This 3D Printed LED Softbox Really Shines

Generally speaking, objects made on desktop 3D printers are pretty small. This is of course no surprise, as filament based printers are fairly slow and most don’t have very large beds to begin with. Most people don’t want to wait days for their project to complete, so they use 3D printed parts where it makes sense and supplement them with more traditional components such as aluminum extrusion wherever possible. But not always…

This 3D printed photography softbox created by [Nicholas Sherlock] doesn’t take the easy way out for anything. With the exception of the LEDs and the electronics to drive them, everything in the design has been printed on his Prusa i3. It wasn’t the easiest or fastest way to do it, but it’s hard to argue with the end result. Perhaps even more impressive than the final product is what it took to get there: he actually had to develop a completely new style of part infill he’s calling “Scattered Rectilinear” to pull it off.

Overall the design of the light itself isn’t that complex, ultimately it’s just a box with some LEDs mounted at the back and a pretty simple circuit to control their intensity. The critics will say he could have just used a cardboard box, or maybe wood if he wanted something a little bit stronger. But the point of this project was never the box itself, or the LEDs inside it. It’s all about the diffuser.

[Nicholas] forked Prusa’s version of Slic3r to add in his “Scattered Rectilinear” infill pattern, which is specifically designed to avoid the standard “ribs” inside of a 3D printed object. This is accomplished with randomized straight infill passes, rather than the traditionally overlapped ones. The inside of the print looks very reminiscent of fiberglass mat, which is perhaps the best way to conceptualize its construction. In terms of the final part strength, this infill is abysmal. But on the plus side, the light from the LEDs passing through it emerges with a soft pleasing look that completely obscures the individual points of light.

Anyone with a big enough 3D printer can run off their own copy of his light, as [Nicholas] has released not only his forked version of Slic3r but all of the STL files for the individual components. He’s also put together an exceptionally well documented Thingiverse page that has instructions and detailed build photos, something that’s unfortunately very rare for that platform.

If you’re in the market for a DIY softbox and don’t have a 3D printer handy, fear not. We’ve covered a few that you can build with more traditional methods, as well as several tips and tricks which you can use to get the most out of your photos and videos.

Motorize Your Camera Slider, The Hacker Way

Camera sliders are a fantastic tool for those who wish to shoot beautiful and smooth panning video, or take expressive time-lapse shots. They can also be remarkably expensive, which creates an incentive for the DIYer to innovate at home. [Richard] wanted a motorized slider and didn’t want to break the bank, and thus, a build was born.

Starting with an existing non-motorized camera slider makes things easier, though there’s no reason [Richard]’s techniques couldn’t be applied to a completely DIY build. A NEMA stepper motor is fitted to the frame, and connected to the camera shuttle with a toothed belt. The stepper is controlled by an Arduino, which allows for both timelapse and smooth panning modes, and can be controlled with an IR remote sourced from Amazon. The slider is also interfaced with a Processing sketch, which gives a graphical representation of the slider’s current position on the laptop’s screen, which helps for setting up a shot.

[Richard] has shared the code and a shopping list, and is confident that the build can be completed for under $100. That’s a satisfying price given the quality of shots possible with a good slider.

We see plenty of slider builds here, including this impressive pantograph-type build. Video after the break.

[Thanks to Baldpower for the tip!]

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Game Boy Camera – Now In Color

The Game Boy Camera is a legendary piece of 90s gaming hardware, despite not being a game at all. It consisted of a low-resolution greyscale camera, fitted to a Game Boy cartridge, that you could use to photograph your friends, vandalise their pictures, then print them out on a thermal printer. It’s hardware that was fun because of its limitations, not despite them. However, [Matt] wondered if there was a way to use early photographic techniques to get color photos.

The technique is simple – get red, green, and blue filters, and take three photos – one using each filter. Then, combine the photos digitally to create the color image.  This necessitates an amusingly complex process to transfer the photos from Game Boy to PC, of course.

There are some limitations – due to the speed of the Game Boy Camera, it works best with static scenes, as it takes several seconds to shoot. Also, due to the low resolution, it’s best to choose subjects with broad swathes of color. Despite this, [Matt] managed to take some great images with a colorful yet vintage digital charm. There’s other ways to achieve this, of course – like bringing the power of neural networks to bear on your low-res Game Boy images. Video after the break.

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10,000-Year-Old Camera Lens Takes Striking Pictures

The first photograph was taken sometime in the early 1800s, and through almost two centuries of development we’ve advanced through black-and-white, the video camera, and even high-speed cameras that can take thousands of frames per second. [Mathieu Stern] took a step back from all of the technological progress of the past two hundred years, though, and found a lens for his camera hidden in the glacial ice of Iceland.

