Photo.
You can covert from S7 to basically any size up or down. I chose 52mm since I wanted to utilize a rotating filter I had to allow me to correctly orient the lens after focusing.There are many other rings that allow you to fit directly to 49mm,and even smaller. I am tempted to get a 37mm converter to allow me to use this on a camcorder. And yes, you can go the other way to but you risk a bit more cutoff.
To make my own cheapo A-lens mount, I took an old 52mm Hoya slit-field filter and broke out the glass. I was now left with a reasonably slim rotating bezel with 52mm filter threads on each end. In seconds, my A-lens is usable on any camera with little fuss. Of course, you may want to consider a bigger diameter since you will then have less tunneling of the A-lens due tothe slight increase in distance you are adding. If I had to do it over, I would probably go for a 62mm split-field filter to disect.However, it is all pretty marginal either way.
With my other conversion rings, I am able to convert the lens for use on a Bauer C Royal (49mm thread) or B&H MS45 (62-52mm step down). Very fun. Of course, you can easily elimate the rotating 52mm attachment I made and use the lens directly on the camera. Care must be taken when attaching the lens to leave room for rotation so the lens is skinny when viewing from the front.
At this point, some people may wonder about the weight of the lens on the camera. My experience is that with built-in zooms, the A-lens should not pose any problems with wobble or similar things as such. The biggest worry is the tiny amount of shift that comes from the rotating filter ring. Luckily, mine is minimal if not zero. If you do have a loose focus on your primary camera, this lens will exaggerate that shift.
On a c-mount camera, I would be more concerned since there would be more chance for flex or bending.However, as long as you support the camera while shooting (beanbag, tripod with lens cradle, etc.) you should be OK. Just don't leave the A-lens on the camera for display purposes.
Another technical aspect to consider is the amount of barreling or tunneling the various filter adapters add to the view. Notice my Nikon R8 setup - there is about a 1/2 inch or so of space between the elements.On this camera, 20mm is the perfect setting to eliminate the observed cutoff.I suppose if I got a fancier setup I could get the lenses closer to each other and perhaps get down to the 15mm zoom setting. However, even at 20mm zoom, that equates to 10mm wide angle so that's pretty darn good.
Where the Series-7 Kowa A-lenses really come into play are with lens diameters SMALLER than 54mm. Like what is seen below - my 2X A-lens on the Bauer C Royal. The ultimate setup would be a direct Series-7 to 49mm filter adapter and some careful screwing of the A-lens and I should be pretty good for making the most use of most of the Bauer's zoom range (7-56mm but realistically about 15mm-56mm with the A-lens attached).
Oh, a side note for longtime readers - I found a mint Bauer C Royal on eBay that had no battery cap. Fortunately, after this past Christmas when I broke my C Royal using a light bar, this camera worked perfectly once I used my battery cap. A great deal for like $15. Awesome.
While we are discussing prices, these two A-lenses were found on "the bay" for $25 and $50. Interestingly, I see prices for these lenses all over the place from my low-priced $25 to over $500. All for the same lens! Why the discrepency? Other than shilling, it is probably due to how Kowa named their lenses. Any lens not marked 8-Z or 16-H tend to scare off first timers and the uninitiated. So these folks don't bid. People think that the lenses marked "for Bell and Howell" are something different. Not true. It was merely meant to guide folks as to what projectors could be used without the need of an adapter. And in case you haven't guessed, you use the SAME lens on both the camera and the projector. You simply rotate it 90 degrees between the two uses. Interestingly, transferring the film to the PC (via my WorkPrinter XP) will not need to make use of the lens. I will simply convert the format in "post" as they say (on the computer with Sony Vegas software).
When using an A-lens on the camera, you want to have the lens appear like mine does in these photos - you want the curve going from side to side, not top to bottom. The view in the viewfinder should be tall and skinny. Like James Stewart. It is also critical to get accurate alignment (perfectly vertical) since you will get some very strange results if you fail to adhere to this advice. You want to avoid as much unnecessary distortion as possible. The aspect of focusing also seems a bit complicated since you have to focus both the A-lens and the camera. A tedious procedure that will inhibit spontaneous filming.The viewfinder will of course appear distorted but once you get used to it, it should not be a problem. There is estimated to be about a 1/3 stop loss in light but since 99% of cameras are TTL, this is not something to worry about - just let the camera do the metering as normal (or manually light meter without any correction factors).
The key number marking for me on my stealthy purchase of the A-lens was the "2X" marking. There are other lenses that offer differing compression (1.35X, 1.5X, etc.). In my mind, if we are dealing with Super 8, we may as well go all the way and get the 2X lens! Obiously, the 2X lens is the most extreme lens, mimicing the 2.66:1 aspect ratio from classic old movies. Better yet, upon projection or playback on a suitable monitor, people will think they are seeing a higher quality image since they tend to equate black bars on the top and bottom of the screen as a sign of expensive equipment.
Part 2 will concentrate on the results of my filmming exploits with my new A-lenses. I will include some screen shots and other neat things. I am also planning to attach an A-lens to my Eumig Nautica as well.
As always, if I have missed something, be sure to let me know.
of luck fimmaking,