If you’ve ever been in an artistic rut as a photographer, and all your photos start to look the same even in post-process, you may need a pair of fresh eyes.
And by fresh eyes, we mean a different type of lens. Which begs the question: can you actually use a projector lens as a makeshift camera lens? Of course!
Applying projector lenses on cameras is an old, niche technique that dedicated photographers and even filmmakers embrace. And yes, depending on compatibility, installing projector lenses on a camera is possible. The process, however, won’t always be the same.
Curious? Read on.
- Why Projector Lenses?
- Projector Lens vs. Camera Lens
- Pros and Cons of Using Projector Lenses as Cameras Lenses
- Adapting Projector Lenses on a Camera
- Other Ways to Adapt Projector Lenses on a Camera
- Wrap Up
Why Projector Lenses?
One reason is budget. A projector lens is typically cheaper than a camera lens. And sometimes, upcycling an old projector lens from your bodega is an even better find.
Second, projector lenses offer a unique charm to your photos. Their range of aesthetics can go from soft and vintage and all the way to crisp and robust. They can create a natural mood in your shots without having to cheat them in post-processing.
It all just comes down to taste and your willingness to experiment.
So if you find yourself in a creative rut, challenging yourself with an unorthodox photography technique—such as using a projector lens on a camera—can help refresh your artistic journey.
Projector Lens vs. Camera Lens
Before adopting a projector lens to your camera, you have to know how it might perform versus a typical camera lens.
Because they are designed for taking photos, camera lenses give you more light filtering modifications (aperture, ISO, etc.). The camera lens gives you more control over how much light comes into your frames—making your photos look more professional and clean-looking.
Because their primary focus is to project light outward, projector lenses are plain and wide open. They have no irises and no shutters. Their build is different than cameras.
But this very build also makes projector lenses appealing to experimental photographers and filmmakers.
Because of the uncontrolled flow of light coming in, projector lenses add more personality and candidness to your shots—that’s an added charm that camera lenses don’t always give.
Pros and Cons of Using Projector Lenses as Cameras Lenses
Mounting a projector lens on your camera has its drawbacks and strengths. Let’s take a look at some of them below:
- Wide aperture
- Great for macro photography
- Adds a romantic mood to your photos
- Allows room for experimentation
- Tickles your creativity
- No straightforward process for adapting.
- Projector lenses are heavy.
- The aperture is usually fixed.
- It can produce extremely low contrast photos, which may need post-processing.
Adapting Projector Lenses on a Camera
As we said earlier, there is no universal way to attach a projector lens to a camera. You’ll find many tutorials showing you different ways to do it, so we’ll crunch it down to some of the easiest methods you can follow.
Method #1: Attaching a magic lantern lens to a camera using the bellows
This tutorial teaches you to attach a vintage projector lens onto a mirrorless camera using bellows and two adapters.
What you’ll need:
- Magic lantern projector lens
- Duct tape
You would want to connect your projector lens to your camera’s sensor with the bellows. The caveat? Bellows have really wide openings, and your typical magic lantern lens will barely fit.
So here’s what you need to do:
- Connect your magic lantern lens onto an adapter using duct tape.
- Once the lens is secure, screw in the adapter to the front part of the bellows.
- Now that you have attached your projector lens on the bellows, you can either attach your bellows directly to your camera or;
- Get your second adapter and screw it onto the bellows
- Attach the bellows on your camera, and you’re good to go!
Pretty simple, right?
If you’ve got the equipment down, such as adapters and bellows, this method is a cost-effective way to achieve that dream-like quality to your photos.
Method #2: Using helicoids
This tutorial teaches you how to attach a vintage projector lens to a camera using helicoids.
What you’ll need:
- Vintage projector lens
Some projector lenses are contained in very long tubes, making it difficult for you to adapt them to your camera. But there’s a quick solution to this.
- Cut down the tube of your projector lens, then sand off the cut edges to prevent dust from going into your camera sensor.
- Attach your helicoid to your adapters.
- Place your projector lens inside the helicoid and adapter.
- Screw in place your lens onto the adapter.
- Alternatively, you can also use a Blu-Tac to lock your lens in place.
- Lock in place your makeshift camera lens onto your camera, and now you’re ready to take photos!
Helicoids come in many shapes and sizes, so you probably won’t have much trouble finding one with the right size for your projector lens.
Other Ways to Adapt Projector Lenses on a Camera
If you don’t want to dedicate your time and energy to DIY-ing, some sellers offer projector lenses with ready-made customized adapters.
The second easy option is to get a camera extension tube that fits your projector lens and adapter. If needed, you’d have to make a few adjustments, like inserting a piece of cardboard into the diameter gap between your projector lens and tube will do.
Another great trick for filling in the gaps is to use cut pieces of a bicycle rubber tire. The elasticity and texture of the rubber make it a versatile option for working with various diameters of tubes and lenses. With the texture of the rubber, you’ll get a tight grip that can hold down the connected pieces pretty well.
Here’s a visual example:
So yes, weird lenses are very much a thing. And projector lenses are a highly-sought alternative lens in the experimental photography niche.
Using projector lenses to take photos can be a gratifying experience. It exercises your creativity and DIY skills. If you’re willing to get past the DIY hurdle, it’s something worth trying at least once as a photographer!