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Nikon, Canon, Leica, Pentax, Sigma, Tokina, and a host of other lens makers are all striving to bring you the sharpest lenses with all optical aberrations reduced to the minimum. There are two components necessary for a homemade camera lens suitable for use on a SLR or DSLR: the optics (to focus the light) and the mechanics (to hold the optics in place and hopefully provide a method of adjusting the focus and aperture). Any lens that focuses light (a double convex, plano convex, or positive meniscus) can theoretically be used as a camera lens. Depending on how we address the mechanics of the lens, focal lengths in the range of 60 – 200 mm are good candidates for DIY camera lenses. The first lens uses a positive meniscus from Surplus Shed with an advertised focal length of 65 mm and a diameter of 47 mm (price: $6).
All of the distortions I mentioned above can be largely explained by the spherical aberration in this lens. Spherical aberration is the largest cause of distortion on this lens but it is not the only cause. Chromatic aberration can be significantly reduced by using achromatic lenses, which are made by combining a convex lens made of crown glass with a concave lens made of flint glass. Although functional, the preceding lens still doesn’t have a mechanism for adjustable focus. Another approach is to use two tubes with slightly different diameters to build a sliding (telescoping) focuser. If you are lucky enough to have access to bellows, you have an ideal focuser for homemade lenses.
Of course, you can also find more creative ways to mount your optics, such as using a 2 inch steel electrical conduit with a screw-in coupler to make a functioning focuser. Coming up in part two of this series, I’ll show you how you can get control over the glow from the spherical aberration of these simple lenses to produce wonderful soft focus effects or even sharp macro and telephoto images. John Swierzbin is a photographer obsessed with DIY lenses, if you wish to learn more about them.


To see more of his work please visit his studio website blurMEDIAphotography, or follow him on Twitter, 500px, Google Plus or YouTube.
Stefan Kohler is a conceptual photographer, specialized in mixing science, technology and photography. When he isn't waking up at 4am to take photos of nature, he stays awake until 4am taking photos of the night skies or time lapses.
Some of the comments about the freelensing quickie we posted were deeply concerned with dust. And if you feel comfy with slightly broken English, you can follow the instruction on the machine translated post from DC Watch. You’ll need a piece of paper, a ruler, and a distant light source such as a lamp across the room (do NOT use the sun for this).
Parallel rays of light passing through the lens near the center come to focus as expected at the focal length.
Because with lenses, as with life, sometimes it’s the imperfections that make things interesting. The actual focal length of this lens turns out to be about 45 mm, so it will not quite focus to infinity. However, light rays passing through the lens toward the edge focus at a different distance. Sticky-back felt, from your local arts and crafts store, can be used to create a nice friction fit between the two tubes. There, you’ll be able to see many more examples of homemade lenses and the images they produce. When a lens is used to focus parallel rays of light, the focal length is the distance from the lens to the point of focus.
Another is (you guessed it) Surplus Shed, where they sell a wide range of achromats including one with a focal length of 75 mm and a diameter of 53.5 mm.


This means that for a single element camera lens, the focal length determines the distance the lens needs to be from the film or sensor. Instead, there seems to be a very broad area from about 7 feet to 14 feet that has nearly the same degree of focus. One side of the K2 ring mounts to the camera and the other side has a thread that fits 52 mm filters. The felt can also be used to line the inside of the tubes to reduce reflected light inside your lens. This is very important for constructing your lens and it puts some limitations on the lenses that are useful. Of course, the low contrast, halos, and soft focus can all be put to good use as long as you are not looking for the crisp images produced by commercial lenses. This 52 mm thread is a convenient standard to use for quickly connecting multiple lenses, spacers, focusers, and diaphragms into a working lens (and then disassembling it for the next experiment). Attaching rings from junk filters to both the focuser and the diaphragm will allow you to use them in an interchangeable system. Ideally, the light source should be an infinite distance away, but I find that a light across the room gives me a pretty good approximation. A lens with focal length shorter than 45 mm would have to be mounted inside the camera to reach proper focus on distant objects. Note that the achromat was friction mounted (thanks to a layer of masking tape) to three 58 mm rings that were recycled from some junk filters. At the other extreme, a lens with a focal length of more than about 400 mm starts to get very awkward.



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