Introduction: The Homemade Tilt-Shift Lens

This project is easy, can be really cheap and will add a new tool to your photography toolkit.

Yes, my version is ugly, but it works really well and I love the results. This method can also be accomplished with "lens whacking" or "free lensing" but stepping up your lens will add the most dramatic result.

This will be part education, part eBaying and the rest will be modifying the lens itself to work with your camera.

In my case, I use a Canon 5D Mark II with a full frame sensor but this method will work with any SLR camera.

Step 1: Education - Where to Start in Looking for a Lens

Tilt-shift lenses were made first to correct architecture and distortion of images but have become a favorite by photographers and videographers as when used "improperly," they give a really interesting look. These lenses are basically larger format lenses with built-in adapters that allow you to pan, tilt and lock in your arrangement. The adaptor mechanism pushes the lens away from the camera a couple inches, making larger lenses mostly necessary.

Which sensor size lens is for me? Let's start with your camera which may be one of the 3 fairly common sensor sizes (small to big): APS-C, Full Frame and Medium Format. This project will work with any, you'll just need to buy a lens that is meant for at least the next size up. So, if you're using a APS-C camera, using a lens meant for a Full Frame camera should work well, if you're on a Full Frame like me, you'll want a Medium Format lens and so forth.

Which focal length should I get? This really depends on what you are shooting. If you're doing architecture or enjoy really wide shots, I'd suggest getting a 24mm or 35mm. If you're looking to shoot portraits or lifestyle, maybe a 50mm or 85mm.

What's this crop factor I hear about? One thing to know is that stepping up to the next sensor sized lens will come with around a 1.6ish crop. So, If you're using an APS-C camera and you buy a full frame lens at 50mm, it will actually act like an 85mm-ish. A 24mm will act like a 35mm-ish and so forth.

Is this guy an idiot? Probably, but feel free to double check as you go along.

Step 2: Purchasing the Lens

For me, since I have a full frame camera I went with a medium format lens, and I like shooting portraits so I got a 75mm, which will act like a 100mm-ish lens.

I found this Bronica lens on eBay for around $25. That's including shipping. Not a bad deal. The lens has a bit of fungus on the glass (common on old lenses left in a bag for a while) which I didn't mind since it adds nice detail to the lens flare. The fungus can be cleaned, but it does permanently tarnish the coating on the lens.

The lens mount wasn't a huge deal for me since I will be holding it out in front of the camera. More on that later as I get going on the next steps.

Step 3: Setting Up the Lens

Things you'll need:

  • Camera: SLR (film), DSLR (digital), mirrorless (digital)
  • Camera Body Cap
  • Medium Format Lens (75mm in my case)
  • Black Fabric
  • Drill and drill bit
  • Dremel with sanding wheel or file
  • Hot Glue Gun (with glue sticks...of course)
  • Electricity
  • Fingers
  • Eyeballs
  • Digression

Here's basically what we're doing. Since we'll be holding the lens out in front of the open camera a couple inches, we'll have a couple issues.

  1. Dust and dirt can get into the camera
  2. Light leaks - In some cases, this can be cool, but if the sun, studio light or flash is at the wrong direction in relation to the camera, it can reflect off the mirror into the sensor as it flips up, giving an unsightly square right in the middle. But then again, I'm sure you could make that look cool as well.

To protect the insides from dust and light, we'll make a bellows system in the next step.

Step 4: The Body Cap

You'll need something to lock the bellows into the camera body, what a better, cheaper thing than an old body cap.

However you need to bore the center of this body cap out is up to you. I simply drilled a bunch of holes with a drill bit and then used a file and rotary tool to sand the edges fairly smooth.

Now you have something to glue to.

Step 5: The Bellows

I needed a material that was super flexible as I will pull, twist and tilt, so paper or cardboard wasn't really my best option. I found a flexible, high thread count black material from my local craft store and it's perfect.

I followed THIS GUIDE to create my bellows. There are tons of options and templates for you.

Step 6: Hot Glue and Make It Ugly

Personally, I really don't like the destruction of anything no longer made, so I used hot gluing rather than epoxy, super glue or anything else like that sets well with my antique soul. I could have also hot glued from the inside and made it prettier, but I also didn't want glue getting down into the mechanics of the lens itself.

So, I made it the ugly way. Sorry.

Step 7: Shooting


You'll notice right away that your aperture shows "00." This is because nothing is communicating with the camera, but it will still shoot. You'll need to adjust exposure through the shutter and/or ISO.

Framing tips:

For "tiny photos" of large landscapes, it helps to be elevated and looking down. You can see the example on my baseball game cover photo for this project.

It also makes for some interesting images with people and objects straight on. Unfortunately, my boys don't sit still long enough to zero in on them.

Here's a quick video I captured just to show how narrow the depth of field range is.

Optics Contest

Runner Up in the
Optics Contest