Can a trio of in­ter­change­able, artis­tic lenses im­press the white­coated boffins in the N-Photo lab?

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Lo­mog­ra­phy is full of sur­prises. This hip­ster retro spe­cial­ist op­er­ates a reg­u­lar pro­duc­tion line of plas­tic lo-fi cam­eras, in­stant cam­eras, and quirky films in all kinds of for­mats and has helped re­launch clas­sic lens types.

The Nep­tune Con­vert­ible Art Lens Sys­tem might seem like a ran­dom off-the-wall idea, but the de­sign has its foun­da­tions in the his­tory of lens de­sign. Way back in 1840, op­ti­cal pi­o­neer Charles Che­va­lier pre­sented a ‘con­vert­ible’ lens with an in­ter­change­able bar­rel, an idea that Lo­mog­ra­phy has res­ur­rected for the 21st cen­tury.

The sys­tem con­sists of a base unit that at­taches to the cam­era lens mount and a se­ries of three ad­di­tional lenses that at­tach to this base. The base con­tains some of the op­ti­cal el­e­ments, the di­aphragm and fo­cus ring, while the add-on lenses pro­vide three dif­fer­ent fo­cal lengths.

The Tha­lassa is a 35mm f/3.5, the De­spina is a 50mm f/2.8 and the Pro­teus is an 80mm f/4. By to­day’s stan­dards, the aper­tures are mod­est, but these add-on lenses are far smaller and lighter than their mod­ern equiv­a­lents. Each one would eas­ily fit in a trouser pocket or, quite pos­si­bly, even a shirt pocket.

How­ever, there are sig­nif­i­cant me­chan­i­cal and op­er­a­tional limitations. For a start, all three lenses are – not sur­pris­ingly – man­ual fo­cus only. Not only that, but there are no me­chan­i­cal or elec­tronic con­nec­tions to the cam­era body, so your Nikon DSLR will not know which aper­ture set­ting you’ve de­cided to use. It’s not just fo­cus­ing

The Nep­tune sys­tem gives you three lenses in one, with in­ter­change­able front lenses of­fer­ing 35mm, 50mm and 80mm fo­cal lengths

that has to be done man­u­ally, but ex­po­sure me­ter­ing too – very old­school, to say the least.

The add-on lenses feel weighty and well made, but the base unit feels crudely fash­ioned by com­par­i­son. The fo­cus ring works smoothly, how­ever the aper­ture ring is quite tight and rough, and the aper­ture mark­ings have no click-stops. Worse yet, the bay­o­net mech­a­nism for at­tach­ing the lenses has a very weak

‘click’ or de­tente when you twist them into place. None of the lenses came loose or fell off dur­ing test­ing, but nei­ther felt par­tic­u­larly se­cure ei­ther.


How­ever, there’s good news too! These might look like the kind of cheap, nov­elty con­ver­sion lenses you could at­tach to a smart­phone, but they’re a far cry from that. In fact, op­ti­cal qual­ity is sur­pris­ing! All three lenses pro­duce ex­cep­tional de­tail ren­di­tion, in­signif­i­cant dis­tor­tion, hardly any vi­gnetting and very lit­tle chro­matic aber­ra­tion ei­ther. A mod­ern prime lens might beat them in over­all res­o­lu­tion, but not for con­trast or ‘punch’.

The other sur­prise is how these lenses make you work. Hav­ing no aut­o­fo­cus or in-cam­era me­ter­ing might sound like a lim­i­ta­tion, but it’s also lib­er­at­ing. Man­ual fo­cus­ing might seem tire­some, but it’s sim­ple and al­most im­me­di­ate.

With man­ual ex­po­sure con­trol, you make more mis­takes but you dis­cover more too – you find out how un­der­and over-ex­po­sure can pro­duce at­trac­tive cre­ative ef­fects that your in-cam­era me­ter will al­ways pre­vent.

It’s hard to make a case for the Nep­tune Con­vert­ible Art Lens sys­tem of price and spec­i­fi­ca­tions alone, but when you fac­tor in the ef­fect it can have on your pho­tog­ra­phy, it be­comes a more in­ter­est­ing propo­si­tion.

In­di­vid­u­ally, the Nep­tune lenses are far smaller than equiv­a­lent mod­ern prime lenses

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