Our next stop is one of the legendary ISCORAMA lenses, which outside of proper anamorphic cine lenses are the most respected anamorphic solutions for video use. I would not call it a “budget” solution, although if compared to any “cine” equivalent, it’s a pretty cheap lens, so it all depends on what you consider to be “low budget”.
Ever since I got into anamorphics, I’ve been hearing the ISCROAMA name everywhere, but at first it felt like a distant dream because to me these lenses are not cheap at all, in fact it’s one of the most expensive lenses I have ever owned.
There are quite a few ISCORAMA lenses out there and if you would like to learn about the different types, I suggest checking out Tito Ferradans’s “Anamorphic on Budget” guide, but in this review I will be taking an in-depth look at the ISCORAMA 42 MC, which according to Tito is the best version! (he has tried 36,42,54 versions)
So why is this lens so popular and respected? If you don’t have time to read the whole review, in shot, it’s because this is a single focus (all focusing done with ISCORAMA) lens with outstanding image quality/sharpness (anamorphic lenses often soften the image) that can not be matched by any of the anamorphic solutions I’ve reviewed so far, more about it later.
Build Quality & Usability:
Except for the rubber focus/alignment rings, this lens is 100% metal, super solid beast! Focusing ring is very smooth with just the right amount dampening and about 200° rotations, which is great for video use. The front of the lens does rotate and it extends a bit when focused but not enough to cause any problems with a follow focus and my 9mm wide COOL-LUX focus gear that I’ve added to the ISCORAMA. The closest focusing distance of 2m is not exactly impressive, although it’s still better than any other anamorphic solution I reviewed in the past. There is a simple mod to reduce the focusing distance but I haven’t tried it because it’s not a kind of lens I want to start messing around with. I’d recommend using a longer taking lens or a +0.5 diopter for close ups instead.
Attaching this lens to any taking lens is quite easy because ISCORAMA 42 has a 67mm thread at the back and although there are some dedicated clamps out there, a few cheap step rings will do the job. Unlike any of the anamorphic lenses I reviewed before, the front of this lens also has a filter thread, which is a pretty common 82mm. Unless you need to go very wide, it’s easy to add an 82mm to 77/72mm step down ring for even more common filter sizes.
Every anamorphic “attachment” lens needs to be aligned every time you swap the taking lens and thankfully aligning this lens is pretty straightforward. You simple push the lower ring up (towards the front of the lens) and rotate the lens. The mount has some sort of click stops to make sure that you don’t “over-rotate” the lens too quickly, missing the perfect alignment. The red “focusing distance” line on top of the lens provides a very convenient visual representation of where perfect alignment should be and once I’m close to it being right on the top, I just slow the rotation down. Unfortunately all of this is easier said, that done as it’s quite a fiddly mechanism to use and the only part of “using” this lens I don’t enjoy, but really it’s no worse than using clamps with multiple thumb screws that need to be loosened individually every time you want to adjust the lens.
Sensor Coverage/Taking Lenses:
You can go as wide as 50mm FF/ 35mm S35 on 16:9 sensors, which produces around 35mm (FF equivalent) horizontal field of view. Not as wide as I’d like to get for some shots, but pretty workable and as good as any other anamorphic solutions I’ve tried so far.
To me this is probably where this lens stands out the most. While with other anamorphic solutions I’ve had to step the taking lens down at least a bit to get the best out of the anamorphic, with ISCORAMA 42 sharpness is very much commanded by what the taking lens is capable of wide open. What I mean by this is that ISCORAMA itself does not appear to have any negative effect sharpness and if your taking lens is sharp wide open, you’ll get sharp images with ISCORAMA added to the front. This is the sort of performance I haven’t experienced from any anamorphic solution so far!
Flares & Character:
Much like its cheaper ISCO WIDE-SCREEN 2000 alternative, ISCORAMA 42 MC does not flare much at all (hint in the name). MC of course stands for Multi-Coating, which protects it from all sorts of flares, anamorphic ones included. I’ve tried to make it flare with in various natural/low sun and evening/street lighting condition without much luck, but in controlled conditions it’s possible to make it flare and when it does, flares are quite beautiful! It’s worth noting that not everyone likes anamorphic flares and many anamorphic lenses, like the current generation from COOKE don’t produce any anamorphic flares, so what can be a downside to some could be a perfect characteristic to others.
Anamorphic distortion and bokeh are also very subtle on this lens. The 1.5x squeeze factor doesn’t produce very oval bokeh, but you can still see that anamorphic look in out-of-focus areas and it’s more prominent than that on 1.33x lenses, especially on close ups. I also find that 1.5x squeeze works great for 16:9 sensors producing a slightly more dramatic final aspect ratio than that of 1.33x lenses.
Overall though, this lens produces quite clean look if compared to lenses like Proskar-16 & Sankor16F, both of which are bursting with anamorphic character, but inferior in every other way. Again, different people will prefer different character.
- Very well built
- Very sharp
- Quite easy to setup and use
- Pleasant, subtle character
- Single focusing setup
- Smooth focus ring with approx about 200° rotations
- Great sensor coverage (widest taking lens: 50mm on FF, 35mm on S35, 28mm on M4/3)
- Lacks distinctive anamorphic character of some cheaper alternatives
- Very expensive
- Very rare
- 2m closest focusing distance not ideal
- Aligning mechanism is fiddly
To me ISCORAMA 42 MC is like the “Zeiss Contax / Leica R” of the anamorphic world. These photo lenses are incredibly popular and respected by video shooters even though they are not the ones with most character and are also some of the most expensive lenses outside of the “cine lens” world, but they deliver quality, sharp images in any conditions and it’s exactly the same with ISCORAMA 42 MC; it’s a professional tool, delivering professional results. I could keep mine and used it very happily for many years to come (4k/6k/8k should not be a problem), but I love trying various lenses and unfortunately for me this lens is too expensive to keep. For someone who only needs one anamorphic lens, this lens is certainly worth considering if you can find and afford one (Ebay.com & Ebay.co.uk links).
If you can’t find and/or afford one of these, fortunately there are alternatives that will provide similar functionality and results for less money. The closest one (and probably the cheapest is the ISCO WIDE-SCREEN 2000 (my review), which actually produces quite similar images and works like a single focus setup too, but there is also a new generation of single focus solutions including FM Lens (review coming soon), Rectilux and SLRmagic Rangefinder.
If “single focus” is not a must have feature, but low price is, then take a look at Proskar-16 (review) or Sankor-16F (review). They are like the Helios 44-2 of the anamorphic world: super cheap & usable with tons of character!
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