IBC: Digital Anamorphic

thefilmbook by Benjamin B

Greetings from the Thalys high-speed train linking Amsterdam to Paris, where I am starting to write this post as I return from IBC (International Broadcast Convention).

IBC is one of the world’s biggest video tradeshows, attracting some 50 thousand visitors to Amsterdam’s giant RAI convention center. And each edition of IBC seems to have its technological leitmotifs.

For me, this year’s recurring themes were digital anamorphic and 4K. I'll start with digital anamorphic and address 4K in my next post.


Linda Carriel framed by Angenieux 56-152 anamophic zoom -photo Benjamin B - thefilmbook-

Linda Carriel framed by Angénieux' 56-152 anamorphic T4 zoom during IBC

(click any photo for larger version)



1. anamorphic tradition

2. anamorphic endangered

3. new lenses

4. anamorphic cameras

5. lens choices

6. "200 zooms"

7. digital anamorphic


1. anamorphic tradition

Anamorphic lenses were designed half a century ago to fit a wide screen image alongside the sound track into the standard 1.37:1 35mm film frame of the time, by applying a 2x horizontal squeeze.

Click on anamorphic frame below for diagram of process


Anamorphic is a form of optical compression whose artifacts, like the out of focus ellipse, and even Panavision's blue line, have become part of the language of cinema. The shallow depth of field, wide 2.39:1 frame and compositional richness of anamorphic are part of our film culture.

For the past 50 years anamorphic features have been shot on film, often with Panavision lenses, but also with vintage Cooke lenses as well as, more recently, Hawk lenses. In my professional experience, filmmakers have had to struggle to shoot anamorphic, because there has always been a shortage of anamorphic lenses. This could change in the coming years.

biutiful - frame from trailer - Innaritu Prieto -thefilmbook-

Biutiful by Alejandro Iñarritu, shot in 35mm by Rodrigo Prieto, ASC, AMC



2. anamorphic endangered

A decade ago the prevalence of digital cameras with 1.78:1 sensors seemed to threaten an end to anamorphic, which was designed for a squarish 1.2:1 imaging area. It is to Arri's credit that they chose to design the Alexa with a 4:3 sensor that allowed for anamorphic imaging. This year's abundance of anamorphic lens offerings now confirms that the historic cinematic format will make the transition to digital.

India is a special case in the evolution of anamorphic. For many years most Indian features were shot with anamorphic, but Tarun Kamar of Anand Cine Service explained to me that, at the turn of this century, Indian features went 3-perf Super-35 to save money on film stock. Indian cinema may renew its anamorphic tradition with digital cameras.


3. new lenses

Anna Rausch from Zeiss with 50mm -photo Benjamin B -thefilmbook-

Last year, three major lens manufacturers announced their decision to design and build new anamorphic lenses: Zeiss and Cooke offering new primes, and Angénieux new zooms.

Designing and building new lenses takes time, but some focal lengths are starting to appear, led by Zeiss’ 50mm. At IBC, I saw the following lenses on cameras:

- Zeiss T1.9 35mm, 50mm and 100mm

- Cooke T2.3 40mm and 75mm

- Angénieux T4 56-152mm zoom (a 28-76 with a rear anamorphoser)

All 3 manufacturers will offer a fuller range of lenses next year, when we can expect to see features start shooting with the primes.

Anna Rausch from Zeiss with 50mm T1.9 anamorphic


4. anamorphic cameras

At present, many of the big anamorphic studio features are still shooting on 35mm film. The Alexa 4:3 was released in the summer 0f 2012, and to date, it is only digital camera that can image the entire field of view of anamorphic lenses, as its sensor is similar in size to a 4-perf film frame. This timing means that we are just starting to see anamorphic features shot with the Alexa.


Karl Walter Lindenlaub and Elliot Davis at IBC 2013 -photo Benjamin B -thefilmbook-

ASC cinematographers Karl Walter Lindenlaub & Elliot Davis at IBC

During IBC, Marc Shipman-Mueller from Arri invited two cinematographers to present digital anamorphic footage in the “Big Screen” auditorium. Karl Walter Lindenlaub showed a short film he did with the available Zeiss anamorphics. Elliot Davis showed some clips from the feature he shot for Keanu Reeves with Hawk anamorphics, Man of Tai Chi. Both projects used the Alexa 4:3 sensor with ArriRaw recording.


