Meet the 35mm camera crafted entirely by a 3D printer — including the lens

For digital designer Amos Dudley, 3D printing turns his thoughts into something tangible — and now those tangible thoughts can freeze time via 35mm film. Dudley recently shared his designs for Slo, a 3D-printed film camera. While 3D-printing a camera is a feat that’s been attempted before, Dudley managed to print the entire camera — including the lens.

Slo is printed in modules, which allowed Dudley to rework individual aspects without redesigning the entire camera. The camera body, printed largely without grips or overhangs to optimize printing time, holds 35mm film, loaded through the back of the camera. 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.

But the trickiest part of Dudley’s design is the lens. Traditionally, lenses are designed from multiple glass pieces — the lens piece must be transparent to actually focus light, but straight off the 3D printer, the resin pieces he printed were frosted.

At first, Dudley attempted to sand the lenses by hand, but he wasn’t getting a sharp lens. Then, Dudley actually designed and printed a prototype machine to grind down the surface of the lens, but still wasn’t satisfied with the results. Eventually, he found that dipping the lens in a clear resin and hardening the lens with a UV light produced the results he was looking for.

Testing lenses on a 3D-printed camera would be expensive, so Dudley actually tried each lens using an Olympus mirrorless camera with an adapter (which was of course also 3D-printed). The adapter allowed him to quickly determine the quality of the lens, as well as the focal length, before using it on the 3D-printed camera.

With all the modules put together, Dudley worked with photographer Rob Chron using Fujicolor Superia 400 film to test the completed camera. While the soft, vignetted images may not live up to today’s digital camera standards, they have an authentic Instagram-filter look created from technique, not manipulation — and the 3D-printed technique is rather incredible.

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