I was recently given the opportunity to shoot a film with the S35 Caldwell Chameleon 1.79x anamorphic primes and my first thought was; Why haven’t we had lenses like this sooner?
We shot them in front of the Arri Alexa 35 camera system. And since we were using the new Arri system I wanted to be able to use as much resolution as we could on the camera (since there is always one producer or post person that is constantly bringing up “The K’s”).
Another thing that I needed was to get the camera footprint down as much as possible. These lenses checked both boxes.
When it comes to anamorphic lens selection for films I normally shy away from modern glass, but in this case, I was very interested. Over the years, I’ve found that my interest in anamorphic glass is a bit odd compared to a lot of other shooters. I like my anamorphic glass to feel vintage. I want to see that the lens is doing a lot of work stretching and dimensionalizing everything. I like rich character and interesting distortion, but nothing that distracts from the part you put into focus. Lastly, I want things consistent throughout the set.
If the wide lenses distort crazy, have terrible fall-off, and the long lenses are super soft or shift in color, then I’m not a fan. I know that is all asking a lot, but I just don’t want to spend too much time in my DI matching lenses. The footprint and weight of the lenses are also very tricky things to navigate. Take for example the Hawk “V Series” (not the V-Lite’s) are amazing-looking lenses that embody what it looks like to shoot anamphic. But, they are awful to shoot with. They are huge, bulky, heavy, and all over the place size-wise. It’s basically a complete change for everything with every lens change.
If lenses are great optically but are very big and awkward and difficult to switch between them, then that could lead me to not be interested- depending on the project. What I’m trying to say is, there are a lot of factors. Enter Caldwell Chameleon 1.79x Anamorphics.
I first saw these lenses at NAB in 2018 and I thought they were a very interesting set. I liked almost everything but the blue-streak flair. Thankfully, it isn’t too over the top. Everyone at the booth was very hot for the full-frame version, but I was only interested in S35.
In November of 2022, I was able to finally get a set to test for a film. Immediately I loved the look of them. On the new (at the time) Alexa 35 camera systems these lenses allowed us to push in more resolution by giving us a wider lateral surface area. In this configuration, the camera was able to shoot at 4196×3164 resolution. This ended up being a lot more useful than I thought it would have been for our film (I’ll get to that more in a minute).
Thankfully, the lenses are not dramatically sharp or overly contrasty. They have a very natural resolving quality to them. The color shift as a whole was negligible. They didn’t seem to lean too much in any direction for color. I would call them neutral. For falloff, we learned quickly that anything shot wider than a t2.8 would make them just a little too soft overall so we just stayed over that line as much as we could. We never saw issues with any edge brightness even on the 32mm.
I mentioned the flair. They are not a flair-happy set. Something I very much appreciate. The flair they do produce is not “over the top” it’s a natural-looking flair with some blue saturation, but it doesn’t wash out or bloom the shot too badly if hit.
I mentioned the wider surface area. This 1.79x (or 1.8x) made the lenses have a slightly wider FOV than normal 2x anamorphics on the S35 scale. We shot in Europe so the spaces of our practical locations tended to be smaller and tighter than here in the US. The wider FOV help with that a lot. Since the distortion of the lenses was very minimal we were able to get onto the 40 and even the 32mm more often than I normally like too. Another big help with this set was the ability of these lenses to get quite close focus on the subject. The close focus on the set is 2.5′. This alone helped us a ton on our film only taking out the diopters for things like screen or button inserts.
Lastly, the size and weight. I believe all of them come in at around 6 lbs. They all fit a 114mm clip-on ring and come in at around 6″ in length. We had them in almost every situation you could think of ie: Steadycam, Gimbal, Remote head, Arm-car, Handheld, Dolly you name it! They were great!
I would recommend these lenses to anyone looking for a good classic anamorphic look with all the comforts and conveniences of modern mechanics.
PS: Once I am able to share some of the images from the film I will update this post. Thanks again to the Arri Rental team of Budapest, and UK!