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Focal Length Designs

We recently stumbled upon the work of Isaac Watson, and his line Focal Length Designs. His cuff bracelets are made from recycled camera lens parts, so this was naturally intriguing. Isaac was kind enough to answer some questions for us.

KEH: What's your profession?

IW: I wouldn't call myself a designer, or an entrepreneur, or a marketer. Just a creative, I guess. It's been a topic of hot, self-reflective debate lately. Some years ago I started a degree in graphic design, taking a few photography courses along the way, but burnt myself out physically, emotionally and financially after several years. I decided to take a break from school and regroup.

KEH: How did you come up with the idea to make the bracelets?

IW: In early 2008 I stumbled across a website featuring an artist that made jewelry from old camera parts. Encouraged to try making my own version of what I saw, I armed myself with a concept and some rudimentary tools and set to work.

I spent a sweltering May afternoon in a borrowed workshop grinding, filing and sanding away at a little piece of metal from a broken SLR camera lens I had found at a thrift shop. Two hours later I emerged from the shop with grime-covered hands and several minor lacerations, but I also had a couple shiny new bracelets. They were comparatively crude—scratched from a few too many slips of the metal file and dinged by a few too many mis-strikes of the hammer—but I had accomplished my goal, and I had a ball of a time in the process!

A single experiment in mimicry opened the door to a passion I never knew I had. I couldn't wait to take another stab at them!

KEH: What has the response been like?

IW: I find that I usually get one of three responses from people when they see my work.
  •  Response 1: "Oh, how clever!" This usually comes from the people who don't really get it. Suburban craft show moms and such.
  •  Response 2: "Oh, sweet! Those are bad-ass!" This is my favorite response (naturally). I get this from designers, fashionistas, the hip photographers.
  • Response 3: "OMG how could you?!" This always makes me laugh. It's usually the old school photographers that still have their AE-1 or K1000 in their closets and would never dream of getting rid of it. They're the ones that took the longest to convert to digital (not that there's anything wrong with that) and think I'm destroying their history. I can usually calm them down by assuring them that the lenses were broken to begin with or that they were obsolete parts. But really I understand that the shock stems from emotional connection to the "death of analog".
KEH: Have you thought about making other items based on the same idea, or using other camera equipment parts?

IW: In dismantling at least 30 lenses since I started, I've amassed quite the collection of optics, brackets, screws, springs, rings, aperture flaps, and all kinds of other parts. Part of my goal over the winter has been to expand my work beyond cuff bracelets. I'm currently brainstorming and collaborating with my good friend and mentor, Betsy Cross of Betsy & Iya. She's a wicked talented jewelry designer and we'll be launching our collaboration at the Crafty Wonderland Super-Colossal Spring Sale, May 1-2 at the Oregon Convention Center.

KEH: How long does your process take to make these?

IW: If I spent a good solid day in my workshop, I could emerge with ten bracelets. But that's assuming the lenses are already in pieces and I've got a good solid flow to my work. I also put a lot of time into photographing, naming and writing a "story" for each one. They are one-of-a-kind pieces, and I like giving them some kind of personality or history. I enjoy being able to connect to my customers that way, and it's a great outlet for my writing hobby.

KEH: Whats your process? What do you do with the other lens parts that aren't used for the bracelets?

IW: I'd like to say that it's as easy as slice, bend, and file, but there is so much more art that goes into it. Each piece has its own style that takes form as I work with it, and I've developed my own special techniques to add complexity to their minimalistic nature. My techniques have developed along with the bracelets, too, considering I have no formal training in jewelry-making or metal-smithing. I still do a lot of work by hand, even though I got a fancy Dremel tool for Christmas. Files and sandpaper are my friends! All the leftovers go into tubs and boxes and baggies and await brilliant ideas and collaboration as mentioned previously!


KEH: Can you size them to fit specific size wrists?

IW: Sizing depends greatly on the original diameter of the cuff and the thickness of the aluminum. Some of the metal is more flexible or more brittle than others. Most of my bracelets can be fine-tuned, but the big adjustments have to happen in the shop if the metal will accommodate it. I love doing custom work, too! Finding a raw piece and making it specifically with someone's wrist in mind is exciting, especially when I get to see their face at the unveiling! If anyone's interested in custom work, I'm happy to get in touch and discuss details!

KEH: Anything else you'd like to tell us?

IW: While I play around with my old AE-1 when I have the time and money for developing film, I don't consider myself a photographer. Most of the good photos I take are pure chance—my skills are not that greatly developed. So I would call myself more of a photographile instead.

