Creating Cinematic Widescreen Photos and Video With an APS-C dSLR and Lenses

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The Revenant is a film to be admired by fans of widescreen images. Emmanuel Lubezki created this by filming with an ARRI Alexa 65 6K camera and lenses of 12 to 21 mm. My desire is to deconstruct and replicate this in an APS-C dSLR and lenses.

Analysis and Set-up

Fortunately, information about how The Revenant was shot is available online. Here’s what I know:

Movie Camera and Lenses
  • Camera: ARRI Alexa 65.
    • 0.69 crop factor.
    • 6560 x 3102 resolution (maximum recordable)
    • 54.12 x 25.58 mm Sensor size (active image area)
  • Lenses: 12mm to 21mm focal lengths.
    • 8.28mm to 14.49mm in 35mm equivalent focal lengths.
    • Zeiss Master Primes available sizes: 12mm, 14mm, 16mm, 18mm, 21mm. These were preferred along with the 16mm Leica.
    • 16mm Leica Lens was preferred.
    • 16mm (probably the most-used) = 11.04mm in 35mm equivalent.
    • 35mm equivalents: 12mm = 8.28mm, 14mm = 9.66, 16mm = 11.04mm, 18mm = 12.42mm, 21mm = 14.49mm.
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1, Cinemascope.

This is enough for me to match up my dSLR camera and lenses with it to get the equivalence in my equipment:

My Camera and Lenses
  • Camera: Canon APS-C 80D.
    • 1.6 crop factor.
    • The 80D has nearly the same dynamic range as the ARRI so this is the preferred camera to use. Specifications follow.
    • 6000 x 4000 resolution (maximum recordable)
    • 22.5 x 15 mm Sensor size (active image area)
  • My Lenses:
    • 8mm Rokinon fisheye, 12.8mm in 35mm equivalent.
    • 8-16mm Sigma rectilinear, 12.8-25.6mm in 35mm equivalent.
    • 10-20mm Sigma rectilinear, 16-32mm in 35mm equivalent.
    • 14mm Rokinon rectilinear, 22.4mm in 35mm equivalent.
    • 16mm Rokinon rectilinear. 25.6mm in 35mm equivalent.
    • 18-35mm Sigma rectilinear, 28.8-56mm in 35mm equivalent.

So the Rokinon 8mm and the Sigma 8-16mm seems to be the only ones that are in the same 35mm focal length range, however, the important thing is to have the same angle of view that the lenses used in the movie had. As you will see below, the Sigma 8-16mm has that similar angle of view to the most-favored lens used in the movie, the Leica 16.

But, before that, here’s a short explanation about aspect ratios.

Aspect Ratio

I mention aspect ratio several times in this post. Here is a video that explains the evolution of aspect ratio:

Angle of View
  • Movie: 16mm Leica lens, Horizontal=110° 35mm equivalent.
    • Mine: Rokinon 8mm fisheye, Horizontal=167° 35mm equivalent.
    • Mine: Rokinon 14mm, Horizontal=116° 35mm equivalent.
    • Mine: Sigma 10-20mm, Horizontal=102°-63° 35mm equivalent.
    • Mine: Sigma 8-16mm, Horizontal=114.5° 35mm equivalent.
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Angles of view of my lenses compared to the movie lenses. Mine are the Sigma and Rokinon lenses. Leica 16 was the most preferred lens in the movie. Zeiss lenses ranged from 12 to 21 in the Master Prime series.

Test Shots

To test out these lenses, I will need to have some photos that are representative of the subjects similar to what I saw in the movie. They certainly do not have to be the same and cannot be due to my location and time of year. But, they should have some of the same elements in them such as trees, grass, and a well-defined horizon. I want shots that are with both the horizon above center and below center because I will be trying to straighten this in the post process and will need to see my results.

