Archive for the ‘camera lens’ Tag

Homemade Lenses!

As an obsessive amateur photographer I have a lot of old and broken camera equipment sitting around and doing nothing. I’ve already started using my old SLR lenses on my Samsung NX100 and I started to wonder if there was a way I could make use of the broken equipment, after all I do not have the expertise to repair it properly so why not make use of it.

So I purchased a couple of NX lens mounts from eBay, two for less than a fiver including postage so still on a budget here, and started looking at what I had sitting around. I setled on trying to find a way to use a Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm on which the aperture ring had stopped working and the lens from an old Beirette that was bought for me as a gift but on which the film advance mechanism had given up the ghost.

Dismantling the Tessar was pretty straightforward, a few screws undone and the whole thing fell to pieces. Fortunately all the lens elements were held together in a single rigid unit – this also held the aperture itself which could be adjusted by a sliding switch on the side (the internal mechanism that moved it had broken). Getting the lens assembly off the Beirette took a bit more effort and meant the built in shutter wouldn’t fire but I didn’t need that anyway, as long as the lens elements and aperture were ok I was happy.

Firstly the Beirette’s lens, a 45mm Meritar. Using the simple method of holding it in front of the camera while no lens was mounted, I used the image on the screen to guesstimate the size of mount needed. Some superglue, a small M42 macro ring, the lens assemble and the NX mount soon resulted in a new NX mount lens (and some time spent unglueing my fingers).

With the Tessar I decided to try and be a bit more ambitious, I would manufacture my own tilt-shift type of lens – more lensbaby in style that the ludicrously expensive professional products. I’ve seen a few of these online and people generally use flexible rubber hosing to form the lens barrel but I thought that would be too easy and I would try and be clever (always a mistake). One trip to the pound shop later and I had some wire and some black rubberised sticky tape. The plan was to make some wire rings and tape them all together spaced out just right to give me a flexible tube that would hold it’s shape well. Unfortunately the plan was put into practice by me, so I ended up with a slightly wonky, unstable tube that looks awful. I decided to use it anyway, at least I could find out if the idea worked and then I could go get some proper tubing and redo it properly later.

This is what the two lenses looked like:

Meritar_0 Tessar_0

And here are a couple of test shots, taken in Avery Hill Park in Eltham, from a not very sunny day:



Meritar_2 Meritar_1



Tessar_1 Tessar_2


Check Flickr ( for more examples.


Ok, the Meritar doesn’t quite focus to infinity – my guesstimation of the mount was not quite right but it will be fine for close up work and most things except landscapes or very large objects. The Tessa worked remarkably well, definitely worth me putting it into a better tube sometime. Now I need to see what else I can modify like this – new lenses for pennies? That can only be a good addition to my budget photography plan!


New use for old glass

You are on a budget so, much though you might love to, you can’t buy all the new lenses you’d like. Sure the new 24mm Sigma lens looks cool but you have enough bank loans already and one for a camera lens might just break you – what do you do? Simple, use old lenses.

Chances are that if you are an obsessive budget photographer you probably already have an old film SLR or rangefinder and a collection of lenses. If not, go out and get one, they can be had very cheap. My own film SLR a is a Zenit 122 with an M42 mount, you can pick up M42 mount cameras for next to nothing and there are hundreds of lenses out there. I’ve got a Hanimex MC Auto 28mm, a Helios 44-4 58mm and a Jupiter 37A 135mm – all very cheap.

Of course the first use you should put all of this kit to is film photography! So go ahead, I’ll wait . . . still shooting? Ok, come back when you are done . . . good to go? Great.

Now for the other use you can put the lenses to, making your digital photography more interesting. Now, I have a Nikon D70 SLR but the focus screen is terrible for manual focusing – seriously, it is light years behind the Zenit for this. Instead I have a Samsung NX100 (bought cheap on eBay as it had no lens with it) that has a focus peeping (zoom) feature that makes manual focus a hundred times easier. It is possible to get better focusing screens fitted to modern DSLRs but for the price you can probably get different camera that will do better. Don’t get me wrong, I still love my D70 but it is only going to be used with autofocus lenses from now on.

But how can you use an ancient M42 mount lens on a fancy-shmancy digital camera-thingy? I hear you ask. Well by using an adapter of course! Some lovely people make adapters that allow the mounting of old lenses on new cameras, isn’t that nice of them? Of course they do charge for them, but as I got mine for £4, including postage, they don’t charge much.

Old film lenses are meant for what is now called ‘full frame’ when talking about sensor sizes so (depending on your sensor) you may have to do some recalculating to work out what the crop factor does to the focal length. To be honest, this doesn’t really matter all that much. Look at the image on the screen and you will soon get used to what each lens gives you.

If you are obsessive about your images being pin-sharp at all times then old lenses may disappoint you unless you use the smallest apertures at all times. Then again if you are obsessive about pin-sharp images you should probably save all you can and go for the newest and most expensive lenses. However, old lenses have a remarkable thing many modern lenses lack – character. If you use the same colour setting on your camera each lens will render the colours differently, there will be differences in the levels of contrast when shooting black and white. Also, as your old lenses are far more likely to be prime lenses than zooms the chances are they will have much wider apertures than your modern lenses. My two Nikon zooms have minimum apertures between 3.5 and 5.6 depending on the focal length (I also have the 50mm 1.8 but it is the only modern prime I own), my M42 lenses go from 2 to 3.5 as a minimum. Even at 3.5 there is a world of difference in terms of depth of field and bokeh.

Sometimes I am looking for a pin sharp image so I use my D70 and modern glass, it does the job great. Sometimes I am looking for something different though, and that is what old glass offers – some of the quirkiness of film photography with the convenience of digital.