Video: Two clever DIY methods to create your own ‘Deakinizer’ lens

Cinematographer Roger Deakin, a member of the British Society of Cinematographers and to The American Society of Cinematographers, is known for his work on films such as A Beautiful Mind, O Brother, here Art Thou?, The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, Skyfall, Sicario and many others. While his silver screen contributions are what he’s most known for by the general public, Deakins is also known in the film world as the creator of what’s colloquially referred to as the Deakinizer lens. In the above video, YouTuber Chung Dha shares how he created a DIY Deakinizer lens using two different methods.

A screenshot from a scene in the film Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, captured with a Deakinizer lens.

For those unfamiliar with a ‘Deakinizer’ lens, it’s the name given to a modified lens that Deakins specially created to film the 2007 film Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. This specialized lens was used to evoke an old-timey feel to the footage and gave the scenes a dreamy, tilt-shift-like effect. In an interview with The American Society of Cinematographers, Deakins explains how the modified lens worked and how it came to be:

‘[The unique look’ was done entirely in camera with lenses that are now called ‘Deakinizers.’ I used to use this gag where I put a small lens element in front of a 50mm to get a similar effect. I went to [camera department] Otto Nemenz and asked how we could create that effect in a better way, with more flexibility and lens length. The lens technician suggested taking the front element off a 9.8 Kinoptic, and also mounting the glass from old wide-angle lenses to the front of a couple of Arri Macros. […] Removing the front element makes the lens faster, and it also gives you this wonderful vignetting and slight color diffraction around the edges. We used different lenses, so some were more extreme or slightly longer than others. Sometimes we used [Kardan] Shift & Tilt lenses to get a similar effect.’

According to Deakins, Otto Nemenz rents out three of these lenses, but they’re not found on the company’s website and even if they were, it’s unlikely they’d be cheap to get in hand. As such, the second-best option is to create your own.

So, that’s exactly what YouTuber Chung Dha has done in the above video, wherein he showcases two different ways you can get a similar dreamy effect using in-camera methods—it’s possible to create a similar effect in post-production, but the physical route should make for more authentic Deakinizer look.

The first method is less-than-ideal, but will get the job done for less money.

The first method is achieved using a wide-angle lens converter. Instead of screwing it onto the front of your lens, as you normally would, you flip it around and hold it with the front element of the adapter facing the front element of your lens. While more convenient than the second option, it does have its limitations, as not all adapters will give the look with all lenses and the front filter thread sizes might be hard to mix and match.

This is what the modified Mir lens looks like when attached to a tilt-shift adapter and lens mount.

The second method is more pricey, but results in a more convenient, consistent experience. The first thing you’ll need is a Mir 1B 37mm F2.8 lens that’s been modified by reversing the front element. While this sounds daunting, self-proclaimed weird lens guru Mathieu Stern has created a 90-second video showing you how to do this in a matter of minutes. In addition to the modified lens, you’ll also need a tilt-shift adapter to place it onto, as well as a mount adapter if your tilt-shift adapter isn’t meant for your camera’s lens mount. In total, you should be able to get the setup for $120 or so, give or take a bit.

It’s probably not a look you’ll want to consistently use, as it can be a bit nauseating, but as Dha notes, it’s a great trick for scenes where the subject might be dreaming, drunk or otherwise disoriented.