The Isco Pre-36 Anamorphic adapter is often considered the Holy Grail of anamorphic adapters. For a low cost, this attachment can turn inexpensive still photography lenses into a set of anamorphic primes. Made in Germany as early as the late 1960s, these adapters are popular because of their convenient single focus optical design, excellent optical performance, unique lens flares, and user-friendly mechanics. This adapter can give a 1.5x squeeze to thousands of inexpensive lenses and cameras and can bring anamorphic shooting to lower budget productions.
The Iscorama was the "budget version" of anamorphic in the test. You can pick up one of these adapters on eBay at an affordable price. They produce a nice look, but are much more difficult to work with since they are designed to go on top of another still lens, so it is a two point focus system. Therefore, it has some severe close-focus restrictions. That being said, I think they do produce some very nice images if you are able to put up with the extra time. They also produce some of the most interesting flares I have ever seen. It's almost like a smashed glass lens flare.
We knew our test would not be complete without testing an anamorphic adapter. We wanted fans of these adapters to be able to see how one would perform in a side-by-side comparison test against lenses that are many times more expensive. For example, an anamorphic lens adapter and a few still photography lenses can be purchased for about $2000-$6000 depending on market prices and what lenses you attach it to. To put it in perspective, one single ARRI / Zeiss Master Anamorphic prime (not a set) is over $40,000.
Shooting with anamorphic adapters is so popular, and it’s no surprise since the investment to put together a set of lenses is relatively low compared to investing in a set of proper anamorphic lenses. There are hundreds if not thousands of combinations of lenses out there thanks to all the vintage photography lenses available and the anamorphic projection lenses floating around eBay. It would take too long to go through all the different types of DIY anamorphic adapter kits and focusing systems there are out there, but one of the most poplar ways of achieving low-budget anamorphic shooting is with an adapter like the Iscorama 1.5x. All you do is take your favorite spherical lens, set the focus to infinity, attach the ISCO adapter to the front of your lens, align the cylindrical element, then start shooting.
There are a few versions of the ISCOs out there. The “Pre 36” is a favorite due to its unique lens coatings that produce warm lens flares. The nice thing about all the versions of the ISCO is that in one unit you have the cylindrical elements as well as the focus assembly. Some adapters are dual focus, which means every time you have to change your focus you have to adjust it on your spherical lens AND the anamorphic adapter, and it makes focus racks nearly impossible. With the ISCO, you set the spherical lens to infinity and then all focus adjustments are done on the ISCO. Focus breathing is very low, one of the best of any of the lenses we tested actually. However minimum focus distance is not great at about 7’, which means using diopters is a must for most shoots. The widest lens we tested was a 50mm. Most anamorphic adapters have trouble with lenses wider than 50mm, so going really wide with this type of shooting is tough. People do have success with some 40mm and even 35mm lenses though. There are some drawbacks to this style of shooting, but there are some advantages too. Like the P+S Technik zoom, the ISCO has a 1.5x squeeze factor, so this lens is perfect for getting a widescreen aspect ratio with a 16x9 sensor. You also can use just about any spherical lenses you want. We used Nikon AI lenses, but if you like Canon, Leica, Pentax, Minolta or any other brand, go for it. A lot of people are using old Russian photography lenses and getting great results.
Our lenses were fairly fast being f1.4, f2 and f2.5, and wide-open performance was actually quite good. So you can shoot at fairly low light levels as well as achieve shallow depth of field. This method of anamorphic shooting also gives you some added barrel distortion, oval bokeh and the ever important streaking lens flares. Bokeh wide open was very nice. Stopped down, bokeh gets a little strange due to the lenses having irises with 7 straight aperture blades. This was a result of the Nikon lenses, not the ISCO. Some DPs choose to use adapters on spherical lenses with higher blade counts so they can still achieve perfectly oval bokeh when they stop down.
If you want to own a set of lenses that can give you the anamorphic look but don’t want to spend more than you paid for your car (or in some cases your house), then using an adapter like the Iscorama is the best way to do it. You can get really nice images, with good performance and plenty of anamorphic character and have money left over to buy a camera!
The Iscorama is pretty damn impressive given its price point. Anamorphic lenses are an expensive venture. Whether you're renting or buying. Either way, it can break your bank. It's a beautiful way to break the bank but some times you need baby steps to get there.
I'm always intrigued by old vintage still lenses and the gorgeous images they produce. So to take these old Nikon AI lenses and stick an Iscorama on the front to then make them "anamorphic" was awesome to see! The tack sharp Nikons remained just that, sharp. You still get the oval bokeh, and boy did they flare. Out of all 13 brands and 40 plus lenses, nothing flared liked this Iscorama. It's definitely something to watch out for. If used right, it can be a great tool in your arsenal but I do think these flares could become quite distracting to the viewer.
Another point worth mentioning is that the Iscorama is tiny. It can fit in the palm of my hand. Take that plus a small vintage still lens and you got yourself quite the mobile package. This setup is perfect for gimbals or handheld work. One thing about anamorphic lenses is that they're not small. Cookes and Elites to name a few. However, even some of our smaller sets like the Kowas or the Atlas pale in comparison to this little guy when it comes to its lack of size.
All around a great "starter kit" to get your feet wet without breaking the bank...or your back.
I won’t go into much detail here since the results can vary dramatically depending on which base lens you attach the Isco unit to. Literally everything can change based on your choice of taking lens. Check out the video. You decide if you like it or not.