I was contacted yesterday by a man named Ethan, who sent a link to his just-launched Kickstarter. CAMERADACTYL, named such because, as Ethan puts it, “I like cameras, dinosaurs, and all the real word dot coms were taken,” is a 4 x 5 field camera that’s 3D printed in a massive variety of custom colors. On paper (and in the Kickstarter video) CAMERADACTYL looks to be a fun and capable camera that costs half the price of the big, brass and mahogany field cameras we’re used to seeing.
Backers of the Kickstarter will have the opportunity to choose custom coloring for the ten different print groups that comprise the camera body (a single color can also be chosen for those who aren’t so wild), a custom fabric covering for the bellows, and a lens board with the backer’s preferred Copal Number (00, 0, 1, or 3). New CAMERADACTYL owners will need to supply a lens and film holder, but this is nothing new to those familiar with field cameras.
Ethan’s provided some excerpts from the Kickstarter –
I am a lover of classic mahogany, brass and steel field cameras, and my goal was to make an accessible and inexpensive alternative. I have tried to retain as much functionality and durability as possible with entirely plastic components. I think I’ve succeeded in making a fun entry level camera while maintaining its professional attributes.
This camera is based on a classic field camera design and keeps many professional camera movements. It has rack and pinion geared focusing rails for both the front and back standards, front swings, tilts, rise and fall, and rear swings and tilts. The bellows accommodates lenses from about 90mm to 300mm. I like using 150mm and 210mm normal lenses; they allow for a good range of movements, and have the angle of view I prefer working with in this format.
As with all Kickstarter projects, it’s important to pay attention to risks and challenges. I see a 3D printed camera and I worry about longevity and durability. Field cameras have been made of brass and mahogany and aluminum for more than a century for good reason. These are workhorse cameras that need to take abuse. If I have one worry about CAMERADACTYL, it’s that it might be delicate. Ethan’s addressed this concern in the Kickstarter campaign.
These cameras are 3D printed in plastic. Using this process, I can include some design elements that were not previously possible, or that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive to manufacture. It also allows me to make quirky cameras for a niche market, rather than mass market objects which require very expensive tooling. However, 3D printing has its own set of unique limitations and characteristics. Plastic is less durable than steel: I have beefed up many mechanical pieces to accommodate this. The pieces will not all have smooth finishes like wood or metal, or even injection molded plastics. […] I love some of the beautiful surface patterns created by the process, but want to make clear to those unfamiliar with 3D printing, that these are not solid smooth plastic parts like you would get from an injection molding process, like most plastic objects in our world.
I didn’t design the camera to be a model, I use mine, and I want you to use yours, to be out in the world, and make real work with them. I expect that eventually, at least one person will break each piece of the camera. […] I absolutely hate it when repair costs make it too expensive to be worth fixing a camera. It is my goal to offer at the very least, individual print groups, if not individual parts for replacement (and further color customization) on CAMERADACTYL.com soon after I fill all of my Kickstarter orders.
This last point is pretty critical, and could solve any issues of durability (should they arise). Adjustment knobs and screws that are 3D printed are pretty easy to replace and quite inexpensive to manufacture (compared to brass, surely). Bear in mind, I’ve not held the product in hand. It could be that the material used is sturdy enough to last a decade or more. If and when the camera gets Kickstarted and Ethan moves into production mode we will certainly get our hands on one.
If you’d like to get your hands on one, see the Kickstarter here.