back to article Inventor whips lenscap off 3D-printed pinhole camera

The photography aficionados among you who still recall with teary-eyed nostalgia the days before digital domination might appreciate an agreeable return to the old school, albeit with a hi-tech twist: a 3D-printed pinhole camera... Clint O'Connor's pinhole camera. Pic: Clint O'Connor Inventor Clint O'Connor promises " …


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  1. Neil Barnes Silver badge


    You could pick up any of the old roll-film cameras for a tenner on the bay, and throw the lens away...

    1. Tachikoma

      Re: Or...

      Agreed, or you can pick up one of the many Chinese knock-off pinhole kit cameras that you assemble yourself for a fiver on eBay.

      I think this is just meant for the uber hip hipsters that wouldn't be seen dead with a Lomo.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Or...

      There are probably thousands of ORs one of them being or why don't you just congratulate the guy for doing something you didn't think of but probably wished you had if you could only have got off your fat arse and done something about it other than criticise someone for being passionate about their hobby and doing something just for the sake of it.

      If you've done anything remotely as interesting then let us all know and criticise away otherwise STFU.

      1. Drewc Gold badge

        Re: Or...

        I am pleased to see people try out new things. Clint deserves a pay on the back for getting this far. I hope he does even better

      2. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: Or...

        Very kind of you, thanks, Chris.

        As it happens (though you may not find this interesting) I've been a photographer for pushing fifty years; I've built my own cameras from 35mm to 4*5 and pinhole cameras up to 8*10. I use modern and vintage cameras and presented - at the invitation of the International Broadcasting Convention - on the subject of Victorian 3-d imaging technology.

        I don't criticise his skills; I merely point out he's solving a solved problem. Kudos to the guy for doing it - but where is the innovation?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Or...


          He's not solving a problem, possibly re-inventing the wheel, whatever, he's bringing old school technology and a heap of fun to a new audience.

          As for innovation, he's used a 3D printer AND a rubber band.

      3. Nuke

        @Chris_W - Re: Or...

        Wrote :- .. why don't you just congratulate the guy for something you didn't think of but probably wished you had if you could only have got off your fat arse and done something about it other than criticise someone for being passionate about their hobby"

        Kryst, calm down. If this guy wants to 3-D pring a pinhole camera, fine. But it is an excercise in 3-D printing rather than optics - we all (my class anyway) did pinhole cameras back in school physics. I get off my arse doing a lot of things (mended a microwave today) but I won't be making a pinhole camera again, don't require congratulations for stuff I do, and don't think this guy requires congratulations either.

        The GP posters are pointing out the fact that you can set up a good or better 3-D camera more cheaply and easily than buying plans from this guy.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @Chris_W - Or...


          >The GP posters are pointing out the fact that you can set up a good or better 3-D camera more cheaply and easily than buying plans from this guy.

          No arguing with that however the point is this bloke has brought the idea of pinholes to a new audience who might never otherwise have heard of them. They could be doing a search for 3D printer plans available, or merely have read this article and decide to print it or if their interest has been aroused enough look into it and build one from a box. Even if they just go to instructables and search for pinhole camera he's inspired someone to take an interest in them.

          That's far more credit worthy than preaching to the converted at a conference.

          1. Black Betty

            @Chris_W - First in best dressed.

            He saw an empty marketing niche (AKA people easily separated from their money) and filled it to the tune of a few thousand dollars.

      4. attoman

        Re: Or... 3Diots

        3D printing has been around since the early 80's, I understand you have not.

        A pin hole camera consists of two critical components a light tight box and a pinhole. You can make the box quickly and easily without a 3D printer.

        Unfortunately you can't make the pin hole at all with the 3D printer. There are ways well known to solve this problem and none of the money driven 3D printer manufacturers have bothered to make such improvements.

        Come back in a few years when 3D printers have grown up and can deliver real world needs and materials.

    3. Andrew Newstead

      Re: Or...

