This 3D printed lens gives digital cameras the ability to take 3D photographs

A photographer by the name of George Moua has designed and 3D printed a special lens that gives run-of-the-mill digital cameras the ability to take 3D photographs.

The novel ‘stereoscopic wiggle lens’ is FDM-printed in PETG, and it allows full-frame mirrorless cameras to shoot stereoscopic wiggle photography – a funky effect that stacks still frames on top of each other to give the illusion of a 3D GIF-like animation. Until now, the effect has exclusively been possible with purpose-built vintage film cameras, but the widespread availability of 3D printing means digital photographers can now add the effect to their arsenals too.

Referring to himself as a ‘maker of stupid things’, Moua said, “To me, there’s such a simple joy in the spontaneity of a stupid idea or a stupid thing. With each one that I’m able to make or each idea that I’m able to realize, it slowly lifts the veil on what I think I can or can’t do. It also helps to remove any preconceptions I have on how I should be approaching design problems.”

George Moua and his 3D printed wiggle lens. Photo via George Moua.
George Moua and his 3D printed wiggle lens. Photo via George Moua.

The resurgence of stereoscopic wiggle photography

Stereoscopy is a technique used to create the illusion of depth in a 2D image, making it look three-dimensional. It works by flicking between similar, but not identical, images of an object or scene in quick succession. As long as the images have some parallax shift between them (meaning they have to be taken from slightly different angles), they can be combined into an animated sequence to give a sense of dimensionality.

The wiggle effect can be achieved at home by looking at an object up close and winking with your left and right eyes in quick succession since they’ll be looking at the object from slightly different angles. This parallax shift is also what VR goggles rely on to create the illusion of a 3D environment, despite only displaying flat images on two small 2D screens.

In the context of photography, stereo cameras, or 3D cameras, simply snap two or more frames using two or more lenses at the same time. Although the technology dates back to the early 20th century, stereoscopic photography made a brief resurgence in the 1980s with cameras like the Nimslo 3D and the Nishika N8000, which had four lenses each. These days, you may see the technique employed in popular music videos such as Mura Masa’s ‘What If I Go?’.

The 3D printed lens on a Sony a7R full-frame camera. Photo via George Moua.
The 3D printed lens on a Sony a7R full-frame camera. Photo via George Moua.

Digitizing stereoscopy

Moua’s 3D printed lens is special in that it enables users to achieve the same effect with a digital camera for the first time. The original version contains three 30mm lenses that each project a slightly different perspective onto the full-frame sensor of a digital Sony camera. These perspectives can then be digitally ‘cut up’ and rolled through like the frames of a physical film reel to yield the 3D wiggle effect, all without having to go eBay-diving for 80s gear.

He has currently only designed the lens to be compatible with Sony full-frame E-mount, Sony APS-c E-mount, and Fujifilm X-mount cameras, but intends to modify the lens for Canon cameras too.

Moua concludes, “The reason this is a full-frame-only lens is that to get the best performance out of this lens – the best light shaping qualities – I had to design the lens baffle to extend as far as possible to the lens sensor without interfering with the shutter or the IBIS mechanisms. What this means is that the incoming light from these baffles is going to be a much harder light, there’s less scattering in between each frame, which means you have more image.”

As demonstrated by Moua, 3D printing technology can take DIY ingenuity to new heights. Recently, technology YouTuber befinitiv used a low-cost 3D printer to turn a 50-year-old analog camera into a digital one. By swapping out the film canister of a vintage Cosina Hi-Lite DLR with a Raspberry Pi and its 3D printed housing, the content creator was able to give his camera a modern-day spin with full HD image and video recording functionality.

Elsewhere, 3D printing content creator Teaching Tech recently designed and 3D printed his own open-source version of a rare antique fractal vise. Unlike a standard straight vise, which is typically only capable of clamping block-like parts, the 100-year-old fractal design is capable of morphing to grip virtually any object, regardless of the complexity of the geometry.

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Featured image shows George Moua and his 3D printed wiggle lens. Photo via George Moua.