Roboticist, maker, and photographer Michael Suguitan has taken a vintage Leica film camera and given it a digital overhaul — creating the highly-unofficial Raspberry Pi-powered Leica MPi.
"The Leica MPi (pronounced either 'em-pa-i,' a portmanteau of the Leica 'M' and the Raspberry 'Pi,' or letter-by-letter as 'em-pi-a-i,' like the Nintendo 'DSi') [is] a film Leica M2 with a digital back based on a Raspberry Pi Zero W microcomputer and a 12-megapixel 1/2.3” camera module," Suguitan explains. "The MPi preserves the key affordances of the base Leica M2, specifically its rangefinder focusing and mechanical shutter."
Launched by Ernst Leitz in 1957, the Leica M2 was designed as a cost-reduced version of the company's earlier but numerically-advanced Leica M3. Using a simplified rangefinder system, the 35mm camera proved popular enough to sell around 82,000 units — and the camera's quality mean it's still desirable to collectors and photographers today.
For those who prefer the convenience of digital imaging, though, going back to film can be a hard sell — which is where the Leica MPi conversion comes in. "The system is non-destructive," Suguitan explains. "The digital back swaps in place of the existing film door and pressure plate, enabling reversibility. Assuming component availability at MSRP [Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price], the total cost sums up to less than $100, or ~1 per cent the cost of the newest digital Leica."
The conversion system is powered by a Raspberry Pi Zero W single-board computer with the Raspberry Pi HQ Camera Module attached, while a WaveShare 1.3" LCD at the rear of the camera back offers a user interface for the digital side of the equation. Housed in a 3D-printed enclosure, the digital back simply snaps into place on the rear of the camera — while a clever bit of wiring connects the camera's mechanical shutter to the Raspberry Pi's general-purpose input/output (GPIO) pin to trigger the Camera Module's digital shutter.
"The Leica MPi combines the maintainability of the analog Leica M2 with the convenience of a digital recording medium," Suguitan concludes. "The system is post-digital in not just its apparent combination of analog and digital elements, but also in its promotion of agency over its constituent technologies. Similar to the Right to Repair and Maker movements, this design philosophy appeals to a desire to be 'master of one's own stuff.'"
More information on the project is available on Suguitan's website; while he has indicated the potential for the design to be released under an open source license in the future, the source code and design files were not yet available at the time of writing.