DO IT YOURSELF

Is the expense of buying what s on your kit list getting too much? Why not try building your own photography gear? There are some people out there who spend reams more cash on fully-fledged, working lenses, tripods and other accessories provided by the many manufacturers, whose business it is to help you deck out your camera. There are others though, who, with scant regard for the wording of the warranty, are keen to do it themselves, building their own gear out of whatever they can find. Neither group is right or wrong —in fact, this isn t a matter of right and wrongs. It s a matter of wanting pieces of kit to help you get that perfect shot, no matter what it takes. Building lenses from PVC pipes; creating tilt-shifts from showerheads, rubber gloves and nifty fifties; using welding glass as a filter; creating homemade Gorilla Pods using household objects, like plastic bottles and electrical tape-the ingenuity and inventiveness of the do-it-yourself crowd is phenomenal. But why do they do what they do? Is it a desire for more affordable kit when the genuine articles are way out of most people s budgets? Or is it a curiosity-a constant creative itch that forces people to put together all manner of digital camera related things in order to simply see what happens? "I think there are two main reasons for folks to hack or build their own stuff," says Udi Tirosh, editor and founder of the DIY Photography website (www.diyphotography.net). "The first is money. Not everyone can afford high-end gear and building your own stuff is a good trade between time and money. When you start out you have more time; as you evolve as a photographer you can afford more expensive gear and shift out of the DIY route. "The other, more prominent reason is that hacking, building and modding taps into a creative resource. Building something from nothing, or making something function in a different more powerful way than what is was originally intended for, can bring a great sense of accomplishment. And sometimes building the thing is more fun than taking the picture." At their best, these self-made camera accessories can provide you with ingenious and original pieces of kit that can, at times, help to provide you with some stunning shots. At worst, they won t work and it s a couple of days labour wasted-back to the drawing board. "The best camera mod I ve seen would be the heart shaped bokeh," says Udi. "It is super simple to make (basically just a piece of cut-out cardboard) and the results are spectacular." So, we decided to find out a little bit more about building DIY photography gear and spoke to a couple of people who have, indeed, done it for themselves. Jake von Slatt and The Bellows Lens What kind of lenses do you dream about adding to your collection? A fast 50mm? How about an award winning 70-200mm? Perhaps a tilt-shift for something different? What about a bellows lens? "I don t think the average person has seen a bellows lens, let alone one attached to a digital camera," says photographer Libby Bulloff, the proud owner of a DSLR compatible bellows. The lens was the handy work of mechanical hacker Jake von Slatt, who designed and built it in his Steampunk Workshop (www.steampunkworkshop.com). "I went digging through the junk box in my shop that I long ago labelled Optics and found the bellows and a bunch of old lenses from photocopiers and industrial sensors. I guess the key inspiration was discovering that the inexpensive Diana lens adapter could be modified to make a whole variety of things fit on my Canon Digital Rebel XTi (EOS 400D). "The build itself was pretty straightforward, it s the design process that s a dark art when you re working with found materials. The first issue to overcome was figuring out how I could connect the bellows to the camera, and the Diana lens adaptor proved ideal for this. The second issue was figuring out how I would mount the lenses in the bellows. The end of the bellows assembly had three tiny set screws that held in the original lens mount and once I removed that I was able to find some plastic parts inside an old inkjet printer that were the right size to be mounts for the bare single element lens I had scavenged from old photocopiers and such." This lens, as aesthetically interesting as it is, wasn t made just for show. Once Jake had built it, he handed it over to Libby to start snapping. But how easy is it to use, and what kind of shots does it take? hotography gear"Oh, it s a challenge," says Libby, whose work including shots taken with the bellows lens can be seen over at www.flickr.com/photos/exoskeletoncabaret. "Just getting the lens set up and attached to the camera can be a pain, as the aperture and the glass has to be changed with a tiny screwdriver. The lens is difficult to focus, and has to be used on full manual with a fair bit of light. The images are selectively focused and a bit soft and dreamy with interesting bokeh. "It s entertaining to play with and beautiful to look at, but it s not a lens I d just take anywhere as it s fragile and takes some TLC to operate effectively. What it can do, more than anything, is facilitate conversations about do-it-yourself photography and digital camera mods. I think people are less afraid to experiment at home with their own camera adaptations after they see me use the bellows lens —a piece of equipment that was essentially fabricated out of a junk pile and some ingenuity." Rick Nunn and the Vest Pocket Kodak Much like Jake von Slatt, photographer Rick Nunn (www.ricknunn.com) was also curious about what would happen if you attached an old lens to a new camera. So, that s exactly what he did, taking a Kodak Vest Pocket —a bestselling folding camera between the years of 1912-1926-that he d bought online and attaching it to his Canon DSLR. "I had seen several different people on the internet doing similar sort of things and, after checking eBay for something suitable, I spotted the Vest Pocket Kodak and thought it would be a good camera to work with," says Rick. "From start to finish it probably only took about 20-minutes and it was a fairly simple process, so there was very little planning involved. It was really straightforward —I removed the film spindle from inside and took off the back cover. I then used a hot glue gun to attach a narrow M42 extension tube to the back of the Vest Pocket Kodak (being very careful to line it up straight). Once this was on I could screw it into an M42 to Canon EF adaptor, set the Vest Pocket Kodak to bulb and attach it to my camera to work as a lens." Attaching the lens to the camera is one thing, making it perform is another. But, once Rick got to use it, he was stunned at how well this century old lens could perform. "I expected to get some quite soft, slightly distorted images from a lens that was around 100-years-old. Possibly even some vignetting and dramatic chromatic aberration," says Rick. "I was really surprised by how crisp and clear images were from it, they even had good colour values. Focusing is very tricky though." Joel Pirela and the The DigiLomo Lomography-loved by photography enthusiasts, hipsters and film stars. It s often promoted as a lifestyle rather than a photography sub-genre-however, it s a community that lives and celebrates the analogue way of life and, as such, Lomography has no plans to build a digital camera in the imminent future. That didn t stop graphic designer and writer Joel Pirela building his own though. "I was fascinated with the concept of lomography but there was no digital version available," says Joel, whose work can be seen over at www.joelpirela.com. "I mean, you could buy an adapter to put a lomo lens onto a regular digital camera, but there s not a dedicated digital Lomography camera. "I received a Vivitar Vivicam 5025 as a gag gift. After removing all the plastic, I saw the potential for it to become something else. After a lot of measurements and many trips to the hardware store, I ended with the material I decide to use: aluminium and black walnut. The whole process was trial and error, trying to get all the pieces to fit, not getting shocked by the flash components and getting the distance between the sensor and the OM2 lens correct (it was pure luck)." After four weekend s worth of work, Joel had a working sample of the camera —a sleek yet understated camera body paired with an Olympus lens. Lomography, by its very nature, is a lo-fi branch of photography, and this was reflected by the images it produced, as digital met analogue to produce pictures with soul. "This is not a 20-megapixel with a APS-C sensor monster," says Joel. "This is a crappy camera s sensor with a high grade lens. So you get a mix of pixilation and detail, with a glow of light leaking inside the camera s body. "This is my first camera mod, but not the last. After being published on several digital magazines, I had requests from people about purchasing the camera or even making some for customers. Let s see what the future brings."

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