DIY Style

This wooden DIY camera takes Rolleiflex-style photos with your phone

If you like retro-style cameras and photos, but you’re not confident with shooting film, you’ll love this DIY project. Photographer and cinematographer Ryan Ao brought retro and modern together, blending a Rolleiflex-style DIY camera and a smartphone. I loved his invention so much, that I just had to learn more! So, I chatted with Ryan and he shared a bit of information about “Phoneiflex” along with some tips for building it and the photos he took with it.

The idea for this camera box has been in Ryan’s mind for quite a while. After six years of thinking about it, he finally made it and named it “FrankenSteamPunkSmartPhoneiflex.” The full name made me chuckle, but I love its nickname, too. So, let’s just call it “Phoneiflex.”

So, what was the idea behind this unusual camera box? Ryan tells me that he just wanted to shoot with digital cameras downwards like you would with an old Rolleiflex film camera. He shoots a lot of street photography, so this would be great for stealth street photography and candid shots. “That way I can capture emotional, decisive moments without ruining the moment because people won’t realize the camera is pointed at them,” Ryan says.

“Two of my favorite photographers are Henry Cartier-Bresson and Vivian Meijer, and they both mastered the art of the decisive moment and Vivian definitely used Rolleiflex cameras,” he continues. But why wouldn’t he just get a Rolleiflex and shoot film? Well, he doesn’t feel like paying for the cost of developing vintage film. I totally get this, considering how much the film and its development cost (at least here in Serbia)

Another reason for this approach is that Ryan wants to master shooting photos with his iPhone, without blurry backgrounds. He sees iPhone as a perfect tool for street photography since they are getting so high-quality.

Ryan uses an app called Argentum which allows him to have the viewfinder in square format and choose filters that emulate black and white photography. Sadly, it only exists for iPhone, but my fellow Android users could try one of these, perhaps.

There’s a catch with Phoneiflex, though: the viewfinder is upside down while shooting with it. However, Ryan doesn’t mind. “I always liked having the camera not up to my eye as the randomness plays into the artsiness,” he says. “I find that true about an upside-down viewfinder as well.” After all, when cropping and editing an image, turning it upside down helps seeing it in a different light.

Ryan has shared with us some of the photos of his build so you can also see how it’s done. Of course, it’s just a prototype and he plans to make some improvements with time. If you decide to make it, you’ll need some wood, a mirror, a power bank (so you can shoot all day), cords, and a strap. You can also use an Apple Watch as a Bluetooth remote trigger. If you turn your watch upside down, it can be your right-side-up viewfinder, too!

Another fun thing about Phoneiflex is that blurs the edges a bit, creating imperfections as some vintage cameras do. Ryan and I agreed that you can also get a sort of an in-camera filter if you forget to clean the mirror. 🙂

Take a look at the photos of the build:

And here are some candid shots Ryan took with it.

If you feel like building one of these on your own, make sure to share your results with us and Ryan. But if you don’t feel like fiddling with it, Ryan can make one for you. It comes with a battery bank, cords, lens cleaner cloth, and a strap. He will also customize it to your desires, like burning your name into it or anything you like. Make sure to check out Ryan’s work on his website, Instagram, and Facebook, where you can also reach out to him if you’d like him to make one of these Phoneiflex cameras for you.