Could 3D printing be the future for cameras?


by Bellamy /

3 min read

Could 3D printing be the future for cameras?
Are we all going to be able to 3D print anything we need? Not likely, but there are some very interesting possibilities.

Recently there has been a lot of hype going around with 3D printers. What with people printing everything from tiny models of themselves, to working guns. But one side of the rapidly expanding 3D printing market that hasn’t really hit the mainstream is the photography market. But I think that is going to change.
A couple of days ago I saw this (Link here) a 3D printed spool to adapt 35mm film for 120 cameras. Although this is not a new idea, it is a new way of producing this idea. And it really got me thinking about the possibilities for this.
How hard could it be to make a 3D printed camera? Not hard at all apparently as there are several people who have done it: This one is free to download the plans for. A 3D reflex camera.
Or perhaps you would rather mess around with pinhole cameras? Well that is easy. A printed pinhole camera. Not too shabby either.
In fact, this chap Todd Schlemmer seems to have really been busy in the lab, making cameras and accessories with his printer A massive range of 3D printed wonders. Someone has even made a lens, although it is a long way off being anything other than very basic indeed.
In fact, with 3D printers becoming cheaper and more user friendly we are seeing more people tinkering around with them to see exactly what they can make. Pushing the boundaries of the materials to make some very interesting cameras and camera products.

But I don’t think this is where the most fruitful future lies for cameras and 3D printing. You see, there are already loads of wonderful and well designed cameras sitting out there in the world. Many of them are working , but others are in a state of disrepair. This is where I think 3D printing is going to come into its own.
Imagine being able to print out the parts for you broken camera, along with instructions on how to fix it. Or being able to send the files to your service centre and have them print them and replace them. All of those old cameras all of a sudden being able to come back to life and be put to use again.
But why should it stop there? What about being able to print out adapters for formats that no longer exist, so that they could run on the film available now? Or even lens mounts and helicoids so that you could take those old lenses and adapt them for your cameras.
Obviously this is not going to be something that you could do on modern cameras, as I am sure that Nikanonpusony would be rather unhappy with people printing bits and pieces for their current range. I am of course referring to those cameras that you just cannot get parts for any longer. The old cameras that have been out of commission for a while.
This is where the 3D printer will come into its own. As the technology begins to mature you are going to see more detail and more precise printing, which will be closer and closer to the tolerances needed for camera parts. It is not quite there yet for the smaller parts, but I am certain it will be before long.
Gone will be the days of going into a repair shop and them telling you they don’t have the parts. They will just go onto the database, find the part numbers and print them.
The possibilities are really endless, as long as you can afford a 3D printer of course.

What do you think? What would you like to see being 3D printed?

10 comments on “Could 3D printing be the future for cameras?”

    Joachim Vaturi May 22, 2014 at 6:59 pm / Reply

    Hi Bellamy,
    You’re spot on. I’ve been working with 3D-printers for the past year or so, and have been constantly thinking of things I could print for all of my film cameras. The main thing I’d like to print in the near future would be a 4×5 back for my polaroid land cameras. Maybe a base for various cameras…

    Nuno Cruz May 22, 2014 at 9:05 pm / Reply

    I agree with you on printing parts to repair, that has to be extremely useful. Old lens adapters are also a great 3D printed thing to do.

    Then there is the whole little adapters and gizmos that one can print instead of going to the store, and that can always have a bit of personal touch –

    Tim May 22, 2014 at 9:34 pm / Reply

    “Leica-Like” Focussing Tabs for ZM Lenses and other RF Lenses. I want % if you make a business out of that! ;)

    Johnny Sisson May 22, 2014 at 9:35 pm / Reply

    I think you’re right, Bellamy. Film format adapters, hard to find lens caps, etc, are just the start. I’ve actually investigated this a bit myself here in the maker community in Chicago. The barrier for the average person is engineering skills, especially for things like threaded parts. Lowering the engineering threshold might be the factor needed for the great leap forward.

    Frank May 23, 2014 at 2:09 am / Reply

    One big Problem I see is that all those marvellous cameras are mostly steel and brass gears. Hard to reproduce in a 3D plastic printer…..

    Perhaps some parts like the slide door of the tremendous Olympus XA cameras!

    Brett Patching May 23, 2014 at 2:34 am / Reply

    You can 3D print metals too Frank.

    Graham May 23, 2014 at 2:35 am / Reply

    I get the hype for these things but printing very fine, tight tolerance parts from 3d metal printers is still going to cost more than buying a functioning camera unless its a rare Leica because people will pay gads of money for them. You just cant print a 1mm diameter stainless steel screw, they have to machined and as you know cameras are full of non standard screws. The gears, spindles, bearings and linkages are made from specific alloys to prevent friction, galling and hold up to stress standards. If you have ever tried to use the wrong alloy in a machine, even as crude as a go-cart failure is instant or rapid. Its fun to get excited about doing this sort of thing, but getting the equipment to function like a replicator a la star trek is a loooong way away.

    PauL May 23, 2014 at 6:26 am / Reply

    I know that in France there is a guy that repair old film cameras and use a 3D printer to make the pieces that it doesn’t find normally.

    Piers May 24, 2014 at 8:58 am / Reply

    3D printing a screw isn’t practical or even useful, there are plenty of screws already available. Where 3D printing becomes interesting is as a replacement for parts that would have been injection-moulded. Getting certain manufacturing processes started up again for a handful of parts is almost impossible, but printing replacements is trivial.

    Prints are not necessarily finished products, either. 3D printing can be done in materials that allow a lost-wax casting process, so you can have your replacement part cast in stainless steel or brass, and you can be just as specific about your alloy as in any other casting process, but it becomes economical to do runs as short as one.

    I’ve heard of a particular Ferrari exhaust part that is impossible to find a replacement, that is now being successfully 3D printed. I could certainly imagine a camera part being replaced in the same way.

    Right now I’m modelling a lens hood that will cost me half as much as the factory model. It’ll be plastic, not metal, and almost certainly not as nicely finished, but there’s a great satisfaction in making things for yourself, having custom accessories that no-one else has. Or selling your design to others!

    grahamlander May 24, 2014 at 12:14 pm / Reply

    Screws are not easily replaceable when they are specially designed shoulder screws with large flat heads or are really threaded spindles that press fit into cams and gears. etc. My grammar was terrible in my post and it may have been hard to understand that I meant that many screws are very unusual in cameras. Off the shelf replacements are not available for many of them. Getting them from another camera…Ok, sure, but if its a rare camera to begin with…

    Lost wax cast metal parts are not as easy to produce as many people think. Metal shrinkage is a very complex science and every part will shrink differently depending on mass and density of the forms. Plugging in 3D scans of existing parts will not work without knowing exactly how much to oversize them. Almost every single casting would require follow up machining as well. There are, of course, people that can do this sort of thing, but they are probably getting paid to work on things like Ferrari’s.

    Making a Holga-esque camera no prob if you can get a lens, but for now, I think making a camera or complex parts for the likes of a Canon, Leica, Ziess, Etc is a tall order unless you are just doing it to prove that it can be done at any cost.

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