A camera made of 23,248 coffee stirrers, powered by a Raspberry Pi, and controlled with a Nintendo controller

Adrian Hanft
20 min readAug 23, 2020

This is the story of how I created one of the strangest cameras you may ever hear about. I’ve been working on the design for over a year and I’m finally ready to share it with the world. It’s a long story, but first I want to jump to the end. Here’s what the final camera looks like as well as what a photo take with it:

A photo of Yoda taken with a camera made of 23,248 coffee stirrers

When I tell people that I made a camera out of coffee stirrers I get an odd reaction. They want to know why. Where did the idea came from? The idea is strange, even for me, and I’m the guy who invented the Lego camera. There’s a drawing in my sketchbook that shows the first inklings of the idea. I mentioned the idea to a fellow photographer friend (thanks Natalie!) over lunch and we brainstormed whether it would be possible. Before long I was assembling a proof-of-concept in my basement.

How does it work? Imagine if you created an array of straws all pointed in the same direction. Each straw will “see” a different point of light. In theory, if you put a piece of light sensitive photo paper behind the straws you would be able to record the light from each straw.

The problem with photo paper (or film) is that you only get one picture before you have to go back into the darkroom to reload and see if your photo was successful. Without a reliable way to know how long to expose the paper/film your ratio of good photos to duds will be very low.

A somewhat more practical solution is to build a lightproof box around the back of the straws with a semi-transparent surface that the straws could project on to. Then you could use a second camera to photograph the projected image. As you can see from my sketch, originally I thought maybe tissue paper would be suitable for collecting the image. It’s not, and I had to find a different material for the focal plane. But I am getting ahead of myself…

That’s how it works in theory. In practice it took quite a bit of experimentation to arrive at the final version of the camera. This essay is the story of that journey. You might…

Adrian Hanft

Author of User Zero: Inside the Tool that is Reshaping Dystopia