The terraPin ACE, Lulzbot Edition, pinhole camera is the culmination of years of my 3D printing and camera design work. I love my Lulzbot Taz4, and the ACE prints beautifully on it. This compact design will even print on the smaller Lulzbot Mini. The ACE uses 120 film, and shoots sixteen 6X4.5 exposures per roll of film. It is the little brother to the terraPin ACME and snaps together WITHOUT ANY FASTENERS, using sliding joinery. With the exception of the pinhole (which is easy to make), all parts can be 3D printed. Additionally, a standard tripod thread (1/4-20) is provided by a high-strength, replaceable printed insert or a metal flanged nut.
120 film, also known as "medium format" film, is widely available at photography supply shops and on the internet (Amazon, B&H, Lomography, eBay, etc). If you don't have a local photo lab (and don't develop your own films), you can mail your film away for processing.
The ACE is designed for a 0.23 mm pinhole, but 0.20 mm will work just as well, albeit needing a little bit more exposure time. I make my own pinholes (and you can too!), but you easily can buy a laser-drilled pinhole from many vendors on the Internet.
Pinhole Diameter: 0.23 mm
Pinhole Diameter: 0.20 mm
Exposure charts for f/135 and f/165 are included for common film stocks in the "Thing Files" for download.
I archive all photos I shoot with the ACME family of pinhole cameras on Flickr.
Hey Dual-Extruder Lulzbot Users!
Included, at the bottom of the Thing Files, are two STLs intended to be 3Dprinted simultaneously with a dual-extruder printer:
I suggest that the "body" STL be printed in an opaque black, and the "trim" STL be printed in Lulzbot Green. This is experimental, in that, lacking a dual-extruder printer, I cannot test this before releasing it to the wild. Any feedback on the printability of these files most welcome!
You can learn more about pinhole photography basics in the mini-zine "Pinhole Photography Short & Sweet" (download PPSS.pdf, in the "Thing Files" section)
Hey! Read This!
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First and foremost, USE OPAQUE FILAMENT. ABS is fine, but PLA is prone to translucence. If unsure, use this OPACITY TOOL to assess the opacity of your filament. I maintain a list of tested PLA filaments and their opacities on that Thing page; If you find another opaque PLA, please share in the comments.
Knobs and winders do not demand the same opacity as the body parts. If you have difficulty printing high-quality winders, I have excellent winders for sale in my Shapeways Shoppe!
Two parts require high infill (>75%) for strength:
(I use 85% infill)
The winders are the only parts that require slicer-generated support. I tried to engineer support that would make for a better part, but I can't beat the support structures generated by SLIC3R.
The rest of the parts kit should be printed >50% for strength and opacity. I use 66%.
terraPin ACE Pinhole Camera, Lulzbot Edition, parts diagram
A# - terraPin_ACE_Lulzbot_Body_Plate.stl
A1 - Camera Body
A2 - Top Frame Bar
A3 - Hex Pinhole Carrier
A4 - Shutter Blade
A4 - Trapezoidal Key
A5 - Cap Clip
B# - terraPin_ACE_Lulzbot_Cap_plate.stl
B1 - Left Cap Slider
B2 - Cap Insert
B1 - Right Cap Slider
C - terrapin_prime_film_clip.stl
D - terraPin_Thread_Plug.stl OR 1/4-20 flanged nut
E - terraPin_Index_Window.stl OR 14mm clear red disk
F - terrapin_oskar_knobs.stl (several alternates included)
G - terrapin_oskar_winders.stl
H - Printable_120_Film_spool.stl or use empty 120 film spool
I - 24mm "knob pins" (3mm filament)
J - pinhole 0.23 mm (f/135) or 0.20 mm (f/165) Make or purchase
Not shown - terraPin_Nut_Cover.stl (used with metal flanged nut)
for clarity, all references to LEFT and RIGHT refer to the camera when viewed from behind (the octopus side)
Tools and Materials
The following supplies may prove helpful:
Needle Nose Pliers
1/8-inch drill bit (can be drilled by hand)
Cyanoacrylate or Super Glue
Flat Black Acrylic Paint
Rubbing Alcohol / Acetone
If you make your own pinhole, brass shim stock works well in 0.001 inch thickness. You can find this at any "real" hardware store. A soda can will also work, but expect it to be a bit thicker. You can sand the aluminum to a thinner dimension. You will want fine - FINE - sandpaper for polishing the burr from your pinhole. I use 1200-1600 grit wet/dry sandpaper. One sheet will allow you to make dozens of pinholes. #15 Beading Needles are 0.25 mm in diameter and are excelling for making small pinholes. A pin vise is handy, but a small locking pliers works as well.
Follow THESE INSTRUCTIONS to make your own precision pinhole apertures!
There is a pair of web-like built-in support structures under the Cap Insert - the flat plate that is part of the cap assembly. This must be cleaned out prior to installing the winders. I pluck and twist with a needlenose pliers and then trim any remaining bits with an Xacto blade. Failing to take this support webbing out will cause difficulty winding film at best, jamming and damage at worst.
