This Photographer’s Custom Made Tilt Shift Lenses Look Like Sci-Fi Props

All images by Jin Kim, used with permission.

When we first laid eyes on this custom made tilt shift lens on Reddit, we thought it was a prop from a science fiction movie. Our attention was piqued and we had to learn more. It turns out they are tilt shift lenses that the Redditor’s father, photographer Jin Kim, had custom made. Tilt-shift photography is a popular genre of photography that involves manipulating depth of field and perspective. Real world objects often take on a toy like appearance in resulting tilt-shift images. Specially designed tilt-shift lenses or adapters are required to achieve this effect practically in-camera, but they can be costly and challenging to use. This has resulted in some photographers opting to simulate the effect during post-production using programs like Photoshop instead. The same principle can also be applied in reverse to magnify the depth of field, but commercially available lenses and adapters don’t cater to this kind of tilt-shifting. To tackle this challenge, Jin Kim came up with some interesting DIY solutions. Jin was kind enough to share the stories behind his custom made lenses with us.

Editor’s Note: We have made our best efforts to transcribe this interview for the sake of clarity.

Phoblographer: Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from and what got you interested in photography?

Thank you for your interest in my photographs. I was born and raised in South Korea and moved to the US when I was 26 after finishing school and compulsory military service. I joined the USAF after moving to the US and served from 1976-1997 and later worked at Lockheed Martin and the USPS. While serving in the USAF, I was a B-52 mechanic for four years and then retrained to become a calibration technician. I am retired now and currently reside in Columbus, GA. National Geographic first introduced me to the wonders of photography. I was most inspired by the photos of the Moon landing that were shot on medium format cameras.

Phoblographer: What do you enjoy most about photography and why has the tilt shift genre been so attractive to you?

I love the mechanics of producing images with well-made cameras, lenses, and photo equipment that work without fail, such as most cameras and lenses made by Leica. There are many photographers using tilt-shift lenses and/or adapters, but most of them use techniques called “miniaturization” or “fake.” I use tilt shift lenses to expand the DOF rather than to create shallow, toy effects. I’ve only made adapters because they are not available on the market. Lenses and adapters only offer a maximum of 12 degrees which can be good for landscapes, but not for close focusing down to a few inches. Most people think that tilt-shift photography is too complicated and expensive. I can help them to start to enjoy tilt-shift photography easily and cheaply by using their own cameras and lenses.

Phoblographer: The subjects that we photograph are very much a part of our photographic identity. Flowers (along with some macro detail work) are very much the focus of the work you’ve shared on Flickr. What qualities about these subjects interests you?

Fortunately, my wife’s garden has plenty of flowers waiting for me 24/7, rain or shine. Some flowers are simply photogenic and some have geometric patterns for tilt angle. I’m constantly looking for the flower that can be seen differently rather than from a straight-on angle.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about your custom made tilt-shift lenses. They look like props that came from the set of a science fiction or steampunk movie! Why did you decide to create your own tilt-shift lenses?

I decided to make adapters that produced the effects of large format cameras that used bellows while still being able to use my favorite lenses and non-professional camera. After I made a few adapters, I put them together to imitate professionals playing with their view cameras with bellows to show their flexibilities.

Phoblographer: Each of your tilt-shift lenses looks strikingly unique. How did you go about creating them?

Each adapter I made have different effects. Some are very complicated but have very similar results. Other than learning about basic optics from a high school, I also learned about advanced optics in the USAF (mainly for targeting purposes). It was a fun course and gave me the confidence to play with light. The biggest challenge was maintaining the “flange focal distance” of each camera and lenses.

Here are just some of the custom tilt-shift lenses that Jin has created:

Phoblographer: Are you working on any new tilt-shift lenses that you can share with us?

I finally made an adapter that I use daily. I bought a cheap 0 to 8 degrees tilt adapter from eBay that cost about $20, tore it apart, cut out some parts with a hacksaw, then JB welded it back together. This is the 20 degrees adapter that I mentioned earlier. It’s minimizes vignetting and reduces the sharp angle to the sensor for better image quality. I could help others make adapters relatively easily thanks to my experience so that they can also enjoy tilt-shift photography.

Phoblographer: What camera(s), lenses, and other photography equipment do you use primarily?

I use the original Sony A7 but it’s been modified twice with Kolari UT (Ultra Thin) cover glass (each mod costs $400). I’m waiting for the improved mod that they are working on now. It’s going to be better than the Leica M10-P, I hope.

Phoblographer: Are you working on any new photography projects that are not tilt-shift related?

I’m thinking about selling my house so I can afford the new Leica M10-R with an APO Summicron 50. Or stay with my Summicron DR, my rainy day lens.

Thank you once again to Jin Kim for sharing the stories behind his custom made tilt-shift lenses with us. You can learn more about Jin Kim’s custom tilt-shift creations and his photography over at his Flickr page.