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How To Edit Anamorphic Still Photos

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I’ve e’er been fascinated past anamorphic lenses, which optically compress, or ‘squeeze’, an image in the horizontal dimension, making it possible to capture an artificially broad field of view on a standard picture frame or sensor.

I first discovered anamorphics in college, not because I shot with them but considering I had a part time job as a projectionist at a small theater. Sometimes films came through in anamorphic format and I had to attach accessory lenses to the projector to desqueeze the prototype beamed upward on the screen.

Fast frontwards a number of years. I’1000 still fascinated past anamorphic lenses, only now they’re becoming accessible enough to content creators that you lot don’t demand to exist a Hollywood filmmaker to afford them. One of these days I’ll become around to shooting an entire video project with anamorphics, but recently I’ve been intrigued by the possibility of using anamorphic lenses for however photography.

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Which is why, on a recent trip to Washington, DC, I found myself carrying no camera gear except for my iPhone 11 Pro and two small anamorphic accompaniment lenses. I’d been in a creative estrus for a while and needed a diversion, and then I resolved to shoot in anamorphic for the unabridged trip. It turned out to exist a fun creative challenge.

Shooting anamorphic on a smartphone

The two lenses I used for this petty experiment were the Moment anamorphic lens ($150) and the Moondog Labs anamorphic lens (besides $150), each of which compresses the horizontal dimension by a factor of 1.33x. Both employ a simple twist-lock M-series bayonet mount (non to be dislocated with Leica M-mount) and attach to compatible cases from a number of manufacturers including Moment, RhinoShield and Sirui.

The Moondog Labs (L) and Moment (R) anamorphic lenses. Both squeeze the image horizontally by a factor of i.33x, which is what makes the get out pupils appear oval in this epitome.

These lenses are primarily aimed at video shooters. When used with standard xvi:ix format video they deliver a desqueezed attribute ratio of 2.35:1, virtually the same every bit CinemaScope, a widescreen movie theater format originally developed in the 1950s.

Shooting still photos, withal, requires some creative choices. The native aspect ratio for photos on nearly smartphones is 4:3, so a 1.33x desqueeze works out to an aspect ratio of almost exactly sixteen:ix.

Of course, if you can already shoot in sixteen:9, why bother? Because anamorphic lenses provide a qualitatively differently look than simply cropping the frame. You’re effectively using a longer focal length but capturing the horizontal field of view of a shorter focal length, giving you more control over depth of field than you would typically have at that shorter focal length. Additionally, anamorphic lenses produce some distinctive optical effects, such as oval bokeh and horizontal lens flare.

Anamorphic lenses provide a qualitatively differently look than simply cropping the frame.

Of course, when working with a smartphone y’all would demand to be pretty close to your bailiwick to have any appreciable control over depth of field or to generate much bokeh, but there’s certainly the opportunity to create horizontal lens flare.

In the stop I settled on a hybrid approach: I prepare my telephone to shoot 16:9 in combination with a one.33x anamorphic lens. This results in that broad 2.35:1 CinemaScope await, so that’due south the road I went.

Shooting in anamorphic

Almost as soon as I began shooting I realized at that place were more choices to make. Should I shoot Raw or JPEG? Would it exist meliorate to use the iPhone’s built-in camera app or a tertiary party app designed for anamorphic lenses? Allow the experimentation brainstorm!

Use the slider to compare the desqueezed image (L) with the squeezed image (R). The desqueeze process can be performed automatically by an app, or in post-processing with a programme like Photoshop.

The congenital-in photographic camera app was the easiest style to get started, and ensured that I was taking advantage of all the wizardry of the iPhone’s computational photography. Withal, there was one downside: in that location’s no mode to desqueeze the image in-camera. The paradigm is e’er compressed horizontally, then yous need to pre-visualize what the desqueezed photo will look like when framing a shot.

It’s non difficult, but information technology’s all the same non equally natural as viewing a desqueezed image in real time, so I tried a couple 3rd political party apps designed to practice merely that: Filmic Firstlight (iOS, Android) and Moment Pro Camera (iOS).

Both are feature-rich photography apps that display a desqueezed prototype preview when shooting and include useful tools like manual controls, focus peaking, zebras, Raw image capture and the ability to export TIFF files.

The Moment Pro Photographic camera app provides a existent time desqueezed image preview, making it easier to compose photos.

