A Spring-Drive Digital Movie Camera

Digitize a vintage spring-drive 8mm camera. Not for the sake of convenience, but for the enjoyment of video recording.

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Shooting video is very fun and convenient. Today, it has become a very familiar tool, as smartphones and action cams make it easy to shoot high quality video.
On the other hand, the ability to easily take videos is very valuable, but I feel that the fun has been lost a bit.

For this project, we plan to remodel an 8mm video camera manufactured 70 years ago and shoot digitally.
I plan to keep modern modifications to a minimum and revive it as a slightly inconvenient, but fun, piece of equipment for cinematography.

Unlike past 8mm film movie camera digitization projects, the camera to be converted is a spring-driven ancient relic. To my knowledge, there has been no earlier attempt to digitize a spring-driven movie camera.

I was going to submit this project to "Challenge 3: hack it back" of the Hackaday Prize 2022, but on second thought, this camera is not an "old electrical device".
Perhaps it does not meet the regulations?

This camera modified for this project is a Bell & Howell Model 172 magazine-loading 8mm camera manufactured in the 1950s. The film standard is double 8, but it is set in a special magazine.

As a magazine-loading 8mm film, super8 was widely used.
I have found several projects to modding Super 8 film magazines into Digital, but this camera is even older than those.

This may be the first project to digitize a spring-driven camera!

The film feed and shutter are powered by a mainspring, and when the spring is wound up, the camera can shoot for about 35 seconds at 16 fps. It can also shoot back and forth on a single roll of film, recording approximately 100 seconds per side.
There is no single item that can be automatically controlled; aperture and focus are controlled by the lens, and exposure time is fixed in conjunction with the frame rate.
The preview is not visible and the viewfinder is very small, so it takes some technique to get the image you want.

I have never shot with 8mm film, but my goal was to recreate the fun of the surprise box-like experience of not knowing the result until the film is developed.

Why not revive this delightful heritage buried in the depths of our garage drawers?

After completing the production

The goal of this project was to preserve the original mechanism as much as possible.
As a result, all mechanisms remain original except for the film, which has been replaced by an image sensor.

This camera was originally configured to shoot on an 8mm film magazine. The digital photography module we created is exactly the same size as this film magazine and contains an image sensor, shutter-sensing sensor, battery, Raspberry Pi, indicator lamp, dip switches for configuration, and main board.

Because this camera is spring driven, the shutter timing is unstable and does not provide an electrical timing signal. Therefore, to obtain proper shutter timing, a mechanism to adjust the shutter timing with a photo reflector is incorporated.

In addition, since the Raspberry Pi Zero2 is a power-saving device, it can be powered by a 006P type rechargeable battery.

The minimum settings required for digital photography, such as film sensitivity and white balance, can be set using dip switches.

It was a bit of a challenge to miniaturize the entire system to the size of a film magazine, but in the end we were able to complete a compact digital back system.

These innovations have allowed us to create a very attractive system for utilizing past assets.

When recoding video, this module is set inside the camera. You only have access to the interface originally equipped on the film camera.
However, there is no problem. The digital module senses the movement of the shutter and records video in synchronization with the timing of the shutter opening.
It can be operated in exactly the same way as the original spring drive camera.

Although I did not specifically aim for this, the video I was able to capture was very nostalgic. I don't want to ruin the atmosphere, which I think was caused by the low frame rate, low contrast, and white balance, so I decided not to tune the camera any further.



I was able to capture very atmospheric images.



Adobe Portable Document Format - 39.00 kB - 10/23/2022 at 23:53


upper v14.stl


Standard Tesselated Geometry - 653.60 kB - 06/07/2022 at 12:25


Standard Tesselated Geometry - 466.78 kB - 06/07/2022 at 12:25


clip v6.stl


Standard Tesselated Geometry - 191.00 kB - 06/07/2022 at 12:25


Cinematography Controller

py - 10.01 kB - 05/19/2022 at 23:48


View all 15 components

  • Additional Functions

    AIRPOCKET06/06/2022 at 23:53 0 comments

    When the main board was created, LEDs for indicators and DIP switches for setting shooting conditions were included in the design. Now that we have confirmed the operation of the shooting function, we will add some of those functions as well.

    We plan to modify them in the future, but first here is what we have done.

    #1Manual modeAuto mode
    #3Auto WBFixed WB
    #4ColorGray Scale

    *Since opencv's sensitivity adjustment function does not work, the exposure time was used to adjust the exposure time so that the atmosphere is about equivalent.

  • Movie Length

    AIRPOCKET05/26/2022 at 00:14 0 comments

    The captured images are stored in memory and output as a movie file as soon as the shooting is finished. 5-second movie takes about 20 to 30 seconds to output.

    The resulting movie is shown here.

    The occasional blackout is probably a malfunction of the photo reflector. The photo reflector detects reflected light from the infrared LED, but it is located near the lens. When the shutter opens, it probably detects the IR light from the outside world, causing the shooting timing to be off.

    There may be room for improvement if an IR filter is attached to the lens.

  • Test Shooting and Program Improvements

    AIRPOCKET05/25/2022 at 09:05 0 comments

    Now that the main board was ready, the program for photography was completed.

