Creating A 3D Printed Camera

This little DIY artsy project is fun for all beginners! This camera is unique and one of a kind. It's a fun project for the 3D printing artist who wants to have a nice item in their collection that works and is great for taking pictures.

The World's First Fully 3D Printed Camera

Who would have thought with all the parts you can 3D print that a camera lens would be one of the objects that you could 3D print? The camera lens is an extremely important piece of the camera and without it it wouldn't be a fully 3D printed camera and this project for creating the first fully 3D printed camera would be over. But thanks to the Form 2 stereolithography 3D printer from Formlabs which is capable of 3D printing transparent objects from clear resin and after some post-processing work it can be made clear enough to function as a prime lens.

The SLO camera (Single Lens Objective) camera was created by Amos Dudley an application engineer who took on the challenge and exceeded everyone's expectations. Dudley first began by listing all the components he needed for a functional camera body, and then optimizing the design for printing speed and material usage. He separated the body into modules, so parts like the lens and shutter could be swapped out later for different designs without having to reprint the entire camera.

Dudley thought of everything when he was designing this camera from features of a 21st camera to features of an old box camera, no features were left out which makes this camera amazing. Like regular analogue cameras, film is loaded via a door in the back of the 3D printed camera. There are actual two buttons that manually control shutter speed, and is even capable of doing long exposures. A sprocket rod on the inside of the camera pulls the roll out to expose each image while an indicator dial shows what frame is being exposed (and how much film is left). Behind the camera’s lens mount, a traditional blade-style design allows the user to adjust the camera’s aperture with a simple twist.

The camera’s shutter speed is adjustable as well, but only by how quickly you press the two shutter release buttons, one to stop and one to start the exposure. So why the two shutter releases? Dudley first attempted two more traditional shutter designs — the first was too large, and while the second was also pretty big, the spring that pulled the shutter open would break after only about 20 photos.

Dudley’s solution was actually to go all the way back to 1885 technology, adapting a shutter design from C.J. Wollaston. The shutter is made from four different blade pieces and each pair is connected to one of the two shutter buttons at the top of the camera. A rack-and-pinion drive pulls each pair when one of the buttons is pressed, exposing the image. For the next image, pressing the opposite shutter button reverses the shutter’s motion.

The Form 2 stereolithography 3D printer is a fantastic 3D printer to use but try using different orientations and resolutions especially when it's something as delicate as a camera lens. A lens 3D printed horizontally may have layer line artifacts toward the center of the lens’s axis compared to a lens 3D printed perfectly vertically may be subject to some distortion caused by the additive process. The entire procedure to get the perfect 3D printed camera lens is a lengthy process but you learn so much in the process.

Post production clean up is crucial for the camera lens. If you want optical clarity for your camera lens we recommend dipping the lenses in liquid resin but for other techniques for authentic filters there are also manual sanding and automated sanding. Using manual sanding will take more or less a few hours using different sand papers with grit from 400 to 12000 to really give you a fine and reflective finish. Dudley created his own automated sanding machine to give him the perfect rotation for optimum sanding thus giving the lens are more perfect curvature. But nothing comes close to dipping; dipping the lenses in liquid resin and then post-cure them under UV light gives the 3D printed part significantly clearer coat and finish.

Check out some of the pictures Amos took with the camera down below. While the SLO camera certainly isn't going to win any "detail is everything" photography contest, we still think it's a winner in our books. It's the first fully printed working camera, and it's a huge achievement to accomplished and a creative one at that. You can download all the STL files on Pinshape on Amos Dudley public profile here.