iPhone macro lens hack
April 11, 2011
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I take no credit for this one; I read about it somewhere (Lifehacker or Hack-a-Day maybe?) maybe a year ago, but only finally got around to spending the whopping 5 minutes putting it together. I’m actually quite surprised at how well it works…
The premise is simple: Photographers have been cheating for decades when taking macro photos by using add-on macro filters to their existing lenses. The iPhone macro case is the same idea; put a properly-designed lens in front of the iPhone’s camera lens and you can take macro photos.
At some point, someone discovered that the lens from the laser assembly in a DVD player works well as such a macro lens. We have plenty of dead PC optical drives at work, waiting to be recycled, so I tore one apart and ganked its lens. I had an old Griffin iPhone case that I was no longer using (I quickly became less than thrilled with its aesthetics shortly after I bought it), and enlarged its camera hole by scraping the blade of a pair of scissors inside so the lens would fit. A couple dabs of Krazy Glue (random fact: the glue itself is made in Japan, though it’s filled into tubes here in the US) was enough to bond the lens to the case.
So how well does it work? Surprisingly decently for such a cheap rig. The focus distance is about an inch away from the subject, but the iPhone’s autofocus is able to fine-tune things to produce reasonably sharp images. There’s barrel distortion galore, and only the center of the image is properly focused, but in some ways that gives the images a raw, artsy feel, similar to if you were shooting with a pinhole camera. And like a pinhole camera, you need plenty of light and a steady hand, since there’s no image stabilization in the iPhone.
Here’s a couple sample photos. The first is of my iPod shuffle; the second is of the tiny “Fragile” label on the front of Danbo (see the Japanese keyboard post for an idea of the scale):