Designing a 3D-Printed Phone Camera Lens Mount

I’ve long wanted to order a 3D print from Shapeways or Sculpteo, but wasn’t interested in buying a meaningless trinket designed by a stranger. The novelty of 3D printing lies in the physical manifestation your own idea.

So before I had an idea, I needed a problem to solve. Luckily I have a lot of those. I have a small, cheap fisheye lens that’s designed for smartphone cameras, but it’s suggested method of mounting the lens to the camera is decidedly less than smart. The kit came with a small metal ring, like a washer, that you are supposed to glue to your phone, and the lens itself has a magnet that holds it to the ring. I actually did stick the ring to my iPhone 4 with its provided sticky goop, but then the phone had a slight protuberance and thus wouldn’t sit flat on a table (which really doesn’t matter, but annoyed me). Soon the ring fell off the glass-backed iPhone, so I just used the lens by holding it up to the camera. That works but it’s pretty cumbersome.

More expensive kits come with a nice mount that slides onto the corner of the phone, holding the wide angle lens in place. They also cost over fifty bucks while the lens itself only costs around eight bucks. So I decided to invent a solution. Or rather, to make my own knockoff of the expensive solution.

I’m already a bit familiar with modeling and design software as I’ve always had a cursory interest in 3D modeling and animation, and I was lucky enough to take a brief AutoCAD course in high school. For the most part I taught myself when I was a teenager by pirating high-end software. I didn’t really want to sail the high seas of The Pirate Bay anymore, so after a quick googlin’ I found that Autodesk has a suite of cool, free design apps that are oriented towards amateurs.

And so I measured my phone with a ruler, sketched my design on a post-it note, and went to work. Ninety percent of modelling in 3D is simply trying to figure out how to get the software to do what you want it to do and 123D has a very approachable interface. I do wish it allowed for a multiple window view to see top/side/front elevations of your object simultaneously.
Anywho, I designed my widget to the best of my abilities, uploaded it to Shapeways, and ordered. Tada!


It took about a week to manufacture for about $9 bucks before it shipped. And it fits!


The mount snugly slides onto the iPhone and holds the lens without any glue or magnets. It’s a hair too tight on the phone itself, as I made the gap exactly the same thickness as the phone at 9.3mm without any leeway, but it has a strong grip. I’m a little concerned it’ll scratch the camera’s lens when sliding on and off. Then again, it’s already scratched up from riding around in my pocket for a couple years.

What no one tells you is that 3D printing is addictive, and designing practical solutions like this are a gateway drug towards making inane silly things.


While looking around for free modelling software I found that Pixologic has a free version of its Zbrush software called Sculptris. Zbrush is different from most modelers in that it emulates sculpting in clay.  The resulting high-polygon meshes are very messy and complicated, which is problematic for animation and video games, but not for stationary figures. And Shapeways’ algorithms when you send them a 3D model are surprisingly forgiving when it comes to messy meshes.

That matters, because polygons by themselves are impossible objects; they are 2D objects suspended in 3D space.  Polygons have no thickness unto themselves (think papercraft but the paper is infinitely thin), so the 3D object only makes sense to the printers if the figure is completely closed, or “watertight,” thus simulating a solid object. Some of the models I uploaded to Shapeways were messy, but their robots are evidently smart enough to ignore and fix minor problems. Anyway, Sculptris is a lot of fun to tinker around with even if you have no background in modeling. It’s just digital Play-Doh.

The ultimate goal for me? An original, 3D printed tiki mug. So far I’m just experimenting and learning, but I’ll get there.

Launch. A Day to Remember.

Hi guys and gals,
Andy here, founder and CEO of Cocopunk Industries. I’m excited to announce that today we are launching our very first iOS app, AutoComplain. It’s a groundbreaking new way to interact with your friends.

It’s been a long time coming, and really quite a journey. I remember when I had nothing but two lithe interns and a receptionist working out of my walk-in closet late into the night. After that first brainstorming session, I thought we’d never be able to accomplish our dream, but then when the brain lightning subsided and I changed my pants, my vision was clear and my team was biting at the chomp.

