Super-telephoto Lens Jacket for under $10

     It seems half my projects involve making something for my 500mm lens. What can I say? It was a major investment and I do my best to baby it. This project is for something I've been grousing about for a long time, and finally decided to do something about it. I think 90% of the photographers I see with super-telephotos have a Lenscoat neoprene sleeve on their big glass. Everytime I looked at getting a Lenscoat for mine I ran up against that wall that separates my wants from my wallet. Am I REALLY going to pay $100 for $5 worth of neoprene?" Everytime I ask myself that the answer is a resounding "Ain't gonna happen." For crying out loud, my neoprene calf-length kayaking boots cost less than that, and I know they are a lot more difficult to make than simple neoprene rings. And, if they ever leak, the manufacturer replaces them for free (including shipping both ways). Next to that the Lenscoat pricing seems seriously out of touch with reality.

Lenscoat on Canon 500mm - $100

Completed homemade lens sleeve - $10  
     Besides the outrageous price (an issue that runs rampant in the "professional" photographic equipment market), the fabric laminated to the neoprene soon gets frayed along the edges and begins looking rather ratty. You'd think for $100 it would hold up much better than that. In addition, it doesn't even cover the whole lens. It looks more like a makeshift patchwork. On all levels it just didn't appeal to me. If it was maybe 20 bucks a pop, it might be practical to change it out now and then when it got worn. Maybe if you got a 5-pack for $100 and had spares it would be easier to justify.

         Example of soft foamy
          rubber shelf liner
The tan shelf liner I used
     Sadly neither of those ideas is a reality, so I put my thinking cap on and did what I often do.... I designed and made my own version. At the left is the Lenscoat official product image of a Canon 500mm with their neoprene sleeve. Below that is my 500mm with the homemade lens sleeve I created for less than $10. It was ridiculously easy to make (compared to many of my projects) and it covers the whole lens (no gaps). It's easier to put on and remove than the neoprene rings. It can easily be made water repellant with some waterproofing spray, which I already have and use on other items.

     If you stop to think about it, the lens sections are simply rectangles of various sizes rolled up into cylinders. That means making them is very simple. Just measure the circumference and length of each section, add some extra around the edges for folding neat hems, and add an inch or so extra length on one end to overlap for velcro fastening. For my 500mm I bought a half yard of camo material (60 inch width x 18 inches) for $7, which provided more than enough material. I already had 3/4-inch velcro on hand, as well as a leftover piece of soft foamy rubber kitchen shelf and drawer liner (grocery store or Walmart housewares section) to go on the underside to provide an excellent grip on the lens. This keeps the sleeve from sliding or spinning on the lens barrel the same way neoprene grips the lens snugly. But because the material is holding this liner onto the lens, it won't stretch and get loose like neoprene does.

     Since your lens is likely to be a different size and brand, and may have more or fewer sections than mine, I won't confuse you with exact measurements. This is about the process, and not about a specific lens. You can adapt my technique to your own needs, and maybe come up with a lens sleeve even better than mine. I recommend starting with the lens hood first, as it should be the largest and simplest section to make. What you learn from making it will be excellent practice for the rest of the sections, which will surely all be different sizes.

Inside of hood cover showing
rubbery shelf liner piece (tan)
sewn under front edge hem.

Basic Steps:
Hem and shelf liner insert

   Paper pattern, scribbles and all,
   with corner cuts to mark panel
      cutouts on material
     1 - Measure the length and circumferance of the lens hood (or lens section). Add 1 inch to the length to allow for overlap for the velcro closure. In addition, add 1/2 inch to all four sides for hem. Draw this rectangle on a piece of paper to make a pattern (example- a large hood with an 8" x 20" measurement would become 9" x 22").
     2 - Pin this paper pattern to your material, then cut out the material exactly along the edge of the paper pattern. Once cut, remove the pins and paper pattern.
     3 - Fold over 1/4 inch on one edge, then fold that 1/4 inch fold over itself again as seen in the above diagram. This seals the cut edge inside a hem so it cannot fray. Stitch along the hem. Then do this with the other three edges. NOTE: On some sections, like the hood, you will need to insert the shelf liner piece inside the hem before stitching that hem. For my application I did this to the front edge of the hood, and front edge of the first and second lens sections. The third lens section and back section did not require this.
     4 - Now sew the hook and loop pieces of velcro to opposite ends of the rectangle where it overlaps into a cylinder. Before sewing, fit and test the material section on the hood or lens to be sure you locate the velcro pieces exactly so they line-up over each other for a snug fit.

----------   That's it for the basic steps.   ----------

Important Modifications To The Basic Steps:
Inside of 2nd section cover (focus ring)
showing rubbery shelf liner (tan) seamed
under the hem. Notches in the tan liner
correspond to the taper pleats.
     You will likely need to modify these basic steps for various sections, depending on where your buttons, dials, strap rings, lens foot and controls are located. For example:

Cutouts for ring knob, focus scale     
and control panel     

notch for

Hood cover overlaps over 1st section.
My Lenscoat hoodie blends well
with the homemade covers.

     Notches and Holes - I had to cut out a notch for the hood clamp knob before sewing the hems for the hood cover. My third lens section had the stabilization controls and focus dial, for which I made cutouts and then hemmed the cutout edges.
     Tapering Pleats - My second section (focus ring) was smaller at the back end than front end, so I put three pleats in it to taper the diameter down on the back end.
     Overlap - The hood, 1st and 2nd sections all were made a little longer than the section measurement so they would overlap on the back side to cover any gap between sections. This was practical because these sections were larger around than the section behind them. This can be easily seen on the completed sleeve. Another example is the overlap on the hood cover.
     Test Fit Your Paper Patterns - To avoid making mistakes, take the time to verify your fit with your paper patterns, especially when it comes to cutting out access holes.

