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DIY Tilt-shift lens - no exciting pictures yet

Submitted by keithloh on Mon, 2007-10-22 17:01.

Zenzanon Bronica Toilet Plunger Tilt-shift lens
Super ghetto contraption

Yesterday, I created my own Lens Baby. First of all, what is a Lens Baby? A Lens Baby is a series of popular tilt-shift lenses in which the front element is attached to a flexible tube. This enables the photographer to twist and turn the lens while keeping the camera body stable. In a shallow depth of field (DOF) shot you can then keep the focus on one part of the picture while keeping the rest of the composition out of focus. For example, in a portrait shot you might want the model's eye to be in focus but the rest of the body or face out of focus.

The Concept: toilet plunger + medium format lens
The concept is pretty simple. I followed the general plan laid out by Dennison Bertram (now duplicated by many dozens of others). I guess I found the idea of putting a toilet plunger on my camera pretty funny, too.

Flexible mount
A tilt-shift requires a flexible mount so that you can use your hand to twist or turn the lens however you please. An articulated toilet plunger -- or an old-school manual transmission shift-boot -- provides flexibility but also a certain amount of rigidity and of course light-proof material.

Choose the lens
Once you have the tube you will want to choose a lens. The issue with the lens is that you must choose a format larger than your camera body. Why? Here I have to claim ignorance. I have read the explanation before but it makes no impression on me. All I know is that others who have tried to make it and used regular 35mm lenses ended up with DIY macro lenses, not with a tilt-shift lens. The solution is to use a format larger than your own. So, a medium format lens.

The second issue with the lens is that it must have manual controls. Since your tilt-shift will have no mechanical or electronic link to your body you must be able to control focus and aperture.

Actually, this is wonderful because eBay and used retailers (such as have hundreds of old medium format lenses available. Many of these were built for hard-to-find bodies or dead-end platforms and thus are available for very cheap. I ended up getting an old Bronica Zenza Seiko 75mm f/2.8 from KEH for $15.

Depends how ghetto you want to be. You must have some kind of cutting tool but after that you can use electrical tape to take everything together. My work in progress currently is half taped / half glued. It isn't pretty.

The hard part: putting it together
The hard part after you have these pieces is putting it together. This requires a lot of trial and error. I destroyed one toilet plunger and had to get another. Frankly, you should be able to make one of these in under an hour but it seems like you need to learn how after making lots of mistakes.

How long a mount?
The key mind issue is how long to make the flexible mount part. You have a lot of material to work with (depending on what kind of toilet plunger or shift boot you got). I destroyed my first toilet plunger because I made it too short.

To determine how long a mount to make, take the lens and hold it in front of your camera. Look through the viewfinder and then move the lens about until you get things into focus. Then go through the whole range of focusing from the closest mark to infinity. Once you are satisfied that you can focus through the whole range, then measure the distance from where you held the lens to your body. That's how long your mount should be. Since the material is flexible, you can fudge around it but keep in mind it is harder to scrunch the lens closer to your body in use than it is to pull it further away. In version three of my tilt-shift I will probably make mine longer than it is currently.

Cutting ...
Once you determine how much material you need, get your knife and cut that length of 'tube' from your toilet plunger. The toilet plunger I had is made of vinyl, not rubber, and so cut very smoothly. If you want to be careful, cut more than you need and then test it out with your lens and body and then pare it down.

... and pasting
You will need to attach the mount somehow to your lens and then to your body. I say somehow because my v2 model will get no high marks for stability or permanence. I basically took my lens and rammed it into the mount and twisted it clear so that the focusing ring is now fixed inside the mount and you have to turn the whole lens inside the focus ring to focus it. I used hot glue and then I backed it up with electrical tape. Still, I wouldn't want to trust it to hold the lens in. This is super-ghetto.

Super ghetto: no attachee to Canon bodee
After the lens is attached then you need to put it on your body. This is where my work in progress ends. I found that with the toilet plunger mount on I can simply hold it tight to the body and there will be no light leaks and I can adjust accordingly. While obviously it would be nice to be able to screw the lens into the actual camera mount, I don't think you will ever want to leave the lens and plunger dangling from your camera at any time. It is just inviting disaster. The only other issue then is if you are paranoid about leaving your sensor open to dust and other particles. I am just not that hung up on that.

