Ben Mitchell

Anamorphic Bliss

11 May 2015 by Ben Mitchell

With even micro budget music videos aspiring to go 2.35 nowadays, shooting anamorphic is very much the optical craze of the moment.  How did we get here?  

cooke_blog_1.jpgThe Aspect Ratio Wars of the 1940’s and 50’s involved Hollywood studios tampering with the physical 35mm celluloid, to give a much wider frame of action when the arrival of television threatened cinema-going.  That is until Henri Chrétien threw his hat in and gave the world Anamorphoscope, where the extreme wide appearance was achieved by ‘pinching’ the image via a 2:1 lens.  The majority of the studios settled on Anamorphoscope owing to the massive cost benefits.  

In an age where the proliferation of technology meets increasingly ambitious content makers, filming on anamorphic lenses for cinematic soul is more popular than ever.  

I always envisaged Focus24’s first set of budget-kind anamorphics to be a nice example of Japan’s old Kowas.  A few out there are in good shape but for many, the years have not been kind.  Searching for them is a bit like pick n’ mix and they can be challenging to work with if the mechanical condition is suffering or re-housing feels like a MacGyver cave project.  For many, Lomos are the “no other choice” compromise for the DoP and can ruin an AC’s day.  So Kowas it is…eventually!

Choosing our first ‘top shelf’ option was a considered process.  Hawks are great, albeit some being enormous.  The Masters are an undeniable feat but dangerously clinical for some DoP’s when pining for pure cinema.  Perhaps one day Focus24 will have assembled both because they’re both goddesses in their own way.  But until then…it was decisions, decisions over what represented numero uno. 20150506-011.jpg

NAB 2013 was the venue of a celebrated announcement.  After 127 years of producing such eminent lenses, it’s strange to think that Cooke had never made an anamorphic lens until now.  Conceived as “S6’s” they were changed to simply “Cooke Anamorphics”.  

They were not exactly a ‘sold as seen’ number- Focus24 did not have any representation at that NAB.  But some dreams simply sell themselves.  The hazy fantasy of picturing the “Cooke Look” image in the hallowed 2x squeezed frame…swirly edges…oval bokeh…flaring in the middle…just…dreamy.

We knew we were in for a long wait before they arrived.  In that time Matthew McConaughey got serious.  DoP’s starting putting Master primes on Blackmagic Pocket cameras.  Russell Brand’s voice got even more vexing.  Planes disappeared.  Robin Williams tragically took his own life.  World War Z served a damp squib.  Germany won the World Cup.  Something good HAS to happen please!  Skip almost two years… 

…and the cases are ready to go, complete with dry ice to boot.  After hours in the lens projection area, Focus24’s lens chieftain (Tim H) finally gives two thumbs up for the Kitroom techs to sweep amongst them like a pack of rabid hyenas and stick them on an Alexa.  Lens porn ensues…

What are the headline terms?  In their own words:

  • T2.3 aperture
  • Offers anamorphic lens characteristics including 2:1 oval bokeh for out of focus highlights
  • The Cooke Look and colour matched with all other Cooke prime lenses.
  • Especially well balanced for astigmatism and corrected for lateral and longitudinal aberrations over the entire image area
  • Linear iris
  • Equipped with the next generation of /i Squared Technology* for lens metadata capture
  • Award-winning cam-style focus mechanism allows for smooth focus adjustments

039k4406-2.jpgSo what’s in the box?  Our standard set comprises of a 35, 50, 75 & 100mm primes.  A 40mm is also available separately.  Both 25mm and 135mm focal lengths will be introduced as soon as Cooke begin shipping them before the end of 2015, fingers crossed.

A detailed review coupled with our test movie will follow in the next three weeks.  I say “movie” because we are not talking about a torch down 

the throat of the lens.  Maybe there will be fire, maybe there will be stunts, maybe there will be child actors?  Watch this space…until then be assured we will be giving these stunning lenses a cinematic canvas to play, and play hard.