Optex 2.35:1 anamorphic shooting with the GH1 in Germany

Photokina in Cologne sits beside the river Rhine and close to one of the city’s most striking features. Destroyed in the Second World War as Cologne was flattened by bombing raids, the huge steel bridge was rebuilt after the war and carries pedestrians and trains over the Rhine into Cologne’s main station, situated next to the Dom – a spectacular gothic cathedral which survived the fighting – just.

The Hohenzollern Bridge is darn cinematic and I love the anamorphic format, especially in black and white.

Anamorphic lenses are mostly either very expensive or out of production. I have the Panasonic LA7200 and Isco Centavision which I’ve covered extensively before. Last month I stumbled across a new one.

This is by a English company, Optex and is much more compact than the Panasonic. It’s very sharp in the centre but due to it’s reduced size, you cannot go quite as wide. On the LA7200 you can go to around 14mm without vigentting, although the edges are a bit blurry. On the Optex I had to go to 18mm to avoid vignetting. At 25mm and beyond, the edges get less blurry but I actually quite like the effect at 18mm.

It’s amazingly compact and you can auto-focus through it too. The rear glass is smaller and the filter thread is closer to the Iscorama 36, being 52mm.

I had the anamorphic mounted on a Olympus 9-18mm (Four Thirds version via the Panasonic adapter) – the cheapest ultra wide angle lens for the GH1 that auto-focuses. The Olympus 9-18mm F4 is extremely sharp, although not as fast as the F2.8 Tokina 11-16mm. Having AF is handy for setting up a shot, it saves time. I had trains and bikes rumbling past me on a metal walkway which was not the steadiest so I only had a short time to set-up each shot before another train rumbled past, shaking the bridge as it went.

Vibration really does not sit well with a rolling shutter CMOS sensor, it causes all kinds of sick-inducing wobbling in the image. I also found whilst shooting at Photokina that the temporary raised floors of the stands vibrated every-time someone walked by my tripod. It was hell to shoot on!

Strangely, the 14-140mm GH1 kit lens is not best matched to the Optex. It vignettes throughout the zoom range. Going to 18mm or even 35mm doesn’t help, it still ‘see’s the edges of the Optex’s rear element. The Olympus 9-18mm F4 and Canon EFS 10-22mm F3.5 worked beautifully with it though.

On my Olympus lens with 72mm filter thread I’m using two stepping rings to get from 72mm down to the much smaller 52mm on the anamorphic. That’s a big step. It may be worth checking out the Lumix 14-42, 14-45 and Olympus offerings at 14mm, they have smaller optical elements and should work well with the Optek anamorphic.

The Optex and Olympus combination focuses closer than the Panasonic LA7200 does. I feel this is the Optex’s ‘special ability’ since anamorphic lenses are very well known for not being able to focus closely without diopters. By no means it is a macro lens though!!

In terms of overall performance then, the Optex is identical to the LA7200 in terms of centre sharpness and sharp throughout the frame at 22mm on my Canon EFS lens. It has anamorphic lens flare, similar to the LA7200 as it breaks up into multiple lines rather than one continuous ‘chicken wire’. Like the LA7200 it’s a 1.33x lens (originally designed to convert 4:3 into 16:9). It’s also quite a good match for the 52mm thread sized Canon 50mm FD F1.4 although you have to stop down quite significantly to F5.6 to get a sharp image. It’s best to keep anamorphic lenses on wide primes or zooms and to avoid the telephoto end.

The lens construction is very robust but it’s easy to carry-around, even pocketable. The body is made of metal and it has a thumbscrew to rotate the lens once it’s fixed into place on your main camera lens. This is essential, to avoid slanted verticals, since anamorphic lenses are only wider horizontally than they are vertically – they must be the right way up!

Unfortunately like all anamorphic glass the Optek is extremely rare.