Trees in the movie leaned inward on the edges in some of the wider shots from within the woods and shooting upward. In the outdoor landscape scenes of more distant objects, everything appears almost straight up and down at the edges. So I will want some vertical items at the edges of the long range shots for comparison.

Shooting list:

  • More distant objects and landscape scenes. Have vertical items near the edges, and a clearly defined horizon line.
    • Shoot with the horizon in the upper and then lower portion of the scene.
  • In the woods or near trees. Fill the frame with them.
    • Shoot upward, level, and downward.

I’ll need to shoot each of the above with all of the above lenses.

Shots from The Revenant to Replicate and Analyze

Here are some screen shots from The Revenant showing the type of shots I am after. My comments about each are below each image.

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Shooting up. Trees all bending inward.

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Shooting level. Trees bending inward.

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Shooting above level. Trees bending inward.

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Shooting up from the ground. Trees bending inward at edges.

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Outdoor landscape. Lots of foreground. Trees look straight. Maybe a slight bend toward center, but negligible.

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Outdoor landscape. Shooting downward. Trees slightly bent inward at edges.

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Outdoor landscape. Horizon line straight and just below center. Slight bend toward center.

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Outdoor landscape. Slight bend toward center.

After looking at these shots from The Revenant, I notice that most have distortion that bends the vertical items (like trees) toward the center from the edges.

This gives a pleasing look in my opinion. It gives me a sense that this is a very wide shot, and that is what I am looking for. It also gives the viewer a sense that they are there inside the scene.

Knowing how wide angle lenses make near objects distort more than far ones, and that the edges of the lens have the most distortion (bending inward of items), this all makes sense. The near-shot scenes inside the woods have more bend to the trees because the camera was closer to the trees, while the ones shot of distant objects in landscapes do not.

Since these are all similar distortions, it should be possible to have a solution using the dSLR and lenses if the distortion can be replicated.

My Test Shots

Here are my test shots with each lens as described.

Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 Fisheye

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After correcting the image, and sizing the frame to 2.35:1 ratio (Cinemascope) like The Revenant was shot in, here are the results and comments by each image.

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A bit dark, but that can be corrected (just wasn’t). Stretching at the sides and slight lean inward toward the center. Horizon straight.

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Stretching at the sides and slight lean inward toward the center. Horizon straight.

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Stretching at the sides and lean inward toward the center. Horizon straight. Nice sweeping sides, similar to the movie but maybe a bit more.

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Stretching at the sides and lean inward toward the center. Horizon straight. This was close to the trees and looking up. Volume deformation correction was turned off because it caused a waviness in the trees.

Getting close is key with the 8 mm fisheye because it captures so much. The stretch of the scene on the sides is extreme. It may be too wide of an angle and too much of a fisheye. But, I kind of like it, so I’ll keep this lens in mind for when I want this kind of cool bending/leaning effect.

Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 Rectilinear

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After correcting the image and sizing the frame to 2.35:1 ratio (Cinemascope) like The Revenant was shot in, here are the results and comments by each image.

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Horizon is straight. Slight lean of trees toward center. Very little stretching at edges.

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Horizon is straight. Slight lean of trees toward center. Very little stretching at edges.

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Almost no distortion. Looks like a normal shot, just wider.

The Rokinon 14 did not give me anywhere near the look of the movie.

Based on the Rokinon 14 results, the Rokinon 16 would not give me the look of the movie, so I did not put it in here.

Sigma 10-20 mm f/4-5.6, shot at 10 mm

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After correcting the image, and sizing the frame to 2.35:1 ratio (Cinemascope) like The Revenant was shot in, here are the results and comments by each image.

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A nice wide shot with very little distortion. Volume deformation set to 50 Horizontal only.

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Slight inward bend. Volume deformation set to 50 Horizontal only.

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Slight inward bend. Volume deformation set to 100 Horizontal only. This one is better than the one below where the horizontal volume deformation is set to only 50.

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Moderate inward bend and deformation at the sides of the image. Volume deformation set to 50 Horizontal only.

