Advantages and Disadvantages of Anamorphic Lenses

Cooke Anamorphic 35-140mm

Anamorphic History

When the film industry first started to feel the heat from competition with television in the 1950s, it had to find ways to innovate.

Hollywood had been developing various widescreen formats to make cinema more immersive, such as CinemaScope. But to compress these wide images onto a screen required a special kind of lens.

An anamorphic lens would compress images using different concave and convex lens components designed to capture the wider image and compress it onto the full height of super 35mm film. It’s only on the cinema screen that the image then un-compresses for the full widescreen effect.

Once the widescreen format became the established norm, audiences benefitted from a wider field of view and increased resolution. This continues to be the case.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Anamorphic?

Obviously, then, there are advantages to shooting anamorphic. But there’s also disadvantages? Here, we look at the uses of anamorphic lenses, and the pros and cons that come hand in hand.

Anamorphic Advantages

The key advantages of anamorphic lenses are:

  • Unique cinematic feel
  • Organic cinematic aesthetics.
  • Increased resolution when final image is corrected.

Anamorphic Effects

There are distinct, cinematic qualities you get when shooting with anamorphic lenses.

  • One of these is barrel distortion, where you’ll notice distortion at the widest edges of the shot.
  • You also get a unique form of compression – due to the angle of view being wider than the standard spherical focal length counterpart; a shallow depth of field is inherited.  
  • The bokeh in high contrast areas is oval – an instantly recognisable cinematic characteristic.
  • Anamorphic lenses reflect more light inside the optics than spherical lenses. This creates vivid flaring effects, such as sharp streaks of light, or soft blooms. You can enhance and control these effects further with the use of different coatings or filters.
  • Rack focusing – anamorphic lenses create a special kind of breathing effect, where the lens vertically stretches out-of-focus areas when pulling focus from one point to another.

These various effects aren’t always obvious, but they each contribute to the cinematic feel of your footage.

Anamorphic Disadvantages

Anamorphic lenses do not have as a good of a close focus as spherical lenses do, so the use of diopter filters is often required in smaller environments.  

They are often large in physical size and have a slower T-Stop so do not let in as much light.

Even the highest quality anamorphic lenses may add unwelcome distortions to your image, sometime called the ‘anamorphic lumps’ where the barrel distortion in the image centre creates unwanted effects on the actors face.  In the height of the anamorphic growth in cinema some actresses refused to be filmed with anamorphic lenses.  

Often anamorphic lenses are older and inherently come with issues because of age. You may see a decrease in the overall sharpness of your footage and chromatic aberration or colour fringing. Although this can often be an advantage if you’re after a softer, filmic look.

In practical terms, anamorphic lenses are more expensive, due to the complexity of their build, and typically you have fewer focal lengths to choose from and even fewer zooms.

When Should You Use Anamorphic?

It boils down to your final product, and how you want it to look, a creative decision. You will get a softer aesthetics and visually quicker cinematic feel with an anamorphic lens. The way it stretches flares, the oval shapes of bokeh and the wider aspect ratio all contribute to its aesthetic impact.

If that’s going to work with your subject matter, then shooting with anamorphic will help you achieve the results you’re looking for.

If you compare an anamorphic lens with a spherical lens, you can see the difference in what each can deliver.

A spherical lens has less glass for the light to pass through and has an overall simpler design. It will generally produce sharper images and minimise distortion across the entire picture.

With an anamorphic lens, you get reduced sharpness and increased distortion closer to the edges of the image. The overall effect is softer, with more dramatic lens flares, due to the extra glass inside the body of the lens.

Should you choose to use an anamorphic lens, you need to consider:

  • Lens characteristics and available focal lengths.
  • The size, weight and t-stop of the lens
  • Camera compatibility.

If you want advice about choosing the right lens for your requirements, please call us on 0845 460 9988, or email