Today, I think it’s safe to say we’re going to change to world. It’s pretty exciting, amazing, and magical.

Tonight, join us at the launch party. Details pending. The interns are lagging and haven’t confirmed the venue.

Stay tuned.


Update: The intern passed out. Probably too much excitement, or exhaustion. Trying to feed her cookies. Oreos.

Update: The intern is okay but we’re afraid she might have inhaled some of the cookie crumbs. Trying to call expert at Nabisco.

Update: Lucy the intern quit unexpectedly. No two week notice. Unprofessional. She says I can have the party “Where the Sun Don’t Shine.” Probably the name of a new club. Checking Yelp.

Update: Finally reached expert at Nabisco. He says I shouldn’t chase after the intern. Checking her Facebook status.

Update: Does anyone know my Facebook password? Intern was in charge of the social networking. Nabisco doctor no longer returning my calls.

Update: Oh god having unexpected brainstorm. Can’t find thinking cap. Someone bring aspirin plz!

Update: Brain lightning stopped. Killer ideas but no one around to take notes. Something about a location-aware tea kettle and Doogie Howser reunion show.

Update: I’ve been told our app has been removed from the app store.  Tragic. Supposedly crashes the phone if you hold it wrong. I can’t confirm because the interns took the computers and I use a Nokia. Venue for the pity party TBD.


Hi guys and gals,

Andy here, founder of Cocopunk Industries. We’re pretty excited about our magical new product.

It’s called AutoComplain, and it makes bitching and whining to all of your online friends easier than ever.

In this day and age, you probably don’t have time to log into every social networking site to update your status, especially when you want to tell everyone about every single little inconvenience.

Luckily, AutoComplain does the work for you. Just choose from a list of pre-written complaints and we’ll let all of your friends know that you feel a little bit fluish, or that you had to wait a really long time at the bank. We employ several professional writers to come up with the amazing natural, organic complaints that work in a variety of situations.

The world is facing hard times, but that doesn’t mean your whining should go unnoticed.

Thanks for checking out our app.

Attaining Imperfection

Like most people with a modern phone, I like playing with applications that emulate the look of various types old film when taking pictures. Namely:


at the Mexicali/Calexico borderCameraBag:

And the latest app darling, Instagram:

Transbay terminal
As it happens, I knew one of the founders of Instagram years ago in undergrad, and he was a nice fellow, so I’ve been using the app.


Is it silly to degrade the quality of a digital image so that it evokes more difficult and more imperfect media? No. So long as you keep copies of the unfiltered photo, of course. Film prints and instant or cheap camera images with light leaks, chromatic aberrations, and other such antiquated ‘imperfections’ evoke the nostalgic sensation of flipping through old family photo albums of birthdays and Christmases past, of ancestors, and lithe parents with newborns. The musk of ancient paper, the crackle of the protective plastic… The experience may not be universal, but the romance of an idealized past, however imaginative and far from facts, can be quite appealing.

As with all art, the associations and emotional connotations that are called forth by an image or sentence or song are more important than the literal representation.

Moreover, applying such effects is an act of discovery, just like making prints in the dim red light of dark room. Actual photo and print development is its own difficult art form and technical exercise, but the digitization and instant gratification of photo apps provide similar satisfaction – without the hard work.

Sorry for my word salad; here are some more pictures. I’ve enjoyed working with 35mm film, but it is a time-consuming and expensive hobby. For reference and contrast from the previous images, here are some of my actual photographs taken on cameras that actually make a clicking sound that isn’t prerecorded:

Well, to tell the truth, photo apps are popular because they have sex appeal: we see celebrities and rock stars and models represented in such stylized forms of photography on album covers and in movies, and we want to be among them. But reminiscing about photo albums makes for a nicer story.

iPad is more Disney than Disney

The form factor and interactivity of the iPad makes me excited for the future of digital print media, but I wonder how standardization will occur across different hardware platforms running different OS’s.

The idea of stale PDF-style documents is dead, and yet HTML is not currently sufficient to provide application-style interactivity. Flash filled a gap, but Apple killed that. When Windows-based or Linux-based svelte tablets arrive, how do present media in a standard that is perfect in all platforms?

