Raspberry Pi makes your retro analogue camera digital

Befinitiv has built a custom film cartridge, using a Raspberry Pi Zero W, that turned their gorgeous old analogue camera into a digital one, and enabled it to take digital photos, videos, and even wirelessly live stream to the Internet.

A quick, simple build video for a smooth-running project

The analogue camera they used in the build was considered state-of-the-art around fifty years ago, but it lives on to capture another day, all thanks to a tiny computer we made just a few years ago.

analogue to digital camera original model hero shot
It’s a beauty

The maker replaced the old-fashioned camera film roll with a digital cartridge housing a tiny Raspberry Pi camera — with the lens removed — and a Raspberry Pi Zero W. The housing was designed to fit in the back of the camera where original photographers would have clipped the film roll in, and then spooled it over.

analogue to digital camera film with raspberry pi stuff in
Designed to fit

Along with the camera and the Raspberry Pi Zero W, the custom-built cartridge also houses a LiPo battery and a DC to DC converter, used to boost the power supply to the Raspberry Pi up to +5V.

analogue to digital camera insides
Teeny tech packed into a teeny space

The whole project took just two hours to complete from start to finish, everything worked first time. Befinitiv had wanted to use the Raspberry Pi High Quality Camera, but space inside the housing was just too tight. Maybe next time? Perhaps they can use one of those giant ancient cameras, where the photographer had to flip a blanket over their head, all while holding a stick in the air with the flash.

analogue to digital camera looking out the window
This old analogue camera is now fully digital

More retro projects from the maker

Fancy more where this retrofit goodness came from? The maker has also upgraded a flip phone from the year 2000. Oh! I just realised the year 2000 was more than 20 years ago. Watch the build video while I go and burn all of my skater boy jeans and slogan t-shirts…

Don’t let your old flip phone die

They also did something weird but cool sounding with this noisy teletype machine. Is it a teletype machine? What’s a teletype machine? I saw a fax machine once..?

I know EXACTLY what a “teletype message” is…


Anders avatar

Really nice job, and something that I’ve thought about (and there have been one or two commercial attempts like the unwieldy “I’m Back” on Kickstarter). Classic 35mm film SLRs are very collectable.
The zoom is because the tiny sensor is just a very small part of the image projected to the film plane by the lens, so can anyone recommend a larger CCD sensor that would work with the camera connector? I’d love to have a go at this.

Gary avatar

Yes! I have wanted to reuse my old Olympus. If I can do this I might even consider buying the OM-2 I always wanted!

Chris avatar

I’m curious how the shutter of the camera is held open.
Also, I assume as the pi camera sensor takes up such a small section of where the film would capture light, the digital image would be a very zoomed in section from the centre of the aperture.

Anders avatar

Bulb mode (B) setting on shutter speed.

Chris avatar

As the other Chris asked, how does this work regarding the image sensor? The image through the lens would be 35mm at the back of the camera where the film would be. The film is replaced with a image sensor that is only a few mm in size. Is that the field of view that is captured by the camera (just a tiny fraction of the whole image)?

Uri avatar

Yes, watching the video again, I think now it’s clear why everything is so zoomed in. I was excited to try the same project, but now I’m thinking it’s not so great – unless there’s a fairly easy way to adjust the focal point or similar. but I doubt that’s an easy take.

JoeGG avatar

my analogue brain tells me to try moving it forward – but it must be kept ultra flat for no distortion

Jennifer Ball avatar

This looks great, Raspberry Pi have taken a lot of things over. We will review in our blog next time.

earl cameron avatar

I am writing a GUI for Picamera hq and pi4, it has been slow progress. Please check out my repo https://github.com/monstercameron/pi-camera-gui

Jongoleur avatar

The main problem with using a 35mm camera is that the standard lens has a focal length of 50mm. Even an alternative 28mm wide angle lens would be too long and, as has been mentioned above, the image sensor only occupies a fraction of the cameras image plane. Don’t even think of using a bigger camera to use a Raspberry Pi HQ camera, an analogue camera using 120 film has an even bigger film plane area and uses an 80mm lens as standard, while the smallest “giant ancient cameras, where the photographer had to flip a blanket over their head” have an image plane of 5″x4″ and ordinarily use a 150mm standard lens.

I wouldn’t call a Cosina from the early 1970s something that was considered state of the art even then, though it was a bit more refined (and expensive) than the contemporary Russian Zenit-E…

Stuart Andrew Jones avatar

An interesting project, but not one that appeals to me as a practical photographer. A used 15 Mpixel digital SLR in excellent condition (Canon Rebel t1i) costs around $120, with a decent used 18-55mm zoom lens for about $30 more. This is much more than enough camera for any beginner, given that this is 3x the resolution needed to produce an 11 x 18 inch print without apparent pixellation. I observe that most people I see taking pictures in photogenic locations are using their cell phones. This makes me feel a bit archaic lugging around a digital SLR or even one of my 16 Mpixel bridge cameras. However, the results I get from a ‘real’ camera, especially in difficult light conditions, makes the inconvenience feel worthwhile.

Bernhard avatar

Wow, which good idea to replace the analog film with a digital sensor! I will mention this hack at my personal photo blog. Thx.

Best regards

Atul Host avatar

Now I’m going to try this out. Luckily, I have those old age analogue camera already in my home.

David Wade avatar

At first I thought “great just what I need”. I have a Vintage HP Photo Plotter but its has a 45mm camera attached. However I need to digitize the whole 35mm frame and for that
this is pretty useless..

István avatar

Interesting project,thanks.
Could you please tell how the WLAN works on this Board as the camera board has no WLAN? Or do you need a raspi pi board as well inside the cartridge?

Andrew Longdon avatar

My first two SLRs were Cosinas – loved em!

Larry L avatar

Very cool project and nicely executed! I’ve wanted to resurrect my Yashica 101 with a digital upgrade but now I know that it’s not very practical.

Buz McCullough avatar

Even though it is impractical in most respects, it is still a very clever hack. Kudos!! I have three Canon DSLRs, but I also have 3 Pentax 35mm SLRs. I think I will use one of them with this hack just for the fun of doing it and surprising people with my Retro Digital SLR. It is also a way to hide a camera. who would suspect an old SLR as a hidden spy camera, streaming video? You could use a shutter cable release to lock open the shutter on the bulb setting. And with a T adapter you could mount it on a telescope and use it for astrophotography. I once read where a guy modified his SLR with a web cam sensor for astrophotography.

Luipez avatar

Fà solo video o anche foto?

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