Raspberry Pi Camera Conversion Leads To Philosophical Question

The Raspberry Pi HQ camera module may not quite reach the giddy heights of a DSLR, but it has given experimenters access to a camera system which can equal the output of some surprisingly high-quality manufactured cameras. As an example we have a video from [Malcolm-Jay] showing his Raspberry Pi conversion of a Yashica film camera.

Coming from the viewpoint of a photographer rather than a hardware person, the video is particularly valuable for his discussion of the many lens options beyond a Chinese CCTV lens which can be used with the platform. It uses only the body from the Yashica, but makes a really cool camera that we’d love to own ourselves. If you’re interested in the Pi HQ camera give it a watch below the break, and try to follow some of his lens suggestions.

The broken camera he converted is slightly interesting, and raises an important philosophical question for retro technology geeks. It’s a Yashica Electro 35, a mid-1960s rangefinder camera for 35 mm film whose claim to fame at the time was its electronically controlled shutter timing depending on its built-in light meter. The philosophical question is this: desecration of a characterful classic camera which might have been repaired, or awesome resto-mod? In that sense it’s not just about this project, but a question with application across many other retro tech fields.

A working Electro 35 is a fun toy for an enthusiast wanting to dabble in rangefinder photography, but it’s hardly a valuable artifact and when broken is little more than scrap.  One day we’d love to see a Pi conversion with a built-in focal length converter allowing the use of the original rangefinder mechanism, but we’ll take this one any day!

How about you? Would you have converted this Yashica, repaired it somehow, or just hung onto it because you might get round to fixing it one day? Tell us in the comments!

Thanks [golderox] for the tip!

31 thoughts on “Raspberry Pi Camera Conversion Leads To Philosophical Question

  1. I would use the camera as a platform if it was something I wanted to do. No problem tearing the guts out of a ‘container’ and adding what I want into it :) . Museums and collectors have plenty of examples of ‘old’ stuff.

    Nice job. I have the RPI HD camera. Just haven’t found a project for it yet.

    1. Film vs digital. Hmmmm. My first good camera was a Canon Eos Rebel 35mm. I was limited by how many rolls of film I could afford to have processed. With my digital Canon Eos Rebel, with its swapable memory chip and second rechargeable battery, I was taking 800 to 1000 pics a day during Albuquerque Balloon Fiestas. My only limitation was the brain power to sort thru that many. It’s not a horrific as it sounds, as I was taking a lot of multi-shot sequences balloons filling up and lifting off*. But still, not limited by $$ for processing.

      So, turn a busted film camera into a digital? In a heartbeat.

      *I like the effect of sequenced still shots vs video.

  2. Rare one of a kind prototype? Probably wouldn’t.

    Mass produced thing had from eBay for less than 50 bucks that would otherwise go in the trash? Hack on! The camera lives to shoot another day and is now more interesting because of it.

    Too often we get all bent out of shape about what other people to do things, as if they were personal family heirlooms. Stop it, let people enjoy themselves!

    1. ^ exactly this, he saved a mass-produced thing from the trash.

      This is a similar debate to engine/EV swaps in classic cars – rare one-of-a-kind Ferrari? leave it alone. Old Mini or muscle car of which there were a million made? Convert away – keep them running and being used.

  3. I don’t have a problem with that. if it was a rare item, maybe, but this is not that special. lately i build three esp-cam boards into old polaroid bodies and one Agfa Clack as security cams without changing the exterior looks. it turns out the camera fit nicely behind the light sensor hole of the polaroids EE44 and Instant 30. the Agfa had more work.

    I shoot mainly on film (some call it analog, i prefer chemical based photography) from a minox 35gt, several slr 35mm, roundshot, Mamiya RB67, Speed graphic on 4×5 up till cambo 13×18. it’s always fun to shoot. for the day to day things, my phone is fine. the EOS 5D is collecting dust atm.

