Use Your Old SLR As A Digital Camera?

Back in the late 1990s as the digital revolution overtook photography there were abortive attempts to develop a digital upgrade for 35mm film cameras. Imagine a film cartridge with attached sensor, the idea went, which you could just drop into your trusty SLR and continue shooting digital. As it happened they never materialised and most film SLRs were consigned to the shelf. So here in 2023 it’s a surprise to find an outfit called I’m Back Film promising something very like a 35mm cartridge with an attached sensor.

The engineering challenges are non-trivial, not least that there’s no standard for distance between reel and exposure window, and there’s next-to-no space at the focal plane in a camera designed for film. They’ve solved it with a 20 megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor which gives a somewhat cropped image, and what appears to be a ribbon cable that slips between the camera back and the body to a box which screws to the bottom of the camera. It’s not entirely clear how they solve the reel-to-window distance problem, but we’re guessing the sensor can slide from side to side somehow.

It’s an impressive project and those of us who shot film back in the day can’t resist a bit of nostalgia for our old rigs, but we hope it hasn’t arrived too late. Digital SLRs are ubiquitous enough that anyone who wants one can have one, and meanwhile the revival in film use has given many photographers a fresh excuse to use their old camera the way it was originally intended. We’ll soon see whether it catches on though — the crowdsourcing campaign for the project will be starting in a few days.

Oddly this isn’t the first such project we’ve seen, though it is the first with a usable-size sensor.

Wooden Wide-Angle Wonder Wows World

An old-fashioned film camera can be an extremely simple device to make, in that as little as a cardboard box with a pin hole in it will suffice. But that simplicity at heart leaves endless scope for further work, and a home-made camera can be every bit as much a highly-engineered object of beauty as its commercial stablemate. A great example comes from [Aaron Cré], whose desire for something close to a Hasselblad XPan panoramic camera led him to build his own equivalent out of wood.

The video below the break shows in detail how the wooden case is crafted, and how a lens mount ring sawn from a lens adapter is mounted on the front of it. He’s skipped making all the tiresome parts of the camera associated with winding and film transport and instead taken them from a cheap plastic snapshot camera. The original aspect ratio is stretched by cutting the guts of the snapshot camera apart, and extended to make a 75 mm long negative which also exposes over the sprocket holes.

The final camera is carefully finished to the point at which it really looks the part as well as taking those striking wide-angle photographs. We’re not photography buffs enough to identify the lens and shutter combination he’s using, but we can’t help envying him the results. Fancy making your own 35 mm camera too? Here’s another, in case you need inspiration.

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This Camera Does Not Exist

Blender is a professional-grade 3D-rendering platform and much more, but it suffers sometimes from the just-too-perfect images that rendering produces. You can tell, somehow. So just how do you make a perfectly rendered scene look a little more realistic? If you’re [sirrandalot], you take a photograph. But not by taking a picture of your monitor with a camera. Instead, he’s simulating a colour film camera in extraordinary levels of detail within Blender itself.

The point of a rendering package is that it simulates light, so it shouldn’t be such a far-fetched idea that it could simulate the behaviour of light in a camera. Starting with a simple pinhole camera he moves on to a meniscus lens, and then creates a compound lens to correct for its imperfections. The development of the camera mirrors that of the progress of real cameras over the 20th century, simulating the film with its three colour-sensitive layers and even the antihalation layer, right down to their differing placements in the focal plane. It’s an absurd level of detail but it serves as both a quick run-down of how a film camera and its film work, and how Blender simulates the behaviour of light.

Finally we see the camera itself, modeled to look like a chunky medium format Instamatic, and some of its virtual photos. We can’t say all of them remove the feel of a rendered image, but they certainly do an extremely effective job of simulating a film photograph. We love this video, take a look at it below the break.

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Classic Film Camera Goes Digital With Game Boy Tech

Despite having been technologically obsolete for a decade or two, analog photography is still practiced by hobbyists and artists to achieve a particular aesthetic. One might imagine a similar thing happening with early digital cameras, and indeed it has: the Game Boy Camera has seen use in dozens of projects. [Michael Fitzmayer] however decided to combine the worlds of analog and early digital photography by equipping a Holga with the image sensor from a Game Boy Camera.

