Welcome to my second Anamorphic Lens Review. In my first review I shared my take on PROSKAR-16, which was the first anamorphic lens/adapter I bought myself, but this time I will be reviewing one of my more recent additions, the OPTEX / CENTRURY 16:9 1.33x Focus Through Anamorphic Lens/Adapter, which I think as a great alternative to the more expensive SLR Magic Anamorphot 1.33x (read on to find out why). As mentioned previously, I’m not Anamorphics Guru and my review is based on my own experience and option. For a second option on this lens check out Tito Ferradans who will be posting his review of this lens shortly and he also has an amazing “Anamorphic on a Budget” guide which helped me massively when buying this and some of my other anamorphic lenses.
Back to the review, OPTEX & CENTURY are 2 different lenses and yet I’m reviewing them as one. While these lenses look slightly different, optically they are the same. My understanding that optics came from the same place in China, but the actual Optex lenses where manufactured in UK and Century in US, which is the reason for different names and slightly different bodies.
Unlike PROSKAR-16 these lenses were actually designed to be used on camcorders rather than projectors, so adapting and using them is quite straightforward. Most of these lenses have a 58mm thread at the back, so all you need to do is get an appropriate step up/down ring for your taking lens and you are good to go; no clamps or lens supports needed. However, in the case of Century there are a few versions of this lens and one of the versions was designed to fit specific Sony camcorders, therefore many of these adapters have a bayonet mount rather than a 58mm thread. These lenses need to be modded but thankfully it’s not difficult and only requires a 52-67mm step up ring and a bit of patience (thanks to Tito for the advice).
As I mentioned already there is no need to use a lens support with this lens because it’s small and light enough to be supported by a taking lens.
Convenience doesn’t stop there as the “focus though” optical design means that all the focusing is done with the taking lens. This makes OPTEX/CENTURY so much more usable than most projection lenses, most of which require double focusing, but like most anamorphic attachment lenses, this lens doesn’t have a great closest focusing distance, which is around 3m. To make things a bit more complicated there is no filter thread on the front, so in theory no way to add diopters, but thankfully you can add a filter thread yourself by using 77-72mm step-down ring which is almost exactly the same size as the front of Optex/Century. A bit of electric tape secures it perfectly (see pictures below).
OPTEX/CENTURY is one of the widest anamorphic attachment lenses in terms of the taking lenses that can be used with it. For majority of my test video above I’ve used a Mitakon 42.5mm F1.2 on BMPCC which wasn’t even close to pushing the limits of this lens. A few shots at the end were shot with a Canon FD 50mm F1.4 together with a Lens Turbo II focal reducer on Sony FS100 and while this would be the widest combo with most anamorphic attachment lenses, OPTEX/CENTURY can still accept wider lenses without vignetting. I was able to go as wide as 35mm + Focal Reducer on FS100 (super35), which is wider than 28mm without a focal reducer. This incredible coverage comes at a price though. When using lenses at the widest end, edge sharpness really suffers! Even at F5.6 it doesn’t really sharpen up enough (see pic below). To get anywhere close to acceptable sharpness you need to step down to F8 or even more. The problem is that edges are not only soft but also suffer from a lot of chromatic aberration, so it’s not a great look. My understanding is that even though you can use really wide taking lenses with Optex/Century, it wasn’t really designed for such coverage.
I think its comfort zone is around 50mm on Super35 sensor because then soft edges are cut off making the overall image look better. Saying that, the center sharpness is not the best out there either. The taking lens generally needs to be stopped down by at least 1-2 stops to achieve good sharpness, but it all depends on the focal length, speed and sharpness of the taking lens.
Everything mentioned above is important. but let’s move on to the main reason why we buy anamorphic lenses, the CHARACTER! Good news is that this lens certainly has plenty of recognizable anamorphic character in a form of anamorphic flares. You don’t have to try hard to make this lens flare; it starts to flare even when the “strong light source” is still completely out of frame, which is nice. The flares are very much “JJ ABRAMS” like, which will please some people but turn off others. There is a nice mix of flares in various shades of blue as you can see at the end of the video. Thankfully they look quite soft and organic, unlike flares produced by the SLR Magic Anamorphot 1.33x, which are quite harsh and very saturated to the point where they look very “digital”. This is obviously my personal opinion, but I found that a lot of people agree on this point.
Another nice characteristic of OPTEX/CENTURY is the slight circular distortion (visible in the pic below), which gives the center of the frame a 3D “pop” when use with wider taking lenses. Those familiar with Wes Andreson films will know what I mean, but if you don’t, check out this VashiVisuals post, which will help you understand and also fake this look.
Being a 1.33x stretch lens it lacks one characteristic that is almost as popular as flares, the OVAL BOKEH. Saying that, this is the case with any 1.33x lens as the stretch is simply not dramatic enough. The benefit of the 1.33x stretch though is that it creates an industry standard 1.35:1 cinemascope aspect ration when used with a 16:9 camera. There is no need for any additional cropping or zooming into the picture to make the aspect ratio less dramatic ( for example when 2x lens used on 16:9 camera).
So, there are plenty of positives and negatives in this lens, but that is actually the case with every anamorphic attachment lens I tried so far. Let’s have a look at pros and cons to give us a better understanding of how good or bad this lens is.
- Strong, but pleasant, organic anamorphic flares
- Works with very wide taking lenses (35mm on FF, 24mm on S35, 12mm on S16)
- Single Focus Setup
- Easy to adapt and align
- Better value for money when compared to SLR Magic Anamorphot 1.33x
- Softer than SLR Magic Anamorphot 1.33x
- Extremely soft edges with strong CA when used with wide taking lenses
- More expensive than some 2x anamorphic projection lenses
- 3m closest focusing distance
- No filter thread (but easy to add)
Overall I really like this lens. It’s certainly one of my favorite anamorphic solutions and I even felt confident enough to use it on a short film I shot in 4k. My OPTEX was used alongside ISCO WIDE-SCREEN 2000 for all the wider shots, using the Canon FD 28mm F2 as a taking lens. Yes, I have experienced the soft edge problem, but in real life shooting I didn’t find it to be a massive problem and I will be more than happy to use it on future projects. I would particularly like to use it on a music video or some sort of commercial as the anamorphic flares produced by this lens are currently very much in fashion.
Conclusion: If don’t want to deal with the double focusing, clamps, lens supports, etc, then this is a great, quite straightforward anamorphic solution at a reasonably good price. Once in a while you can find these for under $500, which might seem expensive, but it’s still almost twice cheaper than the SLR Magic Anamorphot 1.33x which might be sharper, but doesn’t really produce nicer anamorphic images, which is the reason main reason why we go through all the pain of using anamorphic lenses in the first place!
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