Anamorphic “Moment” on an iPhoneX

The “look” of anamorphic video and photography intrigues me. There’s just something about distorted out of focus areas and ultrawide panoramas that creatively draws my attention (and interest). Ever since I learned about CinemaScope and other anamorphic formats, I’ve been on a quest to truly capture that look in-camera through optics.

When mirrorless entered onto the market, I jumped on the dual-lens anamorphic bandwagon. I picked up an old 16mm-era anamorphic and paired it with a vintage 58mm Soviet-era taking lens. While visually interesting with great lens flares, the dual focus arrangement was almost impossible to work with solo. While I do have an Isco projection anamorphic in my lens collection today, the process of capturing an anamorphic shot is just too cumbersome for the spur-of-the-moment shooter that I am today.

I’ve been hooked on the idea of doing something cinematic with my handheld device after seeing footage of Moondog Labs’ anamorphic on an iPhone 6. When Moment announced a campaign for a new iPhone 1.33x anamorphic to widen the default HD aspect ratio to 2.40:1, I knew I had to have one.

I was certain that there would be sacrifices as a little lens over a little sensor would likely result in ugly little flares (which ended up being somewhat true). Flares, however, are merely an interesting artifact and what I’m seeking is the full look and an affordable hobbyist price point. The little Moment lens is far less expensive than a better anamorphic for my mirrorless rig, so it was worth a try.

Anamorphic photo of Monterey harbor at high tide in the late morning

There are roughly three ways to attach an accessory lens to a phone: clip on, case-based bayonet and a mini-rig. Because I travel a lot, the mini-rig is a non-starter as it is too big and bulky for a road warrior; its meant for a filmmaker or vlogger. Clip-ons slip over the edge of the phone and cover the camera with an accessory lens. They work okay for single-lens cameras, but for a dual lens iPhone X they’re not ideal. The Moment design is simple — very good supplemental optics that mate with a phone camera using a case-based bayonet mount. For the iPhone X there are two bayonet mounts, one that covers the wide lens and other for the telephoto.

What I like about a bayonet over a clip style lens is that optical alignment between the phone‘s camera and accessory lens is improved because the case help with light path alignment, thus reducing aberrations and minimizing image degradation. It is important to note that the more layers of glass that are introduced ahead of the sensor, the more important it is to have a good optical path. As such, I’ve found that clip-based lenses have to be designed with a higher margin for optical error to account for clip misalignment. Bayonets are simply more precise and enable lenses to be used on more than one model of phone, which is an economic bonus.

Anamorphic photo of Monterey Harbor with kayakers

So how does the Moment anamorphic work in the real world? Considering the price, design and application — very well. Pixel peepers will find flaws with the lens as the image does require de-squeezing and the edges will be softer than you might expect, but those are the elements that are part of the anamorphic look. Don’t expect Cooke cinema-grade anamorphic quality; the Moment lens is a piece of glass that is at least two orders of magnitude less expensive than its cinematic counterpart and is designed to work around the design compromises of a smartphone camera.

Stopped down the lens is sharp enough for photographs and video. If you want a shallower depth-of-field, you need to think like a cinematographer — get close and let the background fall off into subtle softness. And on an iPhone X, you have the added option of switching from the wide to telephoto camera. While it does require switching the anamorphic lens from one bayonet mount to the other, it offers a simple creative alternative while in the field that does not require a different lens or a reconfiguration of a mirrorless rig.

Anamorphic photo of a Monterey sidewalk light pole with Christmas decorations, backlit

These days, a number of the more advanced video and photography apps include a 2.40:1, 2.39:1, Moondog or anamorphic lens option to accommodate the hardware. In all cases, the image will need to be de-squeezed so depending on your creative workflow that can be done in the app or applied in post production later. The Moment app works fine and I’ve used others too. My point is that the lens itself does not limit you to a specific app to post-process your work. De-squeezing is simply a workflow; pick the one that works for you.

One thing I would consider, however, is shooting at the highest frame rate and resolution that your phone supports. Anamorphic footage looks better with more data because of the de-squeeze process, so if you can shoot 4k, do it. In terms of the frame rate, I would shoot at twice my production rate (48 fps if the final product is 24 fps) and retime in post. The ultra-wide nature of anamorphic footage can surface unexpected motion, so being able to adjust frame rates to smooth out camera moves can be helpful. At times, I’ve even turned off in-camera stabilization because corrective movement at the edges of the frame were over emphasized.

Anamorphic photo of the Monterey walking path along the harbor with bicyclist

Today my traveling camera kit includes Moment anamorphic and telephoto lenses, a micro smartphone tripod and the bayonet-mount iPhone X case. I’m finding that I do use the lens more than I had originally anticipated and I am thinking differently about how I shoot stills and video. Heck, if you want to do something very different, try shooting an anamorphic still portrait shot! Okay, I’m speaking heresy but it is interesting to view a hyper-vertical de-squeezed shot.

If you want to challenge your eye and creative process in a way that isn’t driven by cropping, filters and software in general, consider adding a Moment anamorphic lens to your kit. You might be surprised at how it changes the way you capture, well… moments.