10,000-Year-Old Camera Lens Takes Striking Pictures

The first photograph was taken sometime in the early 1800s, and through almost two centuries of development we’ve advanced through black-and-white, the video camera, and even high-speed cameras that can take thousands of frames per second. [Mathieu Stern] took a step back from all of the technological progress of the past two hundred years, though, and found a lens for his camera hidden in the glacial ice of Iceland.

Ice in this part of the world has been purified over the course of 10,000 years, and [Mathieu] realized that with this purity the ice could be formed into a workable camera lens. The first step was to get something that could actually form the ice into the proper shape, and for that he used a modified ice ball maker that was shaped to make a lens rather than a sphere. Next, he needed an enclosure to hold the lens and attach it to his camera, which he made using a 3D printer.

For this build, the hardest part probably wasn’t making the actual equipment, but rather getting to the right place in Iceland and actually making the lenses. At room temperature the lenses could be made in around five minutes, but in Iceland it took almost 45 minutes and the first four attempts broke. The fifth one was a charm though, so after over five hours on the beach he was finally able to make some striking images with the 10,000-year-old ice lens which melted after only a minute of use. If that seems like too much work, though, you can always outfit your camera with no lens at all.

Thanks to [baldpower] for the tip!

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Camera Obscura On Wheels Hits the Open Road

A camera obscura is a very simple device. Consisting of a dark chamber, with only a pinhole to let light in, it focuses an image on its inside surface. If you want to take a permanent copy, it’s as simple as installing a photosensitive film inside and managing the exposure time. Sounds like a normal camera, right? The difference is the scale —  a camera obscura is large enough that humans can stand inside and view the image. Usually, they are large stationary rooms. [Physics Girl] took the show on the road by building a camera obscura out of a rented box truck.

The optics of the camera obscura project an image upside-down.

The basic concept is a great one – hire a box truck, and cover the rear opening with cardboard. Cut a small hole in the cardboard, and you’ve created a camera obscura on wheels. The video does a great job of explaining the optical principles behind what’s happening, and there’s even experimentation around how to change the exposure level and focus through modification of the aperture.

The only downside to viewing a camera obscura on video is that you can’t appreciate the resolution and detail visible in real life. Trust us though, it’s better than any HDTV on the market today.

The rolling camera obscura makes for a great experiment which requires little more than some cardboard, tape, and a sunny day. It would be great fun to execute as an educational activity at a school or makerspace. Once you’ve tackled that, perhaps consider the digital version. Video after the break.

[Thanks to Baldpower for the tip!]

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Unphotogenic Lighting As A Feature

Have you ever taken a picture indoors and had unsightly black bars interrupt your otherwise gorgeous photo? They are caused by lighting which flickers in and out in its normal operation. Some people can sense it easier than others without a camera. The inconsistent light goes out so briefly that we usually cannot perceive it but run-of-the-mill camera phones scan rows of pixels in sequence, and if there are no photons to detect while some rows are scanned, those black bars are the result. Annoying, right?

What if someone dressed that bug of light up as a feature? Instead of ruining good photos, researchers at the University of California-San Diego and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found out what different frequencies of flicker will do to a photograph. They have also experimented with cycling through red, green, and blue to give the effect of a poorly dubbed VHS.

There are ways an intelligent photographer could get around the photo-ruining effect with any smartphone. Meanwhile DSLR cameras are already immune and it won’t work in sunlight, so we are not talking about high security image protection. The neat thing is that this should be easy to replicate with some RGB strips and a controller. This exploits the row scanning of new cameras, so some older cameras are immune.

Hardware Store White Balance Reference

We live in a time in which taking pictures is preposterously easy: take out your phone (assuming it wasn’t already in your hands), point it at something, and tap the screen. The camera hardware and software in even basic smartphones today is good enough that you don’t need to give it much more thought than that to get decent pictures. But what if you want to do better than just decent?

Ideally you’d take photos lit by high temperature lights, but failing that, you might need to compensate by adjusting the white balance during post-processing. But to accurately adjust white balance you need a pure white reference point in the image. Thanks to some diligent research by the folks at the FastRawViewer blog, we now have a cheap and widely available source for a pure white reference material: PTFE pipe tape.

