Great Joy 35mm T2.9 1.8x anamorphic lens mini reviewDPR 7 October, 2022Something completely differentThe Great Joy 35mm T2.9 1.8x anamorphic lens is the third cinema lens from this relatively new player in the ever-growing low-cost anamorphic market. On the face of it the Great Joy 35mm T2.9 follows the same path as the company’s recent 50mm T2.9 1.8x lens, and from the outside it looks very much as though they are a set. Inside, however, the lenses are very different. Driven by the desire to correct the inconsistent squeeze factor of its previous lenses, Great Joy has come up with an interesting new approach that aims to ensure we get a constant 1.8x squeeze without losing the character that anamorphic lenses are known for.Variable anamorphic effects have been a feature of many lenses in the recent wave of low-cost options, with the principle outcome being that faces brought into focus close to the lens look wider than they should – and no one will thank you for that. These differing squeeze factors are pretty easy to fix in post when the camera and subject are static, but become very awkward to compensate for when racking focus in one take. Great Joy’s solution to the problem is pretty novel and creates some interesting side effects of its own.Not sure what anamorphic lenses are? Read our guide to anamorphic photography first.Angle of viewTechnically this lens has a focal length of 34.3mm, but in a practical sense its angle of view depends on how you use it. The aspect ratio you choose to shoot with will have a direct impact on the size of rectangle you can fit into its 32mm imaging circle – and consequently how wide your view will be. Great Joy says that though the 32mm circle doesn’t cover the width of a full-frame sensor, it works fine for full-frame cameras that offer a 4:3 anamorphic mode. At this base level the focal length widens to 19.06mm when the 1.8x anamorphic factor is applied, giving us the horizontal width of a 19mm lens but the picture height of a normal 35mm – which is what gives us that long letterbox format.As with the company’s 50mm lens, though, I found that shooting with the slightly reduced sensor width in 5.9/5.4K 3:2 worked well on the Panasonic Lumix S1H, with a horizontal view matching what I’d expect from a 19.5mm lens. This gave me a 2.7:1 aspect ratio when the image was desqueezed, which is obviously wider than we need most of the time. The 2.7:1 image, though, crops nicely to 2.66:1 or 2.4:1 and loses most of the vignetting in the process.In the 4:3 4K anamorphic mode I got coverage that matches what you’d expect from a 28mm lens, and in the 16:9 4K mode the view looked like that of a 25mm lens.This bit is interestingHere’s the rear element of the lens. You will perhaps notice immediately that it doesn’t look much like the rear element of a spherical lens or indeed of most anamorphic lenses. Great Joy has used an anamorphic group right here at the rear of the design. This is unusual, as rear anamorphic designs produce none of the effects anamorphic enthusiasts rave about – namely oval out-of-focus highlights and dramatic flares.We normally find the anamorphic cylinder on the front of the lens, where it can easily catch the rays and blow their pretty colors across the frame. However, rear anamorphic lenses tend not to suffer from focus breathing in the same way that front anamorphics do, or indeed from inconsistent squeeze factors.With this rear anamorphic design Great Joy aims to produce a constant squeeze factor at all focus distances, and to avoid that problem.But that’s not the end of the story.From the frontThe difference between the design of the new Great Joy 35mm T2.9 (on the left) and the existing Great Joy 50mm T2.9 (on the right) – and almost all the anamorphic lenses we’ve seen recently – is pretty obvious at first glance. While the 50mm has a rectangular baffle around the front element, that of the 35mm is circular like that of a regular spherical lens.You may also note that the iris appears oval in both lenses, which tells us that both have an anamorphic group in front of the aperture, but in the 35mm it seems to be set deep into the lens construction. Great Joy refuses to confirm this or comment at all on the design of the 35mm lens, saying that the design is secret, but it’s pretty clear that the designers have split the total anamorphic effect between two groups of elements, one on either side of the iris.You can also see much less flare on the front element of the 35mm, and that what is there is neutral in tone rather than the blue of the 50mm. Flare is considered a characteristic of anamorphic lenses, but Great Joy so far has produced lenses that flare only moderately.Rear viewLooking at the two lenses from the back, again the differences are clear. Most modern front anamorphic lenses have circular exit elements, like that of the 50mm on the right. The 35mm on the left has a flat box-shaped exit molding that resembles the front element of other anamorphic lenses. You can also see that the iris of the 35mm is oval when viewed from the rear, while that of the 50mm is rounded. This tells us that we are looking at the iris through an anamorphic group – so again, this is further conformation that there are anamorphic elements to either side of the iris stop.Front and back comparedA further interesting feature of the 35mm reveals itself when its front and back are compared: the image of the iris of the lens appears rotated by 90°. This suggests that the anamorphic groups are mounted perpendicular to one another.This is more than a technical observation thanks to the distinct effect it has on distant highlights, especially at night. We do get some elongated bokeh, but there is also something of a starburst effect even when the aperture is wide open. This could be from minor anamorphic streaks being presented at multiple angles. It’s not an effect I’ve seen in any other lenses.ConstructionThe Great Joy 35mm T2.9 1.8x anamorphic lens uses 18 elements in 14 groups – a lot of glass for the fixed focal length lens, but very similar to Sirui’s 35mm