Home > NEWS > Anamorphic VS. Spherical Lenses: A Comprehensive Comparison

Anamorphic VS. Spherical Lenses: A Comprehensive Comparison

Apr. 19, 2023

As a filmmaker or photographer, one of the key decisions you have to make is which lens to use for your project. Lenses come in different shapes, sizes, and types, and each has its strengths and weaknesses. In this article, we'll take a closer look at two of the most popular types of lenses used in the film industry: anamorphic and spherical lenses. We'll compare and contrast their features, and explore the benefits and drawbacks of each.

If you learn the basics of both, you can make the appropriate choices and have a wealth of knowledge going forward. To do that, we'll look at examples of cinematography from popular films and try to provide some insight into why the lens a cinematographer chooses can have a profound impact on how the audience interprets a film. Look this video from In Depth Cine, and let's talk. 

The difference between anamorphic and spherical lenses

Before we delve into the specifics of anamorphic and spherical lenses, it's important to understand what each type of lens is and how it works.

What are Anamorphic Lenses?

Anamorphic lenses are special lenses that compress the horizontal field of view of an image, resulting in a wider aspect ratio. This technique was developed in the 1950s and became popular in the film industry due to its ability to create a cinematic look. Anamorphic lenses produce a distinct "flared" bokeh and horizontal lens flares, giving your footage a unique and cinematic feel. There were designed so that wide-format images could utilize all of the standard 35 mm frames. Without it, these images would be cropped. They also improve image quality by enhancing vertical resolution and reducing the appearance of grain. Anamorphic lenses are incredibly expensive. 

In terms of a cinema example,There Will Be Blood was shot on C-series and E-series Panavision anamorphic lenses with a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. 

There Will Be Blood' shot on anamorphic lenses

Image credits:https://onset.shotonwhat.com/gallery/will-there-be-blood/

What are Spherical Lenses?

Spherical lenses, also known as "prime" lenses, have a fixed focal length and a spherical lens element that produces a round image. Unlike anamorphic lenses, spherical lenses do not compress the image horizontally. Spherical lenses are often smaller, lighter, and less expensive than anamorphic lenses. Spherical lenses are faster with lower T-stops, so if you are shooting in low-light conditions, consider spherical lenses, or stronger light sources. 

In terms of a cinema example, The Tree of Life shot on spherical Arri/Zeiss Master Primes with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. 

The Tree of Life' shooting with spherical lenses

Image credits:https://shotonwhat.com/the-tree-of-life-2011

Anamorphic VS. Spherical Lenses

Aside from the image side and cropping, the bokeh is different for each of these lenses.

Spherical lenses produce circular, out-of-focus elements. Anamorphic lenses have an oval-shaped bokeh that will also affect the look of lens flares. When it comes to image sharpness, spherical lenses will have an advantage, while anamorphic will have a softer look along the edges. 

It also affects aspect ratios. Traditional spherical aspect ratios are more square. Common Super 35 format aspect ratios are 1.33:1 and 1.85:1. Anamorphic lenses produce a wider aspect ratio, such as 2.35:1 or 2.39:1.

Are anamorphic or spherical lenses right for you?

At the end of the day, you're choosing which look will make the story shine. So pick carefully, and watch a lot of movies to see which ones share a look you think you may want to capture for your story. These choices can affect mood, tone, and even the way we understand the genre. 

A lot of filmmakers try to find vintage anamorphic lenses and hold on to them for certain projects that require a wider aspect ratio.

You'll also find plenty of DPs who like how spherical lenses project images for use in post and can work better with different aspect ratios. Perhaps the best test you can do yourself is to work with some lens flares and see what anamorphic lenses produce versus what you see with the equivalent spherical lenses options.

Again though, there are no right or wrong answers, so feel free to have fun exploring the difference between anamorphic and spherical lenses on your own.

These contents may help you:

Spherical VS. Aspheric Lenses: How They're Used in Imaging Applications

Hot Products