Man of Tai Chi by Keanu Reeves, shot with Arri 4:3 & Hawk lenses by Elliot Davis, ASC

Some filmmakers have shot with anamorphic lenses on the Red Epic, which implies cropping the anamorphic image, and obtaining a slightly narrower field of view that you would get with a longer focal length. For example, a 40mm anamorphic lens on the Epic would frame the equivalent of a 47mm on film. The upcoming Red Dragon, with its larger 6K sensor, should be closer to 44mm.


Total Recall by Len Wiseman, shot with Epic & Panavision lenses by Paul Cameron, ASC



5. lens choices

Anamorphic is an important part of our cinema heritage, and I am both relieved and delighted to see that the format has made the transition to digital, even if sometimes with a slightly narrower field of view. A few years ago, I would never have predicted so many new anamorphic lenses on the market. It's a clear indication that lens manufacturers are seeing anamorphic as an important area of premium revenue growth.

It's wonderful that in 2014 anamorphic filmmakers should be able to choose between the following range of anamorphic lenses (in alphabetical order):

- Angénieux zooms

- Cooke primes

- Hawk primes and zooms

- Panavision primes and zooms

- Servicevision primes

- Zeiss primes

- as well as many older lenses...

I think of different lenses as having different personas that put their imprint on a film. It's interesting to speak with the manufacturers about their lenses. Anna Rausch from Zeiss talks about their desire to avoid imperfections like wide-angle curvature. Cooke CEO Les Zellan speaks fondly of their own "anamorphic funkiness". Angénieux CEO Pierre Andurand muses that their zooms may be mid-way between Zeiss and Cooke. Vantage's designer Anatoly Agourok talks of "art and science". Panavision's optical maven Dan Sasaki speaks eloquently about the aberrations and bokehs of Cs, Es and Gs... Vive la différence!


6. "200 zooms"

Pierre Andurand from Angenieux - thefilmbook-
Les Zellan from Cooke with Metrology Lens Projector -thefilmbook-

I asked Angénieux' Pierre Andurand how many anamorphic zooms they had sold. He told me that they had received about 200 requests, up from his previous estimate of 150. The number of firm orders will be lower, but the figure is still surprising. Even if only 100 zooms ship, and if together Cooke and Zeiss sell as many sets of primes, that's still a formidable increase in the number of anamorphic lenses worldwide.

The big question for me is: where are all these new anamorphic lenses going? They won't only be used for features. Although there has always been a shortage of anamorphic lenses, it's hard to imagine even another 100 additional anamorphic features a year. So while it should become easier for low-budget filmmakers to shoot anamorphic, we should also see anamorphic being used for many other kinds of projects.

Andurand states that he and his colleagues were surprised by the number of orders, and also were intrigued to see that there were more orders from Asia than the US. Cooke's Les Zellan states that many of the orders for anamorphic lenses are coming from second and third tier small rental houses, outside the big centers of production.


7. digital anamorphic

Hugh Whittaker of Panavision Europe explains the surge he is seeing of digital anamorphic features by saying that "many filmmakers feel that anamorphic lenses are the way to get the most filmic images with a digital camera".

Thor 2 -Alan Taylor- Kramer Morgenthau - Alexa anamorphic with Panavision lenses -thefilmbook-

Thor 2 by Alan Taylor, shot with Alexa 4:3 & Panavison lenses by Kramer Morgenthau, ASC


In any case, the future of digital anamorphic filmmaking looks promising. And the infusion of hundreds of anamorphic lenses into the global market may well create a swell of anamorphic features, anamorphic commercials and other anamorphic projects including television and industrials, that will renew and advance our cinematic language in unexpected ways.

Digital anamorphic will grow and thrive. And for that we must thank the anamorphic lens manufacturers.




thefilmbook: the anamorphic process diagram


- Wikipedia's list of 672 anamorphic films

- Contempt trailer

- Biutiful trailer

- My article on Biutiful, a film that offers a unique combination of spherical 1.85 & anamorphic 2.39

- Man of Tai Chi trailer

- Total Recall trailer

- Thor: The Dark World trailer

- The Ride 3 minute short directed & shot with Zeiss anamorphics by Karl Walter Lindenlaub


- Arri's Alexa Plus 4:3 camera with anamorphic capability

- Red's anamorphic information web page


- Angénieux anamorphic 56-152 mm zoom

- Arri Zeiss Master Anamorphic primes

- Cooke Anamorphic/i primes

- Panavision anamorphic primes and zooms

- Servicevision's upcoming Scorpiolenses

- Vantage Hawk anamorphic lenses

- Jon Fauer's helpful pdf with a comprehensive listing of anamorphic lenses

thefilmbook.net: anamorphic flares



Please don’t hesitate to give me your corrections, and, as always, your comments are most welcome.



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