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QuickHitRecord

Bell & Howell 16mm Anamorphic Lens

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PREFACE: I have been doing some testing with this lens for a while now, but lately I have been swamped with work. Also, there has been some sadness surrounding the girl who appears in the demo video (and several other anamorphic tests of mine), so anamorphic shooting has been on the back burner for a while now. But I'm seeing now that someone else has had the same idea, and is trying to make an unrealistic profit from it. And so I feel that I must post this write up, because this isn't a $1400 lens.

 

The search for the perfect anamorphic lens is over (at least for me).

 

gallery_18451_14_86534.jpg

 

Some months ago, I saw a post here from a member named frerichs. He claimed to have purchased a Bell & Howell 2x 16mm Anamorphic Projection lens (not the excellent Kowa model) for cheap and discovered that it was single focus, like the coveted Iscorama. I was skeptical, but since they can often be had for between $75 and $150 on eBay, I bought one to try out for myself.

 

At first glance this lens does not look like a winner. It has neither the steam punk appeal of the Lomo square fronts, nor the timeless curves of the Iscorama. The impossibly long and narrow build of the lens suggests that this would never be viable match for anything but the longest taking lenses.

 

gallery_18451_14_23198.jpg

 

And yet it works. The front element is a -7 diopter that focuses the other two elements in the housing as the head is turned, similar to the Iscorama. Unlike the Iscorama, the lens takes about five full rotations to go from infinity to close focus, which is limiting for practical use. But I have been working with a CNC machinist to resolve this, and I now have a prototype that allows me to do a full range rack focus in a one and a half turns:

 

 

(Want to do this yourself? Ask a machinist to design a new front housing with a "multi-start thread" that will house the front diopter and screw directly onto the existing thread on the tube; this could also conceivably be done for Iscoramas to the same effect). 

 

We have also added a standard 58mm threading for easier filter mounting, and I've since installed a custom seamless ultra-wide delrin focus gear to add just a little torque for even easier focusing (not pictured).

 

The Bell & Howell projection lenses that originally shipped with this lens were f/1.2 and f/1.4, so it is designed to be sharp at faster apertures -- and I find that it is. Perhaps not razor sharp, but as sharp as I'd ever want an anamorphic lens to be. And once you've removed the two limiting screws from the "head" of the lens, you can focus as close as two feet without diopters. Too much closer than that and the head will screw right off, but it's just as easy to screw right back on.

 

Flaring is nice:

 

 

The lens is not without its drawbacks. For one, it focuses to about 40 feet, not true infinity. That's not an issue for me, but it might be for some shooters. It's all-metal construction makes it a bit heavy which combined with its length will benefit from a lens support (which eliminates the shake that appears in my rack focus test). It vignettes when paired with wider lenses, so it is a better fit for smaller sensor cameras or Canon DSLRs with Magic Lantern raw crop mode enabled. For instance, I can shoot 1600x1200 with a Pentax Takumar 105mm f2.8 lens on my 5D Mark III and I don't see any vignetting before f/8. I also tested it with a Nikkor 50mm f1.8 AI-S on my GH2, and it was vignette-free so long as I cropped my 2x image down to 1.5x.

 

gallery_18451_14_102518.jpg

 

So how does the footage look? Here's something that I shot with it: 

 

 

I am excited to add a sharp, easily rack-focusable, short minimum-focusing anamorphic to my arsenal. It won't be the right lens for every anamorphic user, especially those who want to be able to shoot as wide as possible, but for the price, it could make single-focus anamorphics more accessible to those who have not had a chance to work with them yet. 

 

Happy shooting!

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well done Nick.  I'm glad you put this into motion.  Awesome job of modding the focus throw to a single turn.  

 

I grabbed a couple of these and had a play and its only drawback was the multiple turns in the helicoid.  The best thing with this lens is that it forces you to go longer focal length and as a result the anamorphic aesthetic is boosted.    

 

And damn, that guy is taking the piss with his pricing.  Looks like he decided to turn his over pricing skills onto the little b+h rather than his usual ridiculous prices on huge and unusable gold schneiders.

 

I wonder how many more sleazy chancers will come out of the woodwork and start listing these for $1000+...

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Before you posted this, I sent that seller a question, and he replied.

 

Question:

Got very curious about this design. How does it work? Is it based on a regular 2x double focus lens, like a Sankor or Kowa, or is it entirely new?
Also, does the taking lens has to be focused on infinity, like an Iscorama, and all rack focusing done in the anamorphic?

 

Answer:

Hello, it is based on a single focus brand-less lens that originally didn't really focus at all (that is where the modding was done to the front barrel)
The taking lens is set to infinity (on my GH2, just before infinity for some reason, probably the cheap m43-m42 adapter throwing the scale) and all rack focusing is done in the anamorphic
 
I remember reading the mentioned thread (where how this lens works was explained), and didn't connect both things. Thanks a lot, QuickHitRecord. :)

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I wonder how many more sleazy chancers will come out of the woodwork and start listing these for $1000+...

 

When I first stumbled upon this, I thought about doing a small run of the housings and then selling them for a small profit, but keeping the total price below that of a Kowa B&H or 16H/8Z (less than half of what the guy above is asking). I never got around to making that initial investment though. Money is a bit tight, and the much more polished-looking SLR Magic anamorphics were hitting the market so I wasn't sure if there would be a demand.

 

The cool thing about these lenses is that they are readily available and inexpensive, so there is no reason that anyone with enough enthusiasm shouldn't have access to one. The 2x lenses are my favorites anyway.

 

Here's another sample, and probably the only cat video that I'll ever do:

 

 

I was trying to develop something based on the fact that these two cats hate each other and fight constantly. But the gray one bit me mid-shoot, and I was done looking at her so I packed up my camera and left. Still, there's a shot or two in there in which the B&H really shines.

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Nice finding, I saw one on ebay the last time I searched for anamorphics and it was pretty cheap. Btw,what diameter diameters do the front and back elements have?

 

[edit] Now that I have looked at you footage (which is very nice btw) I've seen some cheap diopters errors (funkeh displaced and aberrated bokeh) but it's still very pleasant. Show us some sunlit vegetation with it ;) that's the definitive test.

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Nice finding, I saw one on ebay the last time I searched for anamorphics and it was pretty cheap. Btw,what diameter diameters do the front and back elements have?

 

[edit] Now that I have looked at you footage (which is very nice btw) I've seen some cheap diopters errors (funkeh displaced and aberrated bokeh) but it's still very pleasant. Show us some sunlit vegetation with it ;) that's the definitive test.

 

I'll measure when I get home, but I think that the front element is 55mm.

 

Know what's funny? After years of trying to avoid it, I'm finding that I rather like chromatic aberration in my images.

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Know what's funny? After years of trying to avoid it, I'm finding that I rather like chromatic aberration in my images.

Me too, but only when I'm going for the movie look.

Thanks for taking your time to measure the beast :D

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I have one of these units for sale. 

 

It is like mint condition , in its original box with instruction leaflet included. It took approximately 3 month to find an example in such good condition. Also I have a hard to find negative cemented 2 element achromat included which cures the infinity issue. The achromat will need to be mounted and is also in very good condition.

 

PM me if interested, regarding price & availability.

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