Ice in this part of the world has been purified over the course of 10,000 years, and [Mathieu] realized that with this purity the ice could be formed into a workable camera lens. The first step was to get something that could actually form the ice into the proper shape, and for that he used a modified ice ball maker that was shaped to make a lens rather than a sphere. Next, he needed an enclosure to hold the lens and attach it to his camera, which he made using a 3D printer.

For this build, the hardest part probably wasn’t making the actual equipment, but rather getting to the right place in Iceland and actually making the lenses. At room temperature the lenses could be made in around five minutes, but in Iceland it took almost 45 minutes and the first four attempts broke. The fifth one was a charm though, so after over five hours on the beach he was finally able to make some striking images with the 10,000-year-old ice lens which melted after only a minute of use. If that seems like too much work, though, you can always outfit your camera with no lens at all.

Thanks to [baldpower] for the tip!

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Camera Obscura On Wheels Hits the Open Road

A camera obscura is a very simple device. Consisting of a dark chamber, with only a pinhole to let light in, it focuses an image on its inside surface. If you want to take a permanent copy, it’s as simple as installing a photosensitive film inside and managing the exposure time. Sounds like a normal camera, right? The difference is the scale —  a camera obscura is large enough that humans can stand inside and view the image. Usually, they are large stationary rooms. [Physics Girl] took the show on the road by building a camera obscura out of a rented box truck.

The optics of the camera obscura project an image upside-down.

The basic concept is a great one – hire a box truck, and cover the rear opening with cardboard. Cut a small hole in the cardboard, and you’ve created a camera obscura on wheels. The video does a great job of explaining the optical principles behind what’s happening, and there’s even experimentation around how to change the exposure level and focus through modification of the aperture.

The only downside to viewing a camera obscura on video is that you can’t appreciate the resolution and detail visible in real life. Trust us though, it’s better than any HDTV on the market today.

The rolling camera obscura makes for a great experiment which requires little more than some cardboard, tape, and a sunny day. It would be great fun to execute as an educational activity at a school or makerspace. Once you’ve tackled that, perhaps consider the digital version. Video after the break.

[Thanks to Baldpower for the tip!]

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Unphotogenic Lighting As A Feature

Have you ever taken a picture indoors and had unsightly black bars interrupt your otherwise gorgeous photo? They are caused by lighting which flickers in and out in its normal operation. Some people can sense it easier than others without a camera. The inconsistent light goes out so briefly that we usually cannot perceive it but run-of-the-mill camera phones scan rows of pixels in sequence, and if there are no photons to detect while some rows are scanned, those black bars are the result. Annoying, right?

What if someone dressed that bug of light up as a feature? Instead of ruining good photos, researchers at the University of California-San Diego and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found out what different frequencies of flicker will do to a photograph. They have also experimented with cycling through red, green, and blue to give the effect of a poorly dubbed VHS.

There are ways an intelligent photographer could get around the photo-ruining effect with any smartphone. Meanwhile DSLR cameras are already immune and it won’t work in sunlight, so we are not talking about high security image protection. The neat thing is that this should be easy to replicate with some RGB strips and a controller. This exploits the row scanning of new cameras, so some older cameras are immune.

Hardware Store White Balance Reference

We live in a time in which taking pictures is preposterously easy: take out your phone (assuming it wasn’t already in your hands), point it at something, and tap the screen. The camera hardware and software in even basic smartphones today is good enough that you don’t need to give it much more thought than that to get decent pictures. But what if you want to do better than just decent?

Ideally you’d take photos lit by high temperature lights, but failing that, you might need to compensate by adjusting the white balance during post-processing. But to accurately adjust white balance you need a pure white reference point in the image. Thanks to some diligent research by the folks at the FastRawViewer blog, we now have a cheap and widely available source for a pure white reference material: PTFE pipe tape.

Alright, we know what you’re thinking: how hard could it be to find a white object? Well, if you’re talking about really white, it can actually be quite difficult. Take a walk down the paint aisle of your local hardware store and see just how many “whites” there actually are. Think the shirt your subject is wearing is really white? Think you can use the glossy white smartphone in their hand as a reference? Think again.

By taking a rubber eraser and wrapping it with a few layers of the PTFE tape, you can create a white reference that’s so cheap it’s effectively disposable. Which is good, because protecting your white reference object and keeping it clean can be a challenge in itself. But with a PTFE tape reference, you can just chuck the thing when the photo shoot is done.

Combine this cheap white reference with some of the DIY photography lighting setups we’ve covered in the past, and you’ll be well on the way to getting better images to document all your projects. Just remember to submit them to us when you’re done.

[Thanks to Keith Olson for the tip.]