I’ve had my Xelmus Apollo lenses for a couple weeks now and had the opportunity to test them in many different scenarios. Please view the video for a play-by-play commentary of the shots as I experiment with the 40mm, 60mm, and 100mm lenses.
My main takeaway from the lenses is that they are tremendously smooth and cinematic and full of charm and character, while still remaining sharp. These lenses don’t require any filtration to achieve a unique and cinematic look and adding too much filtration would detract from the clarity and other characteristics, in my opinion.
Speaking of filtration, I noticed that when using neutral density filters, it softens the image more than it would on spherical lenses. Of course, any ND will slightly soften; even the highest quality filters will have an effect. I was using high quality Schneider 4×5.65 NDs and they definitely softened the image significantly more than when placed on a spherical lens. I’m not sure if this is a common occurrence for anamorphic lenses compared to spherical, but it can definitely pose a challenge when shooting outdoors and striving to achieve the crispiest image. To test it further, I placed a lower end K&F ND filter on the lens and the softening was even more apparent than the more expensive Schneider. Therefore, I can conclude that the quality of the ND seems to play a factor. I also experimented with using the high quality built-in ND on my Ursa Mini Pro to see if using ND filtration at the sensor, and not at the front of the lens, would remedy this issue, but sadly it did not. If you have any recommendations on which ND works best for anamorphics then I’m all ears because I’d love to find a solution for this.
CONSTRUCTION AND CLOSE FOCUS
As you can see from the photo above, the construction and housing of the lenses is beautiful. The iris and focus rings are standard 0.8 pitch and all three lenses align so that when you’re switching out lenses, you won’t need to move your follow focus position. I’m really impressed by how smooth and snappy the mechanics are, especially for anamorphic lenses. Often, anamorphic mechanics tend to be stiffer and less consistent than a spherical cinema lens, but these feel like you’re using a nice spherical cinema lens and it’s easy to forget that you’re shooting anamorphic. Especially considering that the close focus is less than 18 inches, which is great even by spherical standards. Effectively, these are macro anamorphic lenses. As you’ll see toward the end of the video, I used the 100mm to shoot food closeups for a Ra Sushi commercial and I was blown away by the capability to do that in anamorphic! Typically, close focus on anamorphic is between 3 to 5 feet so these lenses really open up the playing field to what’s possible.
The Xelmus Apollo are full frame. As you can see from the specs chart below, the image circle is large enough to cover full frame and even medium format, depending on the lens.
According to my research thus far, I haven’t seen another set of anamorphics with a larger image circle than the Xelmus Apollo. The 40mm has the smallest image circle at 33mm but even that’s huge considering the ARRI Master Anamorphic 40mm lens has an image circle of 21mm. The Atlas Orion 40mm has an image circle of 31mm. I tested out the 40mm Xelmus on my a7s iii and RED Monstro full frame cameras to make sure it would cover and it did so just fine. The width of the a7s iii sensor is 36mm so there technically is some vignetting on the sides, but when you convert the pixels to 2.0 anamorphic and drop the footage into a 2.39:1 aspect ratio timeline, the vignetting doesn’t show and there is even some wiggle room remaining. The 60mm and 100mm Apollos have such large image circles at 42mm and 60mm that there is absolutely no vignetting on any part of the sensor. For the 40mm Apollo, I would be curious to test it with the Alexa LF or Mini LF to see if it would vignette in the 4:3 anamorphic mode. I imagine it might actually slightly vignette since that sensor is taller than an a7s iii or a RED Monstro, which means that when the pixels are converted to 2.0 anamorphic and desqueezed, some vignetting might remain. If you have any experience or knowledge pertaining to this I would definitely be interested to learn more until I have the opportunity to test it myself.
The Apollos are fast! The 40mm is T2, the 60mm is T1.6, and the 100mm is T2.5. I’m sure the question on everyone’s mind is, “Are they sharp wide open?” This, in my opinion, is a two part question.
Sharp At Close Range
They are surprisingly sharp wide open at close range. This is great for filming shallow depth of field closeups where you want the eyes and eyelashes to be nice and sharp and for the rest of the image to falloff. Below is an example of what I’m talking about. This is using the 60mm at T1.6 close focus at 16 inches:
It’s really amazing to be able to achieve such a shot using anamorphic lenses and it opens up a whole lot of creative opportunities. I will mention that stopping down by even a half stop to a full stop does improve the overall clarity, contrast, and reduce the amount of chromatic abberation so I imagine a lot of cinematographers will want to stop these lenses down by just a bit. The great thing is that they are so fast to begin with that it really doesn’t matter much, and you’re still able to achieve really beautiful and artistic bokeh even when stopped down. I actually found the bokeh to be quite nice even when stopped down to T11 as you can see from this example:
Another interesting phenomenon is that you can eliminate certain flares just by stopping down a half stop as you can see in the video at the 1:44 mark.
SOFT AT INFINITY?