Up until this year I had been selling my work solely through my Etsy storefront. In February, a new retail shop opened up inside an art gallery here in Portland, called Small Victories Shop. Erin, the shop owner and curator, focuses on artful and functional handmade goods for the home and body. She approached me about adding my bracelets to her collection, and is now the first brick-and-mortar shop to carry them! It's a fabulous little space and if anyone is in the Portland area, they should drop by and check it out.

I'm also the Co-Chair of a pilot project called I Heart Art: Portland. It's an art advocacy group that represents a new relationship between Etsy.com and PNCA. We're starting some really great programming here in Portland.

Below are a few bracelets from the line:


"Subtle Scratch"
"Large Threads 1"
"Micro-Bandonomics 1"
"Slice n Dice 1"
"Come to Grips 1"
"75mm Brilliance Plus 1"

For more on Focal Length Designs, visit the shop on Etsy.

Filters 101

A filters function is to absorb certain light and allow other light to pass through either partially or completely. They are generally made of glass, plastic, or sheets of gelatin. Different filters allow the photographer to express individual creativity and aid in correcting any undesirable components. Each filter alters light in different ways; they can be used alone or in combination with one another to achieve seemingly infinite results.

The most basic filters provide little more than protection for your lens. Lenses can be a costly investment, and a good protective filter will easily shield a lens from devastating damage. Replacing a filter is a lot easier to endure than replacing a lens.

  • MC protective filters are clear filters designed to protect the lens without affecting the light that passes through it. Use of these filters with show no effect on the final image. These filters are usually left on the end of the lens and won’t affect the performance of other filters used in combination with it.
  • UV filters are also a first choice for protecting a lens. These filters absorb UV light that often appears as a bluish tone in photographs. Common practice is to keep these filters on the lens at all times as the effect is minimal and often desired. UV filters are increasingly effective at higher altitudes, over long distances, and above water. In hazier conditions, stronger UV Haze filters will have a more dramatic effect, sometimes resulting in a yellow tone. Although it is not possible to filter out dust and fog, UV Haze filters will filter out the UV light reflecting off of them.
  • Sky filters are chromatic (colored) filters, usually a light shade of pink or magenta. They also help reduce the effect caused by UV light, and add warmth to the photograph. When photographing people, Sky filters can be used to help prevent the light reflecting off of nearby objects from disturbing skin tones.
  • Neutral Density filters are designed to reduce brightness without sacrificing color. These filters are useful when shooting in bright conditions where fast shutter speeds still result in over exposure. Longer exposure times allow for creative effects, such as softening moving water, and give a lot of freedom to the photographer for experimentation. Reducing the brightness of light also allows for wider aperture settings, which will reduce the depth of field.
  • Polarizer filters are generally used to reduce and eliminate reflections on non-metal surfaces. Depending on the angle, reflections on water and glass can be eliminated, allowing you to focus on subjects within. Polarized filters can also be used to darken the sky, and increase contrast and saturation. A common practice is to point at the sun with your hand in the form of a pistol. The part of the sky that your thumb is pointing at is where the darkening effect with be more intense. Circular polarized filters allow you to rotate the filter, changing the intensity of the filter’s effect.
Above: No Filter, SOOC
Above: With Polarizer Filter
Left: No Filter, Right: Polarizer Filter

~Andy McCarrick

The New Lensbaby Line

Lensbaby recently celebrated its 6th birthday and also released a totally revamped line of lenses and accessories in their new Optic Swap System. Here's a quick run-down of the new system.

The lenses come in mounts for Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, and 4/3 mount. The lenses can be used on SLR camera bodies, both film and digital. The three new lenses are: The Muse, The Control Freak, and The Composer. The Muse is a remake of the original Lensbaby, and is focused by bending and squeezing, and then holding into place. It is the most simple and economical of the lenses. The Control Freak is a remake of the 3G, and is focused by compressing and then locking posts into place. It is ideal for macro and tabletop photography. The Composer is all new and built on a ball and socket system for smoother focusing, which is done so by simply tilting the front half of the lens. Because of the ball and socket design, it requires no hand holding or locks to keep it in place. With the three new lenses and a bunch of other accessories, the line also introduced a new concept of varying optics, called the Optic Swap System. The system offers three types of plain optics including single, double, and plastic optics that can be interchanged between lenses. The swapping system also includes three special effect optics including soft focus, pinhole/zone plate, and the fisheye optic.

