Do you remember being a kid and building stuff out of whatever you had lying around? It was difficult at times finding the right materials or the perfect tools. The good part about being a grown-up is that you get to play with tools which are much — MUCH — more fun!
Queue the 3D printed Goodman One by Dora Goodman. Time to fire up the 3D printer.
A while back I co-founded the PUSH Collective with David Darle and Charles Pietri. The goal was simple. We push ourselves out of our respective comfort zones and have fun doing it. And that’s exactly what I’ll be talking about today.
The “having fun” part, that is.
A friend of mine already has owned a 3D printer for a while and has printed me a few interesting analog photography-related parts (I’m looking at you, Canonet grip). So when David from PUSH told me he was thinking about getting one himself to experiment, I immediately bought another round of beer (to be sure he would actually do it) and brought up the subject of printing a whole camera — which he found insane, and definitely worth a try.
The last part of the puzzle was solved by none other than Dora Goodman, who with her Goodman Lab open-source cameras project, provided us with a ready-to-print, well-documented, camera. Wait, did I say one? More like two, as David ended up printing himself a Goodman Zone, and me a Goodman One.
But let’s focus on mine for a while, as I’m sure David would be happy to discuss the Zone later on.
A camera is nothing more than a light-tight box with a hole on one end and a photosensitive part on the other. How complicated you make the box, the hole or the sensor is up to you. As we were just starting off our camera building careers, we relied on much more talented designers for the hole and the sensor. More specifically, we relied on Mamiya, in the form of a Mamiya Press lens and a Mamiya RB67 film back… and, of course, our favorite film manufacturer for the sensor (cough cough… ILFORD).
What’s the point of just printing a camera body and using industry-made lens and back you ask? Well let’s say the Mamiya lens is just too good to pass up, and the 3D-printed film back can wait. I want to shoot 6×7, and I want to shoot it fast and handheld, and I can’t afford a Pentax 67 anyway.
Oh and did I mention the Mamiya lens? Integrated shutter, integrated focusing helicoid, external viewfinder, all you’d need (or want), really.
So, there we were. We had a lens, a film back, some 120 film, and a 3D Printer.
And there we went.
Building and tweaking the Goodman One
Many, many hours of printing later, a few botched parts, and a lot of tweaking, we ended up with two body elements, two rigid bellows, and an assortment of accessories and smaller parts. Oh, and a few great evenings drinking beer and chatting while watching the robot do its marvellous work. (This thing is so satisfying to watch. Really!)
And then the fun began. Wait. Continue.
It was assembly time, and I felt like I got the coolest Lego set ever for Christmas! A couple hours later, we had a light-tight box — with a very sophisticated hole on one end, and a very sophisticated sensor on the other. Mission accomplished.
Or so we thought. For if the camera body was indeed light-tight, the back wasn’t, the focus was dodgy, the bellows wobbly, and the lens didn’t stay in place. Well too bad, that was it then.
Now it was tweaking time… Of a rather tedious kind.
I ended up upgrading the threaded rod (the one adjusting the focus plane distance) to a 3D-printed one, redoing all the back’s light seals, adding brand new light seals to the body and film back junction, adding lug screws to the lens holder, and then — the final trick — using two threaded metal parts to lock the focus in place on the camera.
With every iteration came a new test roll, with extremely varying degrees of success.
Oh, and how do you adjust focus? With a 3D-printed ground-glass attachment of course! We used tracing paper instead of a ground-glass for good measure, which is very fun and always brings out a smile when I show it off!
Did it work?
Now I have a fully functional, superbly sharp, light-weight 6×7 camera which I made myself, and I couldn’t be prouder.
It’s versatile, upgradable, takes a whole set of lenses should I want to change focal length. It’s a pleasure to shoot with, a great conversation starter, oh, and did I mention I made it myself?
A few thoughts now I’ve had some time with it…
Creating your own camera can be a rather daunting task; as a lot of fiddling around and upgrading is involved. My experience with the Goodman One was definitely one of fiddling and my relationship to the camera evolved along the way, from a very fun yet globally unreliable DIY experiment to a robust camera I can count on to produce great quality images. I’ll try to summarize this evolution and write down the thoughts I had along the way.
