What’s new Cameras, film & technique Cyclops – making a camera for effects

Cyclops – making a camera for effects

Writer and Photographer / Jonathan Brewer

Jonathan Brewer sought a special effect in his images. Rather than altering the image he invented a new camera. Here is how.

I’ve always been interested in imagery that had the wonderful qualities of a painting, instead of photographs that just looked like photographs. I wanted to create something that produced LESS detail as opposed to the increasingly finer detail produced by today’s modern lenses. I decided to fashion a lens that would create images similar to the images created by lenses manufactured around 100 years ago. I would try to create a lens that conveyed feeling, and softness, and atmosphere, and mood, as opposed to just fine detail. That’s how project Cyclops began.

Cyclops wouldn’t have the wonderful lens coating, and computer designed lens elements of the modern lens, quite the opposite. Cyclops would be designed using simple glass, to create a very simple and crude lens.

The idea has been tried before by others, by means of attaching a simple glass magnifier, or lens element from an old junk projection lens, or close up diopter, to the front of a lens barrel which has had its own native glass elements removed. This results in a single element lens, for the purpose of creating uncorrected images. Russian photographers call this type of lens a ‘monocle’. This was my startingpoint.

My original prototype for the Cyclops, which was based on the idea of the ‘monocle’, incorporated a huge glass magnifier, which I coupled to a 150mm leaf shutter 645 medium format lens barrel which has had its own lens elements removed. This configuration looks like ‘an all seeing eye’, and so I’ve named this prototype and the modular system of interchangeable lens barrels and lens elements that evolved from that prototype… Cyclops from the Greek myth.

So, what’s the difference between Cyclops and other ‘one off’ prototypes that have been ‘tinkered’ together by others? The single element lenses or ‘monocles’ created by many others involved a piece of glass which was in most cases permanently fixed to a particular lens barrel, with no way of removing that glass in order to experiment with something else. I wanted to address this problem by creating a system which made the single element lens or ‘monocle’ modular, that is, making everything interchangeable.

I addressed this problem with Cyclops by looking for and purchasing
old junk lenses where front and rear elements were encased in threads so that they could be unscrewed out of their a lens barrel. I then began disassembling these junk lenses looking for front and rear lens elements with threads that would match the standard accessory filter thread sizes of any number of step-up, step-down rings (to adapt filters to a lens with a larger or smaller diameter than the filter) macro rings, and spacers available on the market today.

Image right: Pictured is the 5″ magnifier and its adaptor which seats the magnifier and secures it with an accessory ring in front, a 95mm accessory ring at the rear of the adaptor(facing the lens barrel), enables a series of step-up rings to be used to mate it with the medium format 645 leaf shutter lens as shown.

With the use of a lens element which unscrews out of a lens barrel and the ability to match that lenses accessory thread to the front of a taking lens, I now had a simple and quick way of attaching a lens element to the front of just about any lens barrel, and removing it from that particular lens barrel to test other glass.

I removed the lens original lens-elements from the two lenses which I intended to use in this project and which already fit my medium format 645 camera system. I acquired a third lens which already had its native lens elements removed from S. K. Grimes, which was, in its past life, a large format barrel lens. What remains is a two inch barrel or shell, an iris diaphragm, and a slot for Waterhouse stops.

Image left: Lens barrels and glass
Front row left: rear element of a Kodak 71/2″ projection lens… middle- 5″ diameter magnifier mounted with 95mm adaptor… right- lens element from a defunct videocam. Back row left-large format Artar ‘barrel lens’ with aperture diaphragm and waterhouse slot with it own native lens elements removed, it has 67mm accessory threads on both ends… middle- medium format 645 150mm leaf shutter lens barrel with aperture diaphragm, with lens elements removed… right-medium format 645 80mm w/aperture diaphragm, with its lens elements removed.
I use the rear element of the Kodak projection lens, and the lens element from my dead v/cam on the MF 645 80mm barrel, and the 5″ magnifier on both the LF Artar barrel/shell and the MF 645 150mm leaf shutter barrel/shell.

