Make High Quality Pictures With Cheap Lenses




If you are a video creator or photographer you know that different lenses for you camera are important to give your images good quality or a certain look. Depending on the purpose and your experience you very likely need multiple ones. But can you afford buying original lens after lens and to spend all that money on them?
Luckily there is a cheap alternative. Lenses for surveillance cameras so called CCTV lenses are available for relatively little money. As they usually don't contain electronics or stabilization mechanisms they can be build at little cost although their glass is often pretty good.

Step 1: The Settings

They can not only replace original lenses with similar properties but can also offer specifications that are not available from the official lens program. Examples are this 500 mm tele lens where the maximum from Nikon is currently 110 mm or this 8mm? wide angle where the minimum from Nikon is 10 mm for my Nikon 1.

Probably the most used format for CCTV lenses is the C mount which was first used for 16 mm movie cameras by Bell & Howell. As they are often used to monitor badly lit places they often come with a larger aperture that offers a shallow depth of field and great low light capabilities. Unfortunately they will usually not directly fit your camera especially when it's a mirrorless. So you need an adaptor.

But it's not really expensive and widely available for most common cameras. The camera settings will need to be changed to fully manual in most cases as there is no electronic feedback for e.g. aperture and shutter. Some models allow using aperture priority mode though which is preferable as that way at least the exposure can be chosen automatically. This also means that you need to change all other settings on your lens mechanically by yourself of course.

Another widely used format is T2 introduced by Tamron which you find on telescopes or microscopes. This allows you to also easily take microscopic or astronomy images as a bonus. Note that you may need extension rings to adjust the focus point of the lens to the one of your camera.

Step 2: The Quality

If you are searching for a lens make sure that its sensor size matches the one of your camera. Otherwise you will get bad vignetting if it's considerably smaller. Depending on the actual quality these lenses can not only be incredibly cheap - they can also be incredibly bad. So you need to do some research for example in forums to find out which ones offer a decent quality. You can also check out my blog for a comparison of different wide angle CCTV lenses.

So if you are carefully deciding which lens you actually buy it can give you great artistic opportunities and save you a lot of money.



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    7 Discussions


    3 years ago on Introduction

    I've done this, and it works ok, but I would like to offer a few cautions:

    1) The lenses you'll want are usually C-mount, rather than CS-mount. The difference is that CS mounts need to be attached closer to the sensor.

    C-mount lenses need to be 17.5 mm from the sensor, which is very close to the 17.0 mm that native Nikon lenses need to be. That makes it easy to build an adapter, so you'll find them all over ebay.

    CS-mount lenses need to be 12.5 mm from the sensor, so an adapter would have to actually push into the camera body, potentially interfering with the shutter. I have not seen adapters for putting CS mount lenses on Nikon cameras. You can attach a CS-mount lens using a C-mount adapter, but it will only be able to focus very close to the lens.

    2) C-mount lenses cannot normally be used on DSLR cameras. They can usually only be used on mirrorless cameras like the one shown in the video. Most DSLR cameras are designed to have the lenses >40 mm from the sensor. The mirror of a DSLR camera prevents you from mounting a C-mount lens as close as it needs to sit.

    3) CCTV cameras are considered high resolution if they have only 0.3 megapixels, so there hasn't traditionally been any benefit to building high-resolution lenses. Most lenses you find on ebay and the like are probably designed for these cameras. Some more recent cameras with C-mounts are 1 or 2 megapixels, but this is still far less than the resolution of the camera your probably adapting the lens to. For best results, seek out those newer lenses (sometimes called megapixel lenses), but don't expect even those lenses to match the quality of the lenses that are designed for your camera.

    4) You don't usually need to operate in full manual mode with these lenses. It's usually enough to set the camera to aperture priority mode. That way the camera can still auto-adjust the exposure time.

    2 replies

    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    Just one more thing. My J2 indeed needed to be set to fully automatic. Aperture priority only did not work.


    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    Very valid remarks. Thank you for taking your time and effort to point them out. My explanations were indeed quite sloppy there. I'll adjust the article accordingly.

    Sorry that you didn't find a nice lens but my experience is that the quality really varies a lot. The very cheapest ones I tested were not so good but the second cheapest category offered some nice results. For me lenses from VT had a good price quality ratio.


    3 years ago on Introduction

    I am intrigued by this! I have a camera that sit unused as I do not have the money for bigger lenses. So this is a BIG thanks for sharing this, and I will check out the YT videos today.

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    Note that if you are lucky you can make really good deals on ebay. The 500 mm tele cost me only 20 bucks including shipping :)