For these images from the Sigma 10-20 at 10 mm, I applied a horizontal volume correction of 50 to 100 to each. 50 lets more of a bend inward and 100 reduces that.

Sigma 18-35 f/1.8 shot at 18 mm.

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After correcting the image, and sizing the frame to 2.35:1 ratio (Cinemascope) like The Revenant was shot in, here are the results and comments.

I found the images really did not need much correction at all. This lens is phenomenal. Although it doesn’t have the short focal length, the optics are stellar and the effects are similar to the movie. Certainly worth using.

Sigma 8-16 f/4.5 – 5.6

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This is another phenomenal lens from Sigma. This one with its wider field of view and no fisheye may prove to be the best yet for that cinematic look.

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The Sigma 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6 (12-24mm in 35mm equivalent terms) gives the widest, most cinematic look out of the camera that I have seen.

I think this lens produces probably the widest, most cinematic look of all of the lenses that I’ve tested. I’ll shoot this one for those sweeping wide shots that most closely match the movies.

The Lens Verdict

Here is how the lenses stack up against each other and against the movie look.

  • Rokinon 16mm = no good. Not the movie look.
  • Rokinon 14mm = no good. Not the movie look.
  • Rokinon 8mm fisheye = o.k. Overly broad and over distorted, but cool.
  • Sigma 10-20mm (10mm) = Good. Nice. Distortion was similar to a movie.
  • Sigma 18-35mm (18mm) = Excellent. Tighter angle, but similar to the movie. The bokeh is the point with this lens. It produces that cinematic look as-is, and with the addition of the adapter by Vid-Atlantic, the cinematic bokeh can be easily achieved. I would use this lens for standard shooting distances and for focus effects where I want the bokeh to shine through to give that cinematic effect.
  • Sigma 8-16mm = Excellent. Wider and less distortion. Looks like the movie. Is just a touch wider in the angle of view than the most-favored lens used in the film, the Leica 16. This lens produces that full sweeping cinematic look. I would use it for shots where I want to capture a lot of the scene. It would not be suitable for close-up work, but could be utilized for average distances where I want to catch a lot of background in addition to the focal point.

The Sigma lenses that worked so well here also have the advantages that there are known lens profiles for them, and the lenses have autofocus. The Rokinons have neither.

I’m going to stick with the Sigma lenses for now and leave the Rokinons for what they do best — night photography. I’ll keep those with my 500D setup for night photos.

Anamorphic Lenses

Part of what makes that “movie look” is the way the image is captured by the anamorphic lenses used. Anamorphic lenses are lenses that make the resulting image appear scrunched up where things are taller than they are wide. But, you don’t see this in the movie, because they stretch the image horizontally to fill the frame. In other words, the anamorphic lens stretches everything vertically, then the editor stretches the film horizontally until things look normal again.

Here is a video about the anamorphic look and anamorphic lenses. It also covers anamorphic-simulating lens adapters that I will experiment with next in my quest for that “movie look.”

Further Improvements to the Lenses

Since these two Sigma lenses seem to work well, the next step is to make further improvements to get that cinematic look. I’m going to try and simulate what the output from an anamorpic lens would look like, except I’m going to use a dSLR and non-anamorpic lenses (the ones I selected earlier).

Bokeh

One characteristic of anamorphic lenses is that they have nice bokeh.  Coupled with the aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (Cinescope) or the wider 2.76:1 (Ultra Panavision), this looks impressive. The backgrounds look almost painted.  The bokeh shapes are vertically-stretched circles. This is different from the standard lens bokeh that is round. For example, the Sigma 18-35 tested here has very nice bokeh, but an anamorphic cinema lens would further improve on that and have incredible bokeh.

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Bokeh without the anamorphic effect.

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Bokeh after having the anamorphic effect applied via adapter or filter.