      I made a nice little one out of a 35 mm film pot once. Pin hole in the base and a tracing paper screen across the open top, projected a lovely little image onto the screen. Nicely ironic too.

      However, top marks to this bloke. A little pricey perhaps but it is getting the idea of 3D printing out there to another bunch of people.

  2. Alan Brown Silver badge

    I love pinholes

    But the best pics are taken with the pinhole on one side of a can and the negative (or paper) curved on the other.

    (Ie, across the circle, not endplate to endplate)

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge

      Re: I love pinholes

      Not a can either: you want the hole-to-film distance to be (roughly) equal across the entire exposed surface, so you're looking at a bowl-like container. That's rather difficult, but a surface curved in one plane is doable.

      For a shot at the right dimensions, look at an Agfa Clack.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cardboard box and a pinhole, the clue is in the name.

    1. Steve Evans

      I took a Nikon DSLR, threw away the lens, drilled a hole in the body cap, covered that with foil, and stuck a pin through it.

      Works great!

      Who needs AF, although the metering is somewhat upset by the experience...

      Has anyone seen where my nifty 50 went?

      1. Nuke

        @ Steve Evans

        Wrote :- I took a Nikon DSLR, threw away the lens, drilled a hole in the body cap, covered that with foil, and stuck a pin through it."

        I know you are describing it in a tongue-in-cheek way, but throwing away the lens ??! The point of a SLR is interchangeable lenses. Make a pin-hole lens from a body cap as you say, and it becomes another alternative lens in the collection. An SLR is thus an ideal basis for trying pinhole photography.

        O'Connor said "I love the unique perspective of pinhole cameras". Sorry, there is nothing different about the perspective. It is exactly the same as a lens of the same focal length as the pinhole-film distance. A difference with pinhole is that all subject distances are equally in focus, just as a lens of very small aperture (f32, f64) has a large depth of field.

        Or better described as equally not-quite-in-focus; because the finite size of the pinhole allows un-focussed rays onto the film. And if you reduce the pinhole size too much, apart from making the exposure time impractical, difraction effects reduce the picture quality. So there is an opimum pinhole size, I used to know what it was.

        1. Lusty Silver badge

          Re: @ Steve Evans

          @Nuke realistically using a DSLR with a hole to the outside world will nadger the sensor quickly enough with dust and muck that keeping interchangeable lenses may not be viable for long. Many photography/camera books explain this as the sensor becomes charged in use and therefore sucks crap towards it. You had a good point though.

  4. hplasm Silver badge

    I had one of these-

    But it cost 50p and squirted water out of the hole when you squeezed it.

    1. coconnor55

      Re: I had one of these-

      I love the idea! Perhaps a flexible filament... the camera is watertight up to the top with o-ring seals for the pinhole and red film number window, so it might actually be doable.

  5. Aremmes

    3D printing too high-tech

    Someone already made a medium-format pinhole camera OUT OF PAPER.

    You can't get any lower tech than that.

  6. Tom 7 Silver badge

    If you want to make a pinhole camera

    just tape a pinhole over the lens of an old one - you dont need to take away the lens and can use a zoom so you dont need to move the damn thing.

    But the best are the old bellows - and they tend to take 120 stock too!

    This seems a case of using modern technology to ...

  7. Mage Silver badge


    A pin hole camera is a light proof box with a pin hole (smaller is better, in thinner foil, but then exposure time is longer).

    Perhaps printing your own Smurfs is more pointless. I'm baffled why anyone would waste the plastic printing their own or buy one. The whole point is to "blue peter" style recycle something.

    The 3D printer has a lot of value in prototyping complex shapes. But Pin Hole camera is just a box.

