The Moondog Labs Anamorphic Lens is hands down one of the best smartphone lenses you can buy. I explored Cape Town’s stunning peninsula to test it out.

Cape Town in the summer is one of the best places on earth to find yourself. I couldn’t have hoped for a more beautiful location, or better weather to shoot with the Moondog Labs anamorphic lens for the first time. I captured hands down some of my best visuals ever from my iPhone 7 Plus with this lens over the few days I was there. It has been a core part of my rig ever since.

Not All Smartphone Lenses Are Created Equal

I’ve always been a bit of a minimalist and have stayed away from using external lenses entirely when shooting stills or video with my iPhone. To be honest, my experiences with the few lenses I’ve had have been disappointing. At best they haven’t given me anything that I couldn’t manage better without, and at worst they have turned out to be gimmicks with terrible optical performance.

When I’m trying to travel light, and need to shoot quickly with minimal fuss, the last thing I need is to carry around extra things I won’t end up using.

There are so many companies out there right now that have recognised the opportunity to sell smartphone photographic accessories to budget conscious enthusiasts, and have no actual interest or regard for photography. They just want your money. Please don’t give it to them.

Save your money, spend more on something you will absolutely love. The Moondog Labs anamorphic lens is an investment that will pay off every time you shoot. I recommend picking up the filter holder and ND filters while you’re at it.

The Magic of Anamorphic ‘CinemaScope’

The widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio we’ve all come to associate with the big screen cinematic experience actually started in the 1950’s. CinemaScope is a name still associated with this aspect ratio, and the use of anamorphic lenses in general. The actual CinemaScope format was made obsolete from the late 60’s, replaced by improved anamorphic optics developed by Panavision.

An anamorphic lens will optically squeeze your frame horizontally to fit a narrower recording format. In the case of the Moondog Labs anamorphic lens, this is a ratio of 1.33x, squeezing 2.39:1 width frame down to the standard 16:9 HD / UHD for a 16:9 image sensor without losing any vertical resolution.

For playback and editing however, you’ll need to “desqueeze” the video by stretching the horizontal image by 1.33x to a final ratio of 2.39:1.

How To Shoot With The Moondog Labs Anamorphic Lens

Going Wide

It’s a beautiful ratio to compose an image, and you’ll find your wide establishing shots can really breathe, becoming that much more dramatic and impactful. This is the best way to capture and frame panoramic vistas, and is well suited to using perspective and leading lines to guide the eye through your frame.

Video frame of Kalk Bay harbour, Cape Town, shot with the moondog labs anamorphic lens on an iPhone 7 Plus.

Even medium and close up shots will take on a new feel allowing you to explore new ways of composing a scene.

Negative Space

Video frame of a panoramic vista shot in Cape Point Nature Reserve, Cape Town, shot with the moondog labs anamorphic lens on an iPhone 7 Plus.

When you have so much width in the frame, you can place your subject far to one side filling the rest of the frame with empty space or a panoramic vista.

Distortion

Video frame of Glencairn Beach, Cape Town, shot with the moondog labs anamorphic lens on an iPhone 7 Plus.

One thing you should watch out for is how you frame your horizon. Aligning it exactly 50% between top and bottom of your frame will ensure it remains straight. This is mostly a concern in scenes where you can see the horizon over a large portion of the frame. If it is placed higher or lower in the frame it will curve noticeably. Also make sure your camera is perfectly horizontal or your horizon will not be straight even if centred.

If the horizon is broken by buildings or various other objects then this vertical alignment is not so critical.

Key Points

  1. Practise, practise, practise. See what works and what doesn’t.
  2. Remember your fundamental photographic principles of image composition.
  3. Keep your horizon level and centred.
  4. Watch and study some CinemaScope classics. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) is one of my favourites.

ND Filters

Images of the moondog labs anamorphic lens and ND filters.

Moondog Labs have various filter mount adaptors providing a 52mm thread for any 52mm diameter filters. I am using a set of Moondog Labs filters comprising a ND4, ND8, and ND16 that provide 2, 3 and 4 stops of exposure reduction. I stack the ND8 and ND16 together to give a total of 7 stops reduction. This allows a 1/48th sec exposure at 24fps during bright sunlit conditions. A circular polariser is available also.

In Conclusion

The Moondog Labs anamorphic lens is my favourite lens. I rarely shoot anything without it. I’ve shot anamorphic videos in Las Vegas, Ireland and Belgrade.

I take it with me everywhere and it’s always attached. I believe that says a lot, and the visuals speak for themselves.

Are you thinking about buying the Moondog Labs anamorphic lens? or do you already have it and want to ask some questions? Feel free to ask me in the comments.

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