Considering the number of old junk lenses, diopters, magnifiers, and/or optical glass originally intended for other applications, a Cyclops can be created utilizing glass from nearly limitless sources.

Almost every component except the adaptor for the 5″ diameter magnifier which Scott, the owner and inventor of Acratech, machined everything already existed. When I first showed Scott this humungous magnifier, he was incredulous! The adaptor fashioned by Acratech, which holds the magnifier in place and allows it to be connected with the front accessory threads of my lens barrels, is a thing of beauty.

Anyone can duplicate this project for around 100 USD, assuming you already have a lens from which to strip the lens elements. A good place to start looking for a lens barrel with the elements already removed is Goodwin Photo Inc., in San Diego. They have a number of these with iris diaphragms and slots for Waterhouse stops available for approximately $65.00 each.

These three configurations seem to me to produce the most varied and unusual kinds of imagery.
– The 5″ diameter magnifier coupled with the 150mm leaf shutter lens barrel/shell allows the use of higher shutter speeds when using my studio strobes, this combination delivers very soft texture and a muted tone which is pretty much evenly distributed throughout the image.
– The rear element of a Kodak anastigmat projection lens coupled to my 80mm medium format 645 lens takes in a wider angle of view and delivers a slightly soft rendering of the central portion of an image that slowly/smoothly increases in softness toward the edges.
– I’m also using my 80mm lens barrel/shell with a lens element from a defunct video camera, and it is this combination that delivers the most drastic effects on an image, effects that are abrupt and striking, with a very small portion of the central image appearing relatively sharp, and everything else disappearing under a totally uncorrected ‘veil’ toward the edges.

The process of assembling a lens on my own was easier than I expected, and I wished that I’d tried this a long time ago.

What was unexpected was the unpredictability of how each image would turn out, each image is different in terms of color, texture, and what is in focus, which is what I love about how this turned out.

The total cash outlay for the glass elements I used for the representative images shot with ‘Cyclops’, was 26 USD. Go for it.

Part two chronicles the creation of a prototype that should be considered the next step in the logical progression of the Cyclops experiment. That is, the creation of a complete lens, with glass and exposure control from cheap and readily available components, without having to buy/modify someone else’s lens barrel for a grand total of 60 USD.

Images taken with Cyclops

Portrait of Delicia (in colour and black and white)
This portrait was photographed with the 5″ magnifier attached to the front accessory filter thread of the MF 645 leaf shutter lens barrel and utilized studio strobes.
Photographed with the rear element from a Kodak projection lens attached to the front accessory thread of a MF 645 80mm lens shell, using studio strobes.
Portrait of Jennifer
This portrait was photographed with the 5″ magnifier attached to the front accessory filter thread of the MF 645 leaf shutter lens barrel and utilized studio strobes.
Smiling Face
Photographed with the rear element from a Kodak projection lens attached to the front accessory filter thread of a MF 645 80mm lens shell, shot at Fisherman’s Wharf in Redondo Beach.
Photographed with the lens element from a video camera attached to the front accessory filter thread of a MF 645 80mm lens shell, shot at Fisherman’s Wharf in Redondo Beach.

Jonathan Brewer has had an ongoing love affair with photography spanning about 35yrs. This was all inspired by his boyhood fascination with watching many of the Hollywood black and white ‘Film Noir’ classic films. As a result, he purchased a Nikon FTN and started photographing street scenes, people and anyone who came to MacArthur park. Later he turned to studio portraiture.

Jonathan was accepted in the Producers Guild trainee program as one of the first trainees for an assistant cameraman, and for several years worked as an assistant cameraman, from which he was able to learn theatrical lighting.

Jonathan now has his own business which specializes in portraiture, in additon to his personal work and projects, including an ongoing project, ‘Bahia in 1/15 of a second’, and his latest project ‘Metal’, much of which is shot in infrared.

E-mail Jonathan

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