Review of Exploring simple lenses by John Evans

John Marriage takes a closer look at John Evans’ cd-book Exploring Simple Lenses – now available as an eBook download.

Written by / John Marriage
Photography / John Evans

Exploring simple lenses by John Evans
Exploring simple lenses by John Evans

Not quite a normal book review, as this eBook is delivered on a CD-ROM with the text recorded in Adobe Acrobat format. It should therefore be readable on any computer.

This form of publishing has several advantages. It allows the production of a fully illustrated full-colour book, in this case of no less than 1490 pages, which can be distributed in small or large quantities at low cost. Of course, there are also drawbacks – a computer is necessary to read the text on screen, and although it is easy to print out individual pages as required, the prospect of converting the whole thing into a printed book does not bear thinking about.

Here, then, we have an impressively well produced publication, clearly laid out and reasonably easy to navigate despite its size. It is very much a practical guide as the title claims, and should be of great interest to the experimentalists amongst our readership.

The subject is the use of simple lenses – sometimes plastic magnifying glasses, or components salvaged from broken lenses, or whatever; to take worthwhile pictures which have a different look and aesthetic from the sharp lenses we are used to.

pinhole lensesThe book begins with a large selection of images, mostly in colour; which should inspire any artistically inclined photographer to explore the opportunities given by soft-focus, low and variable contrast, aberrations and internal reflections.

The author is an accomplished photographer and his results should inspire you to try some of this for yourself. After some discussion of principles, and sources of supply for lenses and the other necessary components, the main section of the book (over 500 pages) is given over to more than 50 individual projects using a wide range of both lenses and cameras.

A particular attraction for camera collectors is that this whole process provides a perfect opportunity to bring back to life both cameras and lens components which would otherwise be gathering dust. Older mechanical cameras are particularly suitable, and 1960’s 35mm SLRs are probably the best starting point. We all have a few of those lying around.

The author moves on to exposure control, close-ups, and a wide range of special techniques. The book concludes with a dozen appendices on practical techniques, calculation methods, shutter making, infrared photography and more; and concludes with a substantial glossary, a list of suppliers and an index.

The author has deliberately introduced some repetition, so that it is possible to find all the information needed for a particular project in one place, even though it also appears elsewhere. This means that a practical user can print out a few pages and have them handy whilst working without needing to have the computer available. All of the manufacturing techniques are very accessible, needing only basic tools and commonplace materials – no lathe required.

The information and drawings provided are extremely clear and detailed, and I believe that any handy person would be able to get a working result.

Strongly recommended – and excellent value for money.

This article was first published in Photographica World.
Copyright © John Marriage 2007. First published in Photographica World, No. 120, 2007/2. See

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Exploring simple lenses - An in-depth practical guide to creative image-making by John Evans

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