Beautiful Vignetting and Unique Swirly Bokeh All with This $20 DIY Lens

If you've got $20 and love weird lenses that produce weird (and beautiful) images, you'll want to check this out.

Photographer Mathieu Stern is the undisputed champion of weird lenses—in fact, the different lenses he puts together for his Weird Lens Challenge have been featured on this site a bunch of times. This time, Stern reworks an old projector lens to create a $20 DIY 50mm f1.2 lens that produces some razor sharp, extremely beautiful, and, duh, weird effects, like full frame vignetting and a unique creamy, swirly bokeh. The video below shows you how he did it:

A 50mm f1.2 lens can be quite expensive—between $1,000 to $1,500—but Stern's DIY lens only cost him $20. He uses a Belle and Howell 51mm f1.2 projector lens and inserts it into an inexpensive macro extension tube in order to give the DIY lens manual focus. The result are aesthetically and technically impressive, with dreamy images with outstanding bokeh and vignetting, as well as super sharp focus and great performance under low-light.

There are a few drawbacks to the lens, though. The first one is, of course, procuring a projector lens that will work well with a macro extension tube. If you come by one at a garage sale or you've got one in your attic, great! You're halfway there! If not, you'll have to comb through eBay as well as cough up a little bit more cash. (I found this one going for about $60.) The second is that it's a weird lens with weird demands and challenges, so if you're a beginner, Stern says it might be a little difficult for you to operate—especially since the lens doesn't have a diaphragm.

But, if you like weird lenses and DIY projects, this might be a fun project for you. And be sure to check out Stern's site for more from his Weird Lens Challenge    

You Might Also Like

Your Comment


If you're using micro 4/3rds still, there's a ton of c-mount lenses that'll mount up to it. The super cheapo 25mm 1.4f security camera lenses will give you a similar look with the added benefit of focus and iris control. Here's a shot I got when I was in SF a few weeks ago.

September 16, 2016 at 8:17AM

Chuck McDowell
1st AC

I found one of these lenses at the camera store I work at and gave it a try. It works, but be forewarned you pretty much have to be on a mirrorless camera for it to work. I could barely get focus on my DSLR except in extreme closeups.

September 20, 2016 at 5:38PM

Nathan Taylor
Jack of all trades, master of none

Do you know why it doesn't work well with mirror cameras? Going to invest in one of these diy lenses but want to make sure I understand the mechanics of them before settling down on one! Thanks!

April 2, 2017 at 1:46PM

Anastasia Antonova