Homemade Bellows Lens

folding camera
Nikon FE2 with Homemade Bellows Lens


I was inspired by Justin Ouellette’s homemade lens, who was inspired by John Perkinson’s homemade lens, who was inspired by Mark Tucker’s plunger lens. A lot of inspiration going around. So I decided to build my own lens. These bellows lenses allow for tilt-shifting, this can create distinct selective focus and other unique distortions. See the above sites for examples, mine are at the bottom of this page.

Building It

Luckily enough when I was in Keeble and Schucat today I saw an old folding camera on sale for only $5.00! bargain. Remembering John’s notes on the bottom of his page, he thought that they could be a good lens to attempt instead of using a plastic film bag since the bellows are built in. Plus much cheaper than using an enlarger lens.

folding camera
Wirgin Anastigmat Camera, 75mm f/4.5

I didn’t have any extra Nikon mounts, but I was able to purchase three used Vivitar extension tubes for only $20 which I figured would work. So total cost is $25, whereas the Nikon tilt-shift lens is over $1,000 new and the LensBaby flexible lens is $80. Plus the fun of building your own lens. priceless.

folding camera
Nikon FE2 with 20mm extension tube

The process for building the lens was fairly straight forward. Take apart old camera, this was done by taking a few screws out and gently pulled the lens and bellows unit out of the camera. This required a little prying with an exacto knife, where I think it was glued in but it eventually came out cleanly.

One of the hardest and most time consuming parts of the whole process was because the lens shutter did not work. Probably why the camera was only five bucks. The shutter on this camera is part of the lens, so I had to take the complete lens unit apart. I ended up scratching it up as I figured out how the lens was put together, but thankfully only cosmetic scratches, not the glass. I wasn’t completely careless. I then gently pried open the shutter and it stayed open. Hopefully it won’t shut on me when out shooting.

Next step was attaching the lens-bellows to the extension tube. I used regular black cloth tape to attach the lens to the extension tube, double layering it making sure it was secure and light tight. That’s all there was to it, not pretty but it works.

folding camera
Lens-Bellow attached to Extension Tube

One problem I ran into was that the first extension tube I used was a 20mm tube, this made focusing on subjects further away difficult. The bellows doesn’t collapse down close enough to allow for far distances, so the larger extension tube just exasperated the problem. I switched the lens-bellows to a 12mm tube and it works better.

Using the Lens

It turns out I made a pretty good macro lens. The zoom factor and focus distance makes it work very great for macro photography. Unfortunately, it also makes it unusable for any sort of objects at a distance. I think the maximum focus distance is around 6-8 feet for most shots, even at f/16, anything further than 10 feet seems to be out of focus.

I’ll definitely keep my eyes open for other cheap folding cameras, or alternate gear, so I can build a longer range version of this lens.

Here are some sample photos:

Fahrenheit 451

Knot, Fence, Leaf

Drinking Fountain

Japanese Tea Garden Bridge