PetaPixel

Turn an Old Kit Lens Into a Macro Lens by Removing the Front Element

If you have an old plastic kit lenses lying around, something that you are not using for anything serious, you can give it a new life as a macro lens by removing the front element.

Here I have an old Canon 38-76mm lens. You can find these in eBay, second-hand stores, etc. The process may not be identical for other kit lenses, but should be similar.

Use a small flathead screwdriver to remove the plastic ring that is glued onto the front. Be careful not to tear or break it.

You’ll find tiny crosshead screws under the ring. They may be really tight. The cheapest tools won’t work here. Use a good, hardened, exact-fit screwdriver and keep it firmly in place, otherwise you may ruin the heads and then you won’t be able to remove the front element without breaking things. Try not to scratch the lens.

Pull the front element out. Now you have an odd-looking but fairly decent macro lens! Attach it normally to the camera (not in reverse; no adapters needed).

Keep the parts so you can put everything back together later if you ever get tired of using it as a macro lens. You can the lens cap and the front element together as a “lens cap” of the macro lens. A rubber band can keep it together.

With the widest aperture the depth of field will be very narrow, so you may want to shoot with the smallest aperture you can. In bright sunlight this should be no problem. Otherwise you may want to use a tripod and a remote, or the camera’s self-timer, and flash(es) etc. Without the front element the auto-focus will not work, so it’s better to turn it off. Focus by moving the camera or the subject.

Using an extender increases the magnification.

Here are some sample photos I shot using my makeshift macro lens:


About the author: Juha Loukola is a photography enthusiast based in Finland. You can visit his Flickr page here.


 
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  • Mirta

    Would this work with the 18-55 Kit Lense? and manual focus still works right?

  • http://www.facebook.com/vera.ivezic Vera Ivezic

    so the picture is taken with “this lens” without the front element, correct?

  • http://www.facebook.com/darlene.meira Darlene Meira

    Gostei do Tuto, mas faltou explicação da Montagem, ficou meio vago!

  • https://twitter.com/#!/thelonelylights Adam Cross

    2 words – reverse macro. no need to hack any lenses apart.

  • http://twitter.com/writeangeldotca Angela Heidt

    I was really excited about this hack – just tried it with an old Canon EF 35-80mm. Got nothing but blur w/ AF and manual focus. Any tips?

  • Yan

    I have a broken 50mm that the front element basically fell out of, so I tried this but it wouldn’t work at all :( Maybe something to do with the focal length?

  • http://www.facebook.com/ingo.kwiat Ingo Kwiat

    I have two EF 28-80mm Kit lenses from the 90ies,
    would this work with them also? I guess it’s worth a try :-)
    a nice task for dark and cold winter days…

  • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.maniago Jonathan Maniago

    Move closer or further away from the subject? If that doesn’t work, it’s possible that the focusing distance is within the lens barrel itself.

  • http://www.facebook.com/xsportseeker Renato Murakami

    Not shure about this, but my guess is: it’s not that auto-focus won’t work, it’s more like you don’t have any focus at all. Or more like you have one focus point alone. Without the front element, you don’t have anything to work with, so what you got is a fixed lens with fixed focus point.
    Those having problems with blurred images – try moving the camera a bit ’till you find where the focus point is.
    But this goes a bit beyond what I understand… would need to know the whole schematics of the stock lenses and what happens when you remove the front one. Couldn’t find the specifics of 38-76 though. And my optics lessons are way back in forgotten neurons in the back of the brain, so…

  • http://www.facebook.com/xsportseeker Renato Murakami

    I think this hack isn’t guaranteed for all lens models… try moving the camera to see if you find a focus point. If you can’t, it could just be that the front element was needed for the lens to focus at all… it all depends on construction and what elements where used into it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1792745518 Mers Pro

    hmmm nice idea… I still have my broken 50mm f. 1.8 cant wait to try

  • http://www.facebook.com/xsportseeker Renato Murakami

    Pelo que entendi, e é bom reforçar isso, a dica só serve pra lente específica citada pelo Juha… mas a ideia básica é remover o elemento frontal da lente. Basta desparafusar. Mas só recomendaria se vc tiver a lente específica e não estiver usando pra absolutamente nada… porque pode estragar e ficar inútil depois disso. :P

  • http://twitter.com/writeangeldotca Angela Heidt

    Thanks Jonathan & Renato – I tried several distances with no change – just all blur. I do have a kit lens I could try with…

  • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.maniago Jonathan Maniago

    Similar magnification could be obtained using reversing ring setups, but the method outlined above could be more convenient for those who frequently need to change the depth of field, but don’t have any lenses with manual aperture control.