So here’s the second part of the answer to the question of “Are they sharp wide open?” When you’re wide open, and you try to focus to infinity, they are definitely not as sharp as they are when wide open and shooting subjects close to the lens. You can see examples of this by watching the video. In my experience, with my particular set of hand made Xelmus Apollos (keep in mind they are hand made so there will likely be some variance between sets) the 40mm was the softest at Infinity, then the 60mm, then the 100mm was the sharpest at infinity. Therefore, I don’t foresee any potential to shoot wide open landscapes and expect them to be sharp. I recommend stopping down to at least T8 if you’re wanting to shoot something sharp that is closer to infinity on the lens.
The flares are really, really nice. I spoke on the phone with Oleg Krasyuk, the founder of Xelmus, and he said they spent a lot of time perfecting the coatings to achieve the optimal anamorphic flare. There are lots of flare samples in my video above so be sure to check it out, but I can say that the flares happen organically and are not overwhelming or difficult to control. You can get a nice and blue anamorphic streak without it hazing up the whole lens. The other aspect I really like, especially when compared to the Atlas Orion lenses, is that the diagonal flares are much better controlled. It’s still possible to see some diagonal flares in certain situations but for the most part you will get that horizontal blue streak that most people are after.
People pay big money for lenses that don’t breathe. The Apollos do breathe, but only in the vertical direction. This is part of the anti-mump design that Mr. Gottschalk from Panavision innovated back in 1954. These same design principles have been implemented and improved upon for the Xelmus Apollos in order to create compact, lightweight, fast, smooth focusing lenses that only breathe vertically. I’ve actually grown quite fond of this look because it gives it vintage character but it also allows for some really interesting creative effects. There are more expensive anamorphic lenses out there that don’t breathe at all, namely the ARRI Master Anamorphic, and the upcoming Glaswerk Anamorphic lenses. These lenses have amazing sharpness and overall performance that rivals even spherical lenses, but I must say that some of the character of anamorphic lenses is lost since they do more closely resemble a spherical lens. Therefore, all of the anamorphic characteristics that people have grown to love, are really prominent on the Xelmus Apollos; from the oval bokeh, majestic flares, creamy vintage look, and even the vertical breathing all add to that aesthetic. Watch my video at the 12:36 mark to view my favorite example of how the vertical breathing can be used to great creative effect. Lastly, I’m really happy that the Apollos don’t breathe in both the horizontal and vertical direction because I dislike the distracting feeling of zooming while focusing. With the vertical breathing, I never felt like I was zooming while pulling focus, it just feels like a stretch instead.
PRICING AND AVAILABILITY
Each lens is $12,000 totalling $36,000 for a set of three, like I have. Furthermore, to reserve your spot in queue, a 50 percent preorder deposit is required and the remaining 50 percent is due before they will ship them out to you from Ukraine. My experience on this matter was a bit of a leap of faith since I’ve never before sent $18,000 to a new company, manufacturing new lenses, in the country of Ukraine. It was an almost one year long wait until the lenses were finally ready since Oleg informed me that there were delays caused by COVID and also internal delays since Xelmus wanted to ensure the lenses were up to their standards before shipping them out. In retrospect, I’m happy that they waited until they got the lenses right, since shipping them back and forth through international customs would be a terrible inconvenience. It was difficult enough to get them through customs in the first place, and I never want to have to endure that again. I had to fill out paperwork and take phone calls with FedEx just to get them to my door in the US. So if you’re thinking about purchasing a set of your own, please realize that it’s not going to be as simple as purchasing something from B&H Photo. These lenses are hand made and each set takes a full 2 days for Xelmus to build and test before they ship them out.
As you can imagine, this time consuming process has created a backlog of orders and last I heard from Oleg is that if you order today, it will likely be some months until they arrive at your door. There is an upcoming additional set of 3 Apollos that will be added to the collection this Fall. I think it would be amazing to have the full set of 6 lenses since the 50mm, 75mm, and 135mm all seem very appealing to me. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if that set gets delayed as well; considering COVID is still very much a thing and Xelmus also has a backlog of orders. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see…
Furthermore, there is currently no option for a custom case and Xelmus say they would like to create one, but it is of lower priority at the moment since their primary goal is to deliver the lenses to customers. You can view my unboxing video on my Vimeo page if you want to see how they are packaged. I ended up using the custom foam inserts that they were shipped in to create my own protective travel case. I took measurements and found that the Nanuk 935 case fits it quite nicely as you can see from the photo below:
I took a big risk to purchase these lenses sight unseen, almost a year ago, from a foreign Country, but I’m very pleased to report that the risk paid off! The Apollos always looked great on paper and in pictures and I expected them to be good… but not this good! So far, they have exceeded my expectations in all areas and they are the first anamorphic lens that I’ve used that is super user-friendly in the way that a spherical lens is. They are compact, durable, have extremely smooth focus and iris rings, fast aperture, full frame coverage, great flares, beautiful bokeh, macro close focusing, nice and warm skin tones, soft and pleasing focus fall-off…I mean, they really do tick all of the boxes without the caveats typical from anamorphic lenses. With all of this in consideration, I’m left feeling like $12K per lens is an amazing bargain! I look forward to using them on future productions and any suitable opportunity I can get since they really are a joy to work with both technically and creatively speaking.