Film photographers will soon be able to take part in a Kickstarter for a special new high-quality half-frame 35mm film camera that will allow them to extend the life of their now costly 35mm film rolls. That camera is the Alfie Tych.
The self-funded Alfie Tych half-frame camera, which includes multiple lenses, is designed and machined by Dave from Alfie Cameras (based in the UK) who named the family business after his son, Alfie. The camera was named from a play on the word Diptych, meaning two images side by side.
Alfie Cameras is looking for Beta testers ahead of the Kickstarter campaign. ‘Beta testers will be asked to provide feedback on the camera and help refine the product details ahead of the official launch. If you are interested in becoming a Beta tester you are requested to register your details on the Alfie Cameras website (www.alfiecameras.com).’ (source: Alfie Cameras)
Dave was kind enough to chat with me about his new camera as well as his background and what led him to create the Alfie Tych. He also gave me a video tour of his garden workshop which impressively includes a CNC machine (computer-driven machine tool to produce parts out of solid material). It was exciting to see behind the scenes and hear about Dave’s journey!
The Design Stage & Alfie Tych Materials
Having a professional career in design engineering and a passion for photography, it was a natural step for Dave to start working on his own product which began during the Covid-19 lockdown. He says he wanted to create a family business around film photography that would provide beautiful and inventive tools for photographers, tools that would allow them to create images in flexible ways while spending less time on a screen and having fun.
I asked about Dave’s preferred genres of photography, which are landscape and wildlife. He tells me exciting stories of photographing local foxes and even badgers, which you have to be very quiet around and likely only have one or two chances to click the shutter before they scuttle away. He also enjoys working on projects and tells me about using an Olympus XA2 to document family holidays on the Isle of Wight but also to tell the story of his workplace closing due to a company merger. You can see more of Dave’s work on his Instagram here.
We talked about one of the biggest benefits of film photography which is getting off that screen. In the same breath, we mentioned the rising costs of film and photographers’ attention being turned to ways to save money but still enjoy their passion. This is where half-frame cameras come in and why Alfie Tych is well designed to succeed in today’s economic situation.
Materials & Making
In the process of creating an early design, Nikon DX shutters were used, these cover half-frame nicely, and despite switching to a cheaper micro shutter the decision to make it a half-frame camera stuck. An added benefit of the new shutter is it is near silent in operation, making the camera a great contender for street photographers shooting on film.
The Alfie Tych is made from a few different materials and processes as there are both electrical and hardware components. The non-electrical components are part-machined and part-3d printed at the time of writing. These 3d-printed parts Dave has recently upgraded to machined aluminum pieces for the final prototype to send out to beta testers.
The electrical components include a circuit board which is first designed in CAD software and then manufactured using a photo etching process. Currently, the tiny surface mount components that make up the control circuit boards are soldered by hand, the final boards will however be assembled by “pick and place” robots.
Auto & Manual Controls
The camera features both auto and manual controls. Dave mentions to me that he was inspired by an Olympus Pen half-frame camera he picked up in a shop. The one downside was that he couldn’t choose to use manual controls if he wanted to. This led him to design the Tych to have both. He wanted users like himself to have the flexibility of choice when it comes to exposure modes.
The Tych also has the flexibility of choice when it comes to lenses. There are three lenses Dave has designed and (drum roll) there is room for a fourth.
The first lens to talk about is the pinhole lens. Pinhole cameras are some of the “simplest” cameras that are used to make images today. The only major parts of the pinhole camera are the pinhole lens” and the box of the camera where the film is placed within. No mirror, no shutter mechanisms, no electronics, only a device to control how long the pinhole is open to light. However, making the “lens” is not as easy as sticking a pin through a piece of material and calling it a day.
Dave writes in his blog on the Alfie Cameras website, ‘You need a clean edge to avoid strange artifacts on your image whether it be flares or blurriness. A thin material is essential as you don’t want to create a light tunnel for reflections, not too thin mind as assembly becomes a challenge. We looked at laser cutting, CNC machining and photo etching for our pinholes and in the end decided photo etching was the best option for the Tych.’
Recycling F8 Lenses from Disposable Cameras
The next lens will be an F8 meniscus lens which Dave has repurposed from disposable cameras sourced from Analogue Wonderland. He says the Kodak Funsaver disposable cameras are the best options out of all that he has tested. He does have plans to try to recycle the leftover plastic from the cameras but that’s a project for another day.
Zone Sieve Lens
The most complex lens to make on the Tych is a Zone Sieve lens. This is the third lens that is designed for the camera. Dave talks me through the process and I am amazed at the wonders that exist within photography.
Zone Sieve lenses are created so that lightwaves interfere with each other giving the images a rather dreamy look. First, the lens design has to be created to be a specific pattern that will achieve the desired look. Then it is photographed with panchromatic film with deep blacks. The most important part is getting the scaling right. This film is then used as the lens and acts like a filter.
Fourth Lens Developments
There is space for a fourth lens which Daves hopes will be made from glass optics. However, this process requires a partner to manufacture the glass lenses. Dave has found one in the USA, but the process is slower so this might be something in a future version of the Tych.
At the time I talked to Dave, he was finishing the final prototypes with the three lenses to be able to provide to several beta testers. These beta testers will try the camera, provide feedback, and also share the word on social media channels.
Kickstarter & Future Plans
Right now, Dave’s plan is to have two versions of the Tych available as part of the Kickstarter. The first will be a simplified version to be able to make it available at a lower price point. However, when you think about all that has gone into designing and producing this camera, as well as the longevity of the materials used, the camera is a high-quality, artisanal, well-engineered product. It is meant to last. There will be a fully featured version for a higher backing level for those that want the full-featured Tych camera.
If you have been lamenting the modern-day non-production of new film cameras by manufacturers that aren’t plastic or disposable, this is your chance to support the Alfie Tych project and family business.
Dave is exhibiting the Alfie Tych at the Birmingham NEC Photography Show this September 2022. Be sure to stop by the Analogue Spotlight pod section where you can talk to Dave and check out this brilliant new half-frame 35mm film camera!
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