offering. The iris ranges from T2.9 to T22, and the minimum focus distance is 0.7m from the sensor. It takes 99° of rotation to shift the iris ring through its settings, and a 246° rotation will take the focus from the closest to the furthest distances. The iris has 11 blades.The front of the barrel is designed to take 82mm screw-in filters and attachments, while the maximum barrel diameter is 85mm. The versions fitted for E-mount, Micro Four Thirds, L-mount and RF-mount cameras measure 160mm in length, while the Arri PL-mount version shown here is 127mm long. The PL version comes with an EF adapter that takes it to 135mm in length. We are given weight for the PL mount model only, which comes in at 1.19KG.Build and handlingAs with the previous lenses from Great Joy, this 35mm T2.9 is very nicely made. The barrel is metal as are the rings, the mount and the inner filter thread. It feels solid and as though it would be hard to damage.Offset cut-out panels on either side of the barrel reveal our focus distances, with one side marked in feet and the other in meters. That’s a nice new touch – previously Great Joy only acknowledged meters. And iris settings can also be read from whichever side of the camera you are standing.Both aperture and focusing rings are fitted with metal 0.8 mod gears for standard follow-focus equipment, and the rotation of both rings is smooth and well-tensioned. In the picture above you can see two of the three mounting points provided on the underside of the barrel.The mountThe mount itself seems pretty indestructible, and comes with easily accessible screws so users themselves can switch between the PL and EF mounts. A set of 2x 0.1mm and 2x 0.05mm shims come in the box, along with a bag of screws for the job.Although the rear element of the PL version doesn’t extend beyond the mount as much as that on the 50mm Great Joy lens, it sticks out enough that mount adapters with built-in filters or lenses will not be compatible. My Fotodiox PL-MFT ND Throttle adapter clashed with the rear element, so I had to use the unfiltered version. Great Joy hasn’t issued guidance on camera compatibility, so I have to assume there are no problems in that department – though obviously DSLR mirrors might get in the way.Filters and vignettingIf you stick to what Great Joy recommends you won’t run into any vignetting issues, but at the same time you won’t get to use the full width of the lens. In their recommended 4:3 shooting mode you desqueeze perfectly to a 2.4:1 aspect ratio for your finished image, but with a focal length much more like a 30mm. When I tried shooting in the 3:2 5.4K mode with the Lumix S1H the view was so wide I ran into issues with mechanical vignetting caused by my H&Y Revoring filter system, and even with regular screw-in filters. Indoors and at night this wasn’t such a problem, but shooting in bright light meant finding a way to mount large square filters over the lens with plenty of clearance on each side. Doing what Great Joy says and using an APS-C area of the sensor avoids problems, but it’s nice to know wider options are available if you are happy with the trade-offs.Looking at the above grid, though, you can see that the 5.9K mode offers the better clearance for 2.4:1 in full-frame shooting, but the DCI 17:9 and 16:9 modes also offer a nice combination of safety and wide angle without resorting to S35 modes. Each camera will offer slightly different results, so it pays to experiment to see what you can get away with.Smaller formatsA good way to avoid any issues with vignetting is to do as Great Joy suggests and use the lens on S35/APS-C sensors, or on Micro Four Thirds. I had the PL version of the lens, but with an adapter was able to mount it very comfortably on the Lumix GH6. With the smaller Four Thirds sensor the view is somewhat narrowed, to something more like a 40mm lens – giving a natural-looking ‘standard’ angle horizontally.The lens certainly wasn’t too big for the camera, and with a basic rig and top handle they made decent partners in a not-too-heavy setup. With the GH6’s built-in 1.8x on-screen desqueeze preview, dedicated 1.8x anamorphic in-body stabilization and new direct-to-SSD ProRes recording you won’t feel so much need for an Atomos recorder or any external monitor for every job, which also helps keep the rig light.Anamorphic characteristicsWith its split design the anamorphic characteristics of this lens are somewhat muted – which may or not be good news. The current crop of low-cost anamorphic lenses really go to town emphasizing flare and highlight streaks, which doesn’t appeal to everyone. People who admire those characteristics will find this Great Joy 35mm somewhat lacking in joy. Those who prefer moderation and more subtle effects, however, will be pleased.You can make this lens flare, but to do so you need the light to be looking right down the barrel. Even then you won’t get the blue streaks you might be looking for. Great Joy has clearly spent some time getting its anti-reflective lens coatings right, as you’d expect a lens as wide as this to flare easily. Lights glow and give off a compact starburst effect, and the color of that glow depends on the color of the light itself – the lens doesn’t add anything to it at all.The 50mm lens that came before this also had muted flare, but not as muted as this 35mm. Great Joy also offered users a choice of blue or amber color tones in the 50mm, which were clearly visible but not overpowering. This lens is quite different: no color, and hardly any flare.BokehIn another sign of its moderate approach distant lights don’t appear as ovals, but rather as bursts of fireworks, and though some elongation is apparent, sometimes points are also drawn as upright crosses. The effect isn’t unattractive, but it may not be what everyone is expecting.I also noted in some out-of-focus areas a slight grid pattern appearing in rendering of detailed scenes, for example distant trees, but also subjects that have any textural contrast. The effect is sometimes like the look of rain caught in a long shutter – vertical streaks