Lessons in 3D Printing Your Own Camera

So, I 3D printed my first 6×12 Camera. And it worked really well.

It all started when I realized that my Mamiya Press 75mm would cover my 6×12 Horseman back. Why couldn’t I put my Mamiya Press lenses on my 6×12 back and have glorious panoramic shots? The Mamiya Press is probably at least 6 pounds. I want something light!

I had that premonition about a year ago. And here we are. Below is my first fully 3D Printed camera.


It’s taken a ton of elbow grease to get here (that includes time and money). So I’d like to cover some of the key elements in my learnings.

  1. It’s a dumb box that’s supposed to keep out light. SLS 3D printing has problems.
    That’s the purpose of a camera. Make it light tight so that the lens can project it’s image onto the film/digital sensor. 3D printing is great! Extrusion ABS printing is great! But if you know anything about 3D printing, you’ll find that laser sintering is the preferred method (higher resolution and other advantages). But there is a distinct disadvantage. The white powder that it’s based on is porous. Porosity means that light can get in. Even though the outside is dyed black, light still gets in. At first, I thought light would only get in from the interfaces between the lens and the body and the back and the body. Unfortunately that’s not the case. Sunlight just creeps through the plastic. Gaffers tape is your friend here.
  2. Does CAD need to cost so much?
    There are lots of 3D CAD software suites out there. Some are free and great. I was already familiar with Blender 3D. It’s a python-based open-source software that is comprehensive as all get out when it comes to 3D renderings. But that was actually an issue. I didn’t need animation. I needed something simple to make static objects. Step in – 123D Design. It’s free and not without limitations. I sometimes wish I could have Rhino 3D but then, I’m just not there yet.
  3. Think about Flocking. And think about it again.
    Flocking is majorly important. Without it, you lose contrast in the image. It’s cheap so why not? But then, you need to think about how you’re going to add that to final 3D print. Rounded corners inside are annoying. So now I make them square.
  4. Figuring out the flangeback distance to the film plane takes time.
    Unless you have an awesome resource like this for large format lenses, you’re not going to be able to determine the distance between the lens and the film plane. Which is key because you won’t focus without it. A micrometer helped and got me started. But I had to go through a couple of iterations of the body to get it just right. Testing is also tough. More details here.
  5. Wide Angle lenses are more forgiving.
    A wider depth of field means that my tolerances needn’t be so tight. The longer the lens, the shallower the depth of field, the tighter the tolerance. That’s not to say that the tolerances shouldn’t be tight, however.
  6. Building interfaces is the most tedious.
    Interfacing the lens to the body and interfacing the 6×12 back to the body is the hardest thing to wrap your head around. You have to combat light leaks so tolerances should be tight. For the lenses, I had to design some method of interchangeability and attachment that was solid because I was going to be hiking miles and miles with this puppy. I eventually decided I could simply use some sheet metal screws to attach some “lens holders”. It is solid 🙂 but it took time to develop.

I’ve had a nice response from the community. Thanks for the support and I’ve got some other items up my sleeve.


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