Spherical vs. Anamorphic

Written by Patrick Brunner

Know the difference between a spherical and anamorphic lens? Did you even know the differences existed?

Part of a filmmaker's job is to take practical concepts and use them to help tell a story. Sure, a well written script is vital for a good story, but there are so many other ways to craft a story beyond just the words and actions taking place on screen. From the way a scene is lit, to camera movements and framing, there are so many ways to form a story besides only the substance of the script.

Deciding between a spherical or anamorphic lens is one of these concepts. 

The differences between these two types of lenses are rooted in their internal design. Pieces of glass, called “elements,” make up the interior of all lenses. In spherical lenses, all the elements are circular. Anamorphic lenses, on the other hand, have added cylindrical shaped elements in the front. These create 4 unique differences that we will highlight here.

  • Aspect Ratio
  • Bokeh
  • Falloff
  • Flares

Aspect Ratio

In post production, the first thing an editor must do with film from an anamorphic lens is de-squeeze it. This will naturally produce a widescreen aspect ratio that doesn't require any cropping from the editor.

Squeezed Anamorphic

Above is a still from footage that has yet to be de-squeezed, and below is the final form.

De-Squeezed Anamorphic

Bokeh

Bokeh is defined as the blurry, out of focus part of an image. On a spherical lens, the bokeh appears circular. Through an anamorphic lens, the bokeh appears oval-shaped. 

Bokeh from a spherical and anamorphic lens is circled here. Can you figure out which lens is which?

Falloff

Falloff is a subtle, but defining characteristic of an anamorphic lens. The farther we get from the center of an image, the more soft and distorted the image will be. Spherical lenses, on the other hand, offer a sharp, consistent image.

Flares

Both spherical and anamorphic lenses have flares when light passes through them at certain angles. The way in which these flares appear can tell you which type of lens is being used. On an anamorphic lens, flares are seen as long horizontal lines across the image. On a spherical lens, these flares are circular.

Check out this video we did a few weeks ago highlighting these differences.

Next time you're watching your favorite films or television shows, see if you can spot whether they're using a spherical or anamorphic lens.

Till next time,

Corner Media

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