Remove all traces of support from the winders.
The sliding cap assembly is held together by the winders and knobs, which are pinned together. GENTLY drill out the small holes in the winders and knobs with a 1/8-inch bit. If the winder shafts are difficult to insert into the knobs, there may be a small burr or lip on the inside edge of the hexagonal hole - GENTLY trim this with an Xacto blade. Make two 24 mm long "pins" from 3mm filament. Tapering the leading end of the pin may be necessary to GENTLY press the pins into place.
The triangle on the top of closed cap provides sight lines for the angle of view. If the triangle is oriented such that it points to the front of the camera, the back edge of the triangle represents the film plane and the point in front locates the pinhole in the camera body. There are similar sight lines on the sides of the camera body.
Using a 1/8-inch bit, bore out holes in knobs/winders for 3mm "pins"
There are two struts that support the overhangs at the bottom of the shutter slot, in the front of the camera. Remove these with a blade and trim any stray bits of plastic in the recess. The Trapezoidal Key fits into this cavity and holds the shutter and pinhole captive. Press the Key in place. It should require firm pressure to install; If it doesn't snap into position, there is likely some trace of support that needs to be cleaned out.
Remove tiny supports under shutter channel
A web of fine threads may be present inside your Camera Body. If present, these must be cleaned out of the interior spaces in the camera. I have used wire brushes to clean these cavities, but lately I have good luck with filling the space with butane from a cigarette lighter, and igniting it. The Butane flashes and the threads evaporate. I have never damaged a camera doing this, but if you choose to do this, you do so at risk to self and camera. I still use a wire brush and compressed air to remove any loose debris. I pay special attention to the edges of the frame where a tiny hair will show in your photos as a small shadow.
PLA can be somewhat shiny and can cause internal reflections inside your camera that show as ghosts and odd colors. To minimize this, the edges of the frame (including the bottom surface of the Top Frame Bar) should be painted with a flat black acrylic paint. Pack a folded piece of paper in the space the film will occupy to keep paint where it belongs.
After the paint dries you can install the tripod thread. Use either the 3D printed Thread Plug or a flanged 1/4-20 nut and the Nut Cover. I have been using 3D printed threads in cameras for more than a year, and only once did one strip out. Printed with high-infill, the thread seems abundantly strong. A metal nut will obviously be stronger, but the camera is light and small.
Insert the printed Thread Plug into the recess inside the camera and secure with a piece of Gaffer Tape, crossways along the long axis. The tape will keep it from rattling loose. If it ever fails, you can replace it at your leisure with the spare from the terraPin_Thread_Plug.stl.
If you use a flanged nut, you may have to press the nut in place, or - better yet - pull the nut into place with a bolt and washer. Glue the the Nut Cover on top of the flange with several dabs of Super Glue, pressing it in place.
Film Indexing Window
When manufactured, 120 film is rolled onto a spool with a strip of backing paper. The backing paper has a long leader and has frame numbers printed on it, and these numbers can be read through a window on the back side of the camera. For the ACE, which has a 6x4.5 cm frame, the numbers will be visible in the indexing window when the film is loaded in the left side of the camera and wound on the right. You will get 16 exposures per roll.
Glue the Index Window in the circular recess inside the back wall of the camera. Glue the disc such that the raised circular rim is mated to the camera body. This space will keep glue vapor from fogging the Index Window.
If you don't have a suitable translucent PLA to print this part, you might be able to get a small sample from a filament manufacturer or from a friend. Failing that, a suitable substitute can be made by cutting out a 14mm disk from a sheet of clear red plastic. A binder or "report cover" can often be found at an office supply store. The plastic must be translucent enough to read a dollar bill's serial number through it.
Using a red window is mostly tradition, but having a pane in place keeps dust and chaff out of your camera. Dust is the sworn enemy of film photography! I like to keep the Indexing Window covered by a tab of Gaffer Tape, when not actively advancing the film, to minimize the possibility of light ruining my photos. I have friends who never cover the windows on their medium format cameras without experiencing light leaks. YMMV Film is precious; Tape is cheap insurance.
Install the Top Frame Bar
The Top Frame Bar will only fit in one orientation, with the arrow on top, pointing to the right, looking at the back of the camera body. Trial fit the BAR: Tip the Bar into position and snap it IN and DOWN. Ensure that the Bar is all the way forward and there is nothing on the back of the bar to scratch the film.
In the rare instance that it doesn't fit properly, remove and investigate; You must trim any material with an Xacto blade that interferes with a proper fit. Repeat as necessary until it fits perfectly.
Remove once more and apply a couple dabs of Super Glue in each of the recesses (where the "ears" fit) to hold it in place. Install the Bar and ensure that it is positioned fully forward.
