This is my blog about my interests in photography and film-making, also my travels as well as other items that I feel may be of interest. I also run the Photography equipment website, Filmcam....................................... IF YOU WANT TO ENLARGE ANY IMAGE BELOW SIMPLY CLICK ON IT !

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Going Anamorphic

Before we examine the third face of Sixteen Mil, perhaps I should tidy up one or two points about SCOPE filming.

When you put an anamorphic lens onto the front of your camera lens, you hope to double the width of the image. (Nothing happens to the height, it's not like a fisheye converter.) The type of lens on your camera, though, is crucial. For one thing, the front element should be smaller than the rear element of the anamorphic. As you zoom back to the wider settings, you'll very likely start seeing the inside of the anamorphic unit... vignetting at the corners of the frame. To lessen this effect the anamorphic should be as physically short as possible. And the zoom lens should be small, like the little Switar or Pan-Cinor Compact lenses, or the smaller TV lenses.

Or use fixed focal length prime lenses with their front elements as non-recessed as possible. I've found that 35mm still SLR lenses can work well on a 16mm movie camera. Also they are easy to join to the anamorphic because their front doesn't rotate during focusing. It is of course essential that the anamorphic stays vertical at all times, unless you're looking for drunken effects.

For 16mm filming the widest possible focal length is about 16mm, depending on all the above factors. That's effectively like 8mm of course in the horizontal plane. Pretty wide. You won't get as wide coverage though with a zoom lens. But don't forget, even long-focus tele images can look very effective in widescreen Scope. The 50mm SLR lens shown on the Bolex below is good for 2-shots of your actors talking, blurring the background. Also effective for distant landscapes such as mountains. Many of the great shots we remember from the widescreen movies have been taken with long focus lenses. Omar Sharif's debut emerging from the mirage in 'Lawrence'... and so on.

Whichever way you fix the anamorphic it must be really rigid and square with the backing lens. The Bolex is fairly easy to adapt using the turret holes for supporting posts. Or a simple bracket from the base of the camera will work. It's also important to have as little air space as possible between the two lenses... it helps stop vignetting and improves definition. Also the gap should be light-tight, maybe use an old rubber lens cap or something. On the set-up shown, it is not strictly necessary to use turret posts or a bracket, as I've made a separate adaptor to hold the anamorphic onto the non-rotating SLR lens. But it needs to be really firm.

For focusing I usually estimate the distance and set both lenses accordingly. Then check the image in the reflex finder. I am constantly amazed at the image sharpness obtained with the Kowa. If there is a difference in quality when using it I can only discern a slight lessening of contrast. Otherwise it looks like a normal sharp unsqueezed image. However, it does tend to reduce the depth of field. So correct focus is a must. Exposure: I normally allow about a third of a stop for light absorption within the anamorphic. A large lens shade is good to avoid flare. The Bolex matte box is ideal.

You will of course see a squeezed image through the reflex finder. Usually, composing the picture is not harder than normal. But it's handy to have another "director's finder" to decide the composition before filming. This can be masked for Scope.

Projection can be done using longer anamorphics, as the backing lens is usually not that wide an angle. A simple bracket can hold the anamorphic precisely in position. Set the anamorphic's scale to the screen-distance. Then focus the projector normally. Make slight adjustments if necessary. A good projector lens is essential as any defects are magnified.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Faces of Sixteen Mil, part 2: SCOPE

All through the War the Cinema industry did rather well, and now it's all over the queues are as long as ever. For those lucky to be alive there are ever greater films to experience. Thrilling World War Two dramas for instance, complete with aeroplanes and all the other props lying about. However, as the fifties dawn a new enemy is beginning to emerge, more terrifying than Adolf. No, not the Bomb, or even Reds under the Bed, both of which will spawn new movies.
SomeTHING else is about to take over the world....


In Hollywood they worry.
"Just how do we get people out their cosy homes and back to those drafty cinema queues ?" ie. my English translation. Probably should be "goddamn line"?
Then, somebody at Twentieth Century Fox has an idea.... He remembers that back in the twenties, long before the war, a French professor called Henri Chretien had come up with a strange lens. It squeezed more information into the film image horizontally to give a panoramic effect on the screen when projected using a similar lens. The studio bosses hurry over to France to buy it from the old man who has been largely ignored up to now. Why the rush? Because people from Warner Brothers are hot on their heels... but they miss the deal by a few hours.

Fox is about to start shooting a new biblical epic called "The Robe", so it is decided to simultaneously film it using another camera fitted with Chretien's lens. Highly experimental stuff, not least because it needs a new filming technique. But will the cinemas accept the new (actually 1920s !) technology ? They will have to also use this strange "anamorphic" lens as well as providing a much wider screen. The gamble pays off. CinemaScope is born.

Before long, everybody wants widescreen and CinemaScope... "the modern miracle you see without glasses" implying it's 3D which of course it's not, though curving the screen does help the illusion. New lenses are produced that use the same compression factor of 2x, under a multitude of names... such as Panavision, still greatly used today. There have been many other widescreen or panoramic processes, like Cinerama which came slightly earlier than CinemaScope, but the Scope anamorphic system has proved the most popular mainly because it is comparitively cheap. Also easy on the projectionist.

So in the early 1950s the classic 4 by 3 image is transformed overnight to 2.66 to 1 ratio. Even normally shot 35mm films are masked top and bottom to try and capitalise on the public's new thirst for Widescreen. At the same time, stereo sound is entering the arena. To make room for the extra sound tracks the CinemaScope frame is narrowed slightly (2.55: 1 ratio), and much later ends up at 2.35 : 1. But nobody seems to notice. The enveloping panoramic effect is still there and improved sound quality fills in the gaps.

So what happened to our old friend Sixteen Mil ?
Like 35mm, Sixteen was born with the classic 4 x 3 picture. That was way back in 1923, when it was intended solely as an amateur format. But during the war 16mm was used extensively by professional cameramen even with colour film. (Did you see the recent TV programme ?) After the war 16mm becomes very popular for showing films including reduction prints from 35mm.... and yes, Scope. So it's not very long before Chretien's lens is plonked in front of the 16mm projector-lens. Unfortunately, except for Arc-lamp projectors, the light output suffers because of the increased size of screen.

And for filming ? Why of course ! The same lens does it all.
Bolex and other manufacturers introduce special adaptors to suit their cameras. At first they are not too popular with film-makers. Perhaps because of that light problem ? Showing a small letter-box picture doesn't do justice to a Scope movie. Take a look at the "Robe" image above: Richard Burton must be in there somewhere ! Click on it, see what I mean ?
It will be years later in the late 1960s and 70s when much brighter projectors are developed for 16mm.

Unlike 35mm, 16mm CinemaScope retains its image shape of 2.66 to 1. On the screen that is. However, when showing reduction prints from 35mm the projected image is slightly narrower at 2.35 : 1. The one standard that has survived to this day is the 2x compression factor of the anamorphic lens, as the image is filmed or expanded on projection. Other lenses like the Iscorama were introduced with 1.5x compression, but they remain non-standard.

Final thoughts...
If TV had not reared its head in the fifties, would Chretien's lenses have ended up on a rubbish tip ?! Also, now TV is racing to become more and more like cinema, with Hi-def widescreen and surround sound, will Cinema sadly fade away ? Or right now is someone in Hollywood maybe saying: "I've got an idea..."