  8. coconnor55

    Answering the Or's

    I'm Clint - and I have to say I agree with all the Or's and naysayers! There are so many ways to make a pinhole camera and I've tried most of them too. Built from scratch from cardboard, wood, cans - check. Modified roll film cameras and sheet film cameras and Polaroid bellows - check. Modified Holgas - check (my instructions are on the wayback machine

    What's innovative? Zip - unless you count the rubber band thingie, and even that's old. Using a 3D printer? Done. By Todd Schlemmer, among others.

    So why did I do it? My goals were to make a robust (not paper!) pinhole camera that didn't need hacking and would stand up to daily use, bring photographers back into film, introduce about half the Kickstarter population to non-digital photography, and get 3d printing enthusiasts to print a camera and then use it. From the comments I've gotten so far, I've succeeded on all those goals, so I'm very happy with what I've done. It's not a business, it's a hobby and I'm having fun. It's a modern expression of a very old technique, that's all.

    Unfortunately, you can't squeeze it and squirt water out of it. It's far too robust for that. Sounds like it would be fun to do - perhaps a flexible filament? Say "cheese" and squeeze.


    1. Lusty Silver badge

      Re: Answering the Or's

      @Coconnor55 I'm curious, is the elastic band there because it's easy, because the design was poor, or because 3D printing couldn't produce something with a robust closure mechanism?

      I don't mean offense at the "design was poor" btw I'm just curious about 3D printing and have been told it has many and varied downsides.

      1. coconnor55

        Re: Answering the Or's

        No offense taken. The elastic band is a signature of my cameras - previous pinhole cameras I made used rubber bands to keep it closed. The 3d printed camera has a snug lid with a light trap that will stay on by itself even through normal handling (you have to wiggle it off) but there is no positive latch so the rubber band acts as a safeguard as well as a signal there is film in the camera. I could have designed a latch along the lines of the shutter but I wanted to keep it simple.

  9. Buster

    I hope that there is a metal insert tripod bush for this sucker because the plastic produced by printing is not up to the job and will strip the threads on the first use. hand holding is useless because the exposure time will be seconds for a sunny day.

    Wait a mo - what am I thinking - why would anyone care about this piece of shit.

    3d printing seem to more about the buzz and hype rather than utility. Utility is quite important for thing you need to actualy do stuff. It is brilliant as a design, debugging and learning tool but you still need knowledge of industrial design to make something that you can sell without generating an army of unhappy customers bringing your business down.

    1. coconnor55

      Yes, there is a recess to glue in a 1/4"-20 nut for tripods - you are right that plastic isn't good for this use. Setting the camera on a solid object in lieu of a tripod also works - but hand holding can result in some good photos under the right circumstances. With pinholes, you never know what you're getting until you see the results.

      3D printing is great for prototypes and low volume, or to create molds for casting. It's hard to imagine all the uses a new technology can be put to - it will be our children's generation that will grow up accepting 3D printing as an everyday tool. I find it useful to create custom supports and accessories that are otherwise difficult or expensive to make otherwise. And pinhole cameras.

  10. Buster

    Go to any old style camera shop and you will find a box with cameras for 1£ that can be adapted for pinhole.

  11. Trygve Henriksen

    Lacks a bit of style...

    Made of cardboard. Just add glue...

    Uses 120 roll film. Complete plans for a 135 film version is available for the KS backers.

    (I got this kit on monday, and haven't had time to even open the package, yet.)

    Hand crafted wooden pinhole cameras. Not held together with something as crude as rubber bands, either. (They're using magnets)

    Available in sizes from 'compact' 135(panoramic also available), 120 film(normal and panoramics), 4x5" film, and even a 'sliding box' design that uses 4x6" photographic paper instead of film.

    (Waiting on the sliding box version. )

    1. coconnor55

      Re: Lacks a bit of style...

      Both are great projects - I've talked to Kelly about Videre and it seems like a nice camera. So do the Ondu's - kudos to you for supporting both. Todd Schlemmer also has a nice 35mm and 4x5 printed camera.