    Personally though, I’d rather expose the rear end rather than the innards.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/thelonelylights Adam Cross

    I suppose stack focusing would be out of the question?

  • sierrarobba

    guys guys!!!!! So many kit lens form 90′s and early 00′s dont try this unless you have the SAME lens.

  • SpaceMan

    That’s amazing. Can you tell us what approximate magnification you reached with your mod?

  • delayedflight

    The lens can’t focus without it’s front element. You need to move back and forth.
    Works with Nikon’s 18-55 kit lens too

  • Chris H.

    Just did it with an old 17.5-42mm Olympus. Worked great. The F-stop works and the zoom just magnifies the effects of the F-stop. Auto or manual focus does not work. To focus I move the camera physically closer or farther to get the sweet spot. Definitely best with tripod. I can see limited to no benefit handheld. Wildlife may be a challenge, you have to get an inch or two away. Very nice hack!

  • Sam

    read about this long time ago, finally there is some test shots!
    not sure how to do it in my old 18-55 EF-S lens though…

  • Dave

    From the photographs, it doesn’t look like he removed the front element but instead the whole front group.

  • isidorus shalom p

    works well with nikon AF 28-80 too,,

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=700408486 Adam Lipstadt

    Convertible lenses are back.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bunsee Elizabeth Bunsee

    awesome

  • http://www.facebook.com/andy.hodapp1 Andy Hodapp

    Just my two cents on doing macro on the cheap, get an only FD mount 50mm 1.8 or something, can’t be more then $10 and a reverse ring, you can change your apature easily. I would also recommend saving some money and getting a real macro lens, got my Canon mount Sigma 105mm EX DG for $300, sharpest lens I have.

  • Fra Lippi

    I tested this out with a Nikon 18-55mm kit lens. It’s pretty easy to remove the front element without exposing any motors or electronics. Also, because of the way the front element screws on you can mount it backwards. With that in place you get a macro lens that won’t focus to infinity. But once you’re done with your experiment it’s easy to undo and get your lens back to normal.

  • Mirta

    Thanks :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=683392554 Phil Rezanow

    I did this today with an extra EF-S 18-55mm I had where the AF was broken. We had a working 18-55, so this one was collecting dust. We kept an old Fujifilm S4200 around for macro work, but this makes me very happy. Thank you so much for the tip!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=683392554 Phil Rezanow

    I did it with an old, broken 18-55mm and it worked perfectly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=683392554 Phil Rezanow

    I had to move my 18-55mm lens to nearly touching the object I wanted to capture to find the focus point. It’s there somewhere, though I suspect that the longer the focal length, the closer you’d need to be to your subject.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=683392554 Phil Rezanow

    Make sure you have lots of light! And I mean lots, In order to expose a Nickel sized object at f/9, I had to increase my ISO to 1600 – and the depth of field was still horribly narrow.

  • mdjorie

    Judging from the pictures above, removing the front element also removes the inner screw thread, meaning you can’t use a UV filter to protect the lens guts?

  • thetruth

    It works with all lenses…

  • Peter

    Worked for me with the same lens. Quite hard to focus well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/je.sa.545 Je Se Sa

    can’t you tape one on safely?
    I’d try

  • Frank Cava

    This lens surgery works, but IMO is completely a waste of time. Why go out and buy a lousy, cheap lens (with lousy image quality) and take it apart? The best way to get macro from a non-macro lens is to use an extension tube. These are relatively inexpensive and very easy to use. Just mount to body and then mount any lens (greater than 50mm) onto the tube. You retain full AF and exposure control, get higher magnification, and if you’ve got a good lens then you retain that excellent image quality too. Plus they’re small and lighter than another lens too.
    An extension tube cannot reduce your image quality as opposed to removing the front element of your lens or by adding close-up filters which is the worst way to get macro.

  • Frank Cava

    I agree with Adam, stack focus is the best option since it doesn’t require any additional lens surgery or additional equipment. All you need is software. With stack focusing you can get DOF that’s impossible with any other method known.

  • xx2u

    This is so smart. Take a lens that already doesn’t autofocus and use that. Its almost worthless without autofocus. Now you start with something of no value! Now everybody can have a reasonably good autofocus lens at their disposal.

    I wonder how we protect the lens when not in use? Plastic and a strong rubber band?

  • xx2u

    Reverse ring means you have the lens hanging by fine threads? How long will that last? Doesn’t seem remotely ideal.

  • xx2u

    Anybody know if this works with the original Canon cheapo 18-55mm lens that came with the camera? It already focuses much closer than my 50mm 1.8 lens. I wonder if anybody has assembled a list of lenses where this macro hack works. Then you hunt for those lenses where the AF no longer works. Now you can acquire them for almost nothing!