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Lux 3D-printed camera marries modern Sony lenses to old-school film

The prototype camera shoots with 35mm film and Sony's full-frame E-mount lenses. Its creator plans to share the 3D printer designs.

The Lex, shown here in a digital mockup, is a 3D-printed camera body that accepts Sony E-mount lenses.

The Lux, shown here in a digital mockup, is a 3D-printed camera body that accepts Sony E-mount lenses.

Lux

If you like modern Sony lenses but pine for the days of film cameras, good news: an engineer has launched a project called Lux to marry the two worlds.

Alexander Gee, an Austin, Texas, programmer and engineering enthusiast who hails from New Zealand, has been working for a year on a project that'll let people use a 3D printer to make the camera bodies or perhaps buy one through a crowdfunding campaign.

"There is a particular aesthetic to shooting on film that gets lost when you use digital cameras," Gee said. "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."

Don't expect the project to bring back the glory days of film, when Kodak signs hung outside stores at every tourist attraction and pharmacies offered to develop your shots. But a fondness for analog artifacts seems likely to last a long time still. There's a certain retro set who also like music on vinyl records, straight razors or cars with carburetors.

The first prototype of the Lux camera, sporting a little leftover duct tape.

Lux

For Gee, shooting film puts him in a different mindset. "Maybe it's the fact that each shot costs you money or maybe it is the vagaries of imperfect chemical processes but film feels a little different both to shoot and to look at," he said.

Accepts Sony E-Mount lenses

The Lux camera accepts Sony's E-mount lenses, the type designed for its higher-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 the prototype's cost at about $450, including 3D printing and a shutter ordered from Sony's parts catalog.

Camera makers can be prickly about lens-camera connections, especially in the modern age when the physical connection is augmented by electronic communications to power autofocus and lens aperture settings. The Lux prototype offers auto exposure but not autofocus.

"The Lux 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."

Sony didn't respond to a request for comment.

A shot Alexander Gee took with a Lux camera prototype.

A shot Alexander Gee took with a Lux camera prototype.

Alexander Gee/Lux

Lux may not have all the bells and whistles of a 1990s film-era SLR, but it's got one thing those cameras lacked, though: antishake technology. Once you press the shutter button, "the camera calculates the point at which you are most stationary and shoots then," Gee said.

Gee hopes others will help him to develop and improve Lux -- something that should become easier once he publishes the 3D printing designs.

"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."

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