Shutter and Pinhole Assembly
The Shutter Blade slides in the shutter channel. When properly oriented, the hole in the shutter will be centered on the hole in the body when the shutter is fully open. The shutter will likely bind in the channel initially, but sliding the shutter up and down in the channel will loosen it up. In all likelyhood, The shutter will be loose enough that it may not stay open or closed by itself. To remedy this, GENTLY, CAREFULLY, SLOWLY warm the back side of the shutter with a flame ABOVE the hole, close to the cylinderical "finger knob", and put several degrees of gentle curve in the shutter blade. This tiny bend will transform the shutter into a spring that stays put, open or closed.
Putting a slight curve in the shutter plate will keep it from slipping
Pinhole Mounting and Installation
One side of the Pinhole should be blackened to minimize reflections inside the camera. A black Sharpie marker works well for this. After the ink dries, inspect the other side of the Pinhole for any ink on the front (shiny side). A tiny dab of rubbing alcohol can be used to remove unwanted ink. CAREFULLY center the Hex Pinhole Carrier over the Pinhole on the shiny (front) side of the metal. Take your time to ensure that the Pinhole is precisely in the middle of the Hexagon. The camera is designed to allow for a small variation in Pinhole position without affecting your photographs, but an off-center Pinhole won't look very nice.
When you are satisfied with the Pinhole's position in the Hex Pinhole Carrier, a small dab of Super Glue, under one edge of the Hex, will hold them together. Double check that you are still happy with the placement. Use a matchstick or toothpick to put a drop of glue where you want it. GENTLY hold the Pinhole and Hex together until the glue is dry. (Inspect your work one more time. If you feel you have to take it apart, a little acetone can be used to remove dried Super Glue from your Pinhole)
With a sharp scissors, CAREFULLY trim any metal that protrudes beyond the HEX Pinhole Carrier. Any metal sticking outside the 3D printed hexagon will likely wrinkle the Pinhole during assembly.
The Hex Pinhole Carrier fit into the hexagonal recess in the Shutter channel. The shiny side of the metal should face out, and the pinhole will be sandwiched between the Hex and the camera body. Slide the Shutter Blade into the channel, confirming that the Pinhole is centered in the Shutter's hole when fully open. If it looks "wrong", take it apart, and try rotating the Hex so that the Pinhole is centered left-to-right. When you are satisfied with your Pinhole installation, press the Trapezoidal Key firmly into place.
You Have A Pinhole Camera!
Notes on Shooting Your Pinhole Camera
Refer to the mini-zine, "Pinhole Photography Short & Sweet" (PPSS.pdf) for a basic tutorial on making pinhole exposures.
You will need an empty 120 film spool. If you don't have one, either print a spool (included) or obtain one from a friend or your local camera store or film lab.
To load your camera, unwrap your roll of 120 film. Handle it carefully so that it doesn't unroll. Pull approximately 6 inches of leader from the roll of film (SUPPLY) and tuck it through the slot in the empty spool. Wind the empty (UPTAKE) spool once or twice to secure the leader. The SUPPLY spool is inserted on the left side (facing the back) of the camera, with the film and leader unspooling in a clockwise direction. The UPTAKE spool loads on the right side, with the Film Clip, and winds in a counter-clockwise direction. Adjust the distance between the spools to fit the camera by tightening/loosening the UPTAKE spool. Insert both spools, ensuring that the top edge of the leader is below the Top Frame Bar. If the leader is caught, investigate and remedy. Orient the winders to fit into the spools and open the sliding cap. Put the cap on the camera and close the sliding cap. If any resistance is met, wiggle the cap back and forth until it snaps into position. Close the sliding cap and attach the Cap Clip to the center of the cap. The cap may fit snugly on the body, but, with use, it will eventually loosen up. If you misplace the Cap Clip, a bit of tape will hold the cap closed as well.
Advance the film to the first frame: Wind the UPTAKE knob until the number "1" appears centered in the window on the back of the camera. While winding, verify that the SUPPLY knob is turning; if not, the leader has come off of the UPTAKE spool. Open camera, investigate and remedy.
The knobs should be snug enough that the film will not slip between exposures. If your knobs are a little loose, verify that your film number is centered in the index window before making an exposure. If your knobs are very snug, wind your film with two hands, loosening on the left, winding on the right.
After making 16 exposures, wind the UPTAKE knob until the Supply knob stops being turned by the advancing film. Turn the UPTAKE knob a few more times to fully wind the roll of film. Open the camera, removing the exposed roll of film. The Cap Clip will keep the film securely wound on the spool - without the clip, your treasured photographs are at risk for light leaks if the film unwinds. Photographers call that a "fat roll" and it can be a disaster. Carefully remove the Cap Clip and wind the exposed film tightly on the spool. There should be a tab of adhesive tape at the end of the roll to secure it.
- Take your film to your lab (or mail it, or develop it yourself!). Most film processing labs also provide scanning services so that you can share your photos here and on social media! Post a picture of your 3D printed pinhole camera too!
Handmade pinhole 0.23 mm diam. Almost perfect!