Lonelyleap is an independent film company based in London and New York that shoots documentaries and commercials for the likes of BBC, American Express and CNN. (Check out Fighting to Save Elephants, its documentary for Google about the people committed to elephant conservation in Kenya.) Jeff Taylor is a Director of Photography for the company.
As a filmmaker, Taylor has traveled around the world and embarked on several projects, even shooting this Ferrari vignette with Gear Patrol. During a recent chat with Taylor, who currently lives in New York, we found out that he purchased a LOMO Anamorphic lens — and it was hard as hell to get (read: a whole year of eBay trolling). For the filmmaker, this is the one lens he wanted more than anything else. We had to ask him: Why?
Q: What is the lens?
A: It’s a 1987 Lomo Anamorphic 35BAC10-2-01 F35 1:25.
Q: When did you get it?
A: August 19, 2015.
Q: Where did you get it?
A: eBay, after a year-long hunt and multiple lost auctions. I won it in a bidding war that went to the wire.
Q: So…it’s not shaped like the lens on my camera. What the heck is going on here?
A: Haha, it’s basically like the lens on your camera, except that it has some extra rounded glass elements on the front end to collect a wider view of light. Depending on how much into the weeds you wanna get… [For a great primer on the difference between anamorphic and spherical lenses, check out this page on B&H.]
Q: What cameras do you normally shoot it on?
A: I shoot it on RED, Canon C300markii, and the Sony A7S.
Q: What is it about anamorphics that you love the most?
A: The flare, man. It’s all about that classic anamorphic flare, and not just the flare on direct light sources but how soft light bleeds horizontally over the image. In fact, I find the direct light flare often way too pretentious and gratuitous. It’s okay in very small doses…but easily overdone.
Anamorphic lenses use extra glass to “squeeze” a wide image onto narrower film or digital image sensors. The image is then “stretched” out in post production to form a widescreen image without cropping. Photo by Henry Phillips.
Q: What was it that made you want a 30-year-old piece of glass that (I’m guessing) can be a huge pain in the ass?
A: It’s what everything we grew up with was shot on. It’s tough to name a favorite film that wasn’t shot with anamorphic lenses. Except for City of God…but honestly it just “feels” cinematic. You can credit that to how it handles light flares, the oblong bokeh, the actual “softness” of the image that is certainly a unique characteristic to vintage Soviet lenses such as this. It’s most certainly a combination of all these various factors, but most important of all is obviously the ridiculously wide aspect ratio it delivers. (Which is certainly far more easily achievable with today’s digital sensors and distribution.) In fact, pros like David Fincher argue that anamorphics make no sense, you’re better off cropping the top and bottom of the image to make your widescreen aspect ratio. But you don’t get all the unique characteristics I’ve described above, most notably it’s distinctive light flare.
Q: What makes this particular lens (Lomo, 35, t2.9, anamorphic) the one you wanted? From what I’ve heard, of all the Lomos — pretty weird lenses to begin with — the 35 is the weirdest one.
A: I’ve always wanted an anamorphic lens, and I wanted to be able to afford it — the vintage Soviet is the way to go. That’s essentially what it comes down to, but honestly, I don’t think I’d be that excited about a $30K lens. I’d be terrified.
Q: How often do you use it? Is it a workhorse? A cool toy? Something in between?
A: I use it almost exclusively for personal projects, I’ve actually never shot any commercial jobs with it because it’s too much of a wildcard for clients to feel comfortable with. Also, I’d need to round out the set with a 50mm and 80mm at minimum before feeling confident I’ve got the necessary assortment of arrows in my quiver. Which is certainly a future I aspire to.
Q: Any examples of stuff you’ve shot on it? What’s the coolest thing you’ve shot with it?
A: Definitely a documentary I’m shooting. [Stills above.]
Q: Is this your grail lens? If not, what is?
A: Yeah, totally. This thing isn’t perfect by any means, but it’s got character. I’ve shot on it for two years and it still gives me butterflies.