that can’t quite be reconciled with the actual information in the subject.In short, then, the anamorphic characteristics of this lens are interesting – very subtle, and perhaps not what everyone will be expecting. While some people will like the subtlety, others used to dramatic blue flashes and cat’s-eye headlights will be disappointed.Distortion, breathing and squeezeDespite the design gymnastics Great Joy has gone through to control breathing, I can’t tell you that the image remains completely still as we turn the focusing ring from closest to farthest. The change is pretty minor, but I found the lens to be a little wider at closer distances than it is at infinity – which is the opposite of what we might expect. Scenes in which focus is set to infinity need desqueezing a tad less than those with a close focus, perhaps only 1.77x rather than 1.8x.Great Joy has reversed the usual problem: with this lens people close to the lens look great with the expected 1.8x desqueeze, while distant subjects may look a fraction wider than they really are – which may matter less. If there is going to be some inconsistency in squeeze this seems a pretty good compromise, as the effects most filmmakers complain about always show up in tight shots of a subject’s face.There is also much less shift in distortion than we saw with the 50mm. The 50mm slides from pincushion to barreling as the focus shifts, so the effect is very obvious. In this 35mm we only have some barrel distortion in the horizontal plane, so the effect is much less obvious. When you shoot with a Super35 sensor area and avoid using the full width of the covering circle distortion is much reduced, as most of the movement is closer to the top and bottom edges of the frame.ResolutionLike most lenses, the Great Joy 35mm T2.9 1.8x anamorphic lens will thank you for closing the aperture a little. I found that when used wide open, the lens is not at its best and it adds a glowing softness to fine detail that can be flattering but not technically desirable. Closed to T4, though, we see the beginnings of a resolution improvement that continues to T8 and that doesn’t really slide off in any meaningful way until beyond T16. The 50mm is a better performer with detail at the wider apertures, but this 35mm still performs to a decent standard at T2.9.Sharpness is well maintained across the frame, and the stretch still gives us the enhanced shallow-depth-of-field impression that we get from anamorphic lenses. Contrast is noticeably lower at the widest aperture, but again picks up nicely by T4. This is something to consider, though, when grading clips shot at different apertures in a sequence.One of a set?While the three Great Joy anamorphic lenses can make a set, their strong individual characteristics mean that each imposes a very different look. Changing lenses within this set brings not only a different angle of view, but also different flare characteristics, different colors and different rendering of out-of-focus highlights.There’s also the issue of slightly different handling. To make the original 60mm T2.9 lens into a 1.8x anamorphic we need to supplement its 1.33x anamorphic factor with the Great Joy 1.35x adapter and use the focus controls on the adapter – so our focusing ring position is slightly different. Of the three lenses shown above, the 35mm and 50mm are in the PL-mount and the 60mm is in the L-mount, which accounts for the iris and focus rings not aligning in the shot. Even so, the two newer lenses are physically quite different to the original 60mm.It is the variances in flare characteristic and starburst out-of-focus highlights, though, that will make the new 35mm most obviously different to the viewer. It will be especially obvious if users have the amber flare version of the 50mm.In short, these three lenses are each good, but individual, anamorphics rather than a consistent set. Great Joy really needs to pick a direction and stick to it, as the lenses they make are really worthwhile.Conclusion and pricingAs a technical reviewer it’s easy for me to say I enjoyed this lens, because it is so different. However, the exotic technical design and muted effects may not be equally appreciated by professionals.This lens presents us with a new path in the world of low-cost anamorphic lenses. Great Joy has, from the beginning of its relatively short existence, promoted (intentionally or accidently, I don’t know) the idea that anamorphic lenses don’t have to drive blue daggers across the frame and become caricatures of themselves. With the extremely modest anamorphic characteristics of this latest lens it goes a step further.The 35mm T2.9 1.8x anamorphic won’t give you dramatic flare, it won’t make cat’s-eyes from distant streetlights and it won’t barrel to throw your subject forward into the face of the viewer. It will still distort out-of-focus areas enough to make the sharp areas stand out more, and it will still use a taller area of the sensor and deliver more pixel information than had you just cropped the picture from a spherical lens. The picture doesn’t look like it came from a spherical lens – the look is still ‘different.’My slight issue is that this interesting lens is the only one that delivers this distinctive look, not merely of the Great Joy family but of any anamorphic lens I can think of. So as soon as you switch focal lengths your picture will change – it isn’t part of a harmonious set. Whether this matters or not is a question only you can answer.Is this a new direction for Great Joy, and will we see all their future lenses designed in this way, or is this a one-off? I don’t know, but the company has already announced that its next one will be an 85mm, so I can look forward to finding out.The Great Joy 35mm T2.9 1.8x anamorphic lens has been launched via Indiegogo and costs from $1189. For more information see the Great Joy website.Note/disclaimer: Remember to do your research with any crowdfunding project before backing it. Pledges to crowdfunding campaigns are not pre-orders. 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