Some Assembly Required: Eben Ostby

This series focuses on those who take the making of pictures a step or two further, creating their own photographic tools.


Bay View Off-ramp , Platinum print from Ostby's 3D-printed panoramic camera.

Bay View Off-ramp, Platinum print from Ostby's 3D-printed panoramic camera.

Eben Ostby, El Cerrito, CA

Eben Ostby shares his self-designed 3D printed panoramic camera:

After the San Francisco earthquake and fire in 1906, the photographer George Lawrence lofted a huge, curved camera with the aid of kites to take a photograph of the demolished city from high above San Francisco Bay. At that time, a photographic print might be made in platinum or silver gelatin, and the prints from Lawrence’s camera were stunning.

Several years ago I rescued a Kodak Panoram - a swing-lens panoramic camera from around that same epoch and took it with me when I traveled. My other favorite camera was a Holga, the popular plastic camera that takes roll film. I began to think about a union of the two cameras – one that made the odd curvy-looking pictures of a swing-lens camera, but with the funkiness of the simple Holga meniscus lens. I wanted to save on film costs by using 35mm film. I made a prototype out of cardboard, plumbing parts, and a simple lens from a surplus store. It had promise, but didn't work terribly well.  

Holga and Kodak Panoram

Holga and Kodak Panoram

SketchUp draft

SketchUp draft

Around this time, 3D printing was becoming widely available online and the materials were getting better. My background is in computer graphics, so modeling was within my grasp. I designed a camera in SketchUp that had a pivoting shutter and lens, a simple transport for 35mm film, and even a frame counter.  The parts fit together perfectly and the surplus lens fit right in. I needed to supply a little bit of spring wire to make the shutter work, and paint the whole camera black so it would be light-tight.

The physical camera

The physical camera

Though my first version didn't work perfectly, it was good enough to make a real picture. With what I learned from those mistakes I made a second one. I've since made a third, and shot hundreds of photos with it. 

This new technology is allowing photography to come full circle. I've used my computer to design a custom camera, modeled after the cameras of the turn of the century. With it I make alternative process prints from big digital negatives. It comes as no surprise that one of the photos I've made with this camera was one taken from a kite above the San Francisco Bay.

Above Oakland , photo from 3D-printed camera from kite above the San Francisco Bay. 

Above Oakland, photo from 3D-printed camera from kite above the San Francisco Bay. 

View more of Eben's work on his website.


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