Forget swapping lenses, this modular lens lets you swap different focal lengths

Interchangeable lens cameras offer incredible versatility but what if you could also swap out the individual pieces inside that lens? That is exactly what Lomography did with the Neptune, a convertible art lens system that is essentially three prime lenses in one. Both launched and fully funded on Kickstarter on Thursday, the lens uses an unusual but historically inspired modular design.

The Neptune consists of three parts. The first is the lens base or mount —  most photographers will only need one but creatives that shoot with multiple brands can use the same lens on their Canon, their Nikon or their Pentax by swapping out the base. The second piece is a swappable aperture plate. As an art lens, the plate sits inside the camera’s usual diaphragm to alter the shape of the background bokeh from stars to teardrops.

The final piece is the front lens, the section that determines the lens’ focal length. The fully funded Kickstarter project is expected to launch with a 35mm f/3.5, a 50mm f/2.8, and an 80mm f/4, though Lomography is already designing additional parts to expand the system from 15mm to 400mm. The lenses also feature close-up focusing capabilities ranging from 9.8 inches (35mm) to 31.5 inches (80mm).

Lomography says each lens is handcrafted and designed for sharp images with saturated colors. The three-part system is also designed to be much more compact than carrying three separate prime lenses.

While the design of the Neptune lens is certainly odd by today’s standards, the company based the design on the first convertible lens crafted by Charles Chevalier in the 1830s — the same man that crafted a lens for the Daguerreotype camera. The lens pieces are each named for Neptune’s moons: Thalassa is the 35mm, Despina the 50mm and Proteus the 80mm.

The company is looking to crowdfunding to raise the production costs, but the Kickstarter quickly reached the initial $100,000 in less than three hours. If the production is successful, the earliest backers can get their hands on the convertible lens system for the $599 limited early bird, an estimated 40 percent discount from the expected retail price. The campaign is set to remain open until June 7, with shipping expected to begin in February.