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THE TOTALLY 3D PRINTED CAMERA – YES, EVEN THE LENS

posted 22 September 2016 at 11:26:39



We're used to spare and replacement parts being 3D printed for just about anything, but an entirely 3D printed camera, including the lens? That's exactly what digital design student and 3D modeller Amos Dudley from Montclair, New Jersey, USA, has achieved. Everything, from the film cartridge, lightproof box and spools to the shutter, aperture plane and, yes, the lens, is 3D printed. And, what's more, the camera – which uses standard 35mm film – actually works.

Most of Amos's camera parts were designed with no overhang, so that they could be printed without supports and assembled directly off the build plate. The camera was printed in modules, so that different elements of it could be redesigned without affecting or having to reprint the whole camera. The 23 year-old used a Form 2 SLA printer to produce parts out of laser-cured resins, which varied in strength and flexibility.

The lens was obviously the biggest challenge, as most 3D printers simply couldn't create one. The surface smoothness needs to be exceptional to enable a decent quality image. 'A stereolithography printer can make a lens, because the parts can be solid, hard, uniform and clear,' says Amos. 'However, prints come off the machine translucent and frosted – even at the highest print resolution of 25 microns per layer. Unlike acrylic, clear resin can't be flame-polished or acetone vapor-polished, like ABS plastic. It can be sanded smooth!'



Amos began by using 400 grit sandpaper, increasing in increments to 12,000 grit and a set of micro-mesh polishing pads. The grueling process took him about six hours per lens, but the results weren't perfect. 'The result was mixed – the lenses looked transparent, but weren't optically sharp. Surface reflections were still blurry, which is a sign that a surface still has microscopic grooves that scatter light,' Amos says.

No quitter, Amos designed and prototyped a machine that mimicked commercial lens making, where the lens is gently ground against a spherical form with an abrasive slurry between the two. This smoothed out the minute scratches, but Amos also realised that the resin became very clear when dipped in epoxy and other viscous liquids then cured under UV light. It was a winning combination and the lens was eventually camera-ready.

And the photo quality? Not bad, actually! There is some blurring at the outer edges and the colour isn't always sharp, but this adds an edgy, ethereal look to Amos' pictures that a lot of professional photographers strive to create artificially in the studio.  

All in all, this is a mightily impressive 3D print project and, what's more, Amos has made his 3D printed camera files available to anyone who'd like to try it for themselves. You can download the files from Pinshape at https://pinshape.com/items/25871-3d-printed-slo-printed-lens-camera.  

Image: © Amos Dudley    Blog:  amosdudley.com/weblog/SLO-Camera