Over the last few years I’ve been slowly learning about and collecting various anamorphic lenses. Now that I’ve tried quite a few and understand them quite well, I’m ready to present you my first (of many) anamorphic lens review. I don’t claim to be an anamorphic lens expert and as always, my review is based on my own option and experience.
Proskar-16 is one of the most affordable anamorphic lenses out there, which is the reason why this was my first anamorphic lens. I did not want to invest into something I wasn’t sure about, but I must say, anamorphic look is addictive, although I’m sure there are a lot of people who think otherwise.
Before we talk about the creative characteristics (the good stuff) of this lens, let’s quickly talk about it the technical characteristics, quirks and limitations (the bad stuff). Being a projection lens, Proskar-16 wasn’t designed to be used with cameras, therefore there are few limitations that need to be addressed when using this and most other anamorphic projection lenses for video capture.
1st issue is attaching one of these to a “taking lens”. I’ve tried long and hard to find a way (without much success) to attach Proskar directly to a taking lens without special clamps, but to make your life simple you really do need one of anamorphic clamps that are fortunately quite cheap and pretty straightforward to use.
2nd limitation is “double focusing”. To achieve sharp images, both taking and anamorphic lenses need to be focused individually to the same distance. This is very impractical for video capture as it’s not only time consuming, but also makes rack focusing impossible. Fortunately many projection lenses like Proskar can now be converted into a “single focus” setup thanks to a clever “lens” called Focus Module. It’s not cheap though, so you need to be serious about using anamorphics if you want to go down this route.
3rd common limitation of many anamorphic projection lenses is poor closest focusing distance, in case of Proskar-16 it’s 5ft/1.5m. This where Focus Module (see video above) helps too, bringing it down to 2ft/0.65m. It’s also possible to use various close up filters / diopters to achieve close focusing without using FM. I actually glued in a 49-55mm step ring into the front of the lens, which allow me to add 55mm filters to the front.
Personally I find that apart for double focusing, all limitations are quite easy to get around and to be fair a lot of people manage to get great results using a double focusing setups as it’s all down to practice & commitment to such workflow.
Now that we got the main negatives out of the way, let’s talk about why would one put up with all the limitations to use a lens like this. As you can see in the videos above and below, there is definitely certain magic to the images produced with the help of Proskar. With its 2x horizontal stretch it archives all the common anamorphic characteristics effortlessly. These include the signature horizontal flares that appear when camera is pointed at a strong light source; oval bokeh, probably the second most loved anamorphic characteristic; circular distortion which is often seen in Wes Anderson films; wide aspect ratio, which enhances the composition in a great way. I must say though, when using such lens on a 16:9 sensor camera, the final aspect ration of 3.55:1 is a bit of an overkill, but as we start to see 4:3 anamorphic modes appear on consumer grade cameras, using such 2x lenses will make a perfect sense, as such combination produces an industry standard 2.39:1 aspect ration without any cropping or loss of quality.
Next, let’s talk about the sharpness, which happens to be another painful subject when choosing an anamorphic projection lens. Most often the taking lens has to be stopped down to around F2.8-F4 for good enough results. That is certainly the case with PROSKAR, which is not great below F4. The sharpness is also affected by the taking lens used, so suitable F-stop depends on the lens used at the time, but as a rule of thumb F4 is the lowest f-stop I’d have when using this lens. It’s quite safe to say that this is not the sharpest anamorphic lens around, but I find the overall look to be very pleasant and organic; certainly takes the edge off the digital sensors (hopefully not too much of it though).
Now let’s look at the sensor coverage. The name Proskar-16 suggests that this lens was used for 16mm projectors, so you can’t go quite as wide with Proskar as you could with some other projection lenses. I found that something like a Helios 44-2 58mm represents a perfect focal length on Super35 sensor camera. I also tried using a Canon FD 50mm F1.4 (video above) but I had to crop the image a bit to get rid of vignetting, therefore 50mm is not a good choice unless you are planning to crop a little bit anyway to get a more natural aspect ratio. For better overall sharpness and a more even exposure across the frame, something like a Jupiter-9 85mm is a better choice for Super35 camera and pretty much the widest taking lens you can use in combination with Proskar on a full frame camera.
To make all of this a bit less confusing here is a roundup of widest lenses you should use with the Proskar-16, depending on the sensor size:
- Full Frame (A7S, etc): 85mm
- Super35/APS-C (FS7, etc): 58mm
- M4/3 (GH4, etc.): 35mm
- Super16 (BMPCC, etc): 28mm
It’s also time to round up the cons & pros of this lens:
- One of the cheapest anamorphic lenses
- Has all the characteristics anamorphic lenses are popular for
- Very pleasant, organic anamorphic flares
- Softer than more expensive alternatives
- Double focusing setup is impractical
- Needs clamps and/or mods for easy attachment of filters and taking lenses
Overall, I still think that this lens is a great way to try out the anamorphic look without breaking the bank. Its compact size means that you don’t need to buy expensive, heavy-duty clamps & lens supports to keep it in place. Adding a filter ring is also very easy, so overall investment is kept to the minimum.
While Proskar-16 might not be a desired choice of an established anamorphics user, if you are just getting into anamorphics, I’d definitely recommend this lens as a potential first lens.
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