I’ve very excited to finally share this post with you guys. Some time ago I came across an Instagram user SAMAMORPHIC, who produces some of the most beautiful, atmospheric and dreamy anamorphic content. Eventually we got taking and I found out that Sam uses a Sankor 16F (an anamorphic lens that is new to me) in combination with 2 taking lenses I’m very familiar with, the Helios 44-2 (my favorite lens) and Dollonds 135mm F3.5 (one of the first lenses I tested). The 3min video above is full of amazing footage shot in beautiful, often golden hour light, bringing the best out of the setup Sam uses. Below is compelling insight to into his anamorphic journey and the Sankor 16F itself. Over to Sam:
It was JJ Abram’s Star Trek that sparked my interest in anamorphic lenses. I then realised some of my favourite films as a kid were shot with anamorphic lenses like, Alien, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars. Determined to get an anamorphic aesthetic, I started looking at strange anamorphic projector lenses on Ebay. I found a lack of information online about them and rather impatiently decided to learn by taking a chance and just randomly buying one.
I bought a Sankor 16F on Ebay for £60 when looking for the more popular Sankor 16C. Since I bought it, I’ve uploaded an anamorphic photo or video to Instagram everyday to test it out and get to know the lens. 140 days later and I’m addicted. I love the aesthetic and the diverse looks and moods it can create. It’s the first and only anamorphic projection lens I’ve used, I’m no expert but here is what I’ve learnt about the Sankor 16F so far.
· Sankor 16F.
· Taking lenses: Helios 44-2 58mm f/2, Dollonds 135mm f/3.5.
· Vidatlantic clamp.
· Kood +4 diopter.
· Redstan front filter step up ring (screws straight onto the front filter threads of the Sankor).
Lets get all the limitations out the way, as Alan has previously covered in his Proskar 16 review, to use a projection lens you need an anamorphic clamp because these lenses are not designed to go on video cameras. These clamps go directly on to the front of another non-anamorphic lens; this lens is called the taking lens.
My taking lenses consist of the Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 and Dollonds 135m f/3.5. To clamp the Sankor to my taking lenses I use a Vidatlantic clamp which screws directly on to my Helios 44-2 and has three screws to hold the Sankor in place. To align your lens properly you need to loosen them, align the lens and re tighten which can be a bit fiddly.
I find this is the biggest problem to overcome when using the Sankor because if your lens isn’t aligned properly, you get a skewed looking image. This can be fixed in post but if you have a strong flare then once you correct the skew the flare will still be wonky which can’t be fixed.
Another one of the biggest problems I find is vignetting. I use an APS-C sensor camera and the widest taking lens you can use is 58mm before the vignette becomes unusable. I don’t find this a problem though because the Sankor gives you more horizontal information so I never find myself needing a wider lens.
There is also another type of vignette at play with the Sankor, I call it the white vignette. Essentially when a strong light hits the lens it reflects on the inside of the barrel and causes light to flare and bloom in a vignette shape around the edges of your image. Sometimes this flare can look nice but often I find it can be too strong and distracting, so you may need to find a different angle if you don’t like it. I like a strong backlight so there are plenty of examples in my video.
Double focusing is also a major draw back, you have to focus your taking lens and your anamorphic lens to get your subject in focus, which makes focus pulls pretty much impossible. This takes some getting used to and is quite frustrating at first but if your committed you’ll get used to it. A good trick, which helps me, is to start both lenses at infinity then focus the anamorphic lens roughly where I think the focus is and then focus the taking lens. If it’s off, adjust the anamorphic lens then taking lens again. If you don’t make a system you probably find yourself twisting both lenses in despair and frustration. There are fortunately three options now to solve this double focus issue, the FM Module, Rectilux and SLR Magic Rangefinder CINE adapter, if you have more money to spend.
