Cinerama Part I – Going 3:1 anamorphic with the Isco CentaVision

A few months ago on EOSHD I did a series of articles on the Panasonic LA7200 anamorphic lens. Since then it’s strangely disappeared from eBay. Who snapped them all up? Was it you? There must be a lot of people out there without one too!

It’s a great lens, gives footage bags of cinematic feel, and I absolutely love it.

Yet still, the LA7200 cannot quite compete with the expensive Iscorama in situations where you want a moderately telephoto shot, shallow depth of field, or ultimate low light performance. With the LA7200 you are limited to around F4, but with the Iscorama you can get down to F1.4 and still have a sharp image, with plenty of depth of field. You can also put an Iscorama on the end of a 85mm lens and it will perform great with both the GH1 and 5D Mark II. The LA7200 is limited to beautiful wide shots on the GH1 – it doesn’t do 85mm especially not on the 5D Mark II.

With the Iscorama lenses still unobtainable and priced accordingly (£1000+) I believe I’ve found the next best thing – for the Panasonic GH1 at least.

I bought this Isco CentaVision for £90 on eBay UK, and nobody seems to have heard about it. It’s only record on the internet seems to be a entry in a Wiki for 8mm compatible anamorphic conversion lenses, on which list the Iscroama, Sankor and Kowa options are also present. So it was a bit of an unknown quantity, that is until I put it to the test. It’s a brilliant lens, just as good as the Iscorama 54 and very solidly made.

It shares the Iscorama 54’s bulk – quite a heavy lens. Thankfully it also shares the Iscorama 36 and 54’s ability to shoot with a shallow depth of field, at large apertures like F1.4 – quite unlike the LA7200.

With the main camera lens focussed on infinity, the CentaVision takes over focussing control entirely, with it’s own focus ring. You don’t need to match focus on both lenses thankfully. It also features a rotating barrel with a spring mounted catch, which is necessary for aligning the lens once the screw thread as rotated it’s tightening position. Took me a while to realise this feature was there!! It’s well hidden.

If you thought the thread on the LA7200 is recessed, then you haven’t seen anything yet! The thread on the Iscorama and CentaVision is so far back from the rear element, that I needed no less than 3 extension rings and 2 stepping rings to reach the thread on the main camera lens. But once done so, it’s a simple matter of matching the stepping ring thread the 62mm of the CentaVision to whatever your main lens is.

Here comes the numbers bit. The CentaVision stretches the image by 2x, packing in double the horizontal field of view. From the GH1’s native 16:9 sensor, you get a 1920×540 image in 3:1 ratio!! Much wider than the 1.33x LA7200 (2.35:1 from 16:9) or even the Iscorama at 1.5x (2.66:1 from 16:9).

So the 2x CentaVision, like the 2x Kowa and Sankor lenses give you something which is closer to the Cinerama standard, at 2.89:1

All you need to do is put -100 in the Aspect Ratio box of your clip on the timeline in Final Cut Pro to bring out the anamorphic goodness. Then, when exporting simply enter the custom resolution of 1920×540 (if you shot in full HD) and select the box to ‘maintain aspect ratio with a crop’.

Films shot in Cinerama include the epic How The West Was Won.

So to summarise part 1’s introduction to the CentaVision… it’s wide… it has less distortion than the LA7200… you can shoot in low light at F1.4 with it… even on portrait or moderate telephoto lenses….and it’s sharp.

Shallow depth of field looks great with it. So far I’ve used it with a Canon FD 50MM F1.4, works really well on that one. On the Zeiss 85MM F1.4 it’s a bit softer… 85mm is pushing it telephoto wise for anamorphic shooting. On the Canon FD 35MM F2 SSC it performs admirably and you get a nice and wide image, while maintaining shallow depth of field and F2.

That’s the other great thing about anamorphic shooting… you get the wider image without sacrificing shallow depth of field, or a slower aperture. This is a must on the GH1 – because it’s impossible to get a really fast wide lens for it. The fast stuff stops at 20mm (40mm equiv.)

So many plusses. But curiously absent is any form of horizontal lens flare. This could be a good thing for some situations, but part of what attracts me to anamorphic shooting is the amazing lens flare, like on the LA7200 and Iscorama. If you aren’t so much in love with horizontal streaks and you need as little flare as possible, then the CentaVision is a must-have lens. Alternatively you can use the Tiffen DFX suite of filters for Final Cut Pro and simulate the anamorphic lens flare electronically. Tiffen also do actual optical ‘streak’ filters as used to great affect recently in the 5D Mark II short film Alice White Hair.

The only other downer is that you can’t focus very closely… 2m is the minimum focus length. But that goes for all anamorphic lenses. You need a diopter to change this, and they’re readily available.

I’m making a new GH1 short with this lens, attached to a 35,50 and 85mm all at F2 or below. Check out the footage in Part II in the next week or so!