Anamorphic adapters for smartphones are brilliant. They can produce some spectacular images, beautiful horizontal flares, and the distortion is all part of the look. The first smartphone lens I took seriously is the Moondog Labs anamorphic adapter. It was a fantastic lens when it first came out, and it still is today. There are now a number of 1.33X anamorphic lenses on the market for smartphones.
A 1.33X anamorphic adapter will squeeze a 2.39:1 ratio image onto a 16:9 ratio sensor. The Beastgrip 1.55X anamorphic lens squeezes an epic 2.76:1 ratio image onto a 16:9 ratio sensor. Of course optically squeezing, requires digital desqueezing afterwards, either by stretching the image horizontally or squeezing it vertically. I will always rather maintain the horizontal recorded pixel resolution and squeeze the image vertically in order to preserve detail in the image, but either way the result is a much wider aspect ratio.
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What is Anamorphic Video?
The 2.39:1 aspect ratio is what most people associate with modern anamorphic cinematography. There have been a number of anamorphic formats and lens systems in use since the early 1950’s.
A anamorphic lens uses a cylindrical curved glass element to optically squeeze the width of an image horizontally, while keeping the vertical height intact. Imagine simply squeezing a wide rectangle into a square for recording and then stretching it back to a rectangle afterwards.
The advantages of optically squeezing a much wider field of view onto a narrower film negative are simple. It means more of the film area is exposed, increasing overall image resolution and detail compared to a simple crop.
In a period where the studios were competing with each other, and television for audience, big screen spectacle was important. This was a way to fill a large ultra wide cinema screen with images that were impossible to experience any other way.
Why do we like it?
Anamorphic lenses and lens systems have always been a technical compromise. They introduce a number of optical artefacts into the recorded image. However, many of these artefacts have become a much loved signature of a bygone era of cinema. The telltale horizontal blue streaks across the frame, elliptical bokeh and defocus of vintage anamorphic lenses are all part of the visual language and history of cinema.
What is Ultra Panavision?
Ultra Panavision is an extreme widescreen format developed and used between 1957 and 1966, and then revived more recently on films such as Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight in 2015. The Hateful Eight was the first film to be shot in Ultra Panavision 70 since 1966. Ultra Panavision is a 70mm format, that was shot on 65mm camera negative using anamorphic Ultra Panavision lenses, and projected from 70mm prints. The extra 5mm on the prints contains the optical soundtrack.
The Ultra Panavision format required a mild anamorphic squeeze of only 1.25X to squeeze the 2.76:1 width image down to the 2.2:1 image area of the 65mm film frame. This results in less distortion than you would find with the more extreme squeeze we are dealing with using a 1.33X anamorphic lens or in this particular case, the Beastgrip 1.55X anamorphic. I like to correct as much of the vertical distortion as possible when using smartphone anamorphic lenses, which I cover with a tutorial video featured later in this article.
Find out more by watching the trailer for The Hateful Eight and the Hateful Eight Featurette below. This article “Large Format: Ultra Panavision 70” in American Cinematographer magazine is well worth a read too.
Desqueezing Anamorphic Smartphone Video
Surely, if we record an optically squeezed image at 3840 x 2160 and then stretch it horizontally by 1.55X to 5952 x 2160 we’re reducing horizontal image quality in the scaling process?
The answer to this question is yes, of course, although this is how anamorphic films were projected in cinemas. For us, dealing with recorded pixels instead of film running through a projector, the goal isn’t to end up with an upscaled “6K” horizontal image. This is why it’s best not to actually “desqueeze” anything (although you’ll still hear that term used).
Instead the best image quality is achieved by squeezing the recorded 3840 x 2160 image vertically to 3840 x 1390. This way you’re maintaining the recorded horizontal pixel resolution without stretching those pixels out, and improving overall perceived image sharpness and detail by scaling down vertically from 2160 to 1390 pixels.
The Beastcam camera app performs this scaling internally in real time and records clips at a resolution of 4030 x 1462.
Delivery Format Specifications
Since there is no digital delivery standard for a 2.76:1 aspect ratio, the choice is to letterbox (black bars top and bottom) into either UHD or, DCI 2.39:1 if creating a DCP for digital cinema projection.
UHD (16:9) Resolution: 3840×2160 (Image area: 3840 x 1390)
DCI 2K Scope (2.39:1) Resolution: 2048×858 (Image area: 2048 x 742)
DCI 4K Scope (2.39:1) Resolution: 4096×1716 (Image area: 4096 x 1,484)
How to use the Beastgrip 1.55X Anamorphic Lens
If you want to shoot ultra wide 2.76:1 aspect ratio anamorphic video with your iPhone, you’ll need the Beastgrip 1.55X anamorphic lens and a suitable cage to mount it. The lens has a 37mm threaded mount, which will attach to any cage with a 37mm lens mount.
There are some tricks to getting the best image possible from this lens. In my experience with the prototype, alignment is the most critical factor. If the lens is slightly off center, it won’t be sharp and you’ll see some chromatic aberration and other issues.
