Panamorph CineVista Anamorphic Lens Reviewed

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Panamorph CineVista Anamorphic Lens Reviewed

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Panamorph-CineVista-anamorphic-lens-review-small.jpgThere's one trait more Hollywood blockbusters have in common with each other than any other, and that is their use of the aspect ratio widely known as 2.35:1 or anamorphic (though 2.40:1 is also common). 2.35:1 content is easily identified by its wider than 16:9 field of view, resulting in black bars top and bottom when viewed on today's HDTV and/or 16:9 projection screens. Similar to what we saw when we had to endure bars with 16:9 content upon our old 4:3 displays, we suffer the same fate with 2.35:1/2.40:1 on today's modern 16:9 displays. The 2.35:1/2.40:1 aspect ratio came to be as a result of filmmakers wanting to create a grander scope, one that possessed far more horizontal area (33 percent more) than mere 35mm film could muster on its own. They did this by optically "squeezing" the wider image onto a standard 35mm frame of film using special lenses. Subsequently, when playing back that same footage, one needed to employ an anamorphic lens in order to see the imagery in its proper form. Failure to do so would result in an elongated image, which I'm sure many of you have seen once or twice at your local multiplex.

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While 2.35:1/2.40:1 works and looks good in your local cinema, it's a different beast in the home. You see, in most theater situations, the audience is only there to see one film, meaning it can be anamorphic or what have you without causing a lot of stress. However, our home systems are often charged with having to showcase a myriad of content, all with varying aspect ratios. This is why 16:9 is largely accepted as the standard, for it can easily accommodate virtually every format we have or enjoy today with little editorializing - provided you're okay with black bars top and bottom when viewing anamorphic content. There are purists out there who believe that black bars top and bottom are not only unnecessary, but wasteful. And they're right.

Because our content is brought to us in 16:9, whether it was originally shot that way or not, means that useable resolution is quite literally wasted when viewing 2.35:1 or 2.40:1 content on 16:9 displays, be they HDTV or projection. While HDTVs are (largely) stuck with black bars, it is possible to enjoy the full anamorphic experience via a front projection setup in one's own home. All you need is an anamorphic lens or, more specifically, an anamorphic lens attachment. That's where companies like Panamorph come in. Panamorph has been making anamorphic lens attachments for home theater projectors since the days of 4:3. Their newest lens, the CineVista, is aimed bringing the concept of anamorphic front projection to the masses by offering this luxury at a lower price. Historically, if you wanted to put an anamorphic lens in front of your beloved projector, the associated costs were, well, prohibitive. Bulky optics mated to motorized sleds could cost tens of thousands of dollars, making true anamorphic viewing a bit of a wealthy indulgence.

The CineVista lens is hoping to change the paradigm. Straight away, its suggested retail price of $1,795 is a step in the right direction. Throw in the universal mount and the price increases to only $1,995. Not bad, considering you can pair the CineVista lens with a sub-$2,000 projector, such as an Optoma HD33, plus an inexpensive 2.35:1 or 2.40:1 aspect ratio screen and be in blockbuster heaven for well under $5,000. That's insane, when you think about it, for the last anamorphic lens attachment that I used (but didn't review) retailed for over $10,000 just for the lens - the mount and such were optional extras. Not only is the CineVista lens more affordable, it's readily available, as it is sold direct via Panamorph's own website, as well as through select dealers.

The lens itself is very well crafted and its construction is extremely solid. It measures four inches tall by five-and-a-half inches long and five inches wide. It's hefty, too, at four pounds. The CineVista's all-aluminum housing is finished in black, though it has a slight brushed texture. The matching (but not included) universal mount is made from the same materials (sans the optics) and measures two-and-a-half inches tall by nearly 16 inches long and seven inches wide. It too is rather stout, weighing about as much as the lens at just over four pounds. The mount is designed to work with many of today's universal projector mounts, such as those offered by Chief and OmniMount. The lens itself is a horizontal expansion lens which utilizes glass (as opposed to plastic) optics for a more professional visual presentation.

One of the benefits of employing an anamorphic lens, as opposed to using a different type of lens or relying on lens memory, is that you can use your projector's full resolution, meaning all 1,920 x 1,080 of its pixels. This is done in the projector by selecting its anamorphic-compliant picture mode, typically labeled "anamorphic" or perhaps "letterbox." This effectively eliminates the black bars by stretching the onscreen action vertically. Projecting that now-stretched image through a horizontal expansion anamorphic lens, such as the CineVista, returns things to normal - sans black bars, of course. The only other thing you'll need is a native 2.35:1 or 2.40:1 screen. One drawback to employing such a setup is that, when the time comes to watch 16:9 content, you're forced to give up some horizontal resolution, as you must then set your projector to output 4:3 in order for 16:9 content to display correctly. This means your horizontal resolution for 16:9 content, when viewed through an anamorphic lens such as the CineVista, is cut to 1,440 rather than the full 1,920. You'll also be treated to black bars, only they'll be located along the left and right sides of your screen, rather than top and bottom. If you're a dedicated cinephile, these occurrences may be few and far between, but not all films are shot using the 2.35:1/2.40:1 aspect ratio, so the CineVista lens won't be of use 100 percent of the time.

Recently, there have been some developments aimed at bringing viewers the grandeur of anamorphic viewing without incurring a lot of the costs and/or headaches. Lens memory is one such development. The problem with lens memory is that it still doesn't solve the black bar problem, as it doesn't utilize all your projector's pixels. Lens memory merely zooms the image out far enough so that any unwanted bars simply fall above or below your screen's viewable real estate. Unless the area above and below your screen is treated (think black paint or fabric), you're basically calling for light leakage and potential reflections to now interfere with the visual presentation. This and lens memory systems are somewhat sluggish in their operation and not exactly perfect every time, in my personal experience. Another supposed cure-all for the anamorphic problem is light-rejecting screens. Many believe that negative gain screens, what with their gray screen color, give off the appearance of auto-masking screens when presented with projected black bars. This is partially true, though this fails to address the issue of wasted pixels. The only way to get the true anamorphic experience is to use an anamorphic lens. Plain and simple.

Read more about the Panamorph CineVista anamorphic lens on Page 2.

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