The Panavision Auto-Panatars were some of the first anamorphic lenses produced by American lens maker Panavision. They were sold to movie studios before Panavision became a rental-only lens maker. Auto-Panatars are some of the oldest anamorphic lenses available.
Despite their age, they still deliver plenty of performance but with all the characteristics expected from vintage front anamorphic lenses.
When these lenses went up on the camera, they were certainly the show stopper. These lenses weren't serviced by Panavision and came from an old studio, but they had one of the most original and just plainly beautiful looks of anything we tested. I couldn't believe how well they stacked up technically in terms of sharpness and vignetting. The low contrast look and streaking flares really had a dreamlike sense to them. Immediately, our test subject in frame looked like she was sitting on a set from decades ago. Being the oldest in the test and how well it stacks up to some of the most modern sets is a real testament to what Panavision means in anamorphic and how they are truly pioneers.
For decades now anamorphic cinematography was dominated by Panavision, for good reason. Their lenses were incredible back then, are incredible now, and have defined what audiences understand is the anamorphic look: oval bokeh, unique focus breathing, blue streak lens flares, and lovely distortion. Many of their series of anamorphic lenses are still the first choice of many DPs including the C, E, G and the new T series. They have even breathed new life into their Ultra Panavision 70 anamorphic lenses, which recently shot The Hateful Eight and Star Wars: Rogue One. No anamorphic lens test would be complete without Panavision lenses and we were lucky enough to test one of the sets that put the Panavision look on the map.
We tested Panavision Auto-Panatars from the late 1950s. These are very large lenses, with huge glass elements and old mechanics that were like nothing else we tested. The Auto-Panatars focus system likely shares some design elements with other Panavision lenses because breathing is very low and controlled. Panavision is one of the only lens makers to use astigmatizing elements, which results in the lenses breathing only on the vertical axis. It’s amazing that the oldest lens set in our test had some of the most impressive technology.
Overall the lenses were as sharp or sharper than most of the vintage lenses we tested, not as sharp as the modern lenses tested, but as one DP on our set said, “these lenses are as sharp as I ever need a lens to be.” They are sharp, it’s just that they have this slight, subtle bloom and glow to anything bright in the frame, including the skin tone of our model. It’s very subtle. Many onlookers thought the Panavision lenses were the most flattering of any set we tested and a few of us felt they made the ARRI Alexa look more like film than any set tested.
With anamorphic lenses, size does seem to matter, as far as certain aspects of optical performance goes. You can tell they didn’t design these lenses with any interest in keeping size and weight down. The result of those massive pieces of glass is very pleasing bokeh. Out of focus pinpoint light sources are almost always a perfect oval even as you move toward the edges of the frame. Sharpness and exposure was quite consistent across the frame too, which made the Panavision lenses stand out among the other vintage sets.
The lenses flared in a very classic, very Panavision way, with bold streaks and all sorts of other little reflections. They also produced the biggest and most obvious flares from our two bare light bulbs. Those little flares were warm and not too distracting. It’s safe to say these are one of the easiest lenses to flare.If anything, testing these lenses confirmed that Panavision has earned their reputation of building some of the best anamorphic lenses available. They are classic, they are beautiful and they produce stunning images. They are the first choice for many DPs for good reason.
Like any shoot, you have talent/actors. And for this lens test, our lenses were the stars. Out of the cast of 13 characters, if we had one classic, old, highly-respected veteran in the mix, the Auto-Panatars were it. Almost like the Jane Fonda of the cast. The moment they arrived on set, there was a vibe. Everyone was excited. Everyone wanted to see them, check out out their mechanics, but most importantly, everyone wanted to see them on the camera. Boy did they deliver.
Talk about classic. This set is about as classic as it gets. Probably the warmest set out of all of the brands, softer details which will make any actor happy, and incredibly unique flares. Not to mention their bokeh was gorgeous.
We wanted up-to-date Panavision lenses in this test but these were the next best thing. It was truly an honor to have this set in our arsenal of lenses.
These were a real treat to see side by side with the other lenses. I had seen this particular set in the past, but without a baseline, it’s hard to really appreciate what they’re capable of and more importantly, what Panavision was capable of back in the earliest days of anamorphic acquisition. Absolutely beautiful images. The softness is tangible and yet, still so pleasing.