From a wobbly, blurry mess…
At first, it was just another crazy project. I wasn’t sure I could pull it off, and I was even less sure I would get images out of the roll of plastic filament we had lying around. We had seen many photos of printed and assembled Goodman cameras on the Internet but not that many photos taken with them. And to top it all off, we had almost no previous experience in 3D printing and camera building.
So it was with a hacker state-of-mind we set on printing and building the Goodmans.
And it was with a good many hacks we managed to get them running smoothly, but more on that later.
The first test-roll came out surprisingly fine; full of light-leaks and rather blurry at times, but it was way better than anything we expected. We were stoked. The camera handling was OK though a bit fiddly at times, and it ended up being simple enough getting recognizable images out of it.
The following test-rolls ended up being a lot harder to pull off. Every time I updated the camera, upgraded a part or changed a setting, I had to shoot another 10 frames and develop them to assess if the tweak was the right one.
I started becoming a bit frustrated, as I forgot more than once to pull out the dark slide. I got overlapping frames and light-leaks from the not-yet refurbished film back. And, more often than not, I got out-of-focus images due do the difficulty of setting the right focal length between the film plane and the lens.
But one by one, the defects got solved:
- New film-back light seals = no more light leaks.
- A bit of practice = no more handling issues.
- Soft shutter = Less camera-shake-related blur
- Light seals between the film back and body = Even fewer light leaks
And then the big one, the lucky one: a new threaded focal plane adjusting rod, and two opposite screws which, when locked down in place together, ended up to be by some sort of miracle the exact right length to get the right flange focal distance.
Finally, one fine day, I went out to shoot a test roll which turned out to be a great success. I had a blast shooting with my little Goodman, the photos were sharp and clean, and I realized we did it.
…to Plastic Fantastic
The short version? We managed to 3D-print a functional 6×7 camera. And a damn good one too.
First off, this thing is crazy light and compact. The 3D-printed shell weighs virtually nothing, so the bulk of the weight comes from the lens and the film back. This gives a very nice weight distribution which improves handling, as you can hold the camera straight very easily. You can also lay it down upright and have it stay firmly there. The final advantage of this is the handling of the camera on a tripod. As the weight is so evenly spread out, my very basic DSLR tripods have never struggled to keep the Goodman One put. The low weight also allows you to carry it on a strap with ease.
The second advantage? All the settings are integrated into the Mamiya Press lens, which makes for simple use. You do have to operate everything in the right order as you would do with a large-format camera, though. But my 65mm lens’ ergonomics are well-thought-out, with a nice grippy focusing knob. The Mamiya RB67 back is quite basic but does the job. Cock it, shoot, repeat.
But the main feature I find most enjoyable about shooting the Goodman One is its lack of features.
As you are provided with neither light meter, focusing aid nor any kind of automation (light-tight box with a hole and a back remember?), you find yourself with the possibility of having a near large-format camera workflow…without the bulk and movements that is. And with the ability still to be quick about it if needed.
I’m not going to say it’s the ideal street shooter, but if street-shooting is what you’re after, you can definitely pull it off. I’ve been shooting more and more street photography as of late (on my Bessa R2) and haven’t tried much with the Goodman One yet, but I will definitely try soon!
Considering the basic nature of the camera, I find it performs rather well ergonomics-wise. If you hold it from the bottom, all the controls fall rather naturally under the hand. A soft shutter is definitely a must-have though, as the shutter-trigger on the lens can be really fiddly to activate while framing. But once that’s out of the way, you can actually shoot it handheld, or prop it up on a tripod.
Another noteworthy point to keep in mind, the camera is a zone-focus camera by default (as it has no coupled focus mechanism whatsoever). So if your guesstimating game is not on point, you might want to opt for some sort of external distance meter. I found an external rangefinder on eBay for a reasonable price and that does the trick.
Overall, the shooting experience has been really enjoyable. I found myself thinking a lot more about my framing and composition thanks to the slower pace of handling the camera.
I guess now it’s time for the honeymoon phase, I’m off to do my homework and get better acquainted with the Goodman One.
See you on the streets!
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