We have not said much about anamorphic lenses on ProjectorCentral in the past. It isn't that we don't like the concept-the theory is great. They can transform a 4:3 projector into a 16:9, and they can stretch the image of a 16:9 projector into super-widescreen Cinemascope 2.35. So there isn't anything to object to in concept.
Unfortunately, the fact is we've never been happy with the optical performance of the anamorphic lenses we have tested. They can produce vignetting (severe dimming on the corners of the image). They can impart pin cushion, barrel, or concave geometric distortions. And even if they manage to avoid those flaws, they can still introduce a subtle oily texture to the image that makes it look like you are viewing the image through an optically impure window, which essentially you are. These are optical flaws that we'd never want to live with ourselves, so despite the growing enthusiasm for the widescreen Cinemascope 2.35 format, we've been hesitant to promote the use of anamorphic lenses for home theater.
However, last week we lit up a projector with the Schneider Optics Cine-Digitar 1.33X anamorphic lens, and the truth changed. Simply put, this is by far the best anamorphic lens we've yet seen and the first one we'd gladly install for use in our own home theater. There is no hint of vignette effects, and geometric distortion is for all practical purposes non-existent. But most importantly, this lens is optically perfect. There is not the slightest trace of oily effects. The image on screen is as natural, clear and precise as you'd ever want. The Cine-Digitar 1.33X enhances the performance of the projector without doing anything to get in its way.
I guess I should not be surprised. I've done a lot of large format photography over the last twenty years, and photographers who work in large format recognize Schneider Optics as one of the world's elite makers of precision optics for large format cameras. Their lenses are expensive, yes, but you get what you pay for. I use Schneider lenses exclusively on my Linhof camera for the simple reason that if I am going to get out of bed long before dawn and hike into the sand dunes of Death Valley to set up for an image at sunrise, the last thing I want is sub-optimal lenses in my pack.
Despite knowing Schneider's reputation, I still had some doubts that anyone could make an optically precise anamorphic lens that was within reach of the home theater consumer. This one surely delivers, but it is not cheap-list price is a bit over $6,000. So it is not the type of accessory you'd normally think about adding to your $2,000 projector. But it is definitely worth adding to one of the new 1080p projectors if you are serious about top quality widescreen Cinemascope 2.35 format in your home theater.
Keep in mind that in order for an anamorphic lens to work on a 16:9 projector, the projector needs to be able to horizontally squeeze a 2.35 movie into its native 16:9 display, so that the anamorphic lens can subsequently unsqueeze it and stretch it out to its proper aspect ratio. Not all projectors have this feature. If yours doesn't, you will need an external video processor to get it working.
Now I must cut this short, as I am suddenly quite motivated to go out shopping for a 2.35 format screen. To be honest, I didn't think I'd ever want one until now.