Isco Centavision Part 3 – Frontline Sanctuary

Here is my footage shot with the Isco Centavision anamorphic lens (link for iPad)

When I first used a 2.35:1 anamorphic conversion lens on the GH1 I thought 16:9 was dead. It looks more cinematic, without doubt. Anamorphic lenses are cinema on a stick.

While the Panasonic LA7200 anamorphic lens on the GH1 is great for wide shots, you cannot achieve much in the way of shallow depth of field with it. It removes a lot of what we love about DSLR shooting (low light performance, shallow DOF) because you cannot go below F4 and get a sharp image, but it does also add a lot of it’s own things (cool lens flare, wider field of view, the 2.35:1 look).

The Isco Centavision which I’ve covered here (Part I) and here (II) is a focussing anamorphic lens designed for 16mm movie cameras. It’s a good fit for the GH1 and whilst it is nowhere near as sharp as the much more expensive Iscorama 36, it does still give you cinema on a stick.

Here I used it with a cheap Canon FD 50MM F1.4 lens and shot between F2 and F16. A few shots are with the Zeiss 85MM F1.4 which is also a good fit for the Isco Centavision. You can shoot at 85MM on the Centavision whilst you cannot do that on the LA7200.

You can point it at things and it instantly turns it into cinema. I love the Cinemascope style especially with black and white. The lens seems to mute colour saturation, so I used the high contrast Dynamic B/W preset of the GH1. The footage is straight out of the camera, just a -70 aspect ratio distortion applied in Final Cut Pro to produce 3:1. The GH1 was in 44Mbit 1080p AVCHD mode. The custom sizes, like 2160×720 in MJPEG mode are just scaling a 720p image I believe, and they consequently look too soft. I prefer AVCHD for everything now even anamorphic shooting.

I had to export to H.264 rather than XDCAM this time, because XDCAM does not support funny resolutions like 1920×640 with a crop, it adds black bars which mess up Vimeo’s compression of the footage.

The Isco Centavision is a very heavy, large lens and to screw it to the front of another prime lens like the Zeiss 85MM and have all that weight with huge leverage hanging off the lens mount of the GH1 is quite frightening. But the GH1, despite appearing quite plasticy, withstood the demands well with only a very slight flex of the body at the top of the lens mount. To reduce the strain I should have used rails or a tripod mounting on the lens but I didn’t have any of this kit. Definitely something to bare in mind if you have heavy lenses on the GH1.

So this lens is pretty unique, though there are a few other options out there. The 2x Kowa and Sankor anamorphic lenses are similar. I just wish these lenses, including the Centavision were a little sharper, and that the Centavision flared more. It doesn’t have the nice horizontal flares of the Panasonic LA7200 and classic anamorphic lenses, like the USSR LOMOs, although the affect can be added afterwards with digital filters.