Maker Profile: Tod Schlemmer, Creator of Schlaboratory Pinhole Cameras

Using the awesome power of CAD, 3D printing, and the feedback from a globally-distributed network of photographers, Todd Schlemmer has designed and iterated many different pinhole cameras in a variety of film formats. His Schlaboratory open camera and tools inventory continues to grow, providing a worldwide user base with designs to be printed with any 3D printer.


Stop by his booth, Schlem’s 3D Printed Photography, at Seattle Mini Maker Faire to see his cameras in action, and read on to learn more about his road to making:

“Making, for me, is the process of channeling the awesome lessons of failure into something interesting. When I first started building pinhole cameras, I used conventional carpentry and papercraft. It took me weeks to build a camera. My first cameras had all kinds of problems: light leaks, film handling, and frame indexing issues. Despite the many little defects, they made real photographs. Those early pinhole cameras taught me a great deal about camera design and photography—not because they were flawless—but because they weren’t.

I didn’t understand 120 film, so I had to overcome that ignorance. I didn’t understand the concept of reciprocity failure, or photographic exposure. I had more questions than answers, and I didn’t have the necessary vocabulary to ask them. But I learned.

When I built my first 3D printer, after tiring of gnomes and other tchotchkes, I wondered if I could design and 3D print a pinhole camera: Something Useful. My 35mm film camera was an abomination to look at, but it made really nice photos. I’d never shot Large Format sheet film before, but I designed and made a 4X5 pinhole camera that worked very well. I’ve since made more than a dozen different types of 3D printed pinhole cameras, and as many accessories.

3D printing allows me to quickly iterate and test design changes, but more importantly, allows me to share my cameras’ source files on the Internet for anyone to freely download, print, and use. There is an international tribe of pinhole photographers, and many people have provided feedback and suggestions for my design work.

Imagining something and then bringing it to life is a very compelling experience, but so too is sharing what you make with interested and knowledgeable people around the world. There has never been a better time to be a maker!”

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