Motorize Your DSLR Zoom Lens




Introduction: Motorize Your DSLR Zoom Lens

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This is a Parts list to get you pointed in the right direction to build a motorized zoom machine that can be used for spiral star trails or zooming your lens in and out. Some of the gear sizes and the lens gear will have to be modified to fit your cameras zoom lens. For this instructions guide I used a Nikon D800 with a 14-24mm zoom lens as an example.

Servo City Parts List:

1. 0.5 RPM Gear Motor (RZ12-3000-05RPM). For faster rotation try a more powerful motor.

2. Aluminum Clamping Motor Mount

3. 12 Inch Aluminum Channel

4. 9 Inch Aluminum Channel

5. 1 Large Square Screw plates

6. .3125 inch L x 6-32 Zinc-Plated Alloy Steel Socket Head Cap Screw (25pk)

7. ¼ inch Collar

8. ¼ inch Bore Set Screw Hub .770 inch

9.1/4 inch Shafting & Tubing Spacers (12pk)

10. (2) .250 inch ID x .500 Inch OD Flanged ball Bearing (Stainless Steel)

11. DC Power Cable

12. Digital Manual Speed Controller

13. 8 Cell 12v Battery Tray (plug end)

14. 7/64 Female Crimp Terminals for 14-16 awg (6pk)

15. ¼ inch x 2 ½ inch D-Shaft

16. 32 Tooth, 32 Pitch, 6mm Bore Pinion Gear

17. 64 tooth or 84 tooth 32 Pitch ½ inch Bore Aluminum Gear


7/64 inch Hex Key

Screw Driver

Other Items:

Redrock Micro Lens Gear .8 Film Pitch Mod. (Make sure to get the right size for your lens)

Sunwayfoto MP Rail DMP - 200 and Sunwayfoto L Bracket

Dynamic Perceptions MX3 motion control for more movement options.

Step 1: Attach the Aluminum Channels

Attach the 9” aluminum channel to the 12” aluminum channel using 1 large square screw plate and (4) Zinc-Plated Alloy Steel Socket Head Cap Screws. The positioning height of the 9" channel may vary depending on your camera model and lens.

Step 2: Insert Ball Bearings, Spacers, D-Shaft and Large Gear

1) Put a (.250” ID x .500” OD) Flanged ball bearing in the larger holes at the top of the 9” aluminum channel.

2) Insert the .25” x 2.5” D-Shaft into the 2 holes where the ball bearings are. Use the appropriate number of .25” shafting/tubing spaces needed to help assist in the alignment of the gears. (For this project I used 6 spacers)

3) Attach the 64 or 84 tooth gear to the D-Shaft. (The size of the gear will vary depending on circumference of the lens you are using)

Step 3:

1) Attach the 32 tooth 6mm Pinion gear to the motor. For this project I used a very slow .5 RPM Motor to rotate the lens extremely slow. Experiment with different RPM motors to find the speed you need for your desired effect.

2) Next attach the Aluminum clamping motor mount to the 9” channel next to the large gear. Insert the motor and line up the smaller 32 tooth gear with the larger 84 tooth gear. Once they are meshing correctly clamp the motor securely.

Step 4: Attach a Motion Control Box and Power Supply

1) Attach the female crimp terminal s to the motor and hook up the digital manual speed controller. (You also can use a motion controller like Dynamic Perceptions MX3 for even more controlling options.) The MX3 will give you the ability to use a time lapse method call "Shoot - Move - Shoot". When doing a vortex star trail you need to take a long exposure, let the gear turn the lens slightly, then the camera will take another exposure. This slow rotation gives you the spiral effect when photographing the north star and using this technique.

2) Attach a power supply to the control box. A 8 Cell 12v battery tray was used to power this device.

Step 5: Attach a Gear to Your Lens and the Motor to Your Tripod

1) Next we need a gear around the lens to rotate it. I found a product called Redrock Micro Lens Gear with a matching pitch. They make different size models that match the lens you are using.

2) Attach the 12” aluminum channel to a tripod. The easiest way I’ve found so far was to screw a Sunwayfoto (or similar) rail to the channel. Then the rail would be able to get attached to my tripod. The rail has a sliding and locking point for an L Bracket that goes on the camera. This allows you to attach the camera and slide it into position so the gear on the camera will mesh with the motorized gears.

3) For a constant zoom in and zoom out I recommend using a motion control box by If you need more capabilities I recommend using MX3 by Dynamic Perceptions.



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    29 Discussions

    I don't see any safety features built in to protect your lens? at such low gearing ratios, that motor has a LOT of torque, and can easily damage your lens. It's one thing to save $100 by making something DIY, but you can easily destroy a $4000 lens in one minute


    good for me

    I'll try this~

    thank you~

    well done, i have a canon t4i and i'm in the process of designing and printing some interesting mounts and things for it, and this certainly gives me some ideas.

    Very nice effect but I have the same question as ccrome. It looks like you're zooming in over time so the house should be zoomed as well. Unless you do the star field separately and composite in the house and landscape.

    Your video:

    shows how to do this without using the motorized zoom, in software that most people aren't going to have, myself included. There is a video that shows how to do the same thing with a single sky shot in Photoshop that is much easier:

    2 replies

    Correct you have to blend the images separately. So you take the foreground image, go to an open area and take your star trail pictures. Then blend them back into the foreground image by masking out the sky. The alternative method without using a zoom machine still requires you to take star trail pictures then you use LRTimelapse to faux zoom for you. You still need to shoot for about 2-3 hours of star trails to pull off the effect. Below is a normal star trail using about 3-4 hours of consecutive pictures. Then I ran those images through LRTimelapse and Lightroom to create the rotation which gave me the vortex star trail effect without using a machine.


    If you read the intro to the video I linked to, you do not need anything more than a single image of a star field to achieve a similar effect using PS. It is not as professional as yours but it doesn't require expensive equipment or additional software.

    Hey, the shutter speed will vary depending on how dark of an area you are shooting in. The picture above my exposure was 25 seconds.

    Nice project and love the star spiral, but I have to ask where can we get those "Aluminum Channels" from? Never seen anything like them before! A few links to suppliers would be appreciated!

    1 reply

    OK I should learn to read before writing!

    Super cool build and awesome photography. I am not sure that I understand how you keep the house in the frame without blurring it as well. Do you have to paint it with light or do you do a long fixed exposure and then do the zoom effect?

    Thanks for sharing!

    1 reply

    Thanks! You have to composite back in the foreground photo. So basically I take the picture of the foreground, walk behind the house into an open field or where ever their is a spot that is unobstructed, then run the machine. Then you put the star trails images on one layer in photoshop and mask out the sky on the foreground image so the stars show through. (sometimes easier said then done lol)

    Sorry to be dense here, but how do you actually take that shot? Why isn't the house blurred with zooming?

    2 replies

    Great question! You have to composite back in the foreground photo. So basically I take the picture of the foreground, walk behind the house into an open field or where ever their is a spot that is unobstructed, then run the machine. Then you put the star trails images on one layer in photoshop and mask out the sky on the foreground image so the stars show through. for the majority of the items which are listed in this instructable guide. The gear lens was from however I was able to get the part on amazon.

    I also used to get the sunwayfoto rail that the aluminum channels attach to and your camera sits on.

    Van Gogh's starry night! But real!