A 3D Printed Camera (Including The Lens)

Barring the RepRap project, we usually see 3D printers make either replacement parts or small assemblies, not an entire finished product. [Amos] is the exception to this rule with his entirely 3D-printed camera. Everything in this camera is 3D printed, from the shutter to the lightproof box to the lens itself. It’s an amazing piece of engineering, and a testament to how far 3D printing has come in just a few short years.

35mm film is the most common film by far, and the only one that’s still easy to get and have developed at a reasonable price. This 3D-printed camera is based on that standard, making most of the guts extremely similar to the millions of film cameras that have been produced over the years. There’s a film cartridge, a few gears, a film takeup spool, and a lightproof box. So far, this really isn’t a challenge for any 3D printer.

The fun starts with the lens. We’ve seen 3D printers used for lens making before, starting with a 3D print used to create a silicone mold where a lens is cast in clear acrylic, 3D printed tools used to grind glass, and an experiment from FormLabs to 3D print a lens. All of these techniques require some surface finishing, and [Amos]’ lens is no different. He printed a lens on his Form 2 printer, and started polishing with 400 grit sandpaper. After working up to 12000 grit, the image was still a bit blurry, revealing microscopic grooves that wouldn’t polish out. This led him to build a tool to mechanically polish the lens. This tool was, of course, 3D printed. After polishing, the lens was ‘dip polished’ in a vat of uncured resin.

The shutter was the next challenge, and for this [Amos] couldn’t rely on the usual mechanisms found in film cameras. he did find a shutter mechanism from 1885 that didn’t take up a lot of depth, and after modeling the movement in Blender, designed a reasonable shutter system.

Building an entire camera in a 3D printer is a challenge, but how are the pictures? Not bad, actually. There’s a weird vignetting, and everything’s a little bit blurry. It’s hip, trendy, and lomo, and basically amazing that it works at all.

25 thoughts on “A 3D Printed Camera (Including The Lens)

  1. that is not weird vignetting, just bad optics. the focal pane is not flat. vignetting is when the corners are darker than the center. this is just a simple meniscus type lens and they are not that great for photography. maybe he should print a anastigmat. :-)

    1. Actually most of those images show strong vignetting Mr Smartypants. And where is the meniscus lens you are talking about? All I see is a biconvex lens. He even states in his article that he cannot produce concave surfaces with his method. So creating a meniscus is impossible.
      For the very same reason he cannot print an anastigmat which requires concave surfaces as well.

          1. And he mentions why they’ve got a vignette on those outdoor images:

            >The outdoor shots were taken with an f/16 aperture placed in front of the lens, to cut down on off-axis light. The result is that the photos have a spooky, vingetted effect.

      1. why should this not work with “simple optics”? It’s pretty much the only thing he can do with a single lens.
        Do you even look at things befor you come up with suggestions on how to improve them? I mean even without reading the entire stuff, the animated title image of this HaD article shows an opening and closing diaphragm of this very camera,…
        Amos even shows raytracing snapshots and explains which f-number he should use.

        1. No I never read stories. tv learned me to never concentrate for more than a few minutes on one thing…

          Anyway. as you may know. single lens optic are called simple optics and combined optics have several names like Tessar, triplet, double-gauss, etc. it is not a token of disdain. simple optics are sometimes a very beautiful thing to use.
          as to the “may work”: a wrong placed diaphragm can cause vignetting and with a biconvex it will prove very difficult to place the diaphragm in the optical center as there is a lot of nice polished plastic in that area.

          Now back to building my large format camera: https://hack42.nl/wiki/The_Camera

    2. Could the shutter be creating the effect? Looking that the animations of it, it appears the central portion is exposed for a greater time than the edges. That would create the effect we’re seeing.

  2. Personally, I love 120 film for mini cameras. Something about the old Brownie style spring run shutter (a single twist of wire) and only 2 f-stop holes. A zone plate for one hole, a pinhole for the other might make an interesting 2-in-1 shot.

  3. While we can rag on the lens (now we know what it looks like to have cataracts), it is an extremely cool piece of 3D printery, and resurrecting a shutter design from 1885, now that’s cool!

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