If you're unfamiliar with Lensbaby, the lenses are known for their "sweet spot of focus". They have a circular field of focus, instead of a planar filed like that of a tilt/shift lens.While similar effects are possible in Photoshop, one of the benefits of using these lenses is the benefit of time. Shooting with a Lensbaby gives you an instant result with no post editing required. These lenses seem to have a very niche group of followers. They are very “hands on”, both in focusing and in choosing your aperture. Aperture holes are pre-cut into small disks that must be inserted manually into the center of the lens. The different optics must also be hand swapped, through a slightly (and at first challenging) process of multiple steps. The new Lensbaby lenses are certainly more advanced and offer more options. They do take some getting used to, and you will probably either love them or hate them.

Click HERE for more information on the Lensbaby website.

The EGG Lens

The EGG lens creates a 360 degree image in just one shot. The provided software turns that shot into a 360 deg. panoramic virtual tour with no stitching required. This lens is ideal for Real Estate photography to show virtual tours of homes and other spaces.

After figuring out how to properly use the lens, it was pretty simple. We had great plans of taking virtual tour shots of our entire building, which we did, but then in the software process of it realized that in order to see the actual virtual tours, we would either need to 1) upload not only the image but the program files to a website, or 2) email both the program file and image file. So, unfortunately the blog format prevents us from sharing the actual virtual tours with you, but we've posted some of the still 360 degree shots for your viewing enjoyment.

The KEH lobby.
The purchasing department.
Shelves of bins in the warehouse.
The breakroom.
Test shot.

Click HERE to see KEH Camera's selection of EGG lenses.

Filters 102

Today's post is in continuation with our short series of filter posts.  If you missed Filters 101, click HERE. The filters we are referring to are the traditional filters that screw onto the front of a lens, drop-in, or slide in as gels (not the Photoshopped kind).
  • Haze Filters are more intense versions of UV filters. Like UV filters they cut down on the bluish haze accompanying high altitude, far distances, and over-water shots. They contribute a warming effect, and will sometimes create a yellow cast. Haze is created when light hits small particles in the air. Haze filters are able to cut down on the haze created when light reflects off of larger particles in air, such as droplets of water, dust, and pollution. Although the filter cannot remove these particles completely, it can dramatically decrease their effect in photographs.
  • Fog Filters serve the opposite purpose of Haze filters. When it is desired, these filters will increase the effects of fog or subtly create it where none is present. Fog filters can be used to soften a photograph or add more depth to a boring scene by adding another element to it. In scenes where some fog is already present, this filter will exaggerate, or “thicken”, its effect.
  • Close up filters are used to bring the minimum focusing distance of a lens much closer. These filters are a cheap alternative to macro lenses and offer unique qualities of their own. They come in varying intensities (usually from +1 through +10) and can be combined with one another to achieve desired results. Lower intensities are beneficial on flat objects, while more intense close up filters are better for 3 dimensional objects, as they maintain depth of field without sacrificing much sharpness.
  • Soft focus filters diffuse the light coming into the lens, affecting the overall contrast and sharpness, and subtly blending colors. Their effect appears as a soft glow emitting from bright spots, or as an out-of-focus-blending of less intense colors. Although cutting down on sharpness and contrast, they can help objects in a photograph flow together more easily.
Shot with no filter (above)
Shot with soft focus filter (below)
  • Enhancing filters work mostly in the red spectrum. Their use results in a greater saturation of some browns, oranges, and reds. This filter works by not allowing duller colors to pass through. This effect in itself will lead to a warmer photograph, but most filters also add a slight red tone. This makes the colors in the red spectrum jump out and has a warming effect on objects of other colors. Different versions of enhancing filters are made for enhancing specific colors, such as greenhancing, and bluehancing.
  • Cross screen filters are clear filters that have any given pattern of lines running across them. This effect causes light sources and bright reflections to radiate out along these lines. The most popular version of these is a starburst filter. These filters are commonly used at night, creating streaks of light to fill areas that would normally be dark. When used in daylight, the diffusion of light through these filters will sometimes soften the shot depending on the number and intensity of light sources.
  • Split field filters are a type of close up filter that allow the photographer to focus on an object within inches in the foreground, and keep sharp focus on objects in the background. These filters are essentially a close up filter cut in half. The main challenge of a split field filter is hiding the line created by the filters edge, which often shows up as a blur running across the photograph. Despite the challenges that come with using this filter, they can still be useful. Most SLR camera’s automatic settings don’t allow for the photographer to get the maximum depth of field out of their lens. With reliance on automatic features, a split field filter easily offers the desired effect without the frustration of trying to force your camera to do something that it wasn’t set up to do.
An example of the blurry line created by a split filed filter that should be avoided.

~Andy McCarrick
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