Making a macro lens and a light for the iPhone

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What do geeks do when they have a little free time on their hands? They accessorize! On Sunday I found myself wanting to play with my iPhone's camera. Since getting the iPhone, and even more since I because posting mobile photos to Flickr, I've wanted to try out new ways of distorting, enhancing, and affecting the images capture by the iPhone.

The make-shift macro lens

A few years ago one of my digital cameras just decided it didn't want to work anymore. It wouldn't turn on. Actually, to be more accurate, the thing wouldn't turn off. Turns out that there was a small screw inside that busted up the innards. No idea how that happened.

Well, like any self respecting geek I kept the camera's body around for a few years always thinking I'd do something with it eventually. You know, the same way car enthusiasts keep around old Corvette parts thinking one day they'll rebuild those. That's me with electronics - only, I'm horrible at rebuilding things, but fantastic at ripping them apart.

I figured that inside of this extraordinarily complex device I would surely find some way to manipulate the way the iPhone took photos. Turns out, I ended up with a fairly decent macro lens for the iPhone.

iPhone macro lens

The macro lens on the iPhone

Obviously this thing isn't built for the road, but it works in a pinch. I just took some double-sided tape, wrapped the lens from the camera's eye-piece in it, then used a paper clip to fasten it to the iPhone. Yeah, I know, prize winning engineering indeed.

I am not sure how I'll end up using this, but I'm glad that I know have it in my bag should a reason to use it arise. It does a fairly good job and I'm happy with the outcome. I'm looking forward to finding a way to build a fish-eye lens now - and I'm open to suggestions on how exactly to pull that off.

The obnoxiously large light

The iPhone doesn't have a built-in flash. Some mobile phones with cameras built-in actually have a pretty bright flash, but the iPhone has none, zip, zilch. I've never really cared about that, but I can see why when people switch from a phone that has it would complain.

Last year at SXSW's keynote featuring Will Wright's demonstration of SPORE (which has a release date of September 7, 2008 that I'm excited about) Adobe graciously gave away some odd little lights. Each light has a small handle on the side that lets you crank it up to power the light. Pretty neat little gizmo, so I fastened it to a mount that came with my old iSight and voila, instant light for the iPhone. Here is a photo of it.

This isn't anything special, of course, and the results are a bit meh. But I thought it good enough to use when I might need it. The iPhone is terrible in low-light conditions so anything helps.

Conclusion? The lens is going in my laptop bag and the light will probably stay home.

Update March 21, 2008 -- I've now recorded a video demonstration of the macro lens in action.

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