How-to: DIY Tilt/Shift lens

I’ve been looking for ways to get soft, dreamy photos on a budget, and a few months ago I found this article by a photographer in Dublin. I loved the look in his photos, and set about trying to make a DIY tilt/shift lens his way. I bought an old Nikon Series E 50mm lens off craigslist and embarked on my first lens mod. I tried various ways, but in the end settled on a simple assembly with the following parts:

Disassembly
I found several blog posts on disassembling a series E lens. This one is clear and concise. I only needed to take it about half way through. If you’re following along, stop at the point where it says “after removing the focus ring from lens glass“. Note: His purpose was cleaning out the fungus, which is why he says disassembling it from the rear was a mistake. For our purpose, we actually want to disassemble from the rear and leave the front untouched, which is why I recommend following his tutorial from the start till the point I mentioned above. Basically you are getting rid of the aperture ring, the aperture control mechanism, and the focus ring. After removing (breaking off) the aperture control mechanism, reattach the metal ring with the f-stop markings to the bayonet mount. This gives the hose clamps something sturdy to hold on to.

If you disassemble it right, the lens ends up in two parts:

  1. Front part containing the lens elements, aperture, and the front bezel
  2. Rear part containing the bayonet and the metal ring with f-stop markings

Note: Before disassembling, set the aperture to the widest opening possible (f 1.8 in this case). It gives shallow depth of field and lets in the most light, allowing you to shoot fast.

Preparing the elements
This image from the original tutorial shows the parts of the final assembly. I changed a few things:

  • Instead of getting a shower head and slicing it, I made a tapered cylinder (or a truncated cone) using black craft paper. Regardless of what you use, this element goes between the front and rear halves of the lens, making a “socket” of sorts in which the front half of the lens can swivel smoothly.
  • Instead of using a rubber glove, I cut the ankle section of an old sock for use as a flexible sleeve connecting the front and rear halves.

Reassembly
Putting the lens together was quite simple.

  • First, I mounted the rear half of the lens on the camera body (It’s a Nikon D90) and rested the camera on a table with the lens opening facing up. This gave me a steady surface to assemble the pieces on.
  • I placed the  “socket” (In my case, the truncated cone of craft paper) snugly into the rear half of the lens. I did plan on securing it with glue, but the threading on the inside of the lens body actually held it fairly well.
  • I placed the front half of the lens on the socket, taking care to keep it centered and level.
  • I carefully placed the sleeve (ankle section cut off from the sock) around both elements, again making sure the front half of the lens was centered and level after placing the sock.
  • I secured the sock to the two halves of the lens using the hose clamps, starting with the rear part of the lens (which was mounted to the camera and hence more stable).
  • Finally, I folded back the extra length of the sock, which created a second wall of fabric around the lens body, reducing light leaks.

Here’s what the finished lens looks like, from back and front (click to enlarge):

Here’s a video demo of the lens in action:

It’s fun to shoot with, even if it takes a lot of playing around with. Here’s a gallery of images I’ve captured with this lens. Happy modding!

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