The ‘Maker Movement’: Clint O’Connor Creates 3D Printed Pinhole Cameras

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clint oconnor

Clint O’Connor

Some people see the world as it is; others see it as it could be.

Clint O’Connor, a retired engineer with an impressive career behind him, is among the ‘Maker Movement,’ people who see the potential for creation in the world around them and use 3D printing to bring their visions to life. O’Connor spoke recently with CGTrader, detailing his background as an engineer, his insight into the realm of images, and his perspective on the place of 3D printing as the world keeps turning.

pinhole cameras NM History Museum

exhibit at the New Mexico History Museum

With a BA in physics, electrical engineering coursework at MIT, and a long career with Dell from which he retired as a Distinguished Technologist with 35 US and 9 international patents under his belt, O’Connor was not one to go quiet into the good night of retirement. He once started his own company, and now some years later, O’Connor’s entrepreneurial spirit is driving him once again.

O’Connor has long attached a particular value to the importance of images; you see, he’s deaf. Images are truly his window into the world, for understanding, communicating, and interacting. One vein of interacting with visual images is via a pinhole camera: O’Connor “loves the unique perspective of pinhole cameras and the analog quality of film.” While in the past he’d made his own pinhole cameras from traditional materials including cardboard, wood, and metal cans, since 2013 he’s become more cutting-edge with his chosen technology.

In 2013, Clint O’Connor got a Solidoodle 3D printer. This proved to be just the inspiration he needed to take his pinhole camera fabrication another step forward, able to make them out of lighter weight plastic, using less costly materials, and ultimately crafting more robust finished pieces. O’Connor’s first creation was the Flyer, now featured in the New Mexico History Museum, and the first 3D printed camera to be Kickstarter funded. After the Flyer came the Clipper, the first 3D printed panoramic pinhole camera.

In speaking with CGTrader, O’Connor noted, “I’ve been a maker since I was a child.” This keeps with the spirit of the rising Maker Movement, wherein those who, like O’Connor, spent their youthful years taking things apart and putting them together again can continue these engineering pursuits as they seek to understand technology and use it to put things together in new and unique ways.

3d printed pinhole Flyer

The Flyer: a 3D printed pinhole camera, designed by Clint O’Connor

In O’Connor’s words:

“Really, a maker is a creative person who makes new things out of any materials or old objects at hand. I would say a modern maker’s tools are 3D design and computer-controlled laser cutters, CNC, and 3D printing. Modern making is a mix of additive and subtractive manufacturing with a shift toward additive manufacturing and minimizing waste and energy usage.”

While finished projects are certainly a triumph — O’Connor’s finished 3D printed pinhole cameras take some impressive photos — the part of the process that brings a smile to a maker’s face is the design and prototyping phase. Keeping in mind that the creative process is just that — a process — O’Connor said, “There are a lot of failures on the way but each iteration solves a new issue, and it is inspiring to arrive at the final design.” Through trial-and-error and ongoing attempts to improve previous versions, a maker can create not only a final product but a good final product, one which has been tested and proved and improved.

O’Connor finds further delight in his work because it brings together two distinct, and strong, communities: photographers and 3D printers. Both pursuits require inquisitive and creative people, and by bringing them together O’Connor, quite literally, helps them to see a bigger picture.

magnolia beach taken w pinhole camera

Photo taken with Flyer 3D printed pinhole camera: Magnolia Beach, TX

Of the overall 3D printing revolution, O’Connor sees a far-reaching impact:

“3D printing is a true disruptive technology. Many people deride the idea that everyone will have a printer at home or that everyone will learn 3D, and thus discount the future impact. As 3D printers can handle more materials and become cheaper and easier to use, the applications will expand, and ultimately many current mass produced products will be replaced by products that are 3D produced or incorporate 3D printing. I think the true revolution lies among the young people today who will grow up learning to design in 3D and accept that they can make what they want as a matter of course.”

Discuss O’Connor’s creation in the 3D Printed Pinhole Camera forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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