  4. I picked up a retro computer in a yard sale for 5 bucks thinking I would do a pi swap. Then, as it sat in my project queue I thought about whether it might be more valuable to someone doing retro preservation work. So I offered it to the top enthusiast I found for the price of shipping and they were grateful for it.
    On the other hand I also bought an old portable reel to reel microphone and tape recorder that I couldn’t find an enthusiast for that is still in my pi/teensy swap queue. I think who you talk to matters, what the project is worth to you might have a place in balance with others in the community. I valued it more than the garage sale host, and to me it’s worth the money to make it into something it never was before. I don’t think everything needs to be held up for review by the community, but if you intend to present it publicly it is probably worth considering who in your audience might be heartbroken by the loss of a classic.
    If that is a risk would a nod of deference to the community would help your project not leave a sour taste? Something like, I checked and this does not seem to be rare and repair not worth the effort to the fans. So I took the liberty to give it a new life as my project. I dunno, 2 years ago I wouldn’t have cared even a little. This year I care enough to look for enthusiasts.

    1. I remember when some dude was gifted an old (new at the time) power mac.

      He was smart enough not to want anything to do with it. But the case was neat, so he built a PC in it. Posted the project online.

      Got death threats, serious ones. Except from MacIdiots, so safe to ignore. They’d only hurt themselves, like some sort of Weatherman…

      You don’t need a Weatherman to tell which way the wind blows,
      but you can tell which way the wind was blowing by mapping where the bits of Weatherman landed.

  5. Someone takes something, repurposes it … and has fun doing so. Bonus points for documenting the journey.

    Kinda what Hackaday is all about, isn’t it?

    I’m quite happy to see stuff like this, even if I’m not going to rush out and duplicate it. I learn SO MUCH from what others do, what paths they take, and the end result. I find that I do incorporate some of these little tidbits in my own work without realizing it at the time.

  6. Utility trumps sentiment in my book. Do whatever makes you happy. Don’t cave in to the groupthink. If it was once your own camera that you once used and it gives you joy to see it untouched on a shelf, well then don’t touch it and preserve your happiness. If you bought it on Ebay for $40 with the intent of gutting it for a project, well then gut it for a project.

  7. The Yashica Electro 35 was a very common consumer level camera of the 1960s-’70s. It sold for around $100 in the 1970s, which was a lot more than an Instamatic, but not as much as an SLR. It had very basic controls, and fixed 45mm lens. Yashica reportedly sold eight million of them.

    This is not a museum piece. It’s not rare. It’s not high enough quality to be worth using with 35mm film except perhaps as an occasional novelty. But it’s not a plastic camera that’s likely to be thrown in the garbage. There are lots of these cameras around, and most of them will never see film inside them again. My opinion doesn’t matter much here, but I think it’s great that someone is using one for something.

    1. I have quite a few Electros, and I run film through the fairly often them because I really enjoy shooting them, definitely more than my SLRs. Nice, fast, sharp lenses, and the camera looks and feels great to boot. There’s just something so loveable about these, though the Canonet GIII is hands down my favorite budget rangefinder.

      That said, go ahead and trash one of these if you get your hands on it. I doubt even the most enthusiastic collector will care. I probably won’t do it to any of mine because I’ve already gone through them, but if I get my hands on one that needs even a little bit of work, I might consider something like this rather than a refurb.

      What would be great is if one were to couple the lens to the rangefinder. Focus zooming is ok and all, but I think pulling this away from your face to check focus would take quite a bit of fun out of shooting it, especially since rangefinders are so much fun to shoot. I guess the small sensor size and the corresponding short FL lenses outta make focusing by “feel” quite a bit easier, so maybe I’m overthinking that portion, but it would still be cool.

  8. I think it depends on how rare or significant the vintage kit is. An original IBM PC, XT, or AT it’s valuable and gutting it to put in an SBC isn’t a great idea, besides the faiure modes of these old machine are known. Also an Olivetti M24 especially if it has the 720 k 5 1/4 floppies, or an Olivetti M4-P133 or a Commodore PC compatible, or some Amiga 4000 could be worth to be restored.

