Leica MPi: a Pi Zero retrofit camera

Michael Suguitan retrofitted his Leica M2 camera with a Raspberry Pi Zero and a Raspberry Pi High Quality Camera. He named this Frankensteinian build “MPi”.

Still looking sharp after all these

Michael wanted the user experience to remain as close to the original as possible. Having seen lots of Raspberry Pi-based retrofit projects which basically use an analogue camera as an empty shell for what is now a mostly digital photography device, he wanted to try something different.

An authentically vintage experience

He managed to couple the original Leica range finders with the Raspberry Pi Zero and HQ Camera, so users get the feel of manually adjusting the focus. He couldn’t save the High Quality Camera’s anti-aliasing filter, however, as it kept getting caught on the new shutter, so the MPi only photographs in monochrome and natural light. It is still possible to correct photos taken under harsh street lighting with white balance.

Colour photography would have been a possibility if Michael weren’t so hell-bent on preserving the original range finder. But since he mostly shoots in black and white, this was an easy choice.

We love a short, to-the-point project video

Michael did save the original mechanical shutter. It’s coupled to the new electronic shutter covering the Raspberry Pi camera. Activating the original shutter signals to the Raspberry Pi to begin an exposure using its own electronic shutter. This feature operates on a slight delay, so don’t go moving the camera off your subject as soon as you’ve clicked the manual shutter: you’ll need to hold still for a moment or two for the Raspberry Pi to catch up and capture the photo.

This is what’s inside the hardware pack added to the back of the camera

The fingertip-sized directional pad on the back of the camera changes the shutter speed. The LCD screen you can see on the back of the camera actually has no function at all. Michael was going to use it for image playback, but he decided to stick with the old-school photography experience of having to wait and see how your pictures turned out.

Cheeeeese Michael!

Shape-shifting retrofit

The very neatest thing about this retrofit build is that all of Michael’s additions can be lifted out of the camera’s casing and the original components clipped back in. You can use the camera just the way it was originally designed to be, or in its new Pi-powered form. Like a reversible top. Or a choose-your-own-adventure book. I’m not sure either of those analogies work, actually.

More MPi please!

If you like what you see and would be excited by more MPi shots, follow Michael on Instagram. He’s a dead good photographer.

There are also a few more photos and some extra technical detail in this nice post by PetaPixel, who know the mechanics of photography far more intimately than I ever will.

3 comments

Anders avatar

I would have to overcome some very significant mental barriers to do this to a Leica M.

Nic avatar

Leica M3.14 would be the appropriate name for it.

Jongoleur avatar

Rather than hack a “decent” camera, it would have been more retro to use one of the Russian Leica or Contax clones. A Fed 4, a Zorki 4k or a Kiev4A would have been less eyewateringly iconoclastic!

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