This 3D Printable 164mm f/2.5 Lens Costs $15 to Create

3d printed lens
Image credit: Pixels and Prisms

Open source technology has already created some interesting tools for photographers hoping to save time and money. Much of this is with software for photo editing and retouching, but it’s happening with physical products too.

The latter is what Photographer Felix Steele has been refining through his open source photography project Pixels and Prisms. One of his most recent developments is a design for a 3D-printed 164mm f/2.5 lens that can be assembled completely at home. The design doesn’t involve any fasteners or screws and works with low-cost optical glass. Best of all, as long as you have the printing equipment, it can be built for less than $15 in materials.

The lens is one of Steele’s first major developments through his DIY open source project. Considering that it involves building a fully functional and adaptable lens for modern mirrorless cameras, it’s remarkably simple.

Steele’s DIY optics can be assembled after printing out 23 “significant parts” and 15 pegs that are all held together by glue alone. Doing this delivers a functional focusing mechanism and completely adjustable aperture via fixed tubes.

As Steele explains on his site, “Every photographer has different needs when it comes to lenses — in price, speed, and focal length. The Pixels and Prisms 163mm f/2.5 telephoto lens is a customizable optical system that offers a low-cost, open-source alternative to commercial lenses through 3D-printing,”

The fully assembled lens is usable with EF mount full-frame cameras that have an aperture range of f/2.5 and f/11 with 12-bladed aperture diaphragm.

Steele also commented that designing and building the lens has given him a “valuable method” for really understanding the principles with which lenses help create much of his photographic work. According to the inventive photographer, this has also helped him understand photo capture technique better

In an optimistic assessment of his lens, Steele claims that “For under $15, Pixels and Prisms is a viable low-weight lens option for travel, portrait, or street photographers, as well as a cost-effective entry point into telephoto photography. The aperture and zoom system can even be modified to work with any lens element, so long as an extender is added to the front of the optic,”

He also notes that the lens is flexible enough to deliver specialized focal lengths without a large investment in pro optics.

While Steele’s original design work for the device involved 3 months of work and creating an optical formula, he’s still refining to create newer versions of his product that deliver better form factor and superior optical quality. The print files and instructions for the current lens are all freely available for download, along with instructions for a lens element.

If Steel’s experimental photos are anything to go by, his current edition can still use plenty of improvement in how well its optics function, but it might be a major milestone: Precision commercial lenses for the pro and consumer camera market aren’t likely to be replaced by 3D printed, home-built optics any time soon, but as the technology for printing your own equipment improves, it will make inroads to some extent at some point.

Currently, the only parts of the lens that need to be ordered are its optics. These glass components can be hunted down on eBay or a website like Surplus Shed according to Steele. On his site he goes into considerable detail about how he chose and tested his optics beforehand through another free, open source online tool called Optical Ray Tracer.

Below are a couple sample images of objects and scenes captured by Steele’s DIY 3D lens. He offers many more on his site. Anyone curious about building their own version can download the full 3D print files, build instructions and diagrams from the Pixels and Prisms page, where they’re broken down into seven parts.

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Shotkit Journalist, Writer & Reviewer

Stephan Jukic is a technology and photography journalist and experimental photographer who spends his time living in both Canada and Mexico. He loves cross-cultural street photo exploration and creating fine art photo compositions.

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