Today, most of us carry supercomputers in our pockets that happen to also take instantly-viewable pictures.This is something that even the dumbest phones do, meaning that we can reasonably draw the conclusion that photographic capability has become a basic feature of everyday carry, a necessity of 21st century life.
Despite the unwashed masses of just-plain-bad photographs clouding the digital landscape, photography itself remains as important as ever so we can retain and disseminate information as history unfolds. In a sense, the more instant, the better — unless it comes at the cost of image quality. The invention of photography is on par with the printing press or with language itself in that all three allow us to communicate within our own time as well as preserve The Way Things Were in frozen silence. And no invention made vivid preservation more convenient than the instant camera.
What do you do if you own an iconic and unusual camera from decades past? Do you love it and cherish it, buy small quantities of its expensive remanufactured film and take arty photographs? Or do you rip it apart and remake it as a modern-day digital camera in a retro enclosure? If you’re [Joshua Gross], you do the latter.
The Polaroid SX-70 is an iconic emblem of 1970s consumer technology chic. A true design classic, it’s a single-lens reflex design using a Polaroid instant film cartridge, and its party trick is that it’s a folding camera which collapses down to roughly the size of a pack of 1970s cigars. It was an expensive luxury camera when it was launched in 1972, and today it commands high prices as a collector’s item.
[Joshua]’s build is therefore likely to cause weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth among vintage camera enthusiasts, but what exactly has he done? In the first instance, he’s performed a teardown of the SX-70 which should be of interest to many readers in itself. He’s removed the mirror and lens, mounted a Raspberry Pi camera behind the lens mount, and a small LCD monitor where the mirror would be.
A new plastic lens in the original lens housing completes the optics, and the electronics come courtesy of a Pi Zero, battery, and USB hub in the space where the Polaroid film cartridge would otherwise be. Some new graphics and a fresh leather cover complete the build, giving what we’d say is a very tidy electronic Polaroid. On the software side there is a filter to correct for fisheye distortion, and the final photos have a slightly Lomographic quality from the plastic lens.
The Instax SQ6 and Fujifilm’s entire range of instant cameras are fun little boxes that produce instant photos. It’s a polaroid that’s not Polaroid, and like most instant cameras, the lenses are just one or two pieces of plastic. A lens transplant is in order, and that’s exactly what [Kevin] did to his Instax camera.
The key to this lens transplant project is to make it not look like a complete hack job. For this, [Kevin] is keeping the number of custom mechanical parts to a minimum, with just two pieces. There’s a lens shroud that screws down to the current flange on the camera’s plastic chassis, and should blend in perfectly with the rest of the camera. This demanded a significant amount of 3D modeling to get perfect. The other mechanical part is just a plastic disc with a hole in it. These parts were ordered from Shapeways and bolted to the camera with only a few problems regarding spacing and clearances. This didn’t prevent the camera from coming back together, which is when the documentation becomes fast and loose. Who could blame him: the idea of putting real lenses on an instant camera is something few can resist, and the pictures that come out of this modified camera look great.
The current state of the project with a single lens leads the camera to have an inaccurate and tunnel-like viewfinder, but a huge modification brings this project into twin-lens reflex territory. There are more modifications than camera here, but all the printed parts are documented, there are part numbers for McMaster-Carr, and the camera has full control over focusing and framing.
Digital cameras are great, because you can take thousands of pictures without running out of film. But there’s something to be said for having a tangible image you can hold in your hand. The Polaroid cameras of yesteryear were great for this, but now they’re hard to find and the price per photograph is ludicrously expensive.
Over the past few years, a few people have sought a way to create printed photographs at a lower cost. One of the best ways to do this is to find something much cheaper than Polaroid film — like thermal paper.
[Fabien-Chouteau]’s thermal printing camera isn’t the first — you’ve got the Gameboy Camera/Printer and a few others to thank for that. But it’s a great example of the form. The camera combines an Adafruit thermal receipt printer with an OpenMV camera, both easily sourced, if not exactly cheap. It even adds a ST7735 LCD for live display of the camera’s image, just like consumer-grade cameras!
It’s not just a slapped together kludge of parts bin components, however. While the thermal printer is only capable of printing black or white pixels, its resolution is much higher than the image from the camera. This allows the camera to use a 3×3 block of printed pixels to represent a single pixel from the camera, and with some fancy dithering techniques, can emulate shades of grey quite effectively. It’s tricks like this that really add polish to a project, and make a big difference to the picture quality at the end of the day.
It’s not the first thermal printer camera we’ve seen – [Ch00f]’s woodgrain instant camera build highlighted the issues of careful camera selection when pursuing this type of build.
Instant film never went away – Fujifilm has been producing instant film for decades before Polaroid ceased production. Yes, cries of a lost photographic heritage were all for naught, and you can still buy an instant camera. [Dan] picked up a Fujifilm Instax Wide camera – an instant camera that produces not-square images – and figured some electronic tinkering could vastly expand the capabilities of this camera. He took it apart and made some modifications, giving it a bulb mode for long exposures and multi-exposure capability.
[Dan] began his tinkering by figuring out how to put multiple exposures on one frame of film. The Instax Wide camera has an eject sensor, a wire for the shutter button, and a few wires leading to the motor. By adding a switch to turn off the motor and a pushbutton to bypass the ejection sensor, [Dan] can stack multiple exposures on a single frame of film.
Multiple exposures are one thing, but how about longer exposures for light painting and all those other cool things you can do with microcontrolled LEDs? Modding the camera for that is pretty easy. All you need are a few mini toggle switches. It’s just a simple matter of opening the shutter for as long as you need, painting a scene with light, and flipping a few more switches to eject the film. [Dan] is getting some pretty respectable exposures with this – somewhat impressive considering the camera’s fixed aperture.