    Or for another areas vertical pianos and grand pianos: An old Steinway or Baldwin it’s almost worth to be restored, bur a 1970s sinet of no name could be upcicled without thinking, the proble is findin that the stuff has value and it’s possible to restore it.

    1. To me it isn’t about value (up to a point that is). I never think of $$$ for junk. If I have something on hand that would work for a project, I’ll use it. Next person can do what he wants with it after I am gone. Gutting an old PC, or C64, or Apple, or whatever, for example, is a good thing if that is what you want to do with it. I just recently saw an article where someone had gutted a big o’ CRT monitor and stuffed a modern PC in it. Kind of neat all in one ‘case/display’ :) .

  9. The same “philosophical” debate has gone on forever. In the automotive arena for one example, people adhere to their rabid positions as if the survival of their soul depended on it.

    Personally if someone owns an item, I hope they do with it what they want. If someone else is going to throw a fit over it, they should have bought it themselves.

  10. For a mass-produced camera of which numerous examples survive, I’m not going to shed any tears. Especially if the guts are set aside and could be reinstalled someday, which is how I prefer to do my mods.

    What gets me is the keyboard ghouls, stripping the clicky bits out of historically-significant minicomputers and terminals, and leaving the rest to rot. Those were NOT produced in such numbers, there are NOT many examples left, and they didn’t take standard keyboards so once stripped, it’s much harder to get the rest of the machine running.

    “Desecration” is a good term for that.

  11. Yep. Got Lynx 5000E sitting on the shelf in front of me, just waiting for a similar project. Still waiting for that elusive perfect sensor, though. Smart phone sensors are super easy to come by, but I don’t want to have to compensate for their tiny size by adding so much to the optical path.
    Although, even if a magical, 35mm sensor were to appear, it’ll never be thin enough to use the lenses as is.

  12. I see a valid application here (I think) that could improve quality and preserve the original shutter / built-in light meter that you are pointing out the camera is already known for. The Raspberry Pi HQ has a rolling shutter, which already are problematic with stopping motion. But this could be overcome by adding a mechanical shutter in front of it. Some electrical interface required, but that probably not the hard part. Have to get all of it to fit in there!

    Either way, the creator did a nice job!

  13. While it would make me a bit sad to see someone, say, smash a rare Ferrari with a wrecking ball for their amusement, meh. They paid for it, it’s theirs. If you don’t like that, you buy it for $2M so you can look at it.
    On a related note, I bought an iconic piece of furniture from a friend for like $200, stripped and refinished it and it’s beautiful and I use it every day. During the refreshing I realized it may actually be a rare prototype, and I’ve watched enough Antiques Roadshow to realize to know improbably wrecked its value. And guess what? None of that changes that I only paid $200 for it, or that I love it and will use it every day till I die (hopefully for decades). I’m 0.0% sad about any of this.

    1. Ferrari is an exception.

      For their best cars the contract is that they can look at the computer, if you drive too slow, they take it back and pay you whatever they feel like.

      They’re contracts really are egregious. Ferrari is kind of a joke among real car guys. They’re 99% just status symbols that will never be driven. Old ones are SLOW AF. Pontiac GTO (judge) was not only faster then the Ferrari GTO in 1/4 mile, it was faster around Monza. Hotrod mag has been mocking Ferrari for decades now.

      Enzo hated his street car customers. Only put up with their rich, moronic asses to fund the race team. The tradition continues to this day.

  14. It’s a rare thing to find a fully operational Electro. So, if you have the ability to retrofit this, by all means do so. I have a working Electro and a broken one. Maybe I will get api zero…

  15. We have a warehouse full of these conversions
    After some of our time travellers were pictured holding electronic screened devices, we decided in 2137 make wide use of converted local time devices for historic storage.

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