Everything Is A Lens

Everything Is A Lens

I’ll have to qualify that last statement. Nearly everything is a lens. I have owned some examples of optics from 1950’s that were made in East Germany that were probably re-purposed Typ 15 bomb fuses.

In our homes, however, there are a lot more things that an be used to take pictures than we realise. Let’s close the equipment cupboard after taking out one camera body and go exploring. We’ll leave the prime lenses and the zooms, and see what else we can peer through.

a. The office has a magnifying glass. A cheap Indian-made thing that is more decor than utensil, it still has a simple lens that will let you examine a stamp collection or set fire to dry grass. It will have more chromatic error and focusing problems than you can shake a stick at but the very centre might take a decent closeup image. Attach a toilet paper tube collar to your camera and hold the glass to the front of the collar and go exploring.

b. That was awful – this may be better. it’s a lens that has feet to keep it at a specified distance from whatever you are examining. Screw in and out to change that. It can be a very precise adjustment.

c. Loupes are always good. Some better than others. The Nikon slide loupe seen here is actually superb. Well, you’d expect that with Nikon anyway.

d. Dead lenses are fair game – these are unmountable examples of old film camera lenses. No good to try to clap them onto digital cameras that have a different mount…but much better if you find an adapter…and you can get good macro results if you reverse them and light for whatever aperture you can coax them to assume.

Beware the fact that old lenses may have picked up more bugs than an egg sandwich in a Beijing petrol station…if they are fungus carriers they can spoil a lot of your new good gear. Leave a suspect lens out with full sunlight through the optics for several days to UV the spores dead.

e. Prisms and glass balls. All very new age – Ask Isaac Newton about prisms and light. There is nothing you can do that is not interesting if you’ve got some light and a prism. Even more so if it is light that can be colour-filtered. You may find that the entire day has passed in scientific wonder.

f. Bottle bottoms. Like the East German lenses, the bottoms of beer bottles and water glasses can actually make interesting patterns on film or a sensor. Unlike the East German lenses, they do not make a horrible grating sound as they do it…

g. Pinholes. Get one of the classic Renner books and some black paper, card, or brass shim and knock yourself out. There is no wrong formulation for a pinhole lens – just ones that work better than others. None of us really know how long you should leave the shutter open when you are doing pinhole shooting except it is about double what you think it should be.

This is virus lockdown. You’ve got time for a longer exposure.

You’ve also got time to poke a larger central hole and several additional holes in a ring around the centre. Thus is the principle of the Rodenstock Imagon. You may get one soft image and you may get several soft images. The users of the Imagon were never quite sure what was going to happen anyway.

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