My trip to Budapest this year in cinemascope! I’m surely realising that once you start shooting anamorphic its kinda like a disease that never leaves you! Having just got a Kowa 8z and Rectilux and loving the image i began to wonder if there’s anything more portable out there. For holidays and city breaks I usually take the pocket camera so a 2x squeeze anamorphic solution isn’t ideal for it (too narrow an image and too heavy to be lugging about in 30 degree heat). A 1.5x anamorphic adapter would provide a 2.66:1 aspect ratio, proper cinemascope, and use all the information from the bmpcc’s wee sensor. Ideal. But falling short of forking out £1000s for an Iscorama, 1.5x adapters are quite expensive and/or hard to come by. I then came across a newish product called VM Lens 1.5x by anamorphicshop (http://anamorphicshop.com/product/vm-lens/) – There are a only a few videos online and fewer yet with the bmpcc. If you search you’ll find a mix of footage – some pretty good, some less so. It’s based around an 8mm ‘focus through’ anamorphic design (its tiny) so it only works on smaller sensor cameras like the pocket, nikon v1 etc. Anamorphicshop were sold out so i managed to pick one up secondhand on eBay that was more or less unused. Below are some observations.
MOUNTING THE VM LENS
The rear mounting thread is very small (34mm) and its recommended you use a series of step up rings to mount to your taking lens – in reality this means you have to use 2 or 3 combinations to get it to mount. This is not ideal. Using the step up rings takes the VM lens too far from your taking lens. As a result, from my initial tests you get heavy smearing at the frame edges and loss of general sharpness. Therefore, I bought the Vid-Atlantic narrow lens clamp (http://www.vid-atlantic.com/products/anamorphic-lens-clamp) which can mount to the barrel of the VM lens with a 52mm thread.
This lets you mount the VM right up to the glass of the taking lens. Because its so small, the entire body can fit inside most taking lenses you want to use with it. The lens itself rotates on a the barrel freely so its easy and quick to set the alignment. Working this way I was able to get the VM lens to work well with a Canon 40mm pancake and Speedbooster combo (about 24mm effective focal length). The results aren’t perfect by any matter of means, the images still show softness towards the edges but its more subtle now, less pronounced. Centre sharpness in the middle half of the frame is pretty good to excellent. I guess its fair to call it ‘vintage’ in character, which i think suits Budapest perfectly – its such a brilliant ‘retro’ town.
From the lenses I have at my disposal I’d recommend to use taking lenses in the range from 24mm to 35mm. I found that anything over 35mm was losing sharpness especially at infinity and struggling at wider apertures – i tried a few different lenses (Nikkor Ais, Voigtlander Vm, some Russian primes). The three i settled with on this trip were the Canon 40mm pancake & BMPCC Speedbooster (0.58), Voigtlander Ultron 28mm F/2.0 and a couple of shots with the Voigtlander 35mm F/2.5 Color-Skopar pancake. Most of the film was shot on the Canon/SB combo.
Its not an ideal lens because of the fly by wire focus (id love to try the Voigtlander 40mm f/2.0 pancake) but its light, cheap and optically very good. In terms of horizontal field of view with the Canon / SB combo, I’m working it out like this: 40 x 0.58 (Speedbooster focal reduction) = 23.2mm x 2.88 (BMPCC crop) = 66.8mm x .667 (1.5x VM stretch) = 44.5mm. This is quite manageable, even refreshing from a filming point of view, lets you think about where you need to be to get the shot you want. Just remember to do your wides on approach…half a mile up the road !
MINIMUM FOCUS DISTANCE (MFD)
The minimum focus distance is about 12ft or 2.5M – This is fine generally for walking around a city but when it comes to close ups you will need diopters. For this trip I used a Minolta No. 0 (0.94) Leica Elpro 3 (1.6) Leica Elpro 4 (0.7) – all 55mm Achormats. They work amazingly well – really good sharpness and you can use even wider apertures. The makers of VM lens suggest its good from F4-F16 but with an achromat I was down to F1.8 / F2.0 and its still super sharp. Most of the flower shots here are done with the diopters. I’d have loved to have shot more people close up (which is where i think this lens would really shine since once you isolate the subject from the background, any edge smearing or softness is a non-issue) but i didn’t fancy sticking a camera in any strangers’ faces ;).
The VM lens doesn’t flare much – the strongest sun and the brightest headlamp only – The flares are quite thin and clinical although occasionally there are exceptions.
In many ways a city movie isn’t fair on the VM since your always looking at the edges / buildings etc from an architectural point of view. However when using mild diopters on close subjects, then it can really shine and produce a very filmic image with that stretched bokeh that anamorphic fans love. For the £100 or so i paid for mine I’m delighted with it – for its size, ease of use and portability its ideal for travel films. With the BMPCC and all the grading flexibility the camera offers, the VM effectively ‘vintages’ any lens you use with it – I love this about it and in many ways this is what the cinemascope look is all about.