Befinitiv's Digital Film Cartridge Adds a Raspberry Pi to an Old Film Camera — with Great Results

Using a 3D-printed housing, a Raspberry Pi Camera Module, Raspberry Pi Zero, and LiPo battery, befinitiv has given an old camera a rebirth.

Pseudonymous maker "befinitiv" has shown off a Raspberry Pi-powered upgrade for film cameras, turning them into digital cameras capable of stills, video, and even live streaming — albeit with considerably different zoom from their stock designs.

"This was state of the art 50 years ago," befinitiv explains of a Cosina Hi-Lite film camera. "Back then, of course, you shot your films or photos on these films, and this was rather expensive back in the day — but today it's even more expensive and a bit cumbersome."

"So, of course, I did the obvious and replaced this film cartridge by a digital cartridge based on a Raspberry Pi — so you have a digital camera that looks like this and can do everything that you expect from a digital camera nowadays. It can do video, it can stream video over Wi-Fi, and store things on an SD card."

This neat Raspberry Pi-powered upgrade turns a 35mm film camera into a digital powerhouse. (📹: befinitiv)

The secret behind the hack: A Raspberry Pi Camera Module with its integrated lens removed — something you don't have to do on the Raspberry Pi HQ Camera Module, which requires an external lens — fitted into a 3D-printed housing that secures it in the camera and aligns it at the focal point of the lens.

The Camera Module connects to a Raspberry Pi Zero W single-board computer, which handles the capture, streaming, and storage. A lithium-polymer battery powers everything through a DC-to-DC boost converter.

The result is functional, but a far cry from how images would have looked captured on film. "This is really far zoomed in," befinitiv notes — a result of the significantly smaller sensor size of the Raspberry Pi Camera Module compared with the 35mm film the camera and lens were originally designed to use."

"Overall I'm really happy how this turned out," befinitiv says. "This actually gives some interesting and nice looking images, and it feels so weird having this old school camera doing live streams here over Wi-Fi and recording video. It's really an odd feeling but a really fun one."

"I can only recommend to also build something for your cameras because it is really fun and gives these things a new life, which is I think always great for these nice high quality 'retrotech' items."

Befinitiv has shared the 3D file via Onshape, under an unspecified license.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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