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Good Photography On A Budget: Making And Using DIY Lenses

ePHOTOzine member Cyril Hobbins shares with us his tips and technique for making and using DIY lenses effectively to create professional results.

| DIY Tips

Good Photography On A Budget: Making And Using DIY Lenses : Hobbo macro image

Words and images © Cyril Hobbins (ePz member Hobbo


On A Tight Budget? 

Photography can be an extremely expensive pastime, not only through the initial spend on a decent camera but, also, on the lenses required for best results in whatever genre of photography we choose to follow. You really don’t need a Leica, or, budget-breaking lenses to take prize-winning photographs, but, if you can afford them, this article isn’t for you.


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My target reader, is, perhaps the established photographer, whether student or not, who has grasped the essentials and owns decent but modest kit purchased within a limited budget. The objective here then is to enable him or her to discover the world of good photography whilst keeping spending to a minimum.


Good Photography On A Budget: Making And Using DIY Lenses : fly macro


To do this my way a good Micro Four Thirds camera is essential because there is a huge array of vintage lenses available that can produce incredible results. Both cameras and adapters to fit MFT cameras are cheap and easily available via eBay.

I tend to go for the very common vintage M42 or M39 screw mount lenses for convenience, but adapters are available for most other mounts. You can obtain all the tuition you might require by watching the best of YouTube videos on Photography, one of the best ways to learn, in my opinion.

The range of vintage film camera lenses is enormous, I have and use a large collection; but, I'm not going to dwell on them here, it would take far too long! First, you need to decide what genre of photography you like and go from there.


Good Photography On A Budget: Making And Using DIY Lenses : Macro


DIY Lenses For Fun & Experimentation

This is the main thrust of this article, you will see from the sample photographs that the results from cobbled together lenses can be remarkable. I have only delved into the macro and creative/art side of things so far with incredible and surprising results.

After watching a couple of YouTube videos on the use of none still camera lenses I decided to have a go. Essentially you seek out a vintage slide projector lens, or a suitable Cine camera lens, these are still relatively cheap from online auctions or even car boot fairs etc, then adapt them to fit your camera.


Good Photography On A Budget: Making And Using DIY Lenses : camera setup


My first DIY lens consists of the following:

  • A vintage slide projector lens, a Leica 90 mm - 2.5 Colorplan costing between £30 and £50
  • A cheap M42 to MFT adapter
  • A 36-90 mm to M42 mount focusing helicoid macro extension tube
  • Total cost circa £75 - shop around


Good Photography On A Budget: Making And Using DIY Lenses : snail



The projector lens fits reasonably well inside the focusing tube. My lens has an elastic band around it to take up any slack, then masking tape to hold it in place ( hot glue will follow for a permanent join).

The M42 adapter connects the DIY lens to the camera - it’s that simple! Focus manually by holding the camera firmly to your eye, then rock very slowly back and forth until you see what you want. It’s quite an art but you will soon get used to it.

With the lens, focusing tube and camera all connected together, you are good to go, but what will you discover in the viewfinder? At first, use a small flash unit on camera, you will find it gives adequate light with the right shutter speeds - you can experiment with these for the best results.

It gives a remarkably sharp image, but one with an extremely shallow depth of field owing to the fixed f2.5 aperture all the way through. The focus ring will enable you to choose what magnification you want. Use the lens like this for creating beautiful creative, art studies.

It is good for Still-Life - part face/body studies, fingers on musical instruments and flowers etc.


Good Photography On A Budget: Making And Using DIY Lenses : aphid macro


Increase The DOF For More Versatility

Right! Now comes the magic! That lack of DOF can be easily overcome to create deep, beautifully coloured close-up and macro shots that take the breath away, and the solution couldn’t be easier.

All you need is an old lens cap, a suitable jar cap, or even a disk of kitchen foil - these must fit tightly over the front end of the lens. Ensure that you find then mark dead centre, then drill/make a clean 3mm hole. Clean off any dust or debris before fitting to the lens. My old lens cap required an elastic band collar to make it fit very tightly over the front element.


Good Photography On A Budget: Making And Using DIY Lenses : Hobbo macro fly


What you have done is to reduce the f/2.5 all through aperture to circa f/30, thereby increasing the Depth of Field (DOF) to give incredibly sharp and deep macros and close-ups.

Once again your creative abilities can be used to fill the viewfinder with pleasing compositions - a whole new world of photography for relatively little outlay. I have been told that by experimenting with a variety of hole sizes many options will be available. The eBay purchased helical focusing tube enables a whole range of magnification.


Good Photography On A Budget: Making And Using DIY Lenses : Camera setup


Macro Studies With A Vintage 8mm Cine Lens

My next DIY lens produces the most beautiful, greatly magnified macro studies but it was a little more complicated to devise.

I acquired a tiny vintage 8mm Cine Camera Lens, a beautiful Bolex Palliard YVAR w.8-36 mm with ARD mount for just £28 delivered. I do know that it is a lens of very high quality, it was complete with focus and aperture rings in full working order.

To fit it to my camera, I drilled a hole in the dead centre of a black bottle cap to fit the rear thread which screwed up tightly in the relatively soft plastic. I then glued bottle cap and lens to a standard M42 to MFT adapter, making sure that no adhesive got onto the lens.


Good Photography On A Budget: Making And Using DIY Lenses : Hobbo macro flower


This beautiful tiny lens gives incredible, sharp macro results. If shut down to f22 a good DOF can be obtained. This obviously needs the flash to acquire the best results. The proof, as they say, is in the seeing and in this case, my photographs speak for themselves.



This series of photographs demonstrates exactly what these rather crude looking DIY lenses are capable of. Two of them show the actual lenses, with the use of hot glue, and/or/masking tape to hold the components together.

Now that I know what both can do I could tidy them up, but I rather like the Heath Robinson result! The lenses certainly make people ask questions. Now you know what to do, you could assemble your own versions in a better-planned and neater way. I have no plans currently to experiment further, but if a really interesting looking lens appears on eBay you never know.

Both of my lenses have the potential for very serious macro studies whilst at the same time, have even more potential for inventive creative work using the minute depth of field when wide open. I might like to try to build a lens that would create more than macro and close-up views. One for Portraits and Still-Life preferably -  if anyone has any suggestions, feel free to comment below!

Words and images by Cyril Hobbins (ePz member Hobbo)

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saltireblue Plus
12 13.5k 84 Norway
19 Nov 2019 1:29PM
An excellent insight in to just what is possible for very little outlay and a large does of "what if I..."
And how satisfying to be able to enjoy the fruits of your labours, knowing it was all done "from scratch" yourself.
dudler Plus
19 2.0k 1975 England
11 Mar 2020 9:43AM
I've only just found this, Cyril, after our exchange of messages about iPad processing...

This is wonderful: I hope that it will inspire others to experiment!

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