For these new generation of portable, casual computers, web pages need to be completely reinvented. I also think, related to that particular venue in which the interface is essentially invisible, that content will no longer be free – because a digital, interactive magazine will never be able to support itself simply with ad revenue. I subscribe to a cable provider to have a huge variety of content available all of the time; I subscribe to Netflix to consume movie after movie at a flat rate; I subscribe to a few magazines so that I can always have fresh words to read; in the end, everything that is worth attention will fall behind subscription paywalls.

It might be sad to think that, but I also think that now is a very exciting time.

Sony’s 3D Display

Similar displays exist with rapidly spinning blinky light mechanisms that utilize persistence of vision. You know? tough to explain.  It’s hard to tell if this has an internal spinny thing, or if it is, possibly, a suspended three dimensional grid of lights, creating an effect where each light represents a single block, as if images are constructed like Legos, but with individual points of light.

Fun with the Fisheye Lomography Camera


Nowadays my phone is my most-often-used camera, which is unfortunate because of its lack of quality but advantageous because I always have it with me. When I want to take ‘serious’ pictures, i.e. pictures that look halfway decent, I use a Panasonic Lumix DMC LZ2—it ran me about two hundred bucks four years ago, and it takes sharp images with vivid colors with a compact 6x zoom lens. I hear the newest Lumix brand cameras are really nice too.

But I’ve also enjoyed shooting film over the past few years. Just 35mm, sometimes black and white. If you have a dark room, it’s fun to make prints directly from black and white projections onto light-sensitive paper, but that’s not my favorite part of the process; I wasn’t very good at it! It is neat to see the images appear in the chemical baths, though.

I prefer shooting color transparent slide film. The disadvantage to slides is that it’s difficult to get good scans; inevitably there ends up being a lot of post-processing to attain what they ‘really’ look like, when I hold the slides up to the sunlight and squint at the tiny frames. They’re also relatively expensive.

With all this in mind I purchased a Fisheye Lomography camera. A lomo camera is one typically made of plastic parts, with a plastic lens; the inaccuracies of the camera result in compelling images with bleeding colors. With an SLR you might be trying to get a sharp, real-to-life image, but lomography allows for dream-like surreal scenes that appear to be from another era.


It’s a neat camera for about fifty bucks, and this model takes 35mm film. Usually I enjoy using zoom lenses to capture small slices of a larger scene, and to make myself invisible to the subject. I chose the fisheye lens, though, because it is essentially the opposite of a zoom lens and it would be a challenge to use.

The fisheye lens squishes a whole scene into a small space, which means a close-up subject become surprisingly small. You practically have to put the camera against someone’s nose if you want them to take up most of the frame! In fact, the lens has a crazy depth of field that ranges from about three inches to infinity— you can’t adjust it, and the whole scene is in focus.

Since I don’t like people to be aware of the camera, this makes photography with the lomo difficult! You have to be really sly to take a picture three inches away from someone without them knowing— or at least, without them reacting in the picture. This would be a good camera to takes pictures of friends, however, I really only carry a camera when I’m by myself.


The other interesting thing about this camera is that you can’t adjust the exposure, so sunlight is a must. I haven’t experimented with the flash because I prefer daylight. These shots are from 400 speed film and some were underexposed, surprisingly.

The other big thing is that you can’t see what you’re shooting! There’s a semi-functional viewfinder that approximates the fisheye lens, but it’s entirely perfunctory. Instead, you just use your eyes and your gut and you point and shoot. I often shoot from the hip. It’s fun, in contrast to all the buttons and switches of most SLRs. Then again, film is unforgiving and irrevocable so a lot of shots are wasted.


These pictures are with high quality Fuji film, color transparent slides. Almost ten bucks a pop, with about thirty photos on a roll. I don’t remember what their brand is called. Kodak stuff is great too, but a little more expensive. The colors really shout, but like I said, it’s difficult to get good digital scans. People often use cheap grocery store negative color film in lomo cameras, anyway;  of course the cost is appealing but I haven’t tried it yet.

The long and short of it is that it’s a fun camera for the price, but I still use my digital camera if I want sharp, clear images.