Making a Magnifying Glass Lens

I’ve always wondered what using a magnifying glass as a lens would look like, and this summer I decided to give it a try. I’ve seen people online hold a magnifying glass up to an exposed camera sensor or lens for trippy freelensing experiments, but I really wanted to see how close I could get to building an actual lens. The build was super simple: all I did was tape a magnifying glass to a macro tube and attach it to my camera. Here’s a tutorial video I made for my company, showing my process.

I took my new homemade lens on a trip to Greenville, South Carolina last month and captured some video with it, which I then graded with a black and white film LUT. I’m pleased with how easy it was to get the footage to look like an ancient and weathered roll of motion picture film, mostly due to the crazy soft, single element of the magnifying glass optic.

I’ve shot photos with this lens too. Here are some of my favorites.

Backyard

Shooting with this lens has been a fun challenge. The super lo-fi look it creates makes everything feel weightless and dreamy and forces me to think about composition, light and the emotional meaning of objects and poses. I don’t see myself shooting with it every day, but its a unique tool to have in my camera bag.

iPhone Fisheye In The Garden

Japanese Bridge

One of the most peaceful places I know is the Chicago Botanic Garden. I spent an entire day there last summer, walking slowly through the palatial grounds trying to take in all the wonderful designs, colors and smells around me. I had a Sony A7R II and some nice vintage glass with me, but I found myself having way more fun shooting with my iPhone 6s and a little snap-on fisheye lens my friend had recently given me.

Rose Garden Framed

The Japanese section of the Garden has some lovely little pathways in it, and the fisheye lens I was shooting with created some very weird lens flare. Together they made for a pretty cool image.

Japanese Garden Path

The Garden also has some beautiful indoor exhibits, including rain forest and desert plants that require careful climate control.

I call this one “ATTACK OF THE GIANT TOPIARY KIWI!”

Attack of the Giant Topiary Kiwi!

I found that the fisheye lens attachment gives iPhone panorama shots a very unique look.

More and more I’m realizing how unimportant the quality of a lens is to me when compared to it’s character. In my book, a lens with a quirky or strange character will always trump an optically pristine lens with none, even when that means I end up keeping the $3000 camera in its case and shooting with my phone most of the day. If you’re looking for a way to spice up your phone photography, I’d definitely recommend trying out a fisheye adapter!

Crappy Cookie Lens: The Loreo Lens in a Cap

I can only think that the company Loreo got it’s name from their flagship product, a body cap sized lens that has the look and shape of an Oreo cookie. I recently picked up one of these Loreo Lens in a Caps and I was pleasantly surprised by it.

Lunch Break

The Loreo Lens in a Cap only costs around $20 and its been harshly criticized by online reviewers for it’s softness, distorted edges and lack of contrast, all things that I get a kick out of. I re-ignited my interest in photography in college with a lo-fi plastic junk camera that I picked up at a Goodwill, so it takes a lot worse to keep me away. Not only do I enjoy the lo-fi look this lens brings to any camera you mount it on, but also enjoy the challenge: shooting with a crappy fixed focus 35mm lens means you have to get creative. The quality of a photograph taken with this lens rests entirely on the strength of the composition and subject matter, the lens does none of the lifting.

No Swimming or Diving

But that’s not to say that the Loreo Lens in a Cap has no charm. The soft edges lend a retro feel to the images, and the fixed focus throws the foreground out of focus at f/5.6, which creates a unique look. You can shoot at f/64, which turns the lens into a sort of optical pinhole, and with the spin of a junky plastic wheel you can also shoot at an aperture of f/8, f/16 and f/32, but I preferred to stay at f/5.6 for it’s softness and shallower depth of field. At any aperture the lens gives you a flat, faded look, but it’s easy to add contrast in post, especially if you shoot in RAW like I did with these shots.

Early Spring Mud

The lens comes in several mounting options and I went with the Canon EOS mount. I used this lens on both my Canon Rebel and a Sony A7R II with a Fotodiox Canon EOS to Sony E-mount adapter. I enjoyed shooting with both cameras but the A7R II’s full frame gave me a much nicer field of view and revealed more softness on the edges of the lens. 35mm just seems to pair nicer with the full frame format, even though I probably committed some kind of photographic crime by mounting such a crappy lens on such a beautiful high end camera.

Spring Beginning

Finally, I have to admit that I just like the look of the dang thing. It’s light, tiny and, as previously mentioned, Oreo cookie shaped, and it just looks cool mounted on my camera. I’m a hipster at heart and I like to shoot photos and videos with unique and obscure gear, and the Loreo Lens in a Cap, if not much else, is definitely unique and obscure!