Horrible Macro Rig Makes Good Photos

We love horrible hacks like this. It’s a lens and a ring of LEDs, taped to a cell phone. Powered through crocodile clips, also taped to the cell phone. There’s nothing professional here — we can think of a million ways to tweak this recipe. But the proof of the pudding is in the tasting.

The source of this hack was deleted, but the image above is all your really need to recreate this. It’s no secret that the secret to good photography is good lighting. And for macro photography, shadows are always just exactly where you don’t want them. A ring light gets rid of them by lighting up the scene from all angles around the lens. And what’s a ring light, really? A ring of lights.

What you maybe don’t know, unless you’ve tried it, is that any old magnifying lens works pretty well to get up-close macro photos out of a regular camera. The better the lens, the better the results, naturally, but you’d be shocked how far you can go with just a cheap piece of lenticular acrylic.

Add tape and you’re done. Or you could take things to the opposite extreme.

Thanks [Peter] for the tip.

19 thoughts on “Horrible Macro Rig Makes Good Photos

  1. Oh… something i made gets to hackaday and i deleted that post by accicent… crap.
    Well, here is the link to a few more pictures:

    The lens was from a cheap google cardboard clone i had around, worked pretty much as good with a lens assembly from an old fax machine and the lens from an old rifle scope.

  2. Hacks are only as good as the end result, so I’d call this one a success. I have a “croc-clips & wall-wart” 9V battery replacement “hack” sitting on my bench as I type this :)

    @Elliot, thank you for getting the “pudding” saying correct.

  3. My kid did something very similar for one of her projects except it was a cheap USB webcam and the lens was held on with blue-tack. She discovered tiny insects in small flowers that we had no idea where there. You could see them moving around and interacting etc. So it may seem crude and ugly but you can do really useful work with a rig like that and I encourage other people to give it a go and see what innovations they can add to it.

  4. The lenses from fax and scanners are great for this and as a general magnifier. With an android phone camera the light sensitivity is so good you don’t the ring light if in good light.

    1. The thing is, with optics like this the focus distance is only about 2 to 3 cm blocking most available light, so you’ll need to add light.

      To improve this further, you can add a diffuser to get better and less harsh light on shiny parts like solder or the shiny insect shell. For better control of the lighting you can spit the leds into two parts, both with adjustable current sources to adjust brightness individually. The lower part should typically be less bright for a more natural look.

      1. That is the idea, i needet something quick for the moment and to check if it would work at all.
        Got a board routed with 16 leds and a WS2803 driver, that gives me 8 bit resolution on each individual LED.

        Straight of a LiPo cell that should give me about 70% efficiency, if i dit the math right. Seems reasonable enough:


        Why those LEDs and that driver? I still got some left over from another project.

    2. Thanks for the tip about lens quality. I have some old scanners, from when they where build from cast aluminium instead of plastic. Definitely going to try this with a HD webcam.

  5. Try a phone and lens from a CD rom drive, that will get you a huge magnification. Probelm is th efocal point, objects need to be very close to the lens. But the results are nice, and if the object you intend to view is between glass plates and lit from the back you’d have a cheap microscope.

  6. This reminds me, will someone please make an Android camera app that will allow me to turn on the flash LEDs while shooting video? And also allow me to turn the LEDs on while shooting still photos. Not just as a flash — I want to be able to see how the light shows on the object I am shooting without having to take photos just to see the result.

    1. I’ve tried several apps but they wouldn’t work on my phone. Most of the apps seem to require root access, which I can’t do easily. :(
      I just turn on the ‘flashlight’ manually from a widget on the homescreen.
      You probably already know this, but long-hold on the Home screen and select ‘Widgets’. There should be a simple flashlight icon in there.

      It can be quite a pain when you want to catch something quick, so I placed the icons right next to each other so it’s almost a double-tap. But no it doesn’t work every time.

      1. I’ve tried just turning the flashlight on before launching the camera app. Both the stock camera app that came with the phone and Open Camera give an error that the camera is in use and I should close any other apps that are using the camera. Maybe I should contact the authors of Open Camera and request this as a feature.

        1. I can’t find anymore tricks that might help besides the usual reboot and clearing the cache. Android is very new to me and there seem to be quite a few quirks even after I’ve disabled all the Samsung bloatware and the Google app. I just installed Marshmallow and it just seems different. If you’re using a custom install there are probably some app permission settings to mess around with.
          Good luck!

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