Lex 3D printed camera combines classic 35mm film with modern Sony lenses
A Texas-based engineering enthusiast has made use of 3D printing technology to create an impressive new design for a 35mm camera. The project is known as Lex, and it was developed by Alexander Gee, who has been working on it for almost a year. Gee, who is originally from New Zealand, wanted to combine modern lens technology with 35mm film, and used 3D printing to fabricate a camera body that would effectively bring the two together. He may eventually make Lex devices available through a crowdfunding campaign, and the 3D files will be open-source.
According to Gee, “There is a particular aesthetic to shooting on film that gets lost when you use digital cameras. Like most people, I’m not shooting on film every day. My daily driver is a Sony A9. But sometimes I want to be able to use the lenses I can use with that camera with film emulsions.”
The physical connection with the real world that film processing offers is something that is missing from digital photography and culture in general, and Gee’s project could appeal to the same vintage enthusiasts who are into buying vinyl and wearing retro fashion. We’ve reported before on a similar project for hybrid digital/analog 3D printed camera equipment.
The Lex can provide the image quality offered by modern-day lenses in combination with a 35mm aesthetic. Other features of contemporary camera equipment are still lacking, however. His design isn’t advanced enough yet to link up the lens electronically and take advantage of digital enhancement, but this is something that Gee is hoping to work on.
“The Lex design does not have any electronic communication with the lens right now,” Gee said. “There is a group of people trying to reverse engineer the E-mount protocol and obviously manufacturers like Metabones understand the electrical system well enough to make lenses. It’s possible we could drive lenses in the future if there is further input from other people in the open source community.”
Despite not having the same connection between the lens and the camera that a modern product could offer, Gee’s Lex prototype is capable of taking some impressive shots. It doesn’t have auto-focus but can still offer auto-exposure functionality. It also brings the lens-stabilizing features of new cameras to the vintage 35mm film look, reducing the motion blur that can negatively affect the photographs. The Lex detects when the camera is at its most stationary and takes the shot then, minimizing the effects of shake on the resulting images.
The Lex camera accepts Sony’s E-mount lenses, which is the type designed for its high-end cameras like the new Sony A7 III, whose digital image sensor is the same full-frame size as a shot of 35mm film. Gee estimates that the prototype’s total cost will be about $450. This includes the 3D printing of the body’s components as well as a shutter which can be ordered separately from Sony’s parts catalog.
“I’d love to see others pick this project up and run with it,” he said. “I’ve got a day job and I’m not a mechanical engineer by trade, so there are huge leaps and bounds people with more skills than I could make on a project like this.”