Free-Lensing: Turn Your Old Lens Into a Tilt-Shift Lens

Free-Lensing: Turn Your Old Lens Into a Tilt-Shift Lens

Israeli based photographer Dima Vazinovich is specializing in news, documentary and wedding photography. One thing that separates him from other photographers in the industry is the unique and creative look his photography has. Recently Dima decided to try adding a new kind of look to his portfolio, and the results are truly amazing. The idea: “Freelensing” / tilt shifting with a cheap broken 50mm 1.8 lens to create magical images.

Dima told Fstoppers about the idea and also gave us a step-by-step of how he hacked the lens:
"The free lensing technique was around for a while and i’ve been using it for a year or so. I tried it with many different lenses (35mm/85mm/135mm) and also couple of my old M43 55mm lenses.

"Some call it 'lens whacking' and some know it as 'free lensing,' but both use the same technique of detaching the lens from the camera, holding it close to the mount and slightly moving it to get the right focus.

"I remember talking to Sam Hurd about his technique of free lensing and he told me about his 50mm f/1.8G that he broke and took the mount off to get much more movement when you hold it near your camera body. He wrote a small article on his blog about his 50mm lens he's using. He glued the aperture so it will stay wide open at F1.8 since nikon lenses default makes the aperture closed, and canon lenses default makes them open. After my last shoot using the free lensing technique I learned that focusing at open apertures can be really hard so I decided to go the DIY route and build something to help me control it."




Take your old Nikon/Canon 50mm 1.8 lens, if you have a broken one its even better - if not - you can just get one on ebay for really cheap.
Take out the 3 screws from the back and take the mount off. When taking it off you will have to cut the cord (orange) that is connected to the lens.




Get the mount and the aperture ring out to get the lens clear of parts that could fall apart.
The aperture ring is not connected with any screws in the Nikon lens, but might be connected in the Canon lens.



Take a small piece of an old AA battery plastic cover and glue it to the aperture ring so a part of it still sticks out and you can move it to control the aperture.
To make sure it stays in place use a small piece of duct tape around the lens mount (as seen in the picture), so by moving the duct tape to the side you control your aperture.




To make it easy to move the lens next to your camera, use a chainsaw to cut the plastic on the sides of the lens. Thats not mandatory, but it helps later when using this lens. The removal of the plastic also helps more sunlight leak in to create very interesting effects.

The easiest way to use this lens is to set the focus to infinity and move until you get your subject in focus. If needed, you can always use the focus ring to change it manually.













All Photos provided from Dima and are used with permission.

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Mike Pianka's picture

I use an old Canon 50 that a friend of mine's dad gave me on my D800. Works beautifully. What's great about the D800 when free-lensing is that the mirror doesn't come down when exposing the shot while in live view. 

I love this notion that you snobs think that what you create manually is creation but what is created digitally is not. Utter nonsense. 

Timuçin HIZAL's picture

Simple tilt adapter solves all the problems. No tinkering, no gaget master-yoda bla bla. 30$-80$ price range.

What's to stop the mirror from smashing into the rear element, since you removed the metal mount?

Nothing. I chipped the mirror in my D4 doing this!

Seems like A LOT of work for "Ehh" results.

Crasher's picture


what's the best way to recreate this in post?  I have used lightroom and the brush tool...heavy desharpening and some de-clarifying...  Also graduated filter tool using desharpening gradients...declarifying..

Alien Skin Bokeh plug in? 

I tried for a while, but can't seem to get AS pretty results as this.  Not sure if I should change my technique or actually try to free-lens.  I'm not so worried about the cost or the dust....but, I would like it more if I could just recreate it in post and not have to spend time while on the shoot to focus the way you want..

dochyolaptop @ gmail if you can reply.  I'll subscribe to this thread also :)  Thanks!

I use this method with soviet Helios 44) it can be disassembled into 2 parts without the risk of breaking something

Josh Hway's picture

I have a perfect candidate of a lens, but I can't for the life of me get the screws out of the mount. Those things are seriously in there. I have a 50mm 1.4 Nikkor

I've been freelensing during some wedding portraits this year but might have to stop, my D4's mirror now has a chip in it after hitting the back of the lens while freelensing! I used the 50mm 1.4D and took it apart similar to how this article advises, but the rear element seems a bit bigger and I really have to tuck it into the camera body to get my subject in focus at normal portrait distances. I've gotten some great shots, but I'm definitely a little gun shy about continuing with this method! Just fair warning to those trying it.

No kissing in class.

I still dont get it: ( could you do a viedo on youtube.