Ever since moving to Tokyo, and experiencing this incredible city at a more detailed level, it reignited my love for photography, a passion I had not indulged in for years. The lights and reflections of the city at night left me in a state of awe.
I wanted to capture this future city in a way that I saw in all my favourite anime and sci fi movies growing up.
After a while, I slowly found myself wanting more and more equipment to try and capture the city better, especially at night. Wanting to be able to leave the shutter open for extended periods of time to capture enough light in the darker scenes, I picked up a relatively cheap tripod. A small light unit, that, while it wasn’t the strongest or best build, it did the job.
Well, sort of.
While technically, the unit was small, fairly easy to carry around, and had the ability to hold my camera still, it just took too long to set up and pack down each time I wanted to take a photo. It also just wasn’t quite solid enough so I had to be very careful to not bump it.
I slowly realized, that due to the way I take photos while exploring, it’s not conducive to using a tripod. Setting it up, packing it down and moving on. I also felt somewhat self conscious of being in other peoples way. This city is incredibly busy most of the time, so setting a tripod up in the center of it all kind of bothered me. It was pretty clear this set up was not going to work in the long run and ended up being left at home most of the time.
I looked into some of the smaller tripod options available. I went through a few before finding each had their own issues. The more standard style tripods only being useful for setting up on a decent sized flat surface, the more flexible gorilla pods either not being strong enough to hold my camera, losing their shape over time or simply being too big and cumbersome.
I wanted something built for me needs and with 3d printers becoming more and more accessible, I decided it was the perfect time to try and build something custom, that suited my needs.
Understanding what I wanted.
I wanted something small, quick to set up and pack down. I also noticed I was my resting my camera on what ever surface I could for stability. So I started paying close attention to the surfaces around the city where I might be able to rest my camera to get a shot. Walls, corners, traffic poles, anything that was solid enough to keep my camera still.
One other thing to note, I wasn’t looking for something to help me take selfies on a timer or with a remote. I wanted to be behind the camera still.
From this, I started to sketch out quick ideas in my note book, creating a unit that would fit against the surfaces I found.
Building a prototype
I started modeling my concept in Blender, after doing a little bit of initial research about building 3d models for printing.
Main points to learn were related to wall thickness (under 3mm and most printers consider it too thin/fragile), different types of plastic available, exporting to supported formats at the correct scale and considering how to minimize the costs by avoiding printing unnecessary parts.
Once the model was ready, I uploaded my STL files to 3dhubs.com, a site that allows anyone with a printer to take orders. It filters by cost and distance from you. I found some relatively cheap options and had my first prototype arrive within a week.
It ranged between about $15 up to $70. I went somewhere in between for faster production and shipping time.
First version was way too small for real world use, but it did help me understand the process and ways to improve the overall design. I also quickly identified some weak points in the design where the, somewhat brittle ABS plastic might crack or warp. It also proved the concept had potential.
Second version was a simple 3/4 camera screw glued into the hole. This worked fine but has the potential to damage things in my bag from the exposed screw. The mounting hole was also not quite right, and required some extra filing down with a Dremel drilling tool.
It worked pretty well but still had a long way to go.
The next step was to find a better way for attaching the ball mount. It needed to be small, solid and quick to attach and detach. I spent a good amount of time on Amazon and Alibaba, looking for all types of mounts and quick releasing hot shoes, and thanks to Amazon’s overnight delivery, I was able to test out a few different types at minimal cost and time.
I explored a few different ball mounts sizes to try and find the optimal size and flexibility.
The most recent build of the prototype has covered all the initial problems I encountered. I printed it with resin, which makes it 100% solid, instead of the lattice infill ABS has. This added a fair bit more weight to the mount, but found that the extra weight helped keep the camera steading when shooting.
Last but not least, I sanded it down a bit and gave it a clear coat of lacquer to give it a shine finish.
In the end
I am really happy with the final results of the prototype. It’s small, easy to carry, light, quick to attach and detach and most importantly, holds my camera very steady. It’s become part of my every day carry, and I have started taking many more slow shutter shots as a result.
Here are a few of the shots taken with it around Shibuya and Tokyo Bay.
I have looked at ways to bring the overall cost down. Bulk ordering parts and getting a cast made to move to injection molding instead of 3d printing. A much higher investment up front but then each piece could be made at very minimal cost. This would only be worth pursuing if there was enough interest to warrant making a fair amount of them. At this stage I am happy with my 3d printed version.
If you are interested in the project, drop me a line and we can chat!
Thanks for reading.