Thursday, March 15, 2012

DIY lens, the making of.

Some of you have asked me about the homemade macro lens I use. It's really a makeshift device; I made it first, 5 years ago, to fit my first digital camera, a tiny Kodak EasyShare C533.

I had run across a couple of videos on YouTube, where people had put together a few old lenses, taped them into a tube, and created a passable macro lens, at least a bit better than the macro setting on their point-and-shoots. I took their ideas and modified them to suit my little camera.

The contraption consisted of two lenses from old binoculars, set in a card stock tube made to fit the barrel of the camera, slotted into a larger card tube the diameter of the lenses. The whole thing was wrapped in black electricians' tape to hold it together and to darken the interior.

The homemade rig, third edition. Not so carefully wrapped as the first.

Front view. The bluish mass is hot glue, easily removable for adjustments and cleaning.

Back end, with space for the camera barrel.

 I can see dust on the inner lens; how it gets there, I never know. At least I can fix this.

Really amateurish lens cap made from a plastic bottle.

It worked. Not well, but better than nothing.

A year later, I upgraded slightly to a Canon A720. The lens fitted, but did nothing until I reversed the rig. I took it apart to make it fit backwards and added a third lens taken from an old movie projector, which improved it.  I had to experiment with different arrangements of the lenses; direction, distance between them, and order.

On my next two cameras, Canon and Olympus, the DIY lens was no help; I stored it away. But it fit on the little Sony I got last year, and worked even better than on the first two. And now it fits the Nikon, but only held backwards again. I'll take it apart and rebuild the tube to fit.

I looked for those old YouTube videos; they're no longer to be found. I did find many videos saying that you could take an old 50mm lens, attach it backwards in front of the regular camera lens, and it will become a macro lens. I tried that; it doesn't work on any of my cameras. Maybe the next one. But maybe I'll just end up biting the bullet and buying a "proper" macro lens, instead. (Memo to self: stop buying antiques!)

The Sony with the lens attached. It just slides onto the extended barrel.

To test it with the Nikon, I photographed shells I had done a couple of years ago with the Olympus (on macro setting, no added lens) and compared the results.

From the Olympus. Cropped but not resized, colour corrected and sharpened.

From the Nikon with lens. Cropped to include only the original shells, resized  'way down to match the Olympus photo. No other adjustments. A slight angle creates blurring at the outside edges.

They look about the same, but the first one has no "give"; it blurs out at larger sizes, whereas the new setup can zoom right down:

Pink shell cropped from previous photo. I removed a bit of dust (should have dusted the box first), but made no other adjustments.

Price of my rig? 50 cents for the ancient binoculars at a garage sale, a buck for the third lens in Value Village. The electricians' tape and hot glue I had on hand. Card stock from a recycled box. About an hour's work for each rebuild.


  1. Thank you so much. Plan to try it out!

  2. Seems like everyone has their dream machine! I just bought a DSLR, so now I have adjustable focusing, something I have wanted for several years.
    Someone told me she is very good at getting sand in her lenses, even when she is not near sand, if that helps any.

  3. Anonymous11:32 pm

    love this mom! it works great!

  4. "Anonymous" in Chilliwack; Wow! That makes me feel really good!

    Judy; and I spend a lot of time on sandy beaches. Windy sandy beaches.

    Marie; I'd love to hear how it works for you.

  5. The trick of reversing a slr lens (a 50 mm or less) will work when used without any other lens (a slr body). I dot think it works with point and shoot cameras. Thanks for sharing the technique...I might try this myself.


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