Not long ago I blogged about a weekend on a lake and sampled some [poor quality] video that I shot on a modded camera. I say ‘modded’ because I took the existing stock camera and altered the firmware with a nonstandard firmware version developed by digital video enthusiasts and posted in public forums to experiment with.
I explained it all in the blog. This time however I took that method a step further with the lens in front of the camera. In laymen speak I created a chimera camera. Nothing that I’m doing is terribly new in the history of film-making. Innovation is born from experimentation and using things not as they are intended. To me however, this is brand new territory, which is why I felt the need to share with you, in hopes of perhaps inspiring you, in the same way I have been inspired to innovate. I’ll go into more technical jargon below. The video above was created over a few nights. The footage was shot during a weekend blue berry picking adventure. Picking your own blue berries, apples, peaches, etc. is a big to do in this household. I can’t disagree more, but my objections were overruled as they were last year and the year before that. The journey is the reward, or so the motto goes. We went to this cool place an hours drive away which had acres of bushes you could pick both from standing and squatting positions. Libby & Sons also sells delicious homemade blueberry doughnuts and the fact that you can always count on live music to go along with the fun of harvesting your own fruit. Truth be told, it’s not a terrible way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I decided to grab my camera on the way out the door!
This time I’m specifically talking about Anamorphic lenses, a topic in itself that I could spend hours talking about. What is “Anamorphic”? In a nutshell it is a term that best describes aspect ratio of a viewing picture, particularly a short wide-ass picture. It’s essentially a lens that squeezes the picture in the sides, and actually captures footage wider than a regular camera lens does. Footage right from the camera looks really distorted on the vertical plane. Correcting that aspect ratio to compensate for the lens distortion is what makes an anamorphic lens so unique. It’s on the front end, what the viewer sees, where the image pops. Read this Wikipedia article for a more in-depth explanation. Big-budget studio cameras can do this no problem. Nobody wannabe filmmakers like me have to get more crafty. The lenses are just too bloody expensive.
To create the anamorphic effect, on the cheap, DIY filmmakers have resorted to everything under the sun. The easiest way to achieve this signature look is to crop your image in post-production. Cut off the top and bottom of the video and you are left with fake aspect ratio. I admit I’ve used this method several times and shed a tear when I did, because all you’re doing is amputating your beautiful, hard earned footage. There are filters that screw on lenses which claim to imitate this look, and then there are legitimate anamorphic lenses taken from ancient 8MM film cameras and celluloid projectors which enterprising people have rigged in front of their cameras to crudely get the effect right. I’m one of them.
This is the lens I bought. A Bolex Moller 8/19/1.5x Anamorphot. In no way is this lens made to be attached to my DSLR. It’s meant for much smaller, less digital, cameras. But if you can find one of these little rarities you’re halfway there. I looked for over a year [in between giving up, and becoming obsessed again] and finally nabbed one from an eBay seller over Christmas.
In this photo the Bolex is “attached” to the front of my taking lens via a clamp that, on a good day, will never be 100% secure, however it’s the only way to get it to work for a non-engineer like myself. The company, Vid-Atlantic makes specific clamps for a variety of old time lenses.
Chimera Camera. So just to clarify, I have a Bolex Moller Anamorphic lens attached to a Olympus Pen F Zuiko 38mm lens that’s mounted to a [hacked] Panasonic Lumix GH2. Why this lens and camera combo? Mainly I like the idea of tinkering with something that not many, generic people would think to do. Originally I was on the fence between which camera to get as a second “B” or “C” camera. It was between the GH2 and the Sony NEX-5N. I like the compactness of both but in the end the firmware hacking community won me over to the potential in such a small plastic body.
You still need to have a lens attached to your camera body in between that and the anamorphic adapter. I chose the Pen F because another post said it worked well for him, and its small size is perfect for weight. It cost roughly under $200, and is the smallest lens I own. Unfortunately on a micro four thirds camera any lens you put on magnifies that lens focal length significantly so 38MM is not really 38MM anymore. And anything wider than 38MM shows vignetting from the Bolex, meaning a dark soft blur around the corners of the video. Most lenses don’t like more lenses bolted in front of them obscuring their ability to capture crystal clear images. The Bolex has its own independent focus ring so when you need anything in focus you’re going to need to get it right on BOTH lenses! A secondary lens also means less available light traveling to the sensor of the camera. Aligning a vertically oriented round object to another round object via three screws pushing against a metal rim to hold it in place is… complicated. So basically doing all of this; acquiring all the mismatched gear; wasting extra time and frustration to get the shot in focus… why, you may ask? Because I’m a sucker for the look. Cinemascope, vistavision, widescreen it doesn’t matter. The wide image looks like it belongs on the big theater screen more than anything else I tell you. Call me prudish, yet in my mind that image is what film ought to look like. Authentic. Not a rip-off of film. When DSLRs started shooting video several years ago that was the epitome of awesome because from here on in cheapo digital cameras were one giant leap closer to their film brethren thanks to shallow depth of field which digital cameras, up until then [with the exception of a few costly 35mm vibrating lens adapters] failed to reproduce.
So, if I haven’t confused you by now I’d be shocked. Despite the frustrations associated with this contraption, I really am giddy to keep using it and figuring out ways to improve upon it.