Soap Box Derby (with a homemade tilt-lens)


Today my family and I attended a soap box derby race, held semi-annually in Ventura by the California Family Soap Box Derby Association. We had also planned on going on a short hike afterward, but that got postponed as we were having too much fun watching the cars go down the track! I’ve been itching to shake up my family-snapshot photography lately, and decided I’d leave the house armed only with my homemade ’tilt’ lens (attached to a Fuji S5 Pro). This lens is a little like a ‘lensbaby‘, except it’s harder to use and cost me about $5 to make! You can see a picture of it at the bottom of this post. Basically, the lens is tilted relative to the film/sensor/camera plane, rather than being parallel to it as in most cameras. The effect is that the in-focus areas of an image are not all the same distance from the camera. This leads to out-of-focus areas in surprising places.

[click “continue reading” below for more…]

This was the first time I actually used this lens for anything other than test shots, even though I’ve had it sitting around for about six months. I built it out of an old ‘process’ lens someone had given me, which has no shutter, only aperture blades. I hacked part of a broken Nikon lens so that only the mount side was left, so that it would fit easily onto my dSLR. This in turn is attached to two sections of concentric PVC pipe, sprayed black. To focus, I slide the tube in and out. Not very accurate, of course! If I want to adjust the focal plane, I rotate the lens in the tube. I can’t actually adjust the amount of tilt, only the direction.

Sort of crazy then that I decided to use such a hard-to-focus lens in an action-packed event. I was successful because (for the moving shots) I would pre-focus on a spot on the road, and then wait for the car to reach that spot as it rolled down the hill. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t…but even when the cars are pretty blurry, it can sometimes have a nice look.

I also think that this sort of tilt-lens look works best in either black and white, or with a vintage look to photos. Bright colors don’t go well with the dreamy look.


I think ths one below is my favorite racing image. Lots of determination in the child’s face.


Looks like she’s racked up a few wins before now! Look at those decals…probably an old pro at the age of 14 or so.


Monochrome image below.


And a more normal treatment, this time of my lovely wife in the parking lot. this lens works for dreamy portraits too!


And finally, the homemade tilt lens. It ain’t pretty, but is fun to use. It also lets me use some of my vintage-camera sensibility (i.e. “sharpness is soooo overrated”) on a dSLR. Just guess the focus and take the shot, rather than obsessing over the technology.


2 thoughts on “Soap Box Derby (with a homemade tilt-lens)

  1. Hey that’s a cool link! Thanks, Jennifer! I know a couple of people who are really into stereo cameras (collecting and shooting with them), but I’ve never tried it myself.

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