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Freelensing

Freelensing is an absolutely awesome technique to create great contemporary looking portraits. It lends itself beautifully to modern wedding photography, contemporary engagement photo-shoots or really anything else where you want to create something not ordinary.  It is a sort of poor man’s tilt and shift lens or even poorer man’s Lensbaby composer. I bought my first Tilt and Shift lens about four months ago forking out nearly £1000. Canon 45mm f2.8 TSE is undoubtedly an awesome lens and I love using it but nothing can beat the magical depth of field that an adapted second-hand Nikkor 50mm f1.8 D lens creates for the fraction of the price – £83.95 with shipping to be precise.

I first came across the term Freelensing when researching Lensbaby gear. There is a huge amount of resources on the Internet about freelensing so if you love it as I do you will have a whale of a time reading through different articles and flicker groups ‘material. I totally fell in love with images taken just holding your lens in your hand literally millimetres away from the camera body. Yep, you heard me right. There is no physical contact between the lens and your camera. Instead you just wriggle it about in front of the camera sensor. Trying to nail the focus might in some cases prove to be difficult but like with everything else the more you practise the more you get to know how to tame this little monkey.  To be completely honest I find it easier now to focus my adapted Nikkor 50mm than my 45mm TSE. Also, I suggest using LiveView as opposed the viewfinder. I know it is quite risky with the sensor being exposed during shooting but you will increase you keeper rate dramatically.

I first began photographing using freelensing technique with my Canon 5D III but soon went back to my Canon 5D II.  When freelensing5D mark III does not really offer any advantages over 5D markII. Superior 5D III focusing system capabilities go out of the window as you have to focus manually anyway. On top of that, as you are better off using the LiveView mode the 5D mark II magnify button is placed right below the little LCD screen which means you can zoom in and out to confirm your focus with the thumb of your right hand whilst holding the lens with your left hand. 5D mark III magnify button is placed on the right side of the big LCD screen which makes it quite awkward to double check your focus.

I suppose, your next question is ‘why did you buy a Nikkor lens if I you are a Canon shooter? Well, I am not really that technical and that is why I relied on Wikipedia and Flicker’s members’ expertise regarding this matter. Apparently it is to do with different flange distances to sensor and ability to focus to infinity with Nikkor lens and Canon camera bodies.  I trust those guys’ technical knowledge more than I trust mine. When I was a kid and used to take apart my mom’s transistor radios or be it my sister’s birthday watch I always ended up with essential parts on my table after I had just managed to put it up together.   Fast forward 18 years later and I still ended up with parts lying around on the desk when I re-assembled my Nikkor 50mm f1.8D for this tutorial purpose.

To adapt my Nikkor lens I used a 0.99p screw driver pen from my local Pound shop. As I said I had to re-assemble the lens for the sake of this article so below the image of a screwdriver you will find parts that did not make it back in to the lens. In fact it is not absolutely necessary to adapt this lens and it will give you quite good freelensing results straight out of the box. However, I have chosen to listen to Sam Hurd’s advice about this small adaptation which lets you move the lens in and out more than you would able to if you left the metal mount on. This results in greater focusing possibilities.

0.99p Poundshop screwdriver

freelensing - lens teardown

parts  left over after the first dismantlement ;¬)

freelensing

let’s start the tear-down – Nikkor 50mm f 1.8 D

freelensing

let’s start with unscrewing those three screws in the metal mount

to detach the mount from the lens you will have to break the yellow tape which your camera uses to communicate with the lens

remove the plastic aperture indicator ring

on the back of the metal mount you will find a little metal ‘bracket’ that ‘operates’ the aperture. As the Nikkor  aperture blades remain shut as a default we will use this metal ‘bracket’ to keep the aperture fully open. Unscrew the little bracket

slide the protruding end in to the little opening near the rear glass element. You will need to turn the lens whilst holding the bracket till the aperture blades fully open then align the hole at the end of the bracket with one of the three holes that used to keep the lens mount in position

you will now have a beautiful tool in your hands with working aperture blades

I honestly love using this lens and certainly will give it more air time during this wedding season. It is also a great lens to use on your engagement shoots. I have tried my 85mm 1.2 and it performs great as a freelensing lens too. It is just the weight and price of it not to mention the precariously set rear glass element that makes it really redundant for this kind of purposes. Also, you need to be careful and not put you sensor into too much jeopardy (dirt, mud, dust) but I think the risk is totally worth it and the sensor cleaning is only about £60 anyway.

Go to our freelensing photography page showcasing images taken with the adapted Nikkor 50mm 1.8D and Canon 5D markII.

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