August 9, 2019

How to Shoot Video With a 100-Year-Old Lens

This 100 Year Old Kodak Lens Captures Amazing Detail Adapted to a DSLR
With slight modifications, any lens can be used to get a unique, historic look.
Credit: Mathieu Stern

At the beginning of World War I, Kodak introduced the first pocket sized camera. Known initially as the Kodak Pocket Camera, it was about the size of your smartphone, and had a pull out bellows. It became so popular with soldiers fighting during the Great War, that Kodak quickly rebranded it and dubbed it the "Soldier's Camera." And most of the images we have from that 100-year-old conflict were shot on this camera.  Now, 100 years later, a French Photographer and YouTuber took this century-old camera and modified its lens to shoot on his digital camera. And the results are marvelous.

I love Lenses .... I am obsessed with them, but I also like weird stuff, so naturally I mixed the two to experiment. Why just focus on the ultra expensive electronic lenses when you can do incredible things with just old glass ... the glass is the key to image beauty. - Mathieu Stern

The Eclectic Lens Collection of French Photographer Mathieu Stern
Credit: Mathieu Stern

To say that Mathieu Stern is obsessed with lenses would be an understatement. And not only the lens itself, but the image a lens can capture.

To feed his obsession, Stern has built his own lens out of spare parts (lovingly called the Crapinon), 3D Printed his own lens, and even created a lens out of an iceberg. Literally. But for this particular experiment, Stern took the Kodak Pocket Camera apart and placed its century old lens elements into a micro four thirds lens adapter.  

The Kodak Pocket Camera from 1912
Credit: Mathieu Stern

"This lens spent 100 years in the dark, the last thing it captured must have been the horrors of World War I," Stern wrote on his YouTube post. "I think it was time to use it for something more positive." 

Carefully removing the lens housing to preserve this vintage piece of photographic history, Stern slid the lens elements into an m42 hélicoïdal adapter + M42 to C mount adapter, and kept it in place with some rubber bands from an old bike tire. You gotta appreciate this guy's ingenuity! 

With a pair of adapters and a rubber band from an old tire, a 100 year old lens sees light again on a DSLR.
Credit: Mathieu Stern

He then attached it to a c mount digital camera, which was able to capture what looks to be 1080p video. You can't really tell which one, as the brands are obscured, but frankly, I don't really care what camera he used, if you take a look at the images from the video above, and compare it to the still images from World War I, you'll be gobsmacked at the amount of color, sharpness, and the sheer image quality this tiny lens was able to capture. 

There's also a bit of an ethereal quality to the image, which may be attributed to a tad of light leak that could be streaming in from gaps in the adapter where the rubber band doesn't completely block out the light.  There's also a tiny bit of vignetting that can be seen at the edges. But you know what? WHO CARES?

The point is, that with some imagination, you can get a unique look using even a century old lens. 

Apollo 13 flight director Gene Kranz is famous for having said "I don't care what something was designed to do, I care about what it can do." In this age of "gear acquisition syndrome" (GAS), we sometimes forget that we have over a century of great glass that can be used to capture marvelous images. I think it's high time we looked backward, as much as forward, and with a little imagination, capture new memories with the unique character that only comes from old gear.

BTW, you can check out all of Stern's lens creations at the Weird Lens Museum, here.     

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1 Comment

It is so hilarious that the dude colored it to have milky blacks and desaturated it to give it an old timey look.

90 percent of the look from the footage is post, not the lens.

Which should be a real insight for people that already weren't aware of how important post is.

August 9, 2019 at 2:06PM, Edited August 9, 2:06PM

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