The Focal Camera

What is The Focal Camera?

The Focal Camera is an open-source modular camera prototyping system.

By offering these designs free for non-commercial use by anyone we strive to improve the ability of making handmade cameras for everyone. It allows for complex cameras that might seem daunting at first, such as SLRs, stereo or panoramic cameras and countless others, including even custom lens design.

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The Focal Camera aims to take a critical look at how cameras are constructed and how design choices influence not only our usage of them, but also the photos they create.

While many people own a camera or have the option to buy one, the choices made by commercial camera companies might not always be ones we would want or desire. Such companies first and foremost exist to create profit; in a way creating a capitalistic camera, one first and foremost to be sold, not used.

Over the ages cameras have gone from something as simple as a sliding box to an electronic maze, impenetrable for anyone who wishes it was different and offering no way of alteration except for rare circumstances. The mechanisms in contemporary cameras are in essence rather simple however: Even something like the mirror in the SLR camera stems from the mirror in the camera obscura.

Even complex cameras can be made in simple ways. By creating a modular camera platform not only can we create such cameras, but also understand their mechanisms and how to achieve complex functions in simple ways. On this website you will find a variety of designs and instructions that will allow you to build cameras of your own design and participate in the creation of further modules and open DIY cameras.


All modules can be combined in a large variety, in a similar way to how lego works. One can re-arrange the camera until pleasing before fixing it permanently and seal for use.

The modules are lasercut out of any 3mm plate material. Whilst lasercutters are expensive machines, there are many fablabs, maker and hackerspaces that allow people to use them freely, bringing the costs of these modules down immensely. Each module comes with instructions that show how to put it together and what to look out for, but keep in mind these all go hand in hand with the general instructions found underneath.

Some materials are less flexible, such as that of mirrors, for which often front-silvered mirrors are required. For many of such materials there are possible ways of creating cheap functional alternatives (Such as the removal of backing of acrylic mirrors in this case).

Lenses can either be pre-existing lenses that can be fit to lensboards or created from scratch using broken or re-used elements. Old & cheap zoom lenses can be disassembled for a variety of lens elements that allow the creation of a new lens, simply by playing around.


Some of the cameras and photos have been made by me or during a two-day workshop at V2_, Rotterdam on the 20th and 21st of June. All photos were developed with Caffenol developer to show the participants the ease of achieving photographs outside of the existing and often hard to get chemistry. The short timeframe of the workshop did meant not all cameras were fully finished, thus consider the photographs an expectation of what one can expect from a first try-out.



General instructions

When using the modules to prototype without film anything is possible: Light leaks are minimal and won't ruin the testing phase. However, when film is loaded, the camera will have to be permanently fixed and made light-tight. There are various ways to do this, but some simple steps help in the process:

1. Most 3mm material is not fully opaque. Even most wood plates transmit some light, hence the inside needs to be coated in black paint to fully block any light from passing through the material.

2. All connections need to be glued and fully sealed. Two simple ways exist to do this: The first is black tape at each section, the other to seal it from the inside with a layer of clay in the intersecting seams. A combination of the two can also be used, one can never be too thorough: Even the smallest of cracks or seams can get in your way (Unless that was the plan all along!).

3. Make sure the lens is properly located by putting a groundglass module in the place of your filmback, or by putting one against the filmplane.

4. Make sure all cover plates are fully fixed and will not let go. Some material will allow you to 'snap-fit' the modules together, others will need to be glued fully.

If at first your camera does not succeed or has issues, do not give up: Often they are easily fixed. If you require help with your camera or are unsure where the problem is, feel free to sign up for the mailing list and sent some photos of the camera and its results.


If you skipped ahead to this section but plan on using the designs, I highly suggest reading at least the general instructions.

All designs are continiously work in progress and in a variety of stages of functioning. Inside each download you will find the instructions and designs, the designs have the sizes, required thickness and / or material as their filename. The color of the link shows the phase of development for each module:

Red means it has been tested but non-functional at this moment or does not adhere to the project standards.

Orange means it has been tested but has some slight issues, but other wise functional.

Green means it has been tested and is fully functional.

Purple means untested as of this moment.

A question mark means there are currently no instructions. If you want something to work without much work, I highly suggest sticking with green-rated modules.

Do keep in mind that as we are in an early phase of the project, detailed information and explanations might still be missing. For questions regarding assembly or usage, feel free to sign up for the mailing list.

6x6 Film back

Base module

Half module



Lens module

SLR module

Light bender

Optical viewfinder


Waterhouse aperture

Wireframe viewfinder

Filmplane groundglass

Central Shutter

LF Lens Adapters

Pivot shutter

Trichrome splitter

Mid splitter

Focus unit

More modules are currently still in progress.

Contact & participate

The Focal Camera is a project started to help people around me to create their own cameras and allow for a more playful way of designing cameras.

However, there are many modules that need work or ideas to be explored: I would like to invite everyone to partake in this project and work together to figure out cheap ways of creating DIY cameras, offering different or new designs, changing existing ones or even taking completely new paths related to DIY cameras.

If any of this interests you, I highly urge you to sign up for the mailing list. Don't feel daunted if you're less knowledgeable on cameras: The goal is to learn such things.

Mathijs van Oosterhoudt (