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Cell Phone Camera Lens Hack

Super-Macro ViewSuper-Macro ViewGuest post by Nate Ivy

Here's a simple way to get more out of your cell phone camera by reusing components from a "disposable" camera to create macro, wide-angle & fisheye lenses.

Disposable cameras are frequently reprocessed after they are turned in to a photo developer, and for good reason- they contain a wide variety of interesting and useful components including lenses, batteries, capacitors, LED's and more.  A strong argument can be made for NOT hacking a used disposable camera because it is likely to be remanufacuted,  However, if you are interested in expanding the range of your cell phone camera, the lenses from a disposable camera are a cheap way to go.

For safety's sake, locate a disposable camera without a flash.  Cameras with flashes contain capacitors, electronic components capable of storing a large electrical charge. Even after the battery is removed, the capacitor in a disposable flash camera can hold enough electricity to hurt or kill you!.  After taking all the pictures on the disposable camera, wind the film until the ratchet spins free- this ensures that you don't ruin the film when opening the camera.

1)  Use a pair of needle nose pliers to remove the plastic ring holding the camera's lens in place.  The ring breaks away easily, allowing extraction of the lens.

Remove the ring and lensRemove the ring and lens

2) Hold the lens over your cell phone camera lens and start taking pictures.  The lens shape is plano-convex.  Place the flat part of the disposable lens against your camera. When taking photos with the extra lens in place, you'll have to hold your camera very close to the subject.  You'll also have to experiment with different distances from the subject to find the right focus. I had good luck at about 1-3 inches away.  Once you've found a good focus length, you might want to slightly adjust the placement of the disposable lens to get the best image.

  Hold lens in placeHold lens in place

3) You can further enhance the magnification by using your camera's zoom feature if available.  Click on the images below to see examples.

No macro lens in placeNo macro lens in place  With macro lens in placeWith macro lens in place  Macro lens and ZoomMacro lens and Zoom

4) Disposable cameras also include a "view finder"- the part of the camera you look through to frame your photo.  The view finder is a set of two lenses, one concave, and one convex that focus an image to your eye.  The view finder provides a "wide angle" view representative of the photos the disposable camera takes.  Remove the view finder to create wide angle and fish-eye lens photos with your cell phone camera.

The view finder is easily separated from the camera after some strategic plastic breaking.The view finder is easily separated from the camera after some strategic plastic breaking.

5) Use the view finder assembly in its factory configuration to take wide angle pictures.  Simply hold the assembly up to your cell phone camera lens.

Standard viewStandard view  Wide angle viewWide angle view

6) To create a fish-eye lens, reverse the larger concave lens at the front of the view finder.

Standard configurationStandard configuration  Fish-eye configurationFish-eye configuration

7)  Hold the modified view finder in front of your cell phone camera lens to take fish-eye photos. 

Standard viewStandard view  Fish-eye viewFish-eye view

8)  Experiment with different lens and camera settings to get a new perspective on the world.  (Note, the smaller, convex lens at the front of the view finder also works well as a macro lens.)  Here are some more pictures taken from my cell phone using the lenses from the disposable camera.

Nickel, Macro lens, 4x zoomNickel, Macro lens, 4x zoom  Coins, macro lens, no zoomCoins, macro lens, no zoom 

Macro coins w/ 4x zoomMacro coins w/ 4x zoom  Fish-eye roomFish-eye room 

  Fish-eye kidFish-eye kid