Rapsberry Pi makes this film camera digital

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Trying to emulate film cameras with digital cameras has a long and frankly poor history. It was only with multi-thousand dollar medium format cameras with digital backs or using adapters to attach vintage lenses to mirrorless cameras that there was much success. That’s why we’re all so excited about what YouTuber and hacker befinitiv has been able to achieve using a Raspberry Pi, a 50-year-old movie camera, and second-grade arts and crafts skills. Watch the video below to see it all in action.

What you need to make it work

While the video is light on specific instructions, it’s pretty easy to figure out what’s going on. To do it yourself, you’ll need some basic knowledge of how a Raspberry Pi works and the willingness to google any issues you come across. If you’re unfamiliar, Raspberry Pi is a small, low-power computer that hackers can turn into a wide variety of cool DIY projects.

From a hardware perspective, the first thing you need is an analog film camera. In the video, befinitiv uses a Cosina Hi-Lite DLR from the 1970s. While you could possibly get this to work with any old film camera, we think older is probably better. You want something that has manual focus and manual aperture control, and ideally a manual shutter with bulb mode. The more electronics, the more likely you are to run into problems or break things.

Electronically, you need a Raspberry Pi Zero W, a Raspberry Pi camera module with the lens removed, a small LiPo battery, and some sort of DC converter. Although befinitiv does not specify what software it is running, any operating system that allows you to live stream from the camera over WiFi will work.

You will also need cardboard, an old film canister, a pair of scissors, and any other craft materials you can find.

A still imperfect solution

As cool as this project is – and as keen as I am to build it – it has a few quirks that mean the big brains at Hasselblad aren’t losing any sleep.

First of all, as you can see in the video, everything is ridiculously enlarged. This is because the Raspberry Pi camera uses a 1/4″ sensor, i.e. about a tenth the size of a piece of 35mm film. You could work around this somewhat by using a better camera module, although you would still have a crop factor of around 5x.

Second, the Raspberry Pi really sits inside the camera. It would take some serious customization to plug it in for the shutter button to actually trigger the camera to take a picture. From the video, it looks like befinitiv is using light bulb mode – or a shutter lock – to keep the shutter out of the way, and then just control things from his laptop.

Third, with the shutter locked, the viewfinder will not work. That means you probably won’t be able to walk around doing street photography.

But still, just because it’s not a perfect way to turn every old film camera into a digital camera doesn’t mean it’s not a great project that can make better use of all the old ones cameras you have lying around.

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