Yesterday, I picked up a “TTL 200M Plus-o-Matic Super 8 Electro Camera” at the local charity shop – on a whim. I have absolutely no use for it, but it was too cheap to pass up. Also – vintage cameras are never wrong. I already have a CCCP FED Stereo (of soviet quality, with light leaks like a crushed Lomo, but still good fun) and a beautiful Polaroid SX-70, which is nothing less than an engineering marvel.
The Super 8 was manufactured in Japan in 1967. Unfortunetly, it still had batteries inside – of approximately the same vintage. I literally had to chisel off the caked potassium carbonate on the battery terminals. After cleaning the battery compartment, I inserted a fresh set of batteries and pressed the button on the handle.
As it turns out, the 51 year old camera was still fully functional. The sync motor whirred happily the instant I pressed the button. It had lights inside, gears that turned and levers that moved. Yay!
However, a Super 8 camera without Super 8 film isn’t of much use to anyone. I know Kodak is attempting to squeeze the most out of the current hipster/nostalgia phtoto craze by launching a new Super-8 camera, so I guess that film will become be available.
They’re doing it wrong! Why use film as an intermediate media when the final product they offer is digital? It’s wasteful and the chemicals involved in film manufacture and development are probably not very good for the environment. Furthermore the design does not appeal to my inner hipster.
Reinventing stuff that works is unnecessary. Breaking stuff that works is just plain wrong, but creating something fun or maybe even useful by integrating existing functional components… ?
I decided to convert the camera to a digital one – but without modifying it.
The obvious choice for doing something like this is embedding a Raspberry Pi camera inside the film housing. I’m using a Raspberry 3 in the video, but I’ll most likely use a Zero W in the final version. In order to do the conversion, I had to modify the Raspberry camera in such a way that it would be able to focus at the Super 8 shutter opening. Fortunetly, I discovered that it is entirely possible to get the raspberry camera to focus on objects just a few centimeters from the lens – simply by removing a drop of glue and then just turning the focus ring as far out as possible. It’s fiddly, but it’s doable. The most annoying part is the “sunny” camera connector that attaches the sensor to the camera breakout board (It pops out of the socket if you apply the slightest force to the camera sensor. It may look like it’s still socketed and it may even be detectable by the OS, but you’ll get error messages when attempting to use raspistill or raspivid).
Later, I’m planning to 3D print a new frame that will hold the Raspberry Pi and that also will allow me to adjust the distance between the Pi camera and the shutter opening of the Super 8.
The video is from this evening’s initial proof of concept test. Seems doable :)