To get this bokeh in my lenses, the lens must be shot near wide open (f/1.8 on the 18-35, and f/4 on the 10-20). To improve the bokeh of my lenses, and simulate an anamorphic cinema lens, a filter must be used to create that nice bokeh. Fortunately, these exist and are fairly cheap ($50) compared to an anamorphic lens ($5000). There are two styles of this type of filter.

There are two styles of this type of filter:

One is with the filter mounted on the camera-end of the lens. This is the adapter approach.

The other way is to apply the effect as a normal filter would be – screwed onto the end of the lens closest to the subject.

What I am trying to achieve is a bokeh in the background that is of vertically stretched ovals, and any out of focus areas should appear vertically stretched as well.

Here is a photo of the items I purchased to test.

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Two filters (left and center), both for the 72/77 mm lenses (adapter rings from 77 to 72mm included underneath each in the photo), and one Cinemorph™ adapter (right) for the Sigma 18-35 mm to be mounted under three screws on the camera-side of that lens. These came from Vid-Atlantic, and they make some really nice products that are inexpensive but of high-quality.

I tried both filter and adapter combinations. Here are the results.

Here are photos that were taken with the Sigma 18-35 with the Cinemorph™ adapter installed and with it off.

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This is a photo taken with the Sigma 18-35 f/1.8 lens with no adapter. Notice the round bokeh.

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This is a photo taken with the Sigma 18-35 f/1.8 lens with the Cinemorph adapter. See the vertically elongated bokeh and the streaks of the sunlight. It also has that cinematic feel to it that I just cannot adequately describe.

I love the look with the Cinemorph™ adapter on the Sigma 18-35 f/1.8 lens!

  1. It gives the bokeh that vertically stretched appearance that makes it look movie-like.
  2. The light rays have a definition to them and a streakiness that is reminiscent of cinema film.
  3. The texture of the image has that painterly look to it.

I thought about leaving it on my lens all of the time, but I would run into problems for my normal, non-movie, photography:

  1. It reduces the light by about one stop. My f/1.8 lens becomes more like a f/2.8 lens.
  2. I cannot shoot with narrow apertures. I have to be at f/1.8 or f/2.8. Any higher and I get severe vignetting that cannot be corrected.
  3. While the bokeh, flare, and the overall effect are cinema-like, the photos lose some of their sharpness.

This thing would be excellent for filming, and if I do much video work with the 18-35, I will have it on my lens. This is an amazing cinematic effect, and I cannot overstate that.

The tests with the screw on Cinemorph™ filter were not as impressive to me. The lens has to be at around 50mm or more so I used it on my Sigma 18-300. It did achieve the bokeh effect, but less dramatically than on the 18-35 lens.

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This is a photo taken with the 18-300 lens at 300 f/6.3 and the smaller of the Cinemorph filters (middle one on the photo above) on the lens. It shows bokeh and a more “vintage” look.

The Cinemorph™ filter can be used at the longer focal lengths and on lenses where you typically would not get much bokeh at all. It would be my second choice to the better Cinemorph™ adapter version on the Sigma 18-35 mm lens previously shown.

 Summary

It is not a simple task to replicate the “movie look” that is seen in the movies, but it can be done with a dSLR and some careful editing. While I did not go into the editing and correction in this post, you can find this in some of my other posts on this blog.  The main point is I saw what look I wanted, and then steered my editing process toward getting that look. Regardless of how you edit the photos, you can get the look of the movies in a photo and in videos by using some inexpensive and impressive adapters from Vid-Atlantic. These could be the only solution if you do not want to spend upwards of $5000 for anamorphic lenses, but still want to take videos that look like they were shot with expensive movie equipment.

If you have a minute, check out some of my videos on my Vimeo page at http://vimeo.com/larslentz

I frequently post my photos on Instagram also at https://www.instagram.com/larslentzphotography/

Thank you for reading what I wrote — I hope you enjoyed it!
If you want to stay in touch and see more like this, then click here.

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