Turning A Sony Into A Leica Through Extreme Camera Modding

The quality of a photograph is a subjective measure depending upon a multitude of factors of which the calibre of the camera is only one. Yet a high quality camera remains an object of desire for many photographers as it says something about you and not just about the photos you take. [Neutral Gray] didn’t have a Leica handheld camera, but did have a Sony. What’s a hacker to do, save up to buy the more expensive brand? Instead he chose to remodel the Sony into a very passable imitation.

This is a Chinese language page but well worth reading. We can’t get a Google Translate link to work, but in Chrome browser, right clicking and selecting “translate” works. If you have a workaround for mobile and other browsers please leave a comment below.

The Sony A7R is hardly a cheap camera in the first place, well into the four-figure range, so it’s a brave person who embarks on its conversion to match the Leica’s flat-top aesthetic. The Sony was first completely dismantled and it was found that the electronic viewfinder could be removed without compromising the camera. In a bold move, its alloy housing was ground away, and replaced with a polished plate bearing a fake Leica branding.


Extensive remodelling of the hand grip with a custom carbon fibre part followed, with significantly intricate work to achieve an exceptionally high quality result. Careful choice of paint finish results in a camera that a non-expert would have difficulty knowing was anything but a genuine Leica, given that it is fitted with a retro-styled lens system.

We’re not so sure we’d like to brace Leica’s lawyers on this side of the world, but we can’t help admiring this camera. If you’re after a digital Leica though, you can of course have a go at the real thing.

Thanks [fvollmer] for the tip.

Expensive Sony Lens Repair Reveals Shims & Shifts

The photographic hire company Lensrentals had a $2k Sony FE 135mm f1.8 GM camera lens returned with a problem: it was having issues focusing. So, they decided to do the obvious thing and take it apart. It’s a fascinating insight into some of the engineering that goes into a high-end camera lens.

That is perhaps a rather scary thing to do, because this is a very new lens that doesn’t even have a service manual yet. That’s akin to rechipping a Ferrari when you’ve never even opened the hood before.

One of the interesting things inside is the presence of a number of shims that adjust the placement between the groups of lens elements. It seems that however good their manufacturing tolerances are, sometimes you just have to put a shim or two in there to align things.

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Dawn Of The First Digital Camera

Technology vanishes. It either succeeds and becomes ubiquitous or fails. For example, there was a time when networking and multimedia were computer buzzwords. Now they are just how computers work. On the other hand, when was the last time you thought about using a CueCat barcode reader to scan an advertisement? Then there are the things that have their time and vanish, like pagers. It is hard to decide which category digital cameras fall into. They are being absorbed into our phones and disappearing as a separate category for most consumers. But have you ever wondered about the first digital camera? The story isn’t what you would probably guess.

The first digital camera I ever had was a Sony that took a floppy disk. Surely that was the first, right? Turns out, no. There were some very early attempts that didn’t really have the technology to make them work. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory was using analog electronic imaging as early as 1961 (they had been developing film on the moon but certainly need a better way). A TI engineer even patented the basic outline of an electronic camera in 1972, but it wasn’t strictly digital. None of these bore any practical fruit, especially relative to digital technology. It would take Eastman Kodak to create a portable digital camera, even though they were not the first to commercialize the technology.

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Large Format… Videography?

Large format photography gives a special quality to the images it produces, due to the differences in depth of field and resolution between it and its more modern handheld equivalents. Projecting an image the size of a dinner plate rather than a postage stamp has a few drawbacks though when it comes to digital photography, sensor manufacturersdo not manufacture consumer products at that size.

[Zev Hoover] has created a large format digital camera, and is using it not only for still images but for video. And it’s an interesting device, for the way he’s translated a huge large-format image into a relatively small sensor in a modern SLR. He’s projecting the image from the large-format lens and bellows onto a screen made from an artist’s palette, a conveniently available piece of bright white plastic, and capturing that image with his SLR mounted beneath the large-format lens assembly. This would normally cause a perspective distortion, but to correct that he’s mounted his SLR lens at an offset.

He does point out that since less light reaches the camera there is also a change in the ISO setting on the camera, but once that has been taken into account it performs satisfactorily. The result is a camera that allows something rather unusual, for Victorian-style large-format images to come to life as video. He demonstrates it in the video below, complete with friends in suitably old-fashioned looking steampunk attire.

