Bendy Lens Fun

Once again I’ve been inspired by Mel Brackstone, an artist who really does look at the “art” more than the science of photography. Apart from the brilliant landscapes and seascapes and peoplescapes she creates using hi-tech precision lenses, she also dabbles in the dark art of the “lensbaby”. Mel recently posted some lensbaby work that had me salivating and thinking about creating such a contraption. She kindly lent me a custom made bendy lens known as a MelHolga so that I could have a play with it and see how it was constructed. (the MelHolga was made by Ran, check out his artbending

Trials revealed that the particular MelHolga she sent me was suitable only for very close work. In order to achieve more distant focus, I tried various lenses that I had lying around and as it turned out my 3x loupe not only worked but was just the right size to fit neatly into the rubber bellows of the MelHolga. With this arrangement the lens can now focus from infinity to really close, about 250mm (ten inches) and can be manually offset (laterally and/or tilted) to achieve genuine “tilt shift” and selective focus.

I have compared the field of vision with my zoom lens and this indicates that it has a focal length of about 75mm (the Holga is 60mm) this is not bad for portraits and street photography though it’s obviously not wide enough for expansive landscapes. Measurements indicate smallest diameter of about 22mm which which results in an aperture of approximately f/3.5. My Canon 450D can only be used with this lens in full manual mode with no aperture setting at all and no metering or focus confirm, the only settings that can be changed are ISO film speed and shutter speed.

The focus is soft and can be moved around the frame to some extent though there is a lot of guesswork involved. I think with practice some more consistency could be obtained. Because the loupe has a single element plastic lens there is a substantial amount of flare and chromatic aberration and also soft out of focus edges. This lends itself to mono conversion for many images, particularly when used in bright light. When tilted there is severe distortion in most of the frame which tends to be in lines or rough triangular shapes. It’s these characteristics which make this an interesting lens to play with.

I’ve been taking a few shots with it and it produces some really pleasing results. There’s something very appealing about trying to achieve artistic images in the camera, I’ve also found myself paying much more attention to framing because this lens has no zoom capability.

For anyone who’s interested, below these images I describe how to make a bendy loupe lens for very little cost. Thanks are due to Ran who made the original MelHolga :-)

Nuns gathering ? this is a detail from the image above, I couldn’t resist LOL

This is the “Bendy Loupe Lens”

The total cost of making this lens from scratch is about $25 and an hour (more or less) of fiddling around.

What you’ll need:

A body cap to suit your camera. (about Aus $7.50 on the net)

A cheap plastic loupe (Aus $8.95 from Jaycar)

Rubber bellows from an older style mountain bike fork (I picked this up from a bike shop though most no longer have them, they should be available on the net if you go looking. If you can’t find this, Canondale leftie boots are still available or an automotive steering rack boot would do though you may have to add some packing to get the lens to sit firmly)

How to make it:

Use a hole saw or a large spade bit to cut a hole in the middle of the body cap just the right size for the narrow section of the bellows to fit firmly. (first use the hole saw or spade bit to cut a hole in a piece of scrap material so the the size can be checked before you cut a hole in the cap. If you don’t have the right size hole saw or spade bit, use an undersized one and file or sand the hole to the right size.

Turn the rubber bellows inside out and clean thoroughly before use, remember that any loose dirt or dust inside them could end up inside your camera.

Insert one end of the rubber bellows into the hole in the body cap, then fold the protruding end back inside the bellows on the camera side. This keeps it neat and secure.

Press the loupe into the bellows, so that the inside face of the lens is about 32mm (1 ¼”) from the back of the body cap.

Attach to camera and start shooting :-)

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