Use the Front Element of a Broken Canon ‘Nifty Fifty’ Lens for Macro Shots

Canon’s 50mm f/1.8 Mark II is a terrific lens for its price, but its build quality definitely leaves something to be desired. Do a quick search, and you’ll find legions of broken-hearted Canonites who had their ‘Nifty Fifty’ split into two pieces after accidentally bumping or dropping it. Flickr user tastygiant is one such Canonite, but he subsequently discovered an awesome use for the broken lens:

Being a geek, I figured I could use the broken pieces in the future, so I shelved it and bought a new 50mm 1.8 Canon lens. One day, while taking shots around my apartment, I stumbled across the broken lens again and decided to reverse the “barrel assembly” onto the front of my intact 50mm. Everything was blurry of course, but I noticed if I got very close to an object the detail came into view. After adjusting the aperture to around f5.6, I had a clear image.
It’s important to note that you should switch to Manual focusing and rotate the focusing ring to “infinity”.

Here are some photographs taken with this “reverse front element” technique:

So instead of throwing away your broken Nifty Fifty, simply hold the broken front element against your new lens backwards, and you’ll have yourself a makeshift macro lens!

Image credit: Photographs by tastygiant and used with permission

  • Aydensgrace

    Sounds kinda like a type of freelensing!

  • Josh Ladella

    That is some TRIPPY bokeh. Wonderful photos though!

  • Agent Kay O. Sweaver

    Nooooooooooooooo! I just gave my broken 1.8 to the local hackerspace and then moved across the country! Well, at least I can send them this link.

  • Seshan

    Hmm, Neat, to bad I have the Nikon version which isn’t so cheap and crappy. 

  • Ranger 9

    So is he saying use the FRONT group or the REAR group? The front would make more sense, since it’s larger and less likely to cause vignetting, but the picture above the examples shows the rear group…?

    Either one would work in principle, since both halves of a symmetrical lens have positive diopter. Yup, that’s basically what he’s doing: using the lens unit as a multi-element, high-quality diopter (“close-up”) lens.

  • Guest from Earth

    the lens doesn’t have to be broken for it to take macro. u can just unmount the lens and reverse it holding the front of the lens to the mount and get up close to your subject. of course there’s no focusing nor metering, so you have to shoot in manual

  • Anonymous

    I’m pretty sure metering always works… No aperture may be what you’re thinking

  • Guest

    Doesn’t the camera need to know the aperture in order to do anything meaningful with the light metering? With a setup like this the aperture isn’t transferred to the camera.

  • Dmitri from artsocket

    I always shoot in full manual mode. Having full control over the camera is an awesome thing and it brings out more of what you invision and less of what the camera thinks it should be.

  • diogo

    No, the camera will do the metering anyways, considering that the aperture blades will not move when taking the photography. When the aperture value is transferred to the camera, the metering is a prediction of the light that will it the sensor, when the blades close.

  • Anonymous

    Actually I think you’re right. The camera would have to know the aperture to calculate the correct exposure

  • Anonymous

    The camera only needs to know the aperture set because it meters with the lens wide open and calculates what the difference will be when the aperture blades close.

  • tyler olson

    Very interesting shots.  It seems like the bokeh is swirled – very cool look.  I can’t imagine trying to get critical focus with this set up though, must be a night-mare.

  • TylerIngram

    I have a broken 50mm 1.8 lens! I never thought about taking it apart, but I do have a reverse ring adapter (step up adapter) which allows me to attach it to another lens.

    Perhaps I’ll look at taking the front element off (hoping it keeps the threads) and using it without the rest of the lens (which is useless because it’s broken..

    One of my Reverse Macro (poor man) shot:

  • Anonymous

    Might as well use a close up filter kit, bokeh looks terriblur.

  • Dugdale

    That is a great idea. But I hope my 50mm doesn’t break anytime soon.