A camera module and an STM32 module on a solderless breadboardThe Holga, if you’re not familiar, is a cheap film camera from the 1980s that has achieved something of a cult following among retro-photography enthusiasts. By equipping it with the sensor from what was one of the first mass-market digital cameras, [Michael] has created a rather unusual digital point-and-shoot. The user interface is as simple as can be: a single button to take a photo, and nothing else. There’s no screen to check your work — just as with film, you’ll have to wait for the pictures to come back from the lab.

The sensor used in the Game Boy Camera is a Mitsubishi M64282FP, which is a 128 x 128 pixel monochrome CMOS unit. [Michael] hooked it up to an STM32F401 microcontroller, which reads out the sensor data and stores it on an SD card in the form of a bitmap image.

With no film roll present, the Holga has plenty of space for all the electronics and a battery. The original lens turned out to be a poor fit for the image sensor, but with a bit of tweaking the Game Boy optics fit in its place without significantly altering the camera’s appearance.

A monochrome low-resolution selfie of a man making the peace sign[Michael] helpfully documented the design process and shared all source code on his GitHub page. Holgas shouldn’t be hard to find to find, but if none are available in your area you can just roll your own. The Game Boy Camera is actually one of the most versatile cameras out there, having been used for everything from video conferencing to astrophotography.

A Medium Format Camera From Scratch

Film photography may now be something so outdated as to be unknown to our younger readers, but as an analogue medium it has enjoyed a steady enthusiast revival. There is still a bonanza of second-hand cameras from the days when it was king to be found, but for some photographers it’s preferable to experiment with their own designs. Among them is Reddit user [elelcoolbeenz], who has produced their own medium format camera for 120 roll film.

The camera has a plastic 3D printed body and a single meniscus lens, and perhaps most interestingly, a 3D printed shutter too. It’s heavily reminiscent of the Holga and Lomo plastic cameras that have carved a niche for themselves, and it gives the same photographic effects from its dubious quality optics.

There’s a snag of course, that the STLs are not yet available We say not yet, because this comes with a detailed explanation in that further work is required on the shutter and a more commonly available lens is found rather than a one-off. We still think it’s worthy of featuring at this stage though, because it serves to illustrate that building a camera is not impossible. We’d love to see more of them, though we expect few of them to go to the lengths this aluminium one did.

Film Is Dead. Long Live Film, Say Pentax

If your answer to the question “When did you last shoot a roll of film” is “Less than two decades ago”, the chances are that you’re a camera enthusiast, and that the camera you used was quite old. Such has been the switch from film to digital, that the new film camera is a rarity. Pentax think there may be an opening in the older format though, as they’ve announced in the videos below the break that they’re working on a fresh range of film cameras to serve the enthusiast market.

We don’t know the economics of the camera business, but we’re certainly interested to see what they come up with. In a world that’s still awash with cheap film cameras from a few decades ago, whatever they produce will have to be good, but given that it’s Pentax who are making the announcement we’re guessing the quality will be of a high standard.

Perhaps more interesting in the revival of interest in film is that it comes at a point when designing and making your own camera has almost never been easier. If you’re bored waiting for the new Pentax, make your own!

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A Dead Photographic Format Rises From The Ashes

Sometimes we stumble upon a hack that’s not entirely new but which is still pretty exceptional. So it is with [Hèrm Hofmeyer]’s guide to recreating a film cartridge for the Kodak Disc photographic format. It’s written in 2020, but describing a project around a decade old.

The disc format was Kodak’s great hope in the 1980s, the ultimate in photographic convenience in which the film was a 16-shot circular disc in a thin cartridge. Though the cameras were at the consumer end of the market they were more sophisticated than met the eye, with the latest electronics for the time and some innovative plastic multi-element aspherical lenses. It failed in the face of better compact 35 mm cameras because the convenience of the disc wasn’t enough to make up for the relatively small negative and that few labs had the specialized printing equipment to get the best results from the format. The cameras faded from view, and the film ceased manufacture at the end of the 1990s.

The biggest hurdle to creating a Disc cartridge comes in the cartridge shells themselves. It’s solved by sourcing them second-hand from Film Rescue International, a specialist in developing expired photographic film. The stages follow the cutting of a film disc, perforating its edges, and fitting it into the cartridge. It’s an exact enough process in the pictures, and it’s worth remembering that in the real cartridges it must be done in the dark.

This is an interesting piece of work for anyone with an interest in photography, and while the Disc cameras were always a consumer snapshot camera we can see that it would appeal to those influenced by Lomography. We wish we could get our hands on a Disc cartridge, an maybe CAD up a 3D printable version to make it more accessible.