A version of this article originally appeared in Gear Patrol Magazine with the headline “In Good Hands.” Subscribe today
The camera is not a device normally associated with artisanship. Almost invariably, buying a decent camera means choosing a comprehensive ecosystem carefully managed by the likes of Sony, Nikon or Canon. Once you pick your body and lenses, there’s little room for creativity or building out a bespoke setup. Right?
“You’d be surprised how many people modify their cameras,” says Dora Goodman, an Austria-based builder of beautiful, handcrafted cameras. “Many like to customize their old and even new [cameras]. This ‘let me change this’ and ‘let me improve that’ has always been part of photography. I find it inspiring that photographers have the need and motivation to customize their gear.”
Making a camera from scratch is normally a long, complicated process, but Goodman has created something of a wormhole for avid photographers and made it much easier for them to build their own cameras. All her creations are open-source, meaning anybody can download the blueprints for free and create their own version. If that person doesn’t have access to a 3D printer (which, to be fair, most people don’t), Goodman also sells preprinted camera kits.
“The customer only has to buy the magazine and the lens, and it’s all ready to be assembled.”
“I print the whole body, provide all the necessary elements for assembling it, with all the instructions, packed together in a stylish box,” she says.
Her first open-sourced modular camera, the Goodman One, was designed for 120-format film. It’s just the framework, of course; photographers can easily add their own lenses and bellows for focusing, as well as a digital or analog back. But while her open-sourced designs vary in complexity and assembly time, all of Goodman’s cameras are similarly medium-format and modular, to give the owner creative control over the type of lens or the back, and whether they want to shoot digital or film.
Aside from being more affordable, Goodman’s modular printed designs are more lightweight than conventional medium-format cameras and easier to carry on the shoulder; mainstream models are clunky, heavy and expensive — a bad combination for portability and spontaneity.
“You feel much more at ease with them than with [a camera] that costs a fortune,” Goodman says, “but the pictures are of equal quality.”