18 year old converts film camera to digital with 3D printed parts

18 year old converts film camera to digital with 3D printed parts

In the world of photography, there are two kinds of people: those who swear by using film and only film, and those who have fully embraced the glitz and glamour of digital. An 18-year-old physics student, however, has recently found a way to combine the very best of both worlds.

Ollie Baker from Brighton, UK, has successfully converted a 1970s Konica Auto S3 into a digital camera using pieces from a Sony NEX-5 and 3D printed parts he designed himself. Not only is the final result seamless and kind of mind boggling, but the process he took to get there is downright impressive.

The idea for what he now calls the FrankenCamerawas sparked last year, when Baker was awarded a generous sum from the Arkwrite scholarship fund—one of the most prestigious scholarship schemes in the UK—and decided to put the money towards his personal project of ‘digitizing’ a traditional film camera.

The analog camera he chose was a Konica Auto S3 rangefinder, originally introduced in 1973 and known for its stellar compact rangefinder, one of the best of its time. According to Baker, the Konica was an ideal choice due to its fixed 38mm f1.8 lens with an unobtrusive internal leaf shutter, and the fact that the rangefinder mechanism allows the camera to be small—unlike SLR cameras that require a rather large mirror. One of the only downsides of the Konica is the lack of a built-in diopter to adjust for glasses wearers, however, Baker cut one of his own lenses from an old pair of glasses, and inserted into the viewfinder as a diopter adjustment—talk about problem solving.


As for the digital camera to be dismantled and integrated into the Konica’s frame, Baker needed a balance between image quality, cost, and an appropriate size. He ultimately opted for the Sony NEX-5, a small, mirrorless camera. Since the Sony was only being used as a ‘donor’ camera, he quickly set about deciding which parts would be absolutely necessary, and whittled the list down to the circuit board, sensor, SD card slot, battery connector and screen. In addition, Baker had to include a motor and three adjoining cogs for the shutter to be attached in order to avoid a pesky ‘camera error’ screen.

Next came the design process, in which Baker created an entirely 3D printed, brand new back that would house the digital components and attach them to the film camera. For this, he used Solidworks CAD software and a pair of vernier calipers to take measurements. The top part of the new back holds the screen and button, while the bottom holds the SD card slot, the sensor, motor, cogs and battery. The main circuit board lies between the two.

Initially, Baker intended to use his school’s 3D printer, however he wasn’t satisfied with the quality of the detailing, and so sent his files to an SLS 3D printing company in London. After some readjustments to the first iteration, Baker had a strong, accurate and flexible print in nylon that fit the original camera perfectly, with a hinge at one end and a clasp at the other that works with the Konica’s own locking mechanism. All that was needed was the finishing touch: a small piece of black leatherette that blends seamlessly with the Konica’s 1970s design.

Image of Bakers first 3D print

Image of the second and final 3D printed back

For an 18 year old physics student at Oxford University, it’s already impressive enough that Baker did nearly everything from scratch, from designing the CAD files to the wiring and soldering, to designing a replacement ON/OFF mechanism and replacement trigger. However, the icing on the cake is that not only does the camera work, but it works well. As the videos show, the FrankenCamera works exactly like the original Konica—including the hotshoe flash. The only difference is a digital image sensor, high res screen, and SD card in place of old-fashioned film. As you can see in the photographs below, the results are incredibly convincing.

As it goes with nearly anything posted online, Baker has received some negative comments as to the point of the project—why ruin a perfectly good Konica, right? He’s even been accused of faking the whole thing (which he takes as a complement). However, the young maker argues that his goal was not to make the ‘ultimate’ camera, nor to make a commercial product. Rather, his goal was to pursue his personal vision, something that would be novel, enjoyable, and above all, a challenge. In that regard, we have to say that he hit the nail on the head.

After the successful completion of the Konica, Baker initiated a Kickstarter campaign to fund FrankenCamera II—an easy and reversible digital conversion on a Leica M3. That campaign quickly reached its funding goal, and the final product is expected in August 2015. In the meantime, those interested in buying a 3D print and instructions on digitizing their own film camera can check out his website for more details about the camera’s features and functionality. 


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