Adapting the iPhone for Insect Photography

[the following is a repost from the Scienceblogs network]

Polistes dominula, the European Paper Wasp, captured with an iPhone

As an insect guy, the first question I ask about any camera is: Can I shoot bugs with it?

To my great disappointment, the answer for most cell phones is no. Cell phone cameras are normally fixed to focus at distances useful for party pictures and street shots. Fixed-focus simplifies the mechanics of the onboard camera, but it also makes close-ups of small subjects impossible. Even Apple’s iPhone 3GS- which has variable focus- doesn’t focus quite closely enough do anything but the largest insects. So when an aphid plague unexpectedly hits town, to name one real-life example, I have to go home and haul out my camera bag. No easy snaps.

An unmodified Apple iPhone 3G depicts the same wasp shown at the top of the post like this:

As you can see, the plane of focus falls behind this barely-visible insect. That’s no good.

There’s a simple solution. A magnifying lens placed over the onboard lens will move the focus point close to the camera. With an insect sitting nearly on top of a small lens, the resulting image is magnified to impressive size. The home-made rig looks like this:

I used a $20 lens and some masking tape, but any hand-lens should do. This arrangement allows the iPhone to cozy right up for some intimate bug portraits. I’ve posted a sampling below:

Given the low resolution of the iPhone sensor, I won’t be making posters out of these images anytime soon. But they’re fine for blog posts or powerpoint presentations. For a $20 hack, I’m not complaining.

9 thoughts on “Adapting the iPhone for Insect Photography”

  1. Hi Alex,

    I saw your post on Natalie’s facebook page. I noticed you asked someone if they had a Droid. I recently got one and am pretty impressed with my results. If you haven’t seen any photos with the Droid, let me know – I would be happy to share some with you. My main complaint with it, even at 5 MP, you still can’t blow up the photos for a nice print. Even then, my blackberry storm didn’t do too bad of a job. Figuring out how to use them was frustrating and took alot of practice…


  2. This is a great, cheap and simple idea! I can’t wait to try it before all the bugs freeze! Thanks. I found you on John Larkin’s facepage.

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