      Mine was for a different purpose - I wanted a rain-proof camera (I occasionally leave them out in the rain for long exposures) that was reproducible by anyone with a 3D printer. The top fits snugly and has to be wiggled off. The rubber band is just insurance. More importantly, it serves as a visible reminder there is film in the camera.


      1. Trygve Henriksen

        Re: Lacks a bit of style...

        I have considered doing Solargraphs, and that usually means leaving the camera outside...

        So I just backed your project, too...

        Of course, you get the coolest solargraphs when using photographic paper, not film, but that's a minor issue.

  12. Wzrd1

    I honestly thought that 120 film was extinct!

    That was one of the best film formats ever made!

    1. Trygve Henriksen


      Both 120 and 135 is still 'alive'. Even 4x5" and larger film is still being manufactured.

      It's the 126 and APS formats that have gone the way of the dodo.

      Just be prepared for a bit of a shock if you want to get a roll of 120 film processed.

      (I stick with B/W film because that I can process at home without too much trouble. )

  13. Steven Jones

    For something a little larger

    Of course, if you want to scale this up to something rather larger, you might require a rather larger 3D printer. For example, this particular "pinhole" camera starts with finding an empty aircraft hanger...

  14. Martin Budden

    Don't drop the hole!

    "the additional bits and pieces (pinhole, screws, etc) "

    How will the pinhole be packaged for posting? In one of those little zip-lock baggies maybe? Better be careful when taking the hole out of the bag, if you drop the hole you'll never find it. Perhaps it would be best to open the bag over a bucket just in case... oh wait, that's a bad idea because if you do drop it you'll have a bucket with a hole in it which means the bucket will leak!

    1. coconnor55

      Re: Don't drop the hole!

      @Martin - Perhaps I should spray it black... then it might suck in the bucket, and then the room, and ...

  15. localgeek

    Anything that promotes film usage...

    ... is a good thing in my book. Even Lomography, with it's overpriced "hipster" (whatever that means) cameras, has played a significant role in the film resurgence. I was an early adopter of digital cameras, having been given a Kodak DC40 (we're talking about 1/3 of a megapixel as I recall, with a serial interface and limited to scant internal memory) in the late 90s. I've owned a succession of digital cameras since that time and continue to shoot more than my share of digipixels.

    But a few years ago I discovered the Holga, then "graduated" to a plethora of assorted toy and more serious medium format cameras. I started using my trusty old Konica TC-X again - an SLR I bought in '87 when I was taking a high school photography class. Today I've got a small arsenal of film cameras that includes everything from 110 cameras (yes, they're making 110 film again) to instant cameras old and new (like the handy little Fujifilm Instax Mini 8). So many, in fact, that I'm having to thin out my collection a bit.

    Film will always be a niche market, but there's been a growing interest in the medium for the past several years. Interestingly, a lot of the momentum comes from young people who have used digital their entire lives. Then they discover this archaic medium where you don't get to see your photos until later. There's a sense of mystery and anticipation. And your pictures have a different kind of look - a look old dudes try to simulate with expensive Photoshop plugins. And, relative to the cost of buying a high-end DSLR every few years, film can be relatively inexpensive, especially if you develop your own b&w. You get a new "sensor" with every roll you run though a 40+ year old camera.

    It's a shame I don't have a 3D printer. But I've already given my wife my Christmas wish list, which includes a hopeful request for a Holga 120 pinhole camera.

    1. coconnor55

      Re: Anything that promotes film usage...

      @localgeek - I'm "this guy" and one of my goals was to reach the half of Kickstarter demographics who got out of film and get them back into film, and reach the other half who've never done film. Judging from the comments I've gotten, I succeeded on both counts.

      A 6x6 MF image scan is the equivalent of 50-85 megapixels. Not too many people can afford one that big. For 6x16 or 6x18 with a curved back (my next camera), there is no digital equivalent. This is one area where film is still king.

      Answering @Nuke's point, the geometrical perspective may be very similar, but the visual and emotional perspective is very different.


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