SLR Magic 2x 35mm T2.4 Anamorphic (Part 1)
This post is written by Nathan Johnson
While I'm sure most people would love to shoot high end cinema cameras for most of their jobs, not everyone has access to that level of gear on a regular basis, or it’s just not practical for the line of work they’re in. I myself shoot mostly on the Panasonic GH4, and while its benefits and drawbacks of this camera are widely known at this point, one of my favorite features is it's 4:3 Anamorphic mode. I've used the SLR Magic Anamorphot 50 adapter with it but it proved to be such a cumbersome process given the dual focus that my adapter has mostly just been gathering dust for the last year.
Enter the SLR Magic Anamorphic Primes. I've been looking to acquire them for the last year and a half and only just recently got enough discretionary funds to take the plunge and buy the 35mm T2.4.
If you're unfamiliar with the SLR Magic anamorphic lenses, then let me catch you up to speed. There are 6 lenses in total, three 2x for Micro Four Thirds cameras (35mm T2.4, 50mm T2.8, 70mm T4), and three 1.33x with a PL mount (35mm T2.4, 50mm T2.8, 70mm T4). The MFT 2x lenses are about a third the price of the PL ones, coming in at $8500 for the set.
The lenses were made by combing the Anamorphic adapters already made by SLR Magic with elements from their line of prime lenses and then placing their variable strength diopter in front of all that which is used to focus the whole assembly. As such, they aren't traditional anamorphic designs but they are very functional and incredibly inexpensive.
I spent the majority of a weekend getting to know the lens, shooting a bunch of informal stuff while hanging out with a couple of my close friends who were about to get married and were moving into their new apartment. I wanted to get a feel for how the lens handled in a variety of different lighting situations and how it rendered some "real life" scenes before sitting down to do more controlled setups. Anyone can shine a flashlight down the barrel of a lens (and I will in the second half of this review because that's what you do with anamorphic lenses), but a large blown out window is going to flare much differently than a flashlight, and a lamp will flare differently than either of those. Below is the video I cut together with what I shot. Color is mostly ungraded Cinelike V as I don’t like V Log-L as much when I’m recording internally and I didn’t want to spend too much time in post changing the look of the lens. The only thing changing from shot to shot is color temperature and occasionally ISO, so variations in contrast and sharpness are due only the lenses reactions to the scenes.
The first thing I learned is that the most difficult way to shoot this lens is unrigged. This is for a couple reasons.
- The horizontal compressions makes it more difficult to tell what's in focus
- It's not a super sharp lens and in "Low" mode on the GH4, focus peaking isn't as accurate
- The lens has a 300 degree focus throw
While it can be done (all of the footage above was shot with just lens and camera handheld), I find attaching a follow focus and monitor helps immensely, but it does make it the package a little unwieldy to use handheld. This might be obvious to anyone who’s shot anamorphic before, but shooting anamorphic for the first time can be a real challenge for those who don’t know how to prepare for the added challenges it presents.
Image and Build Quality
The image quality is all over the place with this lens. It’s got quite a bit of blue veiling in strong back lit scenes, flares like crazy (strong blue tint), and wide open has quite a bit of chromatic aberration and softness. Between T4 and T5.6 is where I really like the lens though, as most of these qualities come under control and the lens seems to sharpen up nicely. Horizontal distortion is incredibly aggressive once you leave the center third of the picture and screams anamorphic rather loudly. This may or may not be to your taste but I generally like it (though I admit it is too much). There is an unacceptable amount of coma from bright sources past T4. This is one aspect of the lens that never really looks desirable or "vintage," but just bad. In the one shot of the highway near the end of the video, you can see some of it in the headlights of the cars.
Focus distance is 3ft (1m) to infinity. This was hardly restricting as 3-6 ft was kind of sweet spot for the focal length. The focus ring is well marked all along the barrel. Mechanically the lens functions incredibly well, both focus and aperture rings are well damped, neither to loose or too stiff. The lens is all metal and glass and I feel I could defend myself with it in a pinch should I not have anything else on hand to use as a weapon.
Below are some still that show off certain aspects of the lens.
All in all, it's a well built anamorphic lens that you can get for less than 3k. The lens is very "loud" in the sense that it has a very distinct quality to it and is entirely incapable of delivering a "clinical" look. I really like it so far and I'm looking forward to seeing how it fairs in Part 2 of this review where I'll be doing some more controlled setups to test specifics aspects of the lens. Right now, I'm planning on looking at:
- Sharpness at various apertures
- Chromatic abberation
- Accuracy of focus markings across the frame
- How it renders an interview setup (something lit to complement all the unlit stuff in this review)
- Anything else enough people ask me to test
Bonus: GH4/5 Anamorphic Mode Crop Factor
It should be noted that trying to figure out crop factors with this lens is a pretty huge headache which I've done a stupid amount of math to figure out for you. Rather than explain the numbers, you can just look at the graphic below.