I admit that I spent over three hours taking a Canon body cap and scraping out the hole. The body cap naturally screws on nicely onto the Canon body and so provides a more permanent mount. My hands are aching from all that scraping, actually. But then I spent a couple fruitless hours trying to attach the toilet plunger somehow to the body cap. I couldn't find a good way so I abandoned it for future projects (perhaps DIY Tilt-shift v3?).

Why not just buy a Lens Baby or a more professional tilt-shift lens?

Good question. I don't look down on the Lens Babies and they aren't that expensive considering the time I spent making mine. However, I do like having the option of choosing the type of glass I want to use.

I did also research other tilt-shift lenses such as the Arax and the Hartblei. The Canon one is quite expensive and hasn't been updated for many years. For dedicated applications certainly it makes sense to pony up the coin for one of these but since I don't have any real use for a tilt-shift lens beyond making funky images I don't see a need for one. Obviously my ghetto contraption is not useful for anything requiring precision photos. No landscape stitching is possible with this, for example.

As soon as the day lightens up in rainy Vancouver I'll be taking test photos with this contraption.

Posted in Submitted by keithloh on Mon, 2007-10-22 17:01.
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Anonymous | Wed, 2009-12-02 11:15

I bought a Mamiya-Sekor 50mm E lens for only $20, but I only get macro-like shots when I attach the DIY tilt shift lens on my Nikon D40. How would I know if the lens is for a medium format camera?
Thank you.

keithloh | Wed, 2009-12-02 23:58

Mamiya made lenses for 35mm as well as Medium Format. Mamiya itself had a 35mm system but these days are medium format only. The one you have is made for their 35mm ZE or ZM system.

I have no particular Mamiya expertise beyond the 645 and Mamiya Press systems but a quick search showed that your lens was made for 35mm.

A medium format lens or large is definitely needed to accomplish what I'm doing.

Keith Loh

Anonymous | Thu, 2009-10-22 11:35

15 bucks for the lens- are you shure?
I found it for 89$

keithloh | Fri, 2009-10-23 03:12

I don't have the receipt in front of me but as I remember it was literally the cheapest 80mm non-broken medium format lens that I saw on the site. Since I don't shoot Bronica I have no idea if it will still mount on a Bronica body -- so perhaps it is non-functional that way. I don't recall.
Keith Loh

Anonymous | Wed, 2009-09-30 05:24

Is it possible then to use a full frame lens?


Anonymous | Mon, 2009-10-19 16:37

No, see some of the comments below.

Anonymous | Thu, 2009-08-06 16:33

is FD lenses considered medium format lens?

keithloh | Thu, 2009-08-06 19:32

No, FD lenses were for Canon's older 35mm bodies before their current EOS system.

For medium format lenses the names you can research are Bronica, Contax, Fuji, Mamiya, Hasselblad, Pentax, Rollei. has an AS IS section that you may find interesting. Just be sure that the aperture still works. That and glass is really all you need to work.
Keith Loh

Anonymous | Sun, 2009-04-05 22:28

>Basically a lens designed for a 35mm system will never focus properly once it is separated by more than a few millimeters from the body.

Anonymous | Wed, 2009-01-21 06:09

You need a larger format lens because of the flange focal distance of the body & lenses. Basically a lens designed for a 35mm system will never focus properly once it is separated by more than a few millimeters from the body. It won't focus to infinity if you have it more than a tiny fraction of a millimeter from the body, because the lenses are designed to reach infinity focus when the front element fully retracted -- i.e., when it's closes to the film/sensor plane. Different system/mounts have slightly different flange focal distances; lenses designed for the longer ones can be used for the shorter ones, but not vice versa, because of this issue. That's why a Nikon F lens can be used on Canon EOS bodies via an adapter, but not vice versa.

Now, medium format has much, much longer flange focal distances, which means that lenses designed for them are meant to be much farther away from the film/sensor plane. That's what give you the 5-6cm play between the body and the lens, where you can fit a flexible plunger to create a ghetto tilt/shift lens ;-)

Hope that's a bit clearer than some of the other explanations you've heard.

Regarding the attachment, you can buy a T-mount adapter for around $15, which already has a hole bored for you ;-)


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