35mm Accessory Viewfinder for the Budget Conscious / The Wonders of 3D Printing

In the last few years there seems to have been loads of innovation around the democratisation of manufacturing, with 3D printing being – at least to me – almost the poster-boy for the movement. It consistently impresses me what people are able to churn out of these machines. Unfortunately for me, as an individual, I don’t find myself having have compatible skills – I can dream up ideas, but to bring them to life I need other people around me with the right skills in the relevant software etc. Case in point, working with Steve Lloyd of Chroma Camera to help me bring pixl-latr to life.

Another idea I’ve had many times before is the rehousing of viewfinder optics from point & shoot cameras to be used as rangefinder accessory viewfinders. I’ve made my own before using Sugru, but it’s fair to say it wasn’t the final word in quality. The viewfinder I want to show you today of a much higher standard.

My sugru finder on the right, vs. my new 3D printed 35mm finder on the left

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a chap named Robert Jagitsch. He wanted to send me his 3D printed viewfinder to look at and possibly review. As I already have an interest in this sort of thing, I was of course really interested to see how well he’d succeeded.

It is in fact a 35mm viewfinder made from the optics of a Canon AF-7. This isn’t the first time a viewfinder made from one of these cameras has been featured on this website – a few years ago Frank Lehnen made one too; you can see his efforts here. This particular donor camera is known for its very large and very bright viewfinder. This does mean that adaptations of the viewfinder are also fairly large – but for all that might bring as a disadvantage, the brightness definitely makes up for it.

The quality of Robert’s viewfinder 3D printing is very high – though this is apparently what you get through Shapeways. But more than that, the design is spot on. It’s really well thought out, so it looks really smart. It also fits perfectly into the shoe on my M3, which is more than can be said for even some of the commercially produced viewfinders I’ve tried in the past.

The ridiculous thing is, if you wanted to buy yourself an off the shelf viewfinder made by the likes of Voigtlander, it would likely cost you a shit load more than this one would! Of course the Voigtlander would be higher quality, but the laws of diminishing returns apply, and if you just needed something for occasional use the quality of this finder would likely be more than adequate! Just watch the plastic optics, as they will scratch easier than glass.

Possibly the big downside here is that if you want to make this viewfinder, you have to unmake a perfectly good camera. As such, ideally, a broken one would be the best candidate.

Robert sent me a couple of snaps of the DIY build process:

You can see here the optics just slot in to Roberts design and the top clicks into place

It doesn’t look particularly difficult… though I’d warn anyone opening a compact camera with a flash to mind that flash capacitor – you only let one of those things shock you once!

Good work Robert! Hats off to you, a very fine job!

If you’d like to get your hands on one of these, you can do via Robert’s Shapeways page here

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17 thoughts on “35mm Accessory Viewfinder for the Budget Conscious / The Wonders of 3D Printing”

  1. This certainly looks the part and wouldn’t appear out of place atop any r/f camera. Auxiliary v/fs seem ridiculously priced, whether new or used, so this looks an excellent way to get an inexpensive 35mm FoV one for relative peanuts, even including a donor AF-7. In fact, I so like the idea that I’ve just bagged an AF-7 (spares/repair) on ebay for £5.94, inc. postage. Just need now to pop over and order the 3D housing.

  2. Hamish, just tried to purchase the v/f but it is not clear if I need to purchase both parts, top and bottom as, strangely, they are listed separately. Also it seems I need to register and sign up first. Can I use your good offices to clarify this for me, please, as I can’t even contact the seller without doing so?

    1. Terry, you do need to order both parts. I don’t think you need to register a new account. There should be an option to check out as a guest.

      1. Aaron, apologies for late response. Thanks for letting me know. I will now pop over and order the set. Incidentally, the donor camera arrived and although it was listed as not working, when I inserted the two AA batteries and closed the back the wind on motor whirred for a second or two and thereafter the shutter would fire each time, but with no film loaded there was no motor whirring away. The flash also fired. I’ve no “practise” film to play with and so I’ve no idea if the camera is fully working or not. It is of little relevance as I’m going to dismantle it anyway.

        1. Hamish,

          Unit arrived and I’ve successfully completed the installation of the lens elements. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting it to be so easy as I’d anticipated manufacturing tolerance issues, but the lenses simply popped in with just a little pressure to push them home and the job was completed by pushing on the top plate.
          The one difference from Robert’s dismantling of the camera, at least for my AF-7, relates to the final procedure for separating the body to get at the finder. I notice Robert used a data back Owl model. With the AF-7 undo all the screws as indicated – the internal one by the film take-up spool is at the lower end, and you will find 3 screws around the tripod bush to remove.
          You will find that the body doesn’t separate by the back release button, but the right hand side pulls up and some force will be needed to separate the body as there is a piece of double sided tape on top of the v/f housing. Simply use force to pull on the right side to break the tape seal and pull out the entire back portion of the body. It still won’t be possible to access the lenses until the lens housing which is part of a the AF section will need to be physically removed using applied force to lever the whole unit out. Then the v/f top can be removed to access the lenses. Note that these do no simply fall out but will need to be coaxed out.
          Do a try and fit before placing on the new housing top.

  3. Evette Rodriguez

    Hello and thank you for the article on this viewfinder. Very good idea indeed! My question is this, can I use it on any camera that has a hot shoe? And, more specifically, the Minolta 7s? Thanks again!

  4. Thanks for the tip! I’ve ordered up the pieces, and have a donor Snappy on the way. I can’t wait to put it to use.

  5. A good idea. The requirement to source an “owl” style P&S will put many people off, me included and I own a couple of donors. As you say, a capacitor can make your eyes light up unless discharged correctly. Affordable shoe mounted viewfinders in popular focal lengths are definitely a gap in the market. All those FSU rangefinders, Barnack Leicas, the Bessa L and similar cameras used with lenses other than 50mm. Nothing fancy, a plastic reverse Galilean like numerous cheap compacts would do the job.

  6. I got myself one of these a few months ago. I didn’t really need it but I thought for that price what the! Anyway it was mega easy to put together & it seems nice & bright to me. I haven’t actually used it as yet, but I will, honest, I will.

  7. I couldn’t have said my any better… you only let one of those flash modules/capacitors shock you once! Haha good read and very interesting. I have been looking into getting into 3D printing myself, to do stuff like this exactly. Rehousing point & shoot lenses and misc. item like this viewfinder or even possibly designing and creating affordable camera system from scratch. It’s all possible though 3D printing. Good read.

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  9. I’ve been using this finder for a few months now, mostly on the Leica II, and I can’t find a thing to complain about, which is unusual for me.

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