Coffee Stirrer Camera

By Phil King. Posted

This isn’t the first time Adrian Hanft has built an innovative photography device: back in 2004, his Lego pinhole camera went viral. Now he has created an even weirder camera which makes use of 23,248 coffee stirrer straws and a Raspberry Pi High Quality Camera to capture stunning mosaic-like images.

“I've always loved pinhole cameras,” he tells us. “As I played with [them], I wondered if I could create a camera with hundreds of holes instead of a single point of light. That little idea virus took hold and eventually I found myself buying out Wal-Mart's entire inventory of straws to test the idea.”

He worked on the new camera for about a year, building three prototypes before arriving at the final design. “It’s funny how ideas seem like they will work in your head, but then when you build it in real life, things fail in unusual ways. For example, I went to great lengths to find the right surface for the image to be projected on inside the camera. At one point I debated destroying a large TV screen because I thought the matte glass of the TV was what would work. In the end, the material that worked best was ordinary wax paper. You just never know what will work until you experiment.”

A Lego mounting system enables the HQ Camera (and an Olympus one) to be switched easily between prototypes

Points of light

Adrian explains the basics of how the camera works: “Think of a straw as a telescope. Look through it and you see a tiny part of the bigger picture. Stack thousands of straws and all those points of light add up to make a bigger picture. To capture the picture, the light from each straw lands on a semi-transparent surface inside the camera. I take a picture of that projection to get the final image.”

Exposure times range from one to six seconds. “It's a guessing game,” he says, “but the Raspberry Pi gives me a rough preview. As far as focus, the closer things are to the straws, the clearer they appear. Focusing comes down to getting as close to the subject as I can.”

From left to right: The final camera, Prototype 1, Prototype 3, and Prototype 2

Adrian reveals that when he heard about the new High Quality Camera earlier this year, he knew he had to try it. “I've always wanted to build my own digital camera. Old film cameras are easy to take apart and modify, but digital cameras are black boxes. Until Raspberry Pi’s High Quality Camera, it has been virtually impossible to build your own digital camera. Now the sky's the limit.”

A Lego mount enables easy attachment of the Raspberry Pi HQ Camera to any of the prototypes. “Once I screwed the 6mm Raspberry Pi lens to a 6×6 lego brick it made it easier to play with,” he says. “Lego is a quick and easy way to hold things in place as you are prototyping.”

Public display

Raspberry Pi is connected via an extended ribbon cable to the HQ Camera at the rear, which captures the projected image

The public reaction to the camera has been very positive. “People's first response is skepticism because it sounds like such a strange thing,” says Adrian. “But when they see the images it creates, they are won over. They realise it isn't a gimmick, it's a way to create images that are unlike anything else. And now that I am developing a following on Instagram (@ade3), it is rewarding to get kudos from people outside my small circle of friends and family.”

The camera is ideal for portraits and eventually he wants to have a show where it can be in the gallery alongside the portraits taken with it. “Right now the camera still requires me to be very hands-on, but eventually I think I can to get it to a point where anyone could walk up to the camera and take a selfie. I like the idea of the camera existing on its own without me being there to operate it.”

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