Exacta in Chicago: Retro Lens + Canon Rebel T2i

Last winter I found a beautiful Isco-Göttingen Westar 100mm f/4.5 Exacta mount lens at my local thrift store for only seven dollars! I did some research and found out that it’s a fairly high quality vintage lens, and a lucky find for such a low price! I took it to Chicago for a photo walk, mounted on my trusty old Canon Rebel T2i, and here are some of my favorite photos I captured.

Here are some other photos I’ve captured with this lens, mounted on various cameras.

The Lawn Chair

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.

Grayslake Pinhole: Shooting Pinhole Video with a Homemade Body Cap Lens

Pinhole imagery has always fascinated me. I own a Zero Image medium format film pinhole camera that I shoot with occasionally, but other than my weird pumpkin camera obscura, I’ve never tried shooting pinhole photography with a digital camera. I find the precision made digital pinhole lenses that you can buy online just a little too expensive for the results you get, so the other day I finally did the homework and made my own pinhole lens from scratch. Here’s a video I made for Fotodiox showcasing my build process.

And here’s the footage I shot on a Sony A7S, which is the perfect camera for shooting pinhole video because of it’s amazingly sensitive sensor. Pinhole lenses are notoriously hard to use for video in anything but bright daylight, but with the A7S I was able to shoot footage with my pinhole lens even at dusk!

I learned some valuable things working on this project, namely that you need a very tiny pinhole to get sharp images and that your pinhole need to be extremely close to your camera’s sensor to get that wide angle look that most people associate with the style. My next body cap pinhole lens build is going to incorporate both of theses changes, so stay tuned!

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!

Fisheye In The Bog

Bog Boardwalk

I grew up going on hikes with my family at Volo Bog State Natural Area, and it’s still one of my favorite places to visit in Illinois. A bog, especially in the vanilla Midwest, is a magical place, and when you get out in the middle of it, after crossing acres of quaking ground and floating dwarf trees on a narrow boardwalk, you feel like you’re in another world. This January we had an unseasonably warm stretch that felt just like Spring, and one Saturday I couldn’t help but grab a camera and head out to Volo to check up on an old friend.

To keep things simple I generally take just one camera and one lens when I go on a photo walk, and this time I decided to go with an unconventional pairing: my Rokinon 7.5mm Fisheye, which I just recently discovered I could mount on my work’s Sony A7S with the help of a Fotodiox MFT to E-mount lens adapter. Here’s what the camera/lens combo looks like.

My Rokinon 7.5mm is made to cover a Micro Four Thirds sensor, so I had to use the APS-C crop mode on the Sony A7S plus do a little cropping in post to remove the vignette caused by the len’s built-in tulip hood. I love working with wide angle and fisheye lenses because they give me such a unique, dramatic view of the world. Here are some of the photos I captured during my day at the bog.

Big Blue Winter Sky

Dock on Frozen Pond

January Leaf

I also shot video on my walk, and here’s a short film I made with the footage, trying to capture the essence of the day. I had shot footage of other hikers and my own feet walking along different parts of the boardwalk, but I realized that the strongest elements of my footage were shots of the sky and the bog’s relationship to it, so that’s the direction I took with the final edit. You can check out the video below.

Here’s an additional video I made for Fotodiox about the adapter I used.

Limiting myself to a fisheye lens for an entire day of shooting was a rewarding challenge, and I definitely plan on using this lens on a full frame camera again. Volo Bog is even more beautiful in the Spring and Summer, so I may be heading back to capture more images soon.

Creating a Pumpkin Pinhole Camera Obscura

I wanted to do something special for Halloween last October to help promote my company, and I hit upon the bonkers idea of turning a pumpkin into a pinhole camera obscura. I hollowed out a pumpkin, put a cardboard frame with wax paper attached to it inside, and put a pinhole lens on one side and a hole for shooting through on the other. It turns out that pumpkins aren’t light tight, so I also had to cover the whole thing in black duct tape. The pinhole lens i made wasn’t able to produce the most detailed images, so I focused on creating silhouette images by back lighting the subjects I shot. All of this could have just as easily been done with a cardboard box, but where would the fun be in that? Here are some of the images I created with this bizarre device.

I also made a tutorial video showing how to make a pumpkin pinhole camera obscura that you can watch below.

Exploring Fort Sheridan with an Ultra Wide Angle Lens

This Summer I spent a lot of evenings exploring new places and honing my photography skills. Fort Sheridan is an old military fort about twenty minutes south of where I work, and I found it to be a beautiful and relaxing places to explore and shoot. Here are some photos I captured there with a Sony A7R II, a WonderPana 10-stop ND filter and a beautiful Zeiss Distagon 15mm f/2.8 lens I was able to borrow from work.

Fort Sheridan Cemetary

Grave and Sky

Fort Sheridan Cemetery Sunset

Memorial Horse

Walkway to Nowhere

Fort Sheridan Water Tower

Because I was borrowing gear from work, I was also able to shoot a tie in video for Fotodiox. Here’s the video, where I go into a little more detail about the process I used to capture these image.