Wednesday, March 5, 2008

DIY Camera Lens

Teach an Old Camera
New Tricks!

(Photo: Zeiss Ikon on a Sony Alpha A100)

Make an old camera useful again. Many old film cameras and lenses can easily be adapted for use with todays Digital SLR's. The science for which cameras and lenses make good DSLR adaptations is simple. The lens needs to go from a thicker camera body to a thinner body (with the adapter thickness making up the difference).

If you transfer to a thicker body then the lens will only focus for a couple of feet like a macro lens and everything else beyond will be out of focus. An optical element (lens) can be fitted into an adapter to correct this but they 1.) are very hard to find 2.) are very expensive 3.) you lose some quality and perhaps 1 f-stop of speed.

Kimmo Kulovesi (who took the photo above) writes about his adaptation on Yahoo flickr:

Contessa Nettel Cocarette on the Sony DSLR A100

"A Contessa Nettel Cocarette camera attached to my Sony DSLR A100 by means of sticking an 11mm M42 extension tube to the rear port of the camera. The moving lens assembly allows infinity focus to be achieved, enabling the 105mm f/4.5 Carl Zeiss Tessar lens to be utilized with the DSLR. (Or indeed, almost any SLR capable of accepting M42 lenses either directly or with an adapter..."

"from 1923... it's about as sharp as any lens I have."

-Arkku from Flickr

Lens adaptations or hacks have been around for as long as there have been cameras. Since there has never been a agreed upon standard mount between manufactures there has always been the case of certain special lenses that photographers could not live without and were adapted over when the photographer changed or updated camera systems. Some lenses like the 1920's Kodak Pocket Folder lens have been considered so special for their soft focus portraiture that they have been sought out, and modified to work in modern portrait studios.

Loss of automation is something to consider if you do desire to do an adaptation. Today's DSLR wonder-cams have a lot of integration between the camera and the lens. Without a modern electronic lens attached you will lose some automation that we take for granted today. Some of the biggies include:


You will surely lose Autofocus and the ability of the camera to determine when the shot is in focus using the focusing points. You will have to twist the focus knob yourself and then eyeball the image in the viewfinder to determine if the focus is correct.

Creative Modes

You will be stuck using the camera set to manual "M" mode or (if you are lucky depending on the camera make) possibly Aperture priority, if your camera can still meter light properly without an electronic lens, (Sorry Nikon DSLR users you lose your lightmeter!)

Auto Diaphragm

Modern cameras allow you to meter and focus with the lens iris wide open, then as the shutter is pressed the lens automatically stops down to the preset opening just before the shutter fires. The reason for composing with the lens wide open is to give a brighter viewfinder and to ease in focusing. With an adapted lens you will need to set the lens iris manually before you press the shutter.

To the modern DSLR user the loss of automation alone can be daunting. For those of us that used film cameras it will be like stepping back in time. Either way it is surely more work to adapt and use a non system lens than to just buy one made for your camera. However for many of us Do-It-Yourselfers hours of enjoyment can be had by adapting and using these older lenses and cameras.

And remember...

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CheekyGeek said...

CRAP! I thought I was the FIRST to think of doing this!

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