A Non-Destructive Digital Back For A Classic Leica

As digital photography has become so good, perhaps just too good, at capturing near-perfect pictures, some photographers have ventured back into the world of film. There they have found the imperfections requiring technical skill to cope with that they desire, but they’ve also come face-to-face with the very high cost and sometimes sketchy availability of film stocks. From this has come the so-called post-digital movement which marries analog cameras and lenses with digital sensors, and of this a particularly nice example comes from [

Perhaps the best thing about this conversion, and something which should propagate forward into other builds, is the way it does not hack or modify the original camera beyond the replacement of the already-removable back. A vintage Leica is a pricey item, so it would be a foolhardy hacker who would proceed to gut it for a digital conversion. Instead he’s mounted everything that makes a digital camera, the sensor, Pi Zero, and screen board, behind the camera body. The Pi shutter trigger comes from the Leica’s flash terminal, meaning that there’s plenty of time for it to take a photo while the shutter is open.

He’s admirably preserved the usage and properties of the Leica, and his photographs as can be seen in the video below the break bear testament to what is possible with the camera. He still has to work with the tiny sensor size though, meaning that all photographs are at a much higher zoom level than on the original. We would love to see a camera conversion like this one that incorporates appropriate lenses to bring the picture to focus on this small sensor.

We won’t own a Leica any time soon, but we like this conversion. It’s by far the most sympathetic, but it’s not the first rangefinder conversion we’ve seen.

16 thoughts on “A Non-Destructive Digital Back For A Classic Leica

  1. So what properties of the Leica are preserved ? It’s just used as a black empty box with a lens mount, but due to heavy cropping no longer gives the same picture quality as the original lenses.

    1. well. the body of any camera is always to be completely black inside and open the shutter for a predetermined time. of course this is completely bollocks as you could have done this with any other camera. I even converted some Polaroids and a Agfa clack to security cameras with an esp-cam module.

      But it’s the fun of building something and finding out if it actually works. that is what this site is about.

      1. Yah there was a period pre-2010 ish where low end film camera optics were still miles better than low end webcam optics and I spliced a few. Possibly still true in theory, but doesn’t help you out much in practice now as film camera availability as cheap/free junk is much diminished, and current web cams have tiny sensors and focal lengths.

    1. They’re not crappy, they’re lo-fi retro analogue… you’re just not enough of a hipster to “get” it, dude…

      Agree it seems a bit pointless but the idea is an interesting one and at least he didn’t trash a vintage camera to do it.

  2. I own several leica cameras and lenses, and I appreciate the ergonomy of viewfinder and commands, mechanical smoothness, the magic of the dark room and photographic results. All of that being totally compromised by the tiny sensor and crop factor. What’s left is the snobbery of Leica, which is the unpleasant side of the brand, to my opinion. Just like taking a Ferrari body, put a Ford 4 cyl engine in and parade at the beach.

  3. I sort of like it, in a camera-as-jewelry way.

    The sensor isn’t going to render the quality of photo that the original film would, but some folks like lo-fi stuff, and for certain types of pictures it might be very nice.

    Even if he had used a very high resolution sensor, maybe taken from a DSLR, the old Leica lenses were designed for film, not digital. That means they’ll pass IR more than lenses made for digital, and that would have some effect on picture quality. The fact that the small sensor will crop to the center portion of the image thrown by the lens means errors like CA will be minimal, even at the edges of the resulting digital image.

    1. Digital cameras usually have an IR blocking layer on the sensor. I’ve never seen any claim that modern lenses have reduced IR transmission. Do you have a reference for this claim?

      1. I have a Samsung NX500 digital camera with a couple lenses designed for it and a couple old Canon FD macro lenses that were designed for 35 mm film. They are quite different in response to IR. I suspect different coatings on the lenses are used- more IR absorptive in the digital lenses than in the film lenses.

        Here’s a simple photo of an IR remote control shot using a 50mm Canon FD macro lens on the NX500: https://3.bp.blogspot.com/-IVGsBbpp4aA/XHFtQGXYFmI/AAAAAAAAYyI/edIHdQ6BKdogBFMe5XsWH28dKSnTAzgJwCLcBGAs/s640/macro%2BIR.jpg

        And here’s the same remote control seen through the Samsung 16-50 mm digital lens:

      2. Second attempt:

        I have a Samsung NX500 camera with two lenses made for it and two old Canon FD macro lenses that fit on the camera with adapters. I have taken pictures of IR remote controls with both types of lenses and the IR lights up significantly brighter through the Canon lenses than through the digital lenses.

        I suspect the coatings on the made for digital lenses absorb more IR than the made for film lenses.

        I tried to post links to two of the images but my post disappeared- maybe wordpress or hack-a-day thinks they’re spam.

    1. Molesting an untouched old camera to make it worse, even if reversible isn’t good. Sure it’s just a Leica, but still.

      That viewfinder was never good, but with a tiny CCD?
      Better to build a ‘modern’ back that can live inside the diameter of the lenses. The mechanical shutter, viewfinder and film advance are just in the way. What is he going to use, the flash?

  4. I want to see a digital cartridge for Kodak Disc cameras. The tiny film frame size they had would be ideal for replacing with a digital sensor the same size.

  5. There’s no such thing as an “appropriate lense to bring the image to focus on a smaller sensor.” The sensor is either too low resolution to capture a decent quality image or it is out of plane with the projected image circle

    1. Regardless of that, the effect of such lens adapters is to reduce the f/# and the focal length. So in all probability, with the severe mismatch in size, you’ll end up losing a massive amount of the wide-aperture range because a lens using glass in air can’t benefit from a wider aperture than f/0.5. So if you pretend someone made a (1/5.5)x speed booster (the common name of such lens adapters) then using any leica lens at a wider aperture than about f/2.8 would be pointless. In reality such adapters aren’t going to get to the limits of physics especially on a cheap budget but still.

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