The Photo Lab That Flew to the Moon

When planning a trip by car these days, it’s pretty much standard practice to spin up an image of your destination in Google Maps and get an idea of what you’re in for when you get there. What kind of parking do they have? Are the streets narrow or twisty? Will I be able to drive right up, or will I be walking a bit when I get there? It’s good to know what’s waiting for you, especially if you’re headed someplace you’ve never been before.

NASA was very much of this mind in the 1960s, except the trip they were planning for was 238,000 miles each way and would involve parking two humans on the surface of another world that we had only seen through telescopes. As good as Earth-based astronomy may be, nothing beats an up close and personal look, and so NASA decided to send a series of satellites to our nearest neighbor to look for the best places to land the Apollo missions. And while most of the feats NASA pulled off in the heyday of the Space Race were surprising, the Lunar Orbiter missions were especially so because of how they chose to acquire the images: using a film camera and a flying photo lab.

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Shutter Bug Goes Extreme with Scratch-Built Film Camera

Should a camera build start with a sand mold and molten aluminum? That’s the route [CroppedCamera] took with this thoroughly impressive camera project.

When we think of cameras these days, chances are we picture the ones that live inside the phones in our pockets. They’re the go-to image capture devices for most of us, but even for the more photographically advanced among us, when a more capable camera is called for, it’s usually an off-the-shelf DSLR from Canon, Nikon, or the like. Where do hand-built cameras fall in today’s photography world? They’re a great way to add a film option to your camera collection.

[CroppedCamera] previously built a completely custom large-format view camera, but for this build he decided that something a bit more portable might do. The body of the camera is scratch-built from aluminum, acting as the lightproof box to hold the roll film and mount the leaf-shutter lens. There’s an impressive amount of metalwork here — sand casting, bending, TIG welding, and machining all came into play, and most of them new skills to [CroppedCamera]. We were especially impressed with the shrink-fit of the lens cone to the body. It’s unconventional looking for sure, but not without its charm, and it’s sure to make a statement dangling around his neck.

It’s tough to find non-digital DIY camera builds around here — best we could do were these laser-cut plywood modular cameras. Then again, you can’t beat this wearable camera for functional style.

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Tearing Down a Darkroom Relic for Buried Treasure

If your goal is to harvest unique parts from defunct devices, the further back in time you go, the better the pickings stand to be. At least that’s what [Kerry Wong] discovered during his tear-down of a darkroom color analyzer from the early 1980s.

For readers whose experience with photography has been solely digital, you need to understand that there once was a time when images were made with real cameras on real film, and serious amateurs and pros had darkrooms to process the film. Black and white processing was pretty straightforward in terms of chemistry — it was just developer, stop, and fixing. Color processes were much trickier, and when it came to enlarging your film onto color photo paper, things could get really complicated. [Kerry]’s eBay find, a Besler PM1A color analyzer, was intended to help out in the color lab by balancing the mix of cyan, blue, and yellow components in the enlarger.

The instrument, which no doubt demanded a princely sum back in the day, is actually really simple, with the object of [Kerry]’s desire, a PM1A photomultiplier tube and its driver, being the only real find.  Still, it’s an interesting teardown, and we’re eager to see what [Kerry] makes of the gem. A muon detector, perhaps? An X-ray backscatter machine? Or perhaps repeating his old speed of light experiments is on the docket.

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Joe Kim: Where Technology and Art Collide

The rewards of being a writer for Hackaday are many, but aside from the obvious perks like the secret Hackaday handshake and admission to the private writer’s washroom, having the opportunity to write original content articles is probably the best part of the job. It gets even better, though, because after you submit an article, you’ll eventually get an email from Supplyframe Art Director Joe Kim with a Dropbox link to the original art he has created to accompany your piece. No matter where I am when that email comes in, I click on the link immediately, eager to see what Joe has come up with. And I’m never disappointed.

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Retrotechtacular: The Bell Laboratory Science Series

For those of a certain vintage, no better day at school could be had than the days when the teacher decided to take it easy and put on a film. The familiar green-blue Bell+Howell 16mm projector in the center of the classroom, the dimmed lights, the chance to spend an hour doing something other than the normal drudgery — it all contributed to a palpable excitement, no matter what the content on that reel of film.

But the best days of all (at least for me) were when one of the Bell Laboratory Science Series films was queued up. The films may look a bit schlocky to the 21st-century eye, but they were groundbreaking at the time. Produced as TV specials to be aired during the “family hour,” each film is a combination of live-action for the grown-ups and animation for the kiddies that covers a specific scientific topic ranging from solar physics with the series premiere Our Mr. Sun to human psychology in Gateways to the Mind. The series even took a stab at explaining genetics with Thread of Life in 1960, an ambitious effort given that Watson and Crick had only published their model of DNA in 1953 and were still two years shy of their Nobel Prize.

Produced between 1956 and 1964, the series enlisted some really big Hollywood names. Frank Capra, director of Christmas staple It’s a Wonderful Life, helmed the first four films. The series featured exposition by “Dr. Research,” played by Dr. Frank Baxter, an English professor. His sidekick was usually referred to as “Mr. Fiction Writer” and first played by Eddie Albert of Green Acres fame. A list of voice actors and animators for the series reads like a who’s who of the golden age of animation: Daws Butler, Hans Conried, Sterling Halloway, Chuck Jones, Maurice Noble, Bob McKimson, Friz Freleng, and queen and king themselves, June Foray and Mel Blanc. Later films were produced by Warner Brothers and Walt Disney Studios, with Disney starring in the final film. The combined star power really helped propel the films and help Bell Labs deliver their message.

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Can a Bundle of Soda Straws be a Camera?

This one is hard to classify. Is it a hack, or is it art? Perhaps it’s both. However you want to classify it, it’s pretty cool to turn a bundle of drinking straws into a camera.

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If you’re looking for the technology here, you won’t find much. There’s no lens, no shutter, and no electronics of any kind in [Mick Farrell] and [Cliff Haynes]’ Straw Camera. This is literally a box full of drinking straws standing on end, with a sheet of photo paper behind it. Each straw sends a spot of light that represents the average hue and luminance of its limited view of the subject directly to the film. The process of making an exposure consists of composing the scene, turning out the lights, loading the camera, and setting off a flash.

The resulting images are defocused but recognizable, like seeing familiar sights through a heavy fog. The straws make a strong texture over the ghostly image of the subject – indeed, the straws are the only thing in focus. The fact that the straws don’t form a perfect honeycomb due to settling and imperfections in the bundles is jarring at first, but as you see the images you get used to the extra texture.

When we first saw this, we wondered about the possibility of putting a simple photosensor at the bottom of each straw to capture similar images digitally. The TCS3200 would be about the right size, but given that there are about 32,000 straws in the bundle, the BOM might get a little out of hand. Still, a scaled down digital straw camera might yield some interesting images.

Thanks to [Stuart Rogers] for the tip.

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.