Pi hack breathes digital life into 50-year-old analog camera
An electronics hacker known as befinitiv recently posted a YouTube video demonstrating how he converted an old Cosina Hi-Lite 35-mm film camera into a digital snapper, using 3D printing, a Raspberry Pi Zero W and a Pi camera module.
Though there are still companies who manufacture film cameras, most photographers these days have gone digital – whether using a dedicated camera or an array in the ubiquitous smartphone. But there's something very appealing about the look and feel of old 35-mm film cameras, so much so that some imaging companies regularly release thoroughly modern cameras wrapped in a retro skin.
But if you have an old analog camera sitting in a drawer somewhere, it can now be dusted off and given a digital heart with the help of a Pi Zero W, a Pi camera module, a 3D-printed mount and a small battery – thanks to this hack from befinitiv.
The cylindrical part of the mount mimics the form of the film canister, and slots into the host camera's compartment so that the flattened part that shoots off to the right is positioned over the exposure area. Inside the cartridge-shaped end is a Li-Po battery and step-up converter to power the circuitry, while the flat section has a Raspberry Pi camera module with its lens removed placed at its center. The Picam is connected to a Pi Zero W, and the whole shebang is held securely in place inside the body of the host camera once the access door at the rear is locked shut.
Hitting the shutter release button allows light through to the camera module's image sensor, and focus/aperture can be adjusted manually using the host camera's lens. The hacked camera can capture digital stills as well as wirelessly send HD video to a phone or laptop over Wi-Fi, with the option to save content to SD card too.
What you don't get with this hack is access to the host camera's control dials up top, there's no image stabilization, and as noted by befinitiv in the video below, the Cosina's 50-mm lens does become something of a superzoom when used with the Picam's relatively small image sensor.
But the parts list is minimal, and befinitiv encourages other hackers to have a go – openly sharing the software commands and STL files (for the 3D printer) online. Readers may also be interested in Jeff Geerling's Pi webacm hack too.