KOWA – a very popular name in anamorphic community. KOWA anamorphics usually represent a great image quality & amazing flares, but that comes at a hefty price tag. In this review I’ll be taking a closer look at what might be the cheapest KOWA anamorphic lens, so let’s see if it deserves the KOWA name!
WHAT IS IT?
The KOWA VIDOSCOPE SUPER-16 is a 2x stretch projection lens, which can be found on eBay under $200, which puts it into the same price range as the PROSKAR-16 I’ve reviewed previously. These 2 lenses are very similar in many ways, so some of the things I’ll talk about in this review mirror my PROSKAR-16 review; feel free to skip over parts that you find familiar.
There are many reasons to like anamorphic lenses like this KOWA VIDOSCOPE, but as with any projection lens, there is a number of limitations one is faced with when trying to use such lens to film images with, rather than project them. If you are familiar with projection lenses, you’ll know about these, but to those of you who are new to such lenses, the main limitations are:
1: Taking Lenses. This lens wasn’t designed to be used with cameras, so it can’t focus a sharp image straight onto a sensor, so you need to attach it to the front a normal photo lens, just like we used to attach wide-angle and telephoto adapters to our camcorder lenses.
2: Attaching to a taking lens. The rear threads and thread sizes on anamorphic lenses like Vidoscope are non-standard, so you will need to invest into an “anamorphic clamp” in order to attach it to a taking lens. Fortunately they are quite cheap and straightforward to use!
3: Double Focusing. To achieve sharp images, both the anamorphic and taking lens have to be focused individually to the same distance. This is very impractical for video work as it’s not only time consuming, but also makes rack focusing impossible. Fortunately now there are quite a few “single focus” anamorphic solutions that take care of the double focusing problem, but they aren’t cheap, so you need to be serious about using anamorphics if you want to go down this route.
4: Wide Angle. Or to be more precise, the lack of it. Although the 2 times stretch really helps get more into the frame, anamorphic projection lenses are quite limited in terms of taking lens choices. Wider taking lenses vignette heavily, so aching wide angle shots with this lens can very tricky.
5: Close focusing distance. Most anamorphic projection lenses have a poor closest focusing distance, in case of Kowa Vidoscope it’s 5ft/1.5m, which isn’t terrible, but you will have a hard time getting any close ups. Single focus adapters again help with this problem and it’s also possible to use various close up filters / diopters instead. The front thread on this lens is again non standard, but I was able to add one by simply taking a 58-62mm step up ring and securing it with some black electric tape (58mm size fits almost perfectly inside the front lens barrel)
Most of these limitations have solutions and it’s not that difficult to get really cinematic images with this lens if you have a bit of patience and know how to get the best out of it! And this brings me to all the positives of using such lens!
As my test video above hopefully shows, there is definitely certain magic to the images produced with KOWA VIDOSCOPE. I shot my video in a cloudy day, so I was not able to show off the the signature horizontal flares, although I did a little flare test at the end of the video, so that you know what to expect from this lens if you point it at a strong light source.
Then there is the oval bokeh, which is hopefully more evident in my video. It’s fast becoming my favorite anamorphic characteristic.
We must not forget about the aspect ratio. People often crop their 16:9 footage to get a more “cinematic” look. With anamorphic lens that wide screen cinematic look is achieved without any cropping and loss of quality.
Overall this lens produces a very cinematic look. As far as flares go, it might not win the “most beautiful flare” contest, but they are still quite nice. The excellent image quality more than makes up for it!
Now this is where this lens really shines and absolutely crushes Proskar-16. As my little test below shows, even at F1.4, this lens produces more that acceptable center sharpness (considering that taking lens itself is at its softest wide open). I’m really struggling to make out any difference from F2 up, so as long as your taking lens is sharp, you can pretty much use Vidoscope at any f-stop. The only reason why I shot my test video at F4 was to have deeper depth of field (for glidecam use) and to make up for my potentially less that precise double focusing. In contrast I wouldn’t even dream of using Proskar below F4, it was just too soft and even at F4 it would not be a match to Vidoscope. I think as far as image quality goes, this lens certainly deserves the KOWA name!
Now, let’s touch back on the coverage. Like I said already, don’t expect to use wide angle taking lenses with this lens, but surprisingly it can handle wider lenses that I thought it would. I was able to go as wide as 45mm F2 pancake lens on APC-S/Super35 16:9 sensor without any vignetting, while Proskar couldn’t handle anything below 55mm. In 4:3 mode, KOWA could probably even get away with a 35mm taking lens, which almost a wide angle lens 🙂
To make all of this a bit less confusing here is a roundup of minimal focal length lens you should use with the Kowa Vidoscope depending on the sensor size (16:9 sensor):
- Full Frame (A7S, 5D, etc): 68mm
- Super35/APS-C (Sony FS7. C100, etc): 45mm
- M4/3 (GH4, etc): 34mm
- Super16 (BMPCC, etc): 23mm
It’s also the time to round up the pros and cons of this lens!
- One of the cheapest anamorphic lenses
- Has all the characteristics anamorphic lenses are popular for
- Very good optical quality
- Double focusing setup is not practical
- Needs clamps and/or mods for easy attachment of filters and taking lenses
- Quite rare, so might take some time to find
Overall, I think it’s a great example of an anamorphic projection lens. Not too expensive and has pretty much everything you want from such lens! I think it’s better than Proskar in pretty much every way, maybe with exception of character, but like I said already, the optical performance of this lens more than makes up for it! If you are only getting into anamorphics and can find one cheaper than Proskar-16, I would highly recommend KOWA VIDOSCOPE SUPER-16 as your first anamorphic lens!
Kowa Vidoscope Super-16 eBay Links:
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