This Hacker Converted a Vintage Film Camera Into a DSLR

Sanasol was able to digitize his old Nikon FM film SLR using an M5Stack ESP32 Camera.

While the increasingly impressive quality of smartphone cameras are making it less and less necessary for average people to own a dedicated camera, both professional and amateur photographers still cherish their DSLR cameras. The gap between entry-level DSLR cameras and smartphone cameras has been shrinking by the year, but a quality DSLR still has many advantages — particularly when it comes to interchangeable lenses. And many photographers even still like to shoot on vintage film cameras, despite the expense and hassle of doing so. Japanese hacker Sanasol had one such camera, a Nikon FM, and converted it into a DSLR.

Film cameras and digital cameras operate and similar ways, by letting light in through the lens when the shutter is opened. With a film camera, that light exposes the photosensitive film negatives that are later developed in a dark room. With a digital camera, the light hits a CCD or CMOS sensor. Those sensors are covered in many tiny photodiodes, each of which works out to a pixel in the resulting image. This is oversimplifying things, but early digital cameras essentially just replaced the film with a CCD or CMOS sensor. The Nikon FM was a very popular film camera made from 1977 to 1982, and Sanasol followed a similar approach to convert it into a digital camera.

This conversion required surprisingly little disassembly of the original camera. Sanasol really only had to open up the film door and remove the plastic guide that the film feeds through. He then 3D-printed a replacement guide that was redesigned to accommodate a camera sensor. That camera sensor came from the M5Stack ESP32 Camera, which is built into a single module with an ESP32 board. Sanasol had to modify that module in order to fit it into the 3D-printed guide and position the sensor properly. With the addition of a small LiPo battery, he was able to capture images from that camera sensor. The resolution is very low at just 0.5 megapixels and Sanasol reports that it is difficult to focus properly. But this is still a really interesting conversion that shows what you can do with a bit of ingenuity and some readily-available components.

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