The Reflex SLR project, which successfully funded via Kickstarter in December 2017, is now effectively in hiatus because of problems building a working prototype.
Founder Laurence Von Thomas told a public meeting held on Zoom on Wednesday (18 August) that the problems the project encountered had left the camera about 80% complete, but unable to continue further.
The project had raised more than £131,000 in 2017 to build a new 35mm SLR which would feature an interchangeable lens mount and removable film backs. However, the project – as previously reported on Kosmo Foto – had encountered significant issues, not least around trying to build a working shutter unit.
Von Thomas told the meeting, which had been called by backers wanting an update on the project, that the project’s lengthening lead time had swallowed up most of the cash raised and there was now too little to proceed without further investment.
He said the project had effectively ground to a halt in November after the last failed attempt to get an investor on board, though there had been some intermittent work toward building a pre-production model since then.
He told the meeting he had moved to Shenzhen in China to oversee the building of the prototype in June 2018, but had then encountered problems finding a suitable shutter unit. Reflex had originally wanted to use a shutter produced for a then-current Sony digital camera, but the model’s discontinuation also affected the availability of the shutter unit.
“We did not have the engineering experience to make a shutter unit,” he told the meeting.
He said that another option was to use shutters from Canon EOS cameras, but recovering these secondhand units was not viable for a production camera.
He said that then having to design a shutter unit when the project had expected to use an off-the-shelf option was too much of a challenge. “This is a very complex design, and it’s kind of like getting ready to do a 5km run and then having to run a marathon with no preparation.”
He added that even if it had been technically possible to build a working shutter unit, it was impossible to get the price-per-unit down to the required cost. He said the project had expected a shutter cost of $29 (£20.75) per camera. Early bird options for the body-only camera had cost £350 ($490).
It is half a miracle that we were able to last for so long – Laurence VON THOMAs
Von Thomas said he had never expected the pre-production stage to last more than three years and this had swallowed up much of the R&D budget. He said there was not enough money – around £20,000 – left to continue with the project as it had been conceived.
“It is half a miracle that we were able to last for so long,” he said.
The project had originally planned to release a new lens alongside the camera and the Reflex team had produced prototypes of a 40mm lens for various photo trade shows in 2018, but had not been able to produce the lenses because of the cost of raw materials. Von Thomas said Kickstarter would not allow them to launch another campaign to raise funds for lens production while their original campaign was still incomplete.
“This is a tough one because the lens would be able to put funds into the Reflex R&D budget.”
He said there were three of four different mechanisms which needed to be tested, possibly with some remodelling and testing with different materials, but the prototype pre-production camera was largely complete aside from the shutter unit.
“The sad part is we are at about 80% of the camera being done, and we’ve run out of steam.”
Von Thomas said he now wanted to gauge the interest of backers in keeping the project alive in the hope of finding new financial investment, but that other options included drawing the Reflex project to a close. He said he would not be asking existing 400+ backers to pour any more funds into the project.
“I’ve tried everything I can and I’ve hit every single wall. At the moment I don’t see any other way,” he said.
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Using 20/20 hindsight, perhaps the project was too ambitious. Maybe for anyone thinking about a Kickstarter campaign for a new SLR camera needs to consider going back to simpler models.
I am sorry to read this. It demonstrates how much precision engineering, manufacturing, and material science went into the classic mid-century cameras that we all admire.
I am lucky to be the proud owner of a Canon F1 and an AE-1 which together had cost less than a REFLEX. And, you know, they take photos!