Alright, we know what you’re thinking: how hard could it be to find a white object? Well, if you’re talking about really white, it can actually be quite difficult. Take a walk down the paint aisle of your local hardware store and see just how many “whites” there actually are. Think the shirt your subject is wearing is really white? Think you can use the glossy white smartphone in their hand as a reference? Think again.

By taking a rubber eraser and wrapping it with a few layers of the PTFE tape, you can create a white reference that’s so cheap it’s effectively disposable. Which is good, because protecting your white reference object and keeping it clean can be a challenge in itself. But with a PTFE tape reference, you can just chuck the thing when the photo shoot is done.

Combine this cheap white reference with some of the DIY photography lighting setups we’ve covered in the past, and you’ll be well on the way to getting better images to document all your projects. Just remember to submit them to us when you’re done.

[Thanks to Keith Olson for the tip.]

A Canon Lens Adapter for the Game Boy Camera

Released in 1998, the Game Boy camera was a bit ahead of its time. This specialized Game Boy cartridge featured a 128×128 pixel CMOS sensor and took 4-color greyscale photos. The camera even rotated, allowing for selfies years before that word existed.

The fixed lens on this camera meant no zoom was possible. [Bastiaan] decided to address this shortcoming by building a Canon EF Lens Mount. The resulting build looks hilarious, but actually takes some interesting photos.

[Bastiaan] designed the mount using Rhino 3D, and printed it out on a Monoprice 3D printer. After some light disassembly, the mount can be screwed onto the Game Boy Camera. With the massive 70-200 f4 lens and 1.4x extender shown here, the camera gets a max focal distance of just over 3000 mm.

One issue with the Game Boy Camera was the limited options for doing anything with the photos. They could be transferred to other Game Boy Camera cartridges, or printed using the Game Boy Printer. Fortunately, [Brian Khuu] has a modern day solution that emulates the Game Boy Printer using an Arduino. This lets you get PNG files out of the device.

Impossibly Huge Depth of Focus in Microscope Photographs

Sometimes, less is more. Sometimes, more is more. There is a type of person who believes that if enough photos of the same subject are taken, one of them will shine above the rest as a gleaming example of what is possible with a phone camera and a steady hand. Other people know how to frame a picture before hitting the shutter button. In some cases, the best method may be snapping a handful of photos to get one good one, not by chance, but by design.

[The Thought Emporium]’s video, also below the break, is about getting crisp pictures from a DSLR camera and a microscope using focus stacking, sometimes called image stacking. The premise is to take a series of photos that each have a different part of the subject in focus. In a microscope, this range will be microscopic but in a park, that could be several meters. When the images are combined, he uses Adobe products, the areas in focus are saved while the out-of-focus areas are discarded and the result is a single photo with an impossible depth of focus. We can’t help but remember those light-field cameras which didn’t rely on moving lenses to focus but took many photos, each at a different focal range.

[The Thought Emporium] has shown us his photography passion before, as well as his affinity for taking the cells out of plants and unusual cuts from the butcher and even taking a noble stab at beating lactose intolerance.

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Building A Lightweight Softbox For Better Photography

If you want to take good photographs, you need good light. Luckily for us, you can get reels and reels of LEDs from China for pennies, power supplies are ubiquitous, and anyone can solder up a few LED strips. The missing piece of the puzzle is a good enclosure for all these LEDs, and a light diffuser.

[Eric Strebel] recently needed a softbox for some product shots, and came up with this very cheap, very good lighting solution. It’s made from aluminum so it should handle the rigors of photography, and it’s absolutely loaded with LEDs to get all that light on the subject.

The metal enclosure for this softbox is constructed from sheet aluminum that’s about 22 gauge, and folded on a brake press. This is just about the simplest project you can make with a brake and a sheet of metal, with the tabs of the enclosure held together with epoxy. The mounting for this box is simply magnets super glued to the back meant to attach to a track lighting fixture. The 5000 K LED strips are held onto the box with 3M Super 77 spray adhesive, and with that the only thing left to do is wire up all the LED strips in series.

But without some sort of diffuser, this is really only a metal box with some LEDs thrown into the mix. To get an even cast of light on his subject, [Eric] is using drawing vellum attached to the metal frame with white glue. The results are fairly striking, and this is an exceptionally light and sturdy softbox for photography.

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