The nearly noticeable deviation I constitute is that the Moment app obscures parts of the image behind various camera controls, whereas the the Filmic app does not. As a result, I slightly preferred the Filmic app, but across that one consequence they provide similar feature sets. They’re both adept apps and the ane you prefer will mostly come downward to personal preference.

The Filmic Firstlight app provides similar functionality to the Moment app, but doesn’t obscure your image behind the photographic camera controls.

Workflow and image quality

The workflow is far easier with third party apps since you tin see what your last image volition look similar when shooting, and photos are desqueezed before being saved to the camera roll: no additional work required.

In contrast, photos shot using the congenital-in camera app require an additional processing step to desqueeze them. It was easy enough to create a Photoshop action to exercise this in majority, but information technology meant a niggling actress work and some delayed gratification.

The workflow is far easier with third party apps since you can run across what your final image will expect like when shooting.

After experimenting with various combinations of app, file format and desqueeze methods, I learned some useful things:

The Filmic and Motion apps are more fun to shoot with thanks to real time previews of the anamorphic image. It’s more than intuitive and you don’t need to imagine what the final shot volition look similar. They besides brand it piece of cake to share photos in the moment instead of waiting until later.

Anamorphic accompaniment lenses allow you to capture classic anamorphic characteristics like horizontal lens flares.

iPhone 11 Pro with Moment anamorphic lens.

For the most role, desqueezed Raw images by and large didn’t look whatever better than JPEGs from the iPhone’s native app, even subsequently being stretched out. I expected this for photos taken in low light since the native app can practise some exposure stacking, but it turned out to be truthful in most of the comparisons I tried.

Images captured with the native iPhone app and desqueezed in Photoshop generally looked a tiny bit better than the files from the Filmic and Movement apps. It’s possible the those apps don’t have access to quite the same computational wizardry as the native app, or information technology might but be that Photoshop does a amend desqueeze.

Either way, the differences aren’t significant. As a issue, I oft institute myself using the third party apps for a more enjoyable feel.

The greatest limitation on epitome quality are the lenses themselves. They’re really intended for video use, so it feels a flake unfair to guess them critically as still lenses. Keeping that in mind, y’all’re going to see flaws that wouldn’t be well-nigh as noticeable in a moving image.

iPhone 11 Pro with Moondog Labs anamorphic lens.

Overall, the Moondog and Moment optics performed similarly; as with any accessory lens, neither provides the level of optical clarity found on your smartphone’southward built-in lenses. In one case you add together a desqueeze step that stretches the image horizontally, you’re going to start seeing artifacts. In fact, if y’all pixel peep the images in this article you lot’ll almost certainly be disappointed

Last thoughts

None of the anamorphic photos I shot with these lenses volition win awards for technical image quality, just that really wasn’t the point of the experiment. Using them forced me to think differently virtually the way I composed and framed shots, and that’s e’er a skilful creative do.

Ignoring the optical limitations of the lenses for yet photography, I actually similar the wide, cinematic aspect ratio. I was likewise pleased that I was able to provoke at to the lowest degree i of the distinctive characteristics anamorphics are known for, horizontal lens flare.

Now, couldn’t you just use the widest angle lens on your smartphone and ingather to ii.35:one? Of course you lot could, merely it won’t look quite the same. You’ll often hear cinematographers talk about the characteristics of a item lens instead of how technically perfect information technology is, and even on a smartphone these anamorphic lenses result in a different await than y’all’ll go by cropping. Is information technology technically perfect? Definitely not, but it can be a lot of fun to visualize the earth in a slightly different way.

iPhone eleven Pro with Moment anamorphic lens.

What this experience taught me is that I want to shoot more photos using anamorphic lenses. Information technology’s not something that a lot of people do, simply it challenges your creativity and presents an opportunity to create unique images. For my side by side experiment, I’m planning to kicking it up a notch and pair a larger anamorphic lens with a mirrorless camera. That should allow me to take improve reward of unique anamorphic characteristics related to depth of field.

Want to try this this yourself? It’southward a fun experiment that you tin do on your own. All you lot need is an anamorphic accompaniment lens and a case with a compatible mountain. In add-on to the Moondog and Moment lenses I tried, at that place are similar lenses available from Sandmarc, BeastGrip and Ulanzi, and cases from Moment, RhinoShield and Sirui. If you give it a endeavor let me know how it works and send me a link to your photos!

View the full anamorphic sample gallery