When I first saw Photojojo’s DIY iPhone projector I was intrigued. The science behind it was sound in my mind, but I wondered how usable it really was. The only way to find out was to make one myself, but not content with simply making another website’s tutorial I decided to change things a bit.
I had to change a few ingredients out of necessity and others out of sheer curiosity. What I ended up with is a slightly easier to use yet still ultimately hobbyist toy for iPhone photographers with nimble fingers and patience. Total cost? $4.50 for a magnifying glass and some duct tape – things you might already have around the house.
Intrigued? Let’s begin!
Things You Will Need for Your Phone Projector
In order to make an iPhone (or any smartphone) projector you will need the following items:
- Two boxes, one slightly smaller than the other.
- A magnifying glass.
- A method of standing your phone upright.
- Black (or dark) duct tape, pencil and a craft knife or other sharp cutting object.
- A copy of the Yellow Pages (or foam mat, or other cutting surface).
The original brief only used one box. What I did differently was to use two – two tissue boxes to be exact – with one slightly smaller than the other, so that it can fit inside. Seeing as tissue boxes are usually very similar in depth, you should be able to find two competing brands with slightly differing widths. This works for any box, as long as it’s a fairly snug fit you will be fine.
My reasoning? The original shoebox projector has a rather dismal minimum focusing distance, which means you can’t use it effectively over a short range. Projectors aren’t necessarily designed to be used in such a manner, so this might not seem like a problem at first. However: the further the projector is from a surface, the wider the spread of light becomes. This means that big projections will be very dark in anything other than pitch darkness. Another drawback is that focusing is done by moving the iPhone itself, a fairly fiddly procedure that involves opening up the box. So in order to get more “depth” out of my projector I decided to use two boxes, so that I could move the lens toward and away from the iPhone in order to focus.
By doing this I actually gained a couple of meters in usability. The resulting projector is longer than most shoeboxes, and while it was a more fiddly construction I think the end results are better given the time invested. Again, you might not have all the materials but ideally are willing to experiment and make-do with what you have around the house. The idea here is to be thrifty and spend as little as possible for the simple fact that spending more money on such a crude construction is not going to yield much of an improvement in the results.
In fact, the results aren’t that great but I still had fun making and using it. If you’re impatient or just want to know how things went you can skip to the end for the finished product. Otherwise, let’s begin!
The first thing I did was take the smaller box and mark out the circumference of the magnifying glass on it using a pencil. I could only find a huge magnifying glass at my local “mostly $2” store, and the handle isn’t removable without force so I left it on and made it fit as best I could. This actually helps focus the finish product too.
To ensure that the smaller box would continue to fit I made sure the bottom of the magnifying glass was flush with the bottom of the box.
Next I cut out the circle I had marked roughly with a craft knife. Take care here, you want to score inside the circle so that the magnifying glass squeezes into the hole evenly, rather than being too loose.
Once I’d cut the hole I put a few loose pieces of duct tape on the magnifying glass to make fixing easier. Duct tape has the benefit of being very stretchy, which makes it very easy to manipulate.
Magnifying glass loosely in place I taped the remaining edges to seal any holes that light might escape through.
Next I took the big box and unfolded the flaps from one end. I did the same to the small box, except I completely removed the flaps rather than just undoing them. Leaving them in place on the larger box until the end is definitely a good idea.
At this stage I decided it was time to make the inside of the box dark so that light wouldn’t bounce around and detract from the image on the wall. The initial plan was to use black tissue paper (as per the ingredients above), but I soon realised what a mistake I had made and gave up. A matte spray paint would work great here, but they’re at least $4 and I spent $2 on 25 metres of duct tape so I decided to use that instead.
Laying the duct tape in strips was fairly easy, if a little time-consuming. I did this to the entirety of the smaller box and the rear section of the larger box. The result was a very sturdy end product with added friction from the duct tape making a welcome addition to my focusing mechanism, though it wasn’t quite as matte as it could have been for my liking.
Finally it was time to put the phone in place for a quick test. You could use anything from a makeshift paper stand to a paperclip or even blue tack here, but I was lucky enough to have a box ever so slightly smaller than the width of my iPhone 5. This meant I could improve even further on the original projector with a slot into which I could easily slide the phone.
I put everything in place and tested the projector, and then marked where the phone sat best using pencil. I drew a line across the top of the box and made sure it lined up on both sides (so the phone didn’t sit at an angle). I then cut two thin strips slightly thinner than my phone in its case, and popped them out. At this stage the duct tape inside the box helped steady the cut.
I was left with a near-perfect fit that allows me to slide the phone in and out, with easy access to power and headphone connectors.
The iPhone will always correct the perspective when placed “upside down” but in order to project an image you will need your source image to be inverted. This is because the lens on the magnifying glass will invert the image.
There’s a fix for that – Settings > General > Accessibility and turn Assistive Touch on. Now you’ll get a little white dot you can move around the screen. Tap it, choose Device then Rotate Screen and rotate the screen so that it is upside when you place it in your projector. Finally head over to Settings > Brightness & Wallpaper and turn off Auto-Brightness while jacking the brightness of your screen up to the maximum setting.
I put the two boxes together, and folded the flaps on the larger box inwards to create a tight seal. The hole at the top can be covered with card or similar if you want, though you will need some way of using the phone while it is in position.
Unsurprisingly the image quality isn’t great. There are no sophisticated optics or powerful lamps at play here, and while my phone’s screen seems incredibly bright at maximum brightness it only makes a small dent in a dimly-lit room. I have slightly off-white walls which didn’t do wonders for the image, though in pitch darkness visibility was good.
The best results came in the form of a white sheet, as you can see above. I absolutely had to head over to Archive.org and find some black and white stock footage – it felt right. I also tried some safari images from a recent trip to South Africa, but video gave me the best results.
It’s not as if the image quality of a moving image is any better than a still image, but it’s the novelty of being able to project a moving image onto something that got me. This is the way amateur and professional filmmakers of years gone by would review reels of film, in dark rooms with flickering images. The ability to project a moving image onto my wall somehow made the whole procedure and any disappointment involved worth it, and the grain only added to the novelty.
Would I recommend you create your own phone projector? Probably, yes. If you want a cheap projector you can only use at night that produces grainy, slightly out of focus images then this is the perfect project for you. It was never going to be perfect, but there’s a certain amount of charm involved here. I’ve had a longstanding goal of filming something professional-looking on my iPhone and now I know exactly what I’m going to watch it on when the time comes.