Man Builds ‘Next-Level’ Lens with Crazy 35mm f/0. 4 Equivalent Bokeh

A British man has built his own lens with a super fast 35mm f/0. 4 equivalent bokeh that is constructed around an old episcope projector lens and a mechanical system for controlling focus.

Matt Perks (aka DIYPerks) is an aspiring tinkerer and builder. He doesn’t believe in buying anything that he cannot make. On his YouTube channel, Perks has built everything from a DIY 4K home cinema projector to a DIY microphone for recording audio in his home-built studio with home-built video lights.

In this case, Perks turned his attention to a vintage episcope lens harvested from an old art projector. An episcope projector was very popular in the 1960s and 1970s and would fit over a piece of art or any object that a user would want to project onto a wall or screen. They were popular in schools due to their low cost and bright projected image, which was gained by shining light within the projector housing, down towards the subject. The light would then reflect off a mirror and through the episcope lens onto the wall.

As Perks admits, episcopes have largely been left behind by the steady march of technology into the digital realm which he clearly sees as a real shame because the episcope lens offers a remarkable bokeh thanks to its incredibly large image field — on the order of 500mm. To put that in perspective, the standard smartphone camera image sensor has an image circle of roughly eight millimeters, or 0. 016 the size.

To achieve the goal of using the episcopic lens with his camera, Perks would have to create a huge housing and focusing mechanism from scratch. Even then, there’s no digital camera sensor large enough to capture all the image potential of the episcope lens.

One option would be to capture the image as it is being projected off the wall, but that comes with its own set of image quality issues from distortion to noise. Not to mention it would prevent any kind of mobile use at all.

The other option would be to project the image onto an opaque surface and then capture the image from that. If the design is portable, this allows the array to be taken almost anywhere.

Perks used a diffuser sandwiched between two pieces of acrylic and then built around a pyramid-shaped aluminum housing as a custom light screen. Two, actually: one to hold the episcope lens, and one for his Canon R5 full-frame mirrorless camera. To eliminate unwanted vignetting, he added the Fresnel lens between.

With an origami folded black bellows to block out as much adjacent light as possible, and a 3D printed joystick focusing mechanism to control the entire system, Perks was ready to test out his cumbersome, yet interesting array. The results can best be described as looking more like a direct sensor image, rather than capturing a reflection from an opaque surface.

The episcope lens optically produces a dreamlike image with incredible background separation. Perks worked out that his custom lens array has a crop factor of 0. 08 and an aperture of f/0. 4, which Perks claims makes his rig twice as fast as a $200,000 Zeiss 50mm f/0.7. This array can be used with smartphones, creating optical bokeh that is more natural than what modern handsets create through computation photography.

Perks compares his episcope rig to the portrait mode in most new smartphones, which uses computational photography to apply an artificial blur to the background.

The total cost to build his DIY “Perkiscope” episcope lens array is only $200. Perks promised to provide a link to all plans for building a DIY episcope camera system, however, this was not available at the time that the video description was being published. The vintage nature of the lens makes it difficult to find the right part even with these instructions.

Image credits: All photos by Matt Perks