As long as the lens is aligned correctly, this is one of the sharpest and cleanest anamorphic lenses I’ve used. To expand more specifically on this claim, I use the Moondog Labs, Moment, and Ulanzi (all 1.33X ratio) as well as the Beastgrip 1.33X, and in my experience the Beastgrip 1.55X is very sharp edge to edge and into the corners. Optically speaking it seems to be a very well designed and built lens.
Cages and Cases
The thing I love about the Beastgrip Pro is that it’s universal. Up until this point, I’ve had to use a different cage for each new generation of phone. Of course the Beastgrip Pro has been available for a long time, I was just a bit slow getting my hands on one.
I’ll review the Beastgrip Pro in detail in a separate article but as far as a long term investment goes, this is your best choice. The Beastgrip Pro will outlast your phone and will always be compatible with next year’s device. It’s also smartphone agnostic, you can use it with just about any Android device just as well as an iPhone.
The Beastcage is another excellent choice. It doesn’t have the universal versatility of the Beastgrip Pro, but is more compact and lighter. The Beastcage is made for a specific phone and will only fit that phone. One major advantage of the Beastcage is that it guarantees perfect lens alignment. The Beastcage also comes with a bayonet mounting plate for the M-Series lenses.
Beastgrip 1.55X Anamorphic Lens Alignment
As I’ve mentioned, lens alignment is critical with the Beastgrip 1.55X anamorphic lens. If it’s slightly off center you will see a noticeable loss of sharpness and increased chromatic aberration. The lens needs to be centered over the smartphone camera lens both horizontally and vertically.
This is easy with the Beastcage and Helium Core, but can be tricky with the Beastgrip Pro. There is a foam insert in the lens mount of the Beastgrip Pro with a circle cutout for the camera lens, but it’s not perfectly aligned, so can’t be used as a reference.
You may not see that the lens is not aligned perfectly just by looking at the video preview on the phone, but it will become apparent once you start editing or playing back the video on a larger screen.
How to Attach Filters to the Beastgrip 1.55X Anamorphic Lens
Attaching filters to the Beastgrip 1.55X anamorphic lens is as easy as threading them on. The Pro Series lens has a fixed 58mm filter thread. If your filters are larger than 58mm, all you need is a step-up ring.
Beastgrip 1.55X Anamorphic Lens Tips
Don't Shoot Handheld
I discovered early on that shooting video handheld while using the anamorphic lens should be avoided. Even the slightest incidental rotation of the angle you’re holding the phone will cause the image to warp and distort. It looks terrible.
The only way to shoot with this lens is to use a tripod, or a gimbal.
I used my Gorillapod for locked off shots, and my Feiyu Tech AK4500 gimbal for moving shots. Both worked brilliantly and the shots look fantastic.
Any fifth axis (up / down) movement while using a gimbal will feel a bit more noticeable when shooting with the anamorphic lens. This is due to the distortion of both horizontal and vertical lines in the image as the camera position moves. I captured all moving shots at 60fps for slow motion playback so I could at least minimize this unwanted fifth axis movement.
Keep Your Horizon Centered and Perfectly Horizontal
The best looking results are achieved when the frame is perfectly horizontal, and if the horizon itself is straight. This can only be achieved if the horizon line is centered vertically in the frame. This is not to say you can’t tilt up or down, but be aware of how unbroken horizontal lines are distorting when you compose your frame.
If there are objects in frame that break up horizontal lines, or if a shot is angled at such a tilt that the horizon is out of frame entirely, it is easier to compose low angle and high angle shots, or incorporate tilt movement.
A 2.76:1 aspect ratio is very wide, and well suited to wide compositions. This is why the format works so well for epic vistas and wide open scenes. You can utilize negative space very effectively and enjoy a lot more space in the frame when directing action.
Composing sequences of static shots where movement happens within the frame is a very effective way to make the most of this ultra wide ratio.
Camera movement should be deliberate and planned. Because of the distortion introduced with any tilt or roll movement, the most effective camera motion is a sideways truck, or a dolly movement (forward or backward), or a crane shot (a change in elevation) with the camera kept perfectly horizontal at all times and the horizon centered vertically.
How to Correct Anamorphic Lens Distortion
There’s a fair amount of distortion with the Beastgrip 1.55X Anamorphic Lens, but not anything you won’t get from any other anamorphic adapter. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, depending on the look you want to achieve. You can leave it as shot, or correct it in post.
I found that it’s not difficult to correct the vertical distortion so that vertical lines in the image remain vertical from centre to the edge of the frame. The bowing of horizontal lines is characteristic of wide angle anamorphic lenses and doesn’t bother me.
The Beastgrip 1.55X Anamorphic Lens is one of my favorite lenses, and very sharp. I would recommend it to anyone looking to capture impressively wide images capable of a big screen look (depending on subject matter and composition). However, I don’t consider it a general purpose everyday lens, it takes more forethought and planning than shooting with spherical lenses or even anamorphic lenses with a lower squeeze ratio.
It takes practice to get used to composing images well with this lens, but if you study the style, framing and composition of classic Ultra Panavision 70 movies, and take note of how these were shot, you’ll be well on the way to getting the most out of this lens.
Buy the Beastgrip 1.55X Anamorphic Lens
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