2nd section (focus ring) showing
pleat and velcro closure
Test fitting the paper
pattern for the lens
mounting ring cover.

Such modifications will obviously vary from lens to lens, and section to section.

About the shelf liner -
     I wanted to add some comments about why and where you should use the shelf liner (or similar material). Cloth material may be a little slippery, even over a knurled rubber grip ring, and the soft rubber (or maybe it's vinyl ??) of the shelf liner provides the very same sort of grip as the neoprene of the Lenscoat. Since these covers are attached by wrapping and connecting the ends with velcro, how tightly they fit depends on you pulling them snug before pressing the velcro together. This shelf liner gives additional grip, even if you don't put the covers on quite as tightly as you should. Also, it provides some additional cushioning (i.e. protection).
     1- I used it on the hood cover for the additional grip it provided on the slick hood surface.
     2- For the 1st section, even though it had a rubber knurled ring there, I used it because the lens tapered quite a bit. I wanted it to grip tightly on the large end of the taper, but be loose on the small end of the taper so it would not rub on the focus ring section, since that needs to spin.
     3- In particular, this should be on the cover section for your focus ring. Obviously you want the best grip there.
     4- The 4th section (control panel and focus dial) didn't need any liner since the cutout for the control panel fit around the raised panel. That alone would help keep it in position, plus it couldn't slide backwards because of the mounting ring.
     5- The 5th section (mounting ring) needed none. It velcro's around the lens foot, which does not allow for any slippage or movement anyway.

    Left to right- 300mm,
     500mm, & 70-200mm    
     So, where you use the shelf liner in this project depends on your decisions when fitting a cover for your particilar lens. Put on your thinking cap and it should be pretty obvious the best spots to choose. That's pretty much the whole story. I thought this project was going to be far more tedious and difficult than it turned out to be. Just keep in mind that the fit needs to be as close to exact as you can manage. Careful measurements are important. Properly hemmed, it's not going to fray like the neoprene does, and should look good for a long time. Don't forget the waterproofing spray if you want that protection from sprinkles.

UPDATED 500mm Cover, and Three New Covers:

     Not long after making that first cloth cover I came across some 600 denier waterproof material in my favorite camo pattern - Realtree Advantage Max-4 HD (now called Realtree Max4). I made a few items with this material, and soon decided to make some lens covers too. I was feeling more confident now that I might actually be able to make covers for my smaller 300mm f/4 and 70-200mm f/4 lenses. I knew the smaller tolerances could be tricky, but the new material was easier to work with than the previous cotton material, so I thought I could manage it.

Detail of 500mm cover
500mm & teleconverter cover
with matching hood cover  
Teleconverter "flap" rolled up    
     First I tackled the 500mm cover. This time I also made a hard-front hood cover similar to the original leather hood cover that came with the lens. Now everything matches and is camo. The protective front is made from a plastic coffee container lid sandwiched to a disk of 1/8-inch thick plywood (strong and very lightweight). The inside is lined with black ripstop nylon over foam padding to protect my expensive glass. On this go-round I added a flap to the rear of the cover that hides the 1.4x TC that I often use with this lens. The flap simply rolls over so it's not in the way whenever I'm not using the TC. I may return to this project and make individual covers for the teleconverters, but at this point I don't see a need. At right is a detail shot of the 500mm cover. The stitching would be less obvious had I used a brown thread.

     300mm (hood retracted) 70-200mm cover
For comparison, here are the Lenscoat
300mm & 70-200mm covers
300mm cover (hood extended)  
     Next came the 300mm cover. The integral hood on this lens required a slightly different approach. The hood simply slides back over the black rubber grip of the focus ring with no space between. There was absolutely no way to squeeze a cover on the focus ring and under the hood - at least not the front half of the focus ring anyway. All I could do here was put a slim cover on the rear half of the focus ring.

     Another challenge with these smaller lenses is the scale. There is only a 1/4-inch gap between the tripod mount ring and the IS switch panel, and an 1/8-inch gap between the ring and the focus switch panel. This was not sufficient for a rolled hem. I came up with the idea of using tightly stretched 1/4-inch black elastic for these gaps, and it works great. The elastic even rolls up to fit into the 1/8-inch gap easily.

500mm on tripod
     Last but not least is the 70-200mm cover, which had it's own challenge. The hood was tapered and required a very snug fit so the "rubber" (shelf liner material) on the underside would hold it tightly in place. Unlike the 500mm covers, neither of these smaller lens covers have any velcro at all. The covers are completely "slip on", since the thickness added by material overlap and velcro on these smaller lenses would have made the covers less aesthetically pleasing and actually more difficult to make. Lucky for me the 600 denier polyester I used had a slight stretch to it, perhaps 2% stretch, which was just enough to wiggle these tightly-fit cover sections on over the control panel bump-outs, yet keep them snug once in place.

400mm with hood retracted   400mm with hood extended   
     Not long after completing these covers, I added a Canon 400mm f/5.6 L to my lens lineup. The first thing I did was make a matching cover for it too. This 400mm is very similar in size to the 300mm, with the same built-in sliding hood. It has no image stabilization like the 300mm (so no "IS" control panel to contend with), and the tripod mounting ring hinges open for removal instead of sliding off the back of the lens. Despite these differences, making the cover was quite similar to the one for the 300mm. At right are photos of the 400mm cover with the hood in both positions for comparison.

     So, for one yard of material - enough to do all four lenses and lens hoodie - I spent less than $15.00 (including shipping). That's only 3% of the $445.00 that four Lenscoat covers, TC covers and a 500mm hoodie would have cost. Not only that, but mine look better, cover more of the lens, and are just as waterproof. I think I am very happy.