Another thing that might take some getting used to is the minimum focus distance. The Sankor can focus as close as 1.5m. This gives you a decent close up on someone’s face for example but if you’re like me and want to shoot tiny things like leaves and bees then you need a close up lens diopter. I use a Kood +4.
Diopters are filters, which screw on to the front of lenses and act like glasses, allowing them to focus on things really close. The drawback to using them is you can’t focus back to infinity and your focus is locked in the same place so you have to move the camera. I don’t really ever find myself not getting the shot I want when using diopters though, so I don’t really see this as a drawback. If anything it makes you more efficient in planning how to get the shots you want. Also the Sankor 16F has front filter threads which you can buy an adapter for to use traditional filter sizes, which is great!
Another good reason for using diopters is that it keeps your 2x squeeze ratio the same throughout the Sankor’s focal range. Before I used diopters, I noticed that some of my footage looked too squashed or too stretched even though it was all de-squeezed the same amount in post. I found out that this is because the Sankor only squeezes the footage by 2x at infinity and gets less squashed the closer you get to the minimum focus distance. Another positive of the focus module and Rectilux is they have variable focus diopters on them so you don’t have to worry about minimum focus distances or squeeze inconstancy.
So if you’re still with me, these are the reasons why it is all worth it.
First of all, that 2x squeeze! The out-of-focus elements look amazing and I find it so much more pleasing to look at than normal lenses. The images just look more natural and organic to me. Then there is the aspect ratio, shooting with a APS-C sensor doesn’t give me any control of the aspect ratio unless I upscale but I must say I really do love wide aspect ratios. Now there are so many cameras with different crop modes you can have more control over how big your black bars are anyway.
One of my favourite characteristics of the lens is its warm, orange flares. You can get it to flare other colours like blue if you have a blue light source but its not as saturated and strong as other projector lenses, which naturally flare blue. It comes into it’s own when you point this lens at the sun, it feels surprisingly natural considering there is a massive horizontal flare in your image.
A really great benefit of the Sankor 16F is that it’s extremely light so you don’t need any supports like you do with heavier projection lenses. Although this comes at a bit of a sacrifice in build quality as the focus ring is made of a plasticy type metal which I think could easily get broken and is something to consider when looking for them on Ebay.
Sharpness of all taking lenses is reduced with the Sankor. Performance with the Helios 44-2 is pretty much the same as shooting normally; the lens is sharpest from around f4. Shooting wide open creates a lot of crazy flare which I often use but sometimes I find it distracts from the anamorphic bokeh so I stop down but it really depends on the look you want for your shot.
The Sankor also has very soft edges but this is something I love about anamorphic lenses and actually strive to achieve! The king of that dreamy edge softness though, is the Dollonds 135mm. I love this lens when paired with the Sankor. It also beautifully diffuses highlights. The diffusion gets less extreme the more you stop down if you need to control it. I shoot mostly around 5.6 to 11 because the depth of field gets extremely shallow and I like the size of the bokeh more at these apertures with the Dollonds. When I add my +4 diopter the bokeh gets extremely smooth and dreamy on both lenses, which I control to my taste by stopping down the taking lens. It’s pretty cool because you get a lot of control over the size of your oval bokeh.
Shooting with wide aspect ratios gives you a whole new perspective on composition and framing, since getting the Sankor, I’ve felt more inspired to get out and shoot than I ever have. I also find I have more control of the aesthetic of my footage than with normal lenses. So in conclusion, if you really want to own an anamorphic lens without paying out a shed load, the Sankor is a good place to start. If you’re committed enough, you’ll find all the challenges of the lens quickly disappear.
· Very cheap anamorphic solution.
· 2x squeeze and warm anamorphic flares.
· Very light.
· Not very sharp.
· Double focusing makes focus pulls impossible.
· Diopters needed for close ups and squeeze consistency.
I want to thank Sam for sharing his beautiful video and writing this wonderful review for all of us to enjoy. Make sure to follow him on Instagram for his new content!
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