Electronic follow focus revitalises dual-focus anamorphic lenses

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Discussion of the prototypes on the EOSHD Anamorphic Forum

Many anamorphic lenses especially the affordable ones require the prime lens to be set to the same mark as the anamorphic on the focus barrel, making a focus rack during a shot impossible by hand and shot setup awkward.

Now an ingenious electronic follow focus by Markus Houy has been created making our dual-focus anamorphic glass single focus like high end Iscoramas or LOMOs.

EOSHD interviews Markus and finds out more about his plans for the device.

High end Panavision, Hawk and LOMO cinema anamorphic lenses are especially designed to focus in unison with a standard aspherical lens, which is built into the anamorphic. Both the anamorphic and aspherical glass are driven together by one focus barrel, one set of integrated mechanics.

However with adapters like the Kowa 8Z there’s no mechanical link between the focus barrel on the anamorphic and on the prime. What’s more the adapters are used with various primes all with different focus travels and barrel sizes.

The main reason an Iscorama costs $3000 isn’t because it is optically superior to a $400 Kowa 8Z – it is because it has a patented focus system where the prime lens can be left at infinity and you focus just the anamorphic, as if using a standard lens.

Shot with the dual-focussing Proskar anamorphic lens on a Canon FD mount prime

Now Markus has designed this incredible follow focus which uses a CPU controlled motor to drive the anamorphic lens to the same mark as the prime when you move the focus barrel on the taking lens. It can be calibrated to work with a variety of anamorphic lenses (i.e. Kowa, Sankor, Singer, Proskar) and primes.

EOSHD: How did this project begin?

Markus: This is a personal project that I started about 6 months ago to solve a fundamental problem with anamorphic attachments. While focusing on a stick is fine for static scenes, it is a real problem anywhere else.

I likened it to handheld action photography with a large format bellowed camera. Not practical.

While professional integrated anamorphic lenses are out of reach both in price and availability, anamorphic attachments are relatively plentiful and affortable. So I started there.

Note to lens manufacturer: We need anamorphic lenses! Preferably using 70’s and earlier designs, no redesign necessary, using proven configurations, off the shelf, affordable, please.

Above: out of production since the early 00’s if only Isco would restart production of the amazing Iscorama

EOSHD: Does the follow focus rack focus smoothly?

Markus: Yes, the motor speed is fast enough for small focus changes as well as vibrations are quite controlled and not visible.

EOSHD: Is there any latency between prime and anamorphic barrel moving ?

Markus: Yes there is. This is due to the motor speed. It is not a problem during slow rack focus when the focus changes are small, however, it will be visible for large changes such as going from 10 feet to infinity in one fast pull. It could be an interesting artistic effect :)

EOSHD: How do you plan to ‘make it pretty’? (In terms of the packaged final product design)

Markus: Right now all the circuitry is open to the elements and the motor is very noisy. While I can test it right now, further field tests need a proper enclosure to shield the components and eliminate noise. So, my next challenge is to design and mill an enclosure and/or challenge a manufacturer to build a key part in quantity at an affortable price for the film, video and maker community :)

EOSHD: Do you have rough estimates of units you will make and at what price?

Markus: Unfortunately no. I have zero experience with manufacturing being a software engineer. It was an experience just getting here. However, this will be one of the next challenges to see how to get it into the hands of other anamorphic enthusiasts. What is next? Good, fast, cheap. Pick all three. I can see smaller motor attachments on both the prime and the anamorphic for a full automatic focus system. Wireless control is definitively on board either via bluetooth and/or wi-fi. Another question that came up in your forum was whether anamorphic lenses need to be re-lubricated. Yes, it helps and keeps the power requirement down. It is easy to do for anamorphic attachments since they are simple optical and mechanical systems. Older (metal) primes can also be re-lubricated fairly easy. I do not recommend disassembling modern (plastic) primes.

EOSHD: Thanks for the interview Markus!

I completely agree when it comes to Markus saying we need a fresh supply of new anamorphic glass. SLR Magic are working on a design. The larger companies such as Vantage and Zeiss are as always concentrating on providing for the Hollywood & rental market.

It is quite something to be able to pick up a Kowa anamorphic for $300 on eBay though and still be able to shoot this way on a budget. The character of these cheap lenses are similar to the Hollywood anamorphic glass – right down to the distortion and flare – the imperfections corporations keep telling us are bad properties of a lens, when in actual fact this character makes a sterile digital image more organic and breathes life into an otherwise normal scene. Very important!

Please drop by Markus at Vimeo and get behind the project!

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About Author

British filmmaker and editor of EOSHD, Andrew works in Berlin on his own self funded filmmaking and video projects.

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