Thanks to the guys at Camaleon rental and to the fact that I had some free time, I had the chance to take a close look to a nice set of vintage of Kowa Anamorphic. To tell you the truth I was really looking forward to it because they have become extremely popular lately (at least in Spain) so I was curious to see what all the fuss was about. And the first reason of why they are so popular was in front of my eyes in the moment I opened the case. Last anamorphic sets I've worked with where hawk C-series rehoused and Elite anamorphic, plus I had seen at the BIT in Madrid the Master anamorphic and the Cooke anamorphic so I kinda had the (now I know it's wrong) feeling that ALL anamorphic sets were big and heavy. Well, from this angle the Kowa are indeed very special: they are small and light, with a from diameter adapted to the standard 80mm and a length very similar to the Zeiss super speed that never exceed the 20cm. And on top of that they are relatively fast (T 2.8) and they don't change their size during focus racks. Even if they did, wouldn't be a problem since all the set has the same front diameter of 80mm, so it's easy to find a clip on mattebox for them. Of course you'll have to treat them with all the due respect, since they had been adapted with external 0.8 focus rings and front element to fit the standard 80mm size, but aside of that both the focus and the iris ring are quite smooth.
Since they are light and small they are particularly suited for light camera configuration where you need the anamorphic look such as hand held, stedicam and brushless gimbals where "standard weight-and-size" vintage anamorphic could cause some issues.
From the point of view of the lens quality itself I have to say that they have a very peculiar look indeed. The loss of definition in the sides of the image seems to me less appreciable than in other anamorphic sets, even though it does exist. Another peculiar thing, that I think it may be caused by the fact that the anamorphic element is in the front part of the lens, is that if you have a character moving from one side of the frame to the other, you can clearly see his shape changing along the way. To have an idea of that imaging that the element moving is a perfect circle: when on the side of the frame you would see it as a vertical oval, than it would gradually "desqueeze" until the center of the frame where it would appear as a circle.
Also, I didn't test it properly because I had no time to do it but I have the feeling that the shape of the depth of field isn't exactly straight but in some way a little curved, but again I'm not 100% positive about that and the loss of definition in the sides of the frame could be the only responsible for that.
What is really nice is the flare, which is extremely similar to the classic horizontal flare panavision-style and looks really amazing both when the light source is in the frame or out of it (even though I prefer the first situation).
On the contrary, one thing that I didn't like (but that is pretty normal on the other hand) is that when wide open, these lenses don't have a classic "milky" style, but they form a strange ghost image on the very contrasted edges and you need to close at least one stop and an half to get rid of that, I have somewhere a couple of frame grabs where you will be able to see it, I will try to upload it as soon as possible.
Resuming: on the operative side, these lenses look to me as the most easy and versatile anamorphic around, by far. And aesthetically they do have a very special and peculiar look (wether you like it or not). I'm looking forward to test them on the field!
Fabio Giolitti - Focus Puller