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Giving A Camera Mount A Little (Magnetic) Attractiveness

It’s probably safe to say that most hackers and makers don’t really want to fuss around with the details of making video documentation of their work. They would rather spend their time and energy on the actual project at hand…you know — the fun stuff.

[Daniel Reetz] has been wanting more mounting options for his camera mount to make it easier and quicker to set up.  One end of his existing camera mount is a clamp. This has been working for [Daniel] so far, but he wanted more options. Realizing that he has plenty of ferrous metal surfaces around his shop, he had an idea — make a magnetic base add-on for his camera mount.

In the video, [Daniel] walks us through the process of creating this magnetic camera mount add-on, starting with the actual base. It is called a switchable magnetic base (or mag-base as he calls it) and looks like a handy little device. This was surely the most expensive part of the build, but looks like it should last a very long time. Basically, it’s a metal box with magnets on the inside and a rotating switch on the outside. When the switch is in one position, the box’s bottom is magnetic. Rotate the switch to the other position, and the bottom is no longer magnetic. These switchable magnetic bases come with a stud on top for attaching other things to it, which it looks like [Daniel] has already done. From there on out though, he explains and shows the rest of the build.

Some mild steel rod was cut and modified to slip into the pipe. The rod is held in place by a set screw which allows for easy adjustment of the mount’s height. Then he welds the rod to a washer which is, in turn, welded to a tube. After the welding, he takes the whole thing to a deburring wheel to clean it up. After that, the final touches are made with some spray paint and a custom 3D printed cap.

Sprinkled throughout the video are some useful tips, one of them being how he strips the zinc off of the washer with acid prior to welding. The reason for this is that you don’t want to weld over zinc because it produces neurotoxins.

Now [Daniel] can attach his camera mount quickly just about anywhere in his shop with the help of his new magnetic base.

There’s no shortage of camera mount hacks that we’ve covered. Here’s another one involving a magnet, but also has an automatic panning feature. Do you need a sliding camera mount? How about a motorized sliding camera mount — enjoy.

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Mod Your Camera With ModBus

Industrial hardware needs to be reliable, tough, and interoperable. For this reason, there are a series of standards used for command & control connections between equipment. One of the more widespread standards is ModBus, an open protocol using a master-slave architecture, usually delivered over RS-485 serial. It’s readily found being used with PLCs, HMIs, VFDs, and all manner of other industrial equipment that comes with a TLA (three letter acronym).

[Absolutelyautomation] decided to leverage ModBus to control garden variety digital cameras, of the type found cluttering up drawers now that smartphones have come so far. This involves getting old-school, by simply soldering wires to the buttons of the camera, and using an Arduino Nano to control the camera while talking to the ModBus network.

This system could prove handy for integrating a camera into an industrial production process to monitor for faults or defective parts. The article demonstrates simple control of the camera with off-the-shelf commercial PLC hardware. Generally, industrial cameras are very expensive, so this hack may be useful where there isn’t the budget for a proper solution. Will it stand up to industrial conditions for 10 years without missing a beat? No, but it could definitely save the day in the short term for a throwaway price. One shortfall is that the camera as installed will only save pictures to its local memory card. There’s a lot to be said for serving the images right to the engineer’s desk over a network.

We’ve seen [Absolutelyautomation]’s work before – check out this implementation of Pong on an industrial controller.

Shop-built Inspection Camera Lends Optical Help On A Budget

As your builds get smaller and your eyes get older, you might appreciate a little optical assistance around the shop. Stereo microscopes and inspection cameras are great additions to your bench, but often command a steep price. So this DIY PCB inspection microscope might be just the thing if you’re looking to roll your own and save a few bucks.

It’s not fancy, and it’s not particularly complex, but [Saulius]’ build does the job, mainly because he thought the requirements through before starting the build. MDF is used for the stand because it’s dimensionally stable, easy to work, and heavy, which tends to stabilize motion and dampen vibration. The camera itself is an off-the-shelf USB unit with a CS mount that allows a wide range of lenses to be fitted. A $20 eBay macro slider allows for fine positioning, and a ring light stolen from a stereo microscope provides shadow-free lighting.

We’d say the most obvious area for improvement would be a linkage on the arm to keep the plane of the lens parallel to the bench, but even as it is this looks like a solid build with a lot of utility – especially for hackers looking to age in place at the bench.