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What Does an Anamorphic Lens Do?

We look at side-by-side footage and technical specs to understand what an amorphic lens will do to your video footage and photos.

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What Does an Anamorphic Lens Do?

An in-depth look at what Anamorphic lenses do to your phone and drone footage. 



We’ve already explored what an anamorphic lens is and shared some footage from our favorite drone creators. But there’s one important question that can only be answered in a very specific way: What does an anamorphic lens do to your video and stills? The best way to understand this is by looking at a series of images side-by-side and diving into the technical stuff. Here’s a look at side-by-side, with and without video and stills captured with the drone anamorphic lens.

Why Anamorphic?

The initial idea behind anamorphic lenses was capturing a wider image on the format of movie film readily available at the time. Not only did they want to go wider, cinematographers wanted to capture wide-format footage for the big screen without the close-up distortion typically associated with wide-angle lenses. Anamorphic lenses capture an extremely wide field of view without distorting faces, even during extreme closeups. That means you get a smooth, shallow depth-of-field in the center of the frame with a dreamy falloff towards the edges of the frame. No matter how close you get (within minimum focusing distance, of course), the center of the frame stays true even as you capture atmospheric shots that fill a widescreen frame. This is an intrinsic part of the cinematic “look,” and one of the things that all anamorphic believers gush about.

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No distortion, lots of Niles.

Wider Field-of-View

The most obvious difference you’ll notice with an anamorphic lens is the wider field-of-view. Put simply, this means you can stand (or hover) in the same spot and effectively ‘see’ more, allowing you to capture more in your frame while gathering images in a ratio that’s ideally suited for widescreen viewing.

Anamorphic lenses are instantly recognizable with their square shapes and horizontal lens elements. By “squeezing” more horizontal field-of-view onto the same sensor size, you can capture cinematic 2.39:1 aspect ratio footage using your native camera--all without cropping or overlaying black bars. Instead of removing data from your footage, you’re adding more. The 1.33x magnification ratio captures more of the scene and delivers that slight horizontal lens distortion that gives footage its “bursting” look that is so unmistakable from high-end cinematic cameras.

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Why the Black Bars?

Black bars appear when your screen is adapting to a video format that is a wider aspect ratio than the screen itself. Instead of overlaying black bars onto your footage, losing the top and bottom of your shot and all the organic vignetting and lens behavior that goes with it, anamorphic lenses capture footage in glorious 2.39:1 ratio, forcing many standard-ratio screens to display black bars top and bottom in order to fill the screen side-to-side. This is a natural byproduct of wide footage. No need to crop your footage just to make it look more like a movie. Instead of slicing parts of your image, gather more of what’s in front of you.

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Magnification Factor + Serious Width

Try wrapping your head around this—not only does an anamorphic lens capture a wider field-of-view, it also magnifies the center of the frame by 1.33x. The vertical “squeeze” and horizontal expansion is a key part of the cinematic look that makes big-time movies look the way they do. Not quite distorted or surreal like a fisheye lens, but somehow capable of capturing more depth and width than our eyes. That means you get a wider field-of-view and more depth-of-field (in this case, 1.33 times more), yielding a bit more subject-background separation without the tight frame of a long lens or the distorted faces of a wide lens. 

The best way to understand what exactly an anamorphic lens does is to watch any number of videos shot on the Moment Anamorphic. There’s something about the way the center of the frame looks sharper and closer than “real life” while the sides of the frame bring a lot more width than our own eyes are capable of that really immerses you in the world on the screen. Instead of being a window to the world like most great photos are, footage captured on anamorphic is like experiencing the world in widescreen hyper-reality. The optics create a surreal perspective and dreamy focus falloff that envelop you in the shot.

Capture More of the Scene From the Same Spot 

Technical talk aside, one thing is clear: when you attach an anamorphic lens to your phone or drone, you can capture more of scene without changing your vantage point. In addition to all the cinematic qualities and dreamy perspective effects caused by uniquely "squeezed" combination of zoom and width, the simple reality is that anamorphic lenses are one of the coolest ways to capture seriously wide-angle perspectives. 

Just look at the difference in drone stills below, first without an anamorphic lens then with the Moment Air Drone Anamorphic Lens attached. 

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what does an anamorphic lens do what does an anamorphic lens do | placeholder

What’s Up With the Horizontal Flares?

Different shaped lens elements produce different-looking lens flares. That’s why you notice those unmistakable horizontal light-bar lens flares when anamorphic lenses catch the sun or a car’s headlights. The lens elements interact with the world around them differently, which leads to that unmistakable oval bokeh and horizontal lens flare. In addition to the wider field-of-view, the horizontal lens elements and ovular aperture of anamorphic lenses mean that any time you bring a light source into the frame, you get those iconic horizontal light flares that practically jump out of the screen.

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Oval Bokeh

Much like the distinctive horizontal flares, oval bokeh is a result of the uniquely-shaped lens elements in anamorphic lenses. That means the bokeh (aka the “light balls” in the soft-focused, backlit parts of your frame) appears as little ovals instead of the circles from most traditional camera lenses. It’s a small detail, but it’s one of the key ingredients of a truly cinematic shot.

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what does an anamorphic lens do what does an anamorphic lens do | placeholder

See the World Cinematically


Anamorphic lenses help you see more of the world and see it in a unique way. With the magnification factor, wider field-of-view, and horizontal lens elements, it’s no exaggeration to say that nothing else captures footage quite like an anamorphic. With more width, more reach, more depth-of-field, and distinctive lens flares, Jesse Driftwood said it best, “Please make anamorphic lenses for my eyes thanks.”

Check out the Kickstarter. 

More Anamorphic Goodness.

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