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Photographer Designs and 3D

Sep 23, 2023

Photographer Mark Hiltz designed and 3D-printed a functioning film camera. Unlike many 3D-printed cameras, as impressive as they are, Hiltz's camera includes a 3D-printed shutter.

Many 3D-printed cameras incorporate pre-existing components or use lenses with integrated shutters. Hiltz created a camera that bucks the trend and features a fully 3D-printed shutter since he wanted to make a camera entirely from scratch but also have more control than what's offered by a pinhole camera.

Hiltz says that his 3D-printed camera is not the first to be fully printed, shutter and all. As far as he knows, his is the third unique design, following in the footsteps of Amos Dudley's SLO camera and Leo Marius’ OpenReflex camera. However, the SLO and OpenReflex cameras use 35mm film, whereas Hiltz's new camera uses larger 120 film.

Considering older, non-3D-printed cameras, Hiltz tells PetaPixel about another homemade camera with a momentary shutter he learned about. Czechoslovakian photographer Miroslav Tichy made cameras with homemade shutters from the 1960s until 1985. Don't Take Pictures writes that Tichy built cameras using "cardboard tubes, tin cans, and bits of string." He also used plywood and road asphalt on various occasions.

Tichy once said, "If you want to be famous, you must do something more badly than anybody in the entire world." He claimed, "First of all, you have to have a bad camera." Miroslav Tichy passed away in 2011. A website of his work operated by the Tichy Ocean Foundation remains active.

Returning to Hiltz's homemade camera, which is very far from the "bad" cameras Tichy loved, Hiltz used a Bigtreetech Biqu B1 3D printer with generic PLA resin from Microcenter.

"I thought about how a painter could stretch their own canvas, make their own brushes, mix their own paints, etc., but as photographers, we have to rely on precision-engineered machines made in factories to make our art, so I felt that by making my own camera, I could have an even greater degree of authorship of my work, even if the images were lacking in technical quality," he tells PetaPixel.

"A bit silly, really. It exists purely for my own self-satisfaction."

The 3D-printed shutter is a two-way rotary blade shutter, similar to the designs featured in old box cameras. Instead of relying on springs, Hiltz's shutter design uses magnets to lock into position. He uses his finger to move it from one position to the next, which Hiltz says, "feels a lot like a light switch." The shutter speed is around 1/100s, although it can be manually held open for longer exposures.

In Hiltz's Reddit post about his camera, he explains that his camera uses a single-element meniscus optic for its lens, which he purchased from an optical surplus reseller.

Hiltz hasn't released his files for others to print and he notes three main reasons why his project isn't open source. The camera is designed around the specific old surplus lens he used, so the files wouldn't be beneficial unless someone had the same lens. The shutter mechanism is determined by the size of the lens aperture, so changing lenses could affect shutter timing or usability, which Hiltz needs to be able to test adequately.

Finally, and understandably, he's spent two years on his project and wants to enjoy it by himself for now.

"This was my baptism by fire for 3D printing, and I’m happy to say I came out the other side without any serious burns," he says.

Image credits: Mark Hiltz

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