Is 3D printing the future of photography gear manufacturing?

Aug 14, 2019

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Is 3D printing the future of photography gear manufacturing?

Aug 14, 2019

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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When Edelkrone released the 3D printable FlexTILT Head 3D a couple of months ago, it was met with a largely positive response. The idea that we can spend $30 on something and print a few components rather than $150 is huge to a lot of photographers and filmmakers working on ultra-low budgets, as well as hobbyists.

Sure, you need to buy a 3D printer, as Angus Deveson at Maker’s Muse points out in the video above, but you can get a basic 3D printer DIY kit and the bits from Edelkrone for close the cost of the original FlexTilt 2. After that, already owning the printer can save you a lot of money. But is it really where we should be heading for camera accessories?

As well as Angus’ video, I also stumbled across Tom Sanlader’s video last night, too. both Angus and Tom are very prominent and well respected in the online 3D printing community, and both have a lot of experience with 3D printing from both an industrial and hobbyist perspective. I’ve been watching both of their channels myself for a couple of years now as I’ve been learning 3D printing myself.

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Both Angus and Tom have some similar thoughts as they go through the build and test phases with the Edelkrone FlexTILT 3D. One thing that impressed Angus, particularly, was that these aren’t just the cad files for the aluminium version made printable. They’ve actually been redesigned specifically with 3D printing in mind.

This is something that manufacturers doing similar would also have to take into account. You typically can’t just use the files for one material and create them with something else. Different materials, especially when comparing metal vs plastic, have very different properties which require some thought during the design process.

So, as a business, you’d likely have to design two different versions of your product for the two different types of customer. One for the 3D printing community and another for those who are happy to pay full price to avoid the time and hassle of having to make their own parts.

And even then, you’re reliant on the 3D printing abilities of the customer as well as the properties of the material in which they choose to print an item. PLA, PETG, ABS, Nylon, TPU and various hybrid filaments are all pretty common these days. The choice of filament used will play a big part in how reliable an item is.

Angus printed the components in ABS while Tom printed them in PLA. And you can really see the difference in results when printed with different materials. Angus seemed to get a much better product when printing with ABS vs Tom printing it with PLA, not just in terms of holding power, but the noise it makes when adjusting it, too.

Edelkrone actually recommends using PLA filament. But I think that’s the last type of filament I’d use for something like this. The noise issue alone, as shown in Tom’s video, is a huge pain, and PLA will warp over time as pressure is applied to certain parts – like where all the joints are. So, it will loosen over time. ABS and PETG tend to hold their shape a little better and will remain firmer for longer without adjustment.

It would be nice to see a direct PLA vs PETG vs ABS side-by-side comparison of the FlexTILT Head 3D.

I’ve 3D printed a bunch of things for photography and video over the last couple of years. I’m actually about to start redesigning my motorised camera slider from scratch and 3D printing will play a big part in that to mount the motors and contain all the electronics.

For custom things like my slider, and even some small replacement parts like lens caps, battery covers, etc. 3D printing is definitely a great option right now. But for the things I want to buy from big-name companies like Edelkrone? I still think the concept is great and I applaud Edelkrone for what they’re doing, but it definitely still has a way to go, and I’m not sure I see it as being the future of photography gear manufacture.

It is nice to have that option, though, especially if you can’t justify paying full price, and it does allow for some degree of personal customisation. And you might even be able to share your modified files. As well as being able to download from the Edelkrone website, you can also get the FlexTILT Head 3D STL files from MyMiniFactory, where they’ve been released under a Creative Commons BY-SA license.

What do you think? Would you buy products from companies if you had to make part of it yourself? Do you even own a 3D printer or would you have to buy one to be able to do this?

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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9 responses to “Is 3D printing the future of photography gear manufacturing?”

  1. Gary Sthland Avatar
    Gary Sthland

    Diffintly here in NZ camera products are so expensive it would be great to by pass the camera stores

    1. Chris Cameron Avatar
      Chris Cameron

      Also better for the environment. No packaging or shipping / transportation.

      1. Paul H Avatar
        Paul H

        No not quite, may be even be worse. There will be shipping of the filament (the packaging on this alone will be bigger than this head), then there is shipping of the parts, and if you use ABS filament it’s probably not as environmentally friendly as you think.

  2. Alexandre Ayoubi Avatar
    Alexandre Ayoubi

    Put it in perspective, i can buy a photographer a signed photograph on an aluminum plate, or i can buy the rights to the picture for less and print it myself..
    Same here, baked in the file you have all the effort in modeling testing and tweaking for printing a useful tool.
    If i had a 3d printer i’d buy the files for shure.. Especially i’m no professional photographer needing the reliability of a device that was cut in an space grade aluminium forged chunck.
    It could also lead to interesting business development. I got in mind local 3d copy companies as for the paper copy you got near every campus (at least in my country) and have companies concertrating on R&D ditching the manufacturing and the logistics. Less transportation, pollution, global warming and everything you want to put behind this sentence..

  3. Duncan Knifton Avatar
    Duncan Knifton

    I bought a copy for £20 at a photo show…does exactly the same as this…
    ITS STILL IN THE BOX…..
    Bought it at a whim….no idea what you could use it for that a normal ball head would offer

  4. Alex Frank Avatar
    Alex Frank

    It most certainly is the future of manufacturing

  5. Madara Avatar
    Madara

    I’m really surprised it isn’t cheaper to have a service 3D print something for you. I’m not sure I want to invest in a printer and looked at having some items printed for me and it was quite expensive.

    1. Kaouthia Avatar
      Kaouthia

      Just like getting a decent photographer is expensive, so is getting quality 3D prints made. As you say, the cost to acquire the kit is expensive. Then you’ve got the cost of electricity, materials (it doesn’t print out of thin air), all the time those people have invested into learning how to create quality 3D prints, the time to actually print your item, rent, tax and other overheads. They’re businesses. :)

  6. Paul H Avatar
    Paul H

    I have seen this article before somewhere and said something similar. That Tripod head is really restrictive with movement only in one plane. Whilst this may be suitable for some, it’s not really suitable for myself. I have a 3d Printer and have printed some basic camera stuff, using free downloadable .STL files published on Thingiverse.com. I see the author’s links are to the same website, and the files for this head are also on Thingiverse.