Affordable anamorphic: hands-on with the Sirui 50mm F1.8 1.33x

Affordable anamorphic: hands-on with the Sirui 50mm F1.8 1.33x

The Sirui 50mm F1.8 1.33x Anamorphic is interesting for more than a couple of reasons, but the thing that makes it immediately attractive is that at $700/£660 it’s a lot more affordable than almost all other proper anamorphic lenses for filmmakers using interchangeable lens camera systems.

The lens is designed for APS-C and Super 35mm sensor sizes and comes in mounts for Sony E cameras, Fujifilm X and for Micro Four Thirds models. When used with a Super 35-sized sensor we get the equivalent of a 56mm horizontal field of view, while on a Micro Four Thirds camera this converts to an approximate 75mm horizontal field of view.

On E mount

The a7R IV may not be the ideal Sony camera for shooting all types of video, but it does include an APS-C/Super 35 crop mode, which is where it produces its best quality 4K video. This cropping might be a bug bear for some videographers, but it makes the camera a good match for this lens. It’s possible to use crop mode with FHD resolution as well, but since the camera produces better FHD footage in full sensor mode, we’d recommend sticking with 4K.

However, to see the footage de-squeezed live it’s necessary to use an external monitor with that capability since the feature isn’t built into the camera.

On X mount

Offering this lens in X mount makes a lot more sense now than it would have just a year ago – Fujifilm has upped its video game considerably with the X-H1, X-T4 and new firmware for the X-T3. The Eterna mode makes nice video straight out of the camera, but we also have F-Log and decent data rates too.

The Fujifilm X-T3 doesn’t technically need the grip to shoot video, as the body had both mic and headphone ports, but the grip makes the system easier to hold with the weight of the lens on the front. As with the Sony, you’ll need an external display with an anamorphic preview feature to see the de-squeezed image in real time.

On Micro Four Thirds

Users of the Panasonic GH5 have a couple of choices over the way they use this lens. It has an Anamorphic Mode that uses the 4:3 sensor area to capture video for de-squeezing in software afterwards. As this mode uses almost the whole sensor, the final image contains 18+MP of data to work with.

When you use this mode with the Sirui 1.33x anamorphic lens the wide aspect gets de-squeezed to a 16:9 format with a higher resolution than you’d get shooting in the normal 16:9 video mode, while the in-camera de-squeeze preview feature allows us to see what we are shooting via the rear screen.

To get the wide, cinematic anamorphic look that most will be expecting you need to shoot in the normal 16:9 mode, with Anamorphic Mode switched off. Even with Anamorphic Mode off you can still use the de-squeeze preview on the rear screen and inform the IS system that you have a 1.33x anamorphic lens attached.

The GH5S can also capture anamorphic footage using its 4:3 region, however, due to the nature of its multi-aspect sensor, the resolution isn’t quite as a high as the GH5 in this mode. Like the GH5, it can also show a de-sqeezed preview of the anamorphic image in-camera.

Fit and finish

The lens is constructed from 11 elements arranged in 8 groups, and features a 10-bladed iris. It certainly isn’t big but is long and thin, and weighs more than you might expect. It feels very solidly made and is nicely finished in a semi-matte black paint.

The focus and aperture markings are shown only on the top of the lens, and distances are indicated in both feet and meters with paint sunk into engraved characters.

Front element

The front element of the lens has that characteristic square baffle opening that we often see on anamorphic lenses. As with many single focal length anamorphic lenses the squeezing element is mounted onto the front of the basic optical design of the lens.

Front element

When viewed from the front, the circular iris of the lens appears elongated into an upright oval shape. This is because we are viewing it through the anamorphic element mounted on the front of the construction. When viewed through the rear the iris is shown to be round – well, a nearly round decagon at least.

The size of the front element, and its flat design, makes it a magnet to the flare so many film makers love. The flare appears in oval rings accompanied by thin blue lines that shoot horizontally across the frame. The blue tint seen in the front element appears to be designed to enhance the blue-ness of that line.

It is easy to overdo this effect so that the flare becomes the subject rather than whatever you are shooting, so caution is advised.

Aperture and focus rings

The aperture range on offer spans F1.8-16, while the closest focus is 0.85m / 33″ which is just close enough to get a decent tight head shot. Of course the aperture ring is clickless so exposures can be adjusted during recording without disturbing the audio track. The aperture ring turns smoothly with plenty of resistance to prevent accidental rotation, and you can get from one extreme to the other via a twist of about 90°.

The focusing ring takes a twist of 143.6° and must be turned to the left to reach infinity. The ring is quite stiff and the fine ribbing on the barrel may not always be enough to get a firm grip.

Image format on APS-C

When used with a camera recording in 16:9 mode the de-squeed image works out to a ratio of about 2.35:1, similar to the classic CinemaScope look. The black letterboxes above and below help illustrate the difference between this aspect ratio and the standard 16:9 video format.

Image format on Micro Four Thirds

This is a grab from footage recorded in Anamorphic Mode on the Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5. In this mode the camera records from the whole 4:3 sensor, so the 1.33x anamorphic effect only de-squeezes to 16:9, but it is a higher resolution 16:9 format image than you’d get recording in 16:9 with a normal lens.

Shooting in 16:9 with this lens on a Micro Four Thirds camera will also result in a 2.35:1 CinemaScope aspect ratio, albeit with a longer apparent focal length than on an APS-C/Super 35 sensor.

Trademark blue flare

Here’s an example of the blue-line flare that is a characteristic of this lens when aimed close to a light source. Some people will love it, and others will find it a distraction. As with most things, moderation might be the best policy.