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Senior project lends photo finish to Penn College career

Boettcher's camera documents the ATHS, a building perfectly suited for panoramic photography.
Boettcher’s camera documents the ATHS, a building perfectly suited for panoramic photography.
A portrait of the artist as a near-grad, putting his prototype to work
A portrait of the artist as a near-grad, putting his prototype to work
Alongside The Victorian House, another widely appreciated campus scene
Alongside The Victorian House, another widely appreciated campus scene
The photojournalist takes his invention to a hometown haunt: the Old Bridge Township Raceway in Middlesex County, N.J.
The photojournalist takes his invention to a hometown haunt: the Old Bridge Township Raceway in Middlesex County, N.J.

Student photographer J.J. Boettcher, graduating May 18 with a bachelor’s degree in engineering design technology, combined several passions into his capstone project: a panoramic camera built through additive manufacturing.

Boettcher, soon to begin employment with Construction Specialties Inc. in Muncy, said his original plan was more a product of curiosity than a senior project.

“Like many other photographers, I was always drawn to the ‘cinematic’ look of panoramic cameras – like the Hasselblad X-Pan and Fuji GX17 – but they cost anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 so I obviously wasn’t able to buy one.”

He had a small 3D printer at the time, but it could only print about 5 inches in any direction, hardly big enough for a camera that’s 11 inches long.

“I just started messing around making models in Autodesk Fusion 360 and, during this, I came across a larger-scale printer capable of printing with a volume of 12 inches by 12 inches by 16 inches and it was a very affordable price, so I figured it was worth it. The actual design was pretty straightforward, since a film camera is just a light-tight box with a hole in the front.”

Of course, there were some calculations for the focus and how far the film plane needed to be behind the lens but, other than that, Boettcher said it was a matter of putting things where they fit and look decent.

“After the design and 100+ hours of printing, I had a prototype ready. This led to testing, developing the film, seeing the errors, fixing the models, reprinting and repeating this whole cycle.”

All told, the camera is made of about 15 individually printed pieces. It uses lenses from a 4 by 5 large-format camera, takes four shots per roll of film and has levels on top to prevent distortion.

“It still has some minor issues, as do most products in their early-prototype stages,” said the industrious soon-to-be-alumnus, but he hopes to have the final model finished within the next few months and available to the public.

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