Quick And Dirty Digital Conversion For Analog SLR

The unarguable benefits of digital photography has rendered the analog SLR obsolete for most purposes. This means that a wide selection of cameras and lenses are available on the second hand market for pennies on the dollar, making them ripe targets for hacking. [drtonis] decided to experiment with a quick and easy digital conversion to an old Canon A-1, and it’s got us excited about the possibilities.

Who needs Instagram filters? Just distort in-camera!

It’s a simple hack, but a fun one. The SLR is opened up, and the spring plate for holding the film is removed. A Raspberry Pi camera then has its original lens removed, and is placed inside the film compartment. It’s held in with electrical tape, upon a 3mm shim to space it correctly to work with the original optics.

[drtonis] notes that the build isn’t perfect, with some aberration likely caused by the reflective electrical tape in the film cavity. However, we think it’s a nice proof of concept that could go so much further. A Raspberry Pi Zero could be easily squeezed inside along with the camera, and everything glued in place to make things more robust. A specialist paint such as Stuart Semple’s Black 2.0 could also help cut down on light leaks inside. Plus, there’s plenty of small screens that can be used with the Raspberry Pi that would provide a useful preview function.

We’d love to see more conversions like this one. While it’s unlikely they’ll compete with commercial DSLRs on outright performance, everyone loves a little bit of charming distortion here and there, and all manner of fancy lenses can be had for cheap for analog platforms. We’ll be keeping a close eye on the tipline for further This fundevelopments – you know what to do!

37 thoughts on “Quick And Dirty Digital Conversion For Analog SLR

  1. Step one: realize that with that chip everything will be extremely tele as now you are only using a tiny portion of the original frame.
    Step two: think “oh well”
    Step three: stuff camera in a raven puppet to spy on neighbours…

  2. Me too. I have a couple of Super 8 movie cameras with motorized zoom and once the film mechanism was removed, there would be enough room inside for a USB hard drive too I reckon.
    Hmmm. I think I might have a play :)

    1. After reading through the comments again I wondered: Is it possible to build a super 8 film replacement i.e. with a raspberry pi which plugs in the camera instead of the analogue film?

      Might even someone already sell this things?

  3. I am waiting for such solutions as I have some nice analogue cameras including a Zenza Bronica 4.6 X 6 cm. I love the lens and the beautiful portraits I took with the camera and I would love to have a digital option for its use as well.

          1. Don’t buy new. Barely-used scanners can be found used on the market (digital or otherwise) for roughly half the price of new. I only have personal experience with the Plustek Opticfilm line of scanners, which seem to do a decent job at a reasonable pricepoint. If you have the budget I’d recommend getting a flat scanner instead of a carriage type as film has a tendency to warp in the carriages and distort scans.

          2. I have a used flatbed Epson V600 Photo with the negative holders and it works really well. I have a couple Mamiya RB-67’s and several hundred rolls of film. Portraits and scenery are excellent. (I got a load of Diafine for free and now everything just goes in the Diaphine 2-part developer with no worries about time or temperature. Also a free Jobo processor. All these things are free or nearly so today.)

    1. i’m doing a lot of photography but only on film, i can use a modern camera but consider them as a jokes or instant cameras, like in the old days was the polaroid, the result they are producing is not a real thing, not to mention the larger film stocks…

  4. As the sensor of a Pi camera is about 1/10 the size of a 35mm film frame, this would explain the very high zoom of the example photo – your 35mm kit lens will have an effective focal length of 350mm.

    1. I’ve been pondering this: I’ve seen DOF adapters for phones/video cameras that effectively project the lens image onto a screen, then take an photo/video of this using the smaller sensor, but my understanding is this is necessary because the phone already has a lens focusing. is it possible to use some extra optics (such as a macro lens to focus the 35mm image onto a 4mm sensor?)

      1. as the ccd is very small. it should be possible to attach it close to the lens mounting and close focus it on the place where the negatives sit. put a white sheet in its place and focus the lens on that sheet. you have some perspective distortion, but it should work. the super-8 path seems better.

    1. You can find very high quality lenses for Bolex 16mm at thrift stores and pawn shops. Even the once highly coveted Macro-Switar lenses (e.g. 10mm lens that will do 1 to 1). Magnification from a 16mm frame (10.26mm wide) to an 8 foot screen is over 200 times. Those are mighty nice lenses.

    1. No, because the camera body is still taking care of the shutter, metering for the shutter timing, and providing a through the lens viewfinder to do composition and focus. If you recreated all those features in a 3d printed replacement, it would barely be any simpler. The only “useless” part you could omit is the film advance mechanism.

    2. No, because the camera body is still taking care of the shutter, metering for the shutter timing, and providing a through the lens viewfinder to do composition and focus. If you recreated all those features in a 3d printed replacement, it would barely be any simpler. The only “useless” part is the film advance mechanism.

  5. I have a working Nikon FM10 film camera and a Nikon D5000 DSLR with a bad shutter. Any ideas how I can put the D5000’s sensor and electronics working with the FM10? Is it even possible?

  6. Do a search on “35 mm digital film replacement”. Lots of stuff included digital “film cans” that don’t require you to modify the camera. Makes me sad about my nice 1980’s Nikon I sold a long time ago.

    1. They had a working product but a major stumbling block was making it fit different cameras. The distance between the film can and the edge of the film plane was never standardized. Their intention was to have a few different ones ready made for specific brands and models, then have a service where they could customize the length for other cameras. I assume that would have meant sending your camera in for a fitting.

      I figure there should be a way to make the distance customer adjustable, at least once. Design it so that the distance can be set then permanently locked with a snap or crimp clip and a jig tool to set it. Depending on the specifics, and the price point, the tool could be included as a single use disposable, or a multi-use extra purchase if you’re going to be installing more than one digital film. Could do it on a purchase with refund when the tool is returned.

      What would be far easier mechanically is a digital 126 or 110 cartridge. At least two models of 126 SLR were made. Kodak made one that was compatible with their Retina 35mm lenses. Some 110 cameras were pretty well made, especially the early ones. With a digital cartridge it should be possible to take better images than was ever possible with the 110 or 126 film.

      Then there’s the Kodak Disc. I bet it would be possible to make a digital Disc cartridge. The tiny pieces of film those used are much closer to typical digital sensor sizes.

      How about a digital Polaroid pack? Build it with a mechanism that raises a lens, mirror(s) etc inside the camera to intercept the light and focus it onto the small digital sensor. That could be actuated via a slide on the front of the digital pack when the loading door is open. SD card and charging port access would be done the same. Best chance of having this work would be to not expect it to work with the collapsing or folding Polaroid cameras, especially not the ones that opened with the lens not perpendicular to the film plane. The easiest would be a digital pack for the old Square Shooter and other Polaroid cameras that had the lens parallel to the film. Just have a lens that raises straight up to the right place after sliding the pack in.

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