    When the shutter movement is detected by the photo reflector on the main board, one image is saved by opencv. If the shutter movement is not detected for more than 0.1 second, the program judges that the shooting is finished and the saved image data is concatenated and output as an MP4 file.

    There were several points that we noticed during the development of the program, and we created the program with the following points in mind.

    Buffer data processing

    When acquiring images with opencv, the image data that can be acquired with the imread command is the data stored in the buffer. By default, four images are buffered, so the data from four frames ago is acquired. Because of this buffer function, it is not possible to clearly specify the timing of shooting, and it was very, very, very difficult to synchronize the shooting timing.
    This time, I was able to synchronize the shutter timing by changing the buffer to one image and specifying the shooting mode as explained in the next section.

    Shooting Mode, FPS and FoV

    The IMX219 can shoot at a maximum of 90FPS, but this can cause the FoV of the image to become small. This time I was aiming to shoot at a minimum of 16 FPS and a maximum of 64 FPS, but in still photography using opencv, it was difficult to match the shutter timing without using a mode with a smaller FoV.
    In this case, I shot in Mode 6 at 1280x720, but the image is cropped for the sensor size, so the image is closer to telephoto.
    For more information on IMX219 shooting modes, FPS, and FoV, please refer to this page.

  • Making the main board

    AIRPOCKET05/19/2022 at 06:30 0 comments

    Now that we are able to detect the shutter movement, which had been a pending project, we have started fabrication of the main board.

    It has a DC-DC converter, a photo sensor for shutter detection, DIP switches for inputting shooting conditions, and pins for connecting to the Raspberry Pi.
    When we checked the operation, we found that the Raspberry Pi was reset due to lack of power when continuous shooting was performed. As a countermeasure, we changed the DC-DC converter from the LM1117 3V3 version board (top photo) to the MP1584 version board (bottom photo).

  • Detection of shutter movement

    AIRPOCKET05/07/2022 at 14:32 0 comments

    Now that the circuit for detecting shutter movement using a photo reflector has been established, we will test whether it is possible to detect the actual shutter opening and closing movement.

    After examining the areas inside the camera where shutter operation could be detected, it appears that the movement of the film feed claw can be detected. However, the claw itself moves right next to the lens, so it would collide with the image sensor.
    Although we wanted to avoid touching the camera body as much as possible, we decided that we had to touch this part, so we cut off the claws.
    The following video shows the claws on the film feed component cut off and the reflector attached where the claws used to be.

    As a reflective material, aluminum tape was used, which reflects the IR light of the photo reflector well. In this video, the camera is running at the FPS 16 setting.

    When the photo reflector was temporarily mounted in front of the reflective material to check its operation, the LED for the indicator flickered quickly. Although it is currently impossible to determine if there is any capture, it appears that shutter movement can be detected in this way.


    AIRPOCKET04/28/2022 at 09:06 0 comments

    This is the first time I have touched an 8mm film camera, but when I touched it, I was pleasantly surprised by its presence and texture, such as its weight and fast-moving shutter, more than I expected. It is an anachronistic spring-driven mechanism, but because of that, it is also robust enough to work even now, more than 70 years after its manufacture.

    When I was doing some research, I found an advertisement of the watch on sale, so I ended up buying it.

     "When you choose a Filmo, you choose a movie camera made with the high skill of Bell & Howell craftsmen who have built Hollywood"s preferred professional equipment for 41 years. Only Filmos can offer you this priceless heitage."

  • Change image sensor to IMX219

    AIRPOCKET04/27/2022 at 08:32 0 comments

    Until now we have been using the OV5647 image sensor, the biggest advantage of which was that it could handle up to 90FPS, but we were not satisfied with the image quality. 

    As an alternative, we obtained a small sensor unit with an IMX219 sensor. It is possible to divert the Raspberry Pi camera V2 board and replace only the sensor unit.
    There is one problem, the MIPI connector on the Raspberry Pi camera V2 is 1mm pitch x 15PIN, but the Raspberry Pi zero is 0.5mm pitch x 22PIN, so a conversion cable is required.
    The conversion cable we obtained was too long to fit into the case, so we modified it to cut the cable at the same time.
    The Raspberry Pi camera V2 board is also in the way, but if the placement of the main board is improved, it will fit in.

  • Consideration of a sensor for shutter movement detection

    AIRPOCKET04/25/2022 at 03:22 0 comments

    This 8mm film camera has a variable FPS. In order for the image sensor to capture moving images, the shutter timing of the camera must be synchronized with the sensor operation.

    It is very difficult to detect the shutter timing operation, and if a mechanical mechanism is added, it may become a burden and change the shutter timing itself.
    In this case, we will attempt to detect the movement by attaching a reflector to the shutter rotation mechanism and using a photo reflector.
    First, I used a breadboard to check the sensor sensitivity and circuitry.
    When the part with aluminum tape in front of the sensor comes to the front of the sensor, the LED shines.

    Although the sensitivity needs to be adjusted, we will test the actual device using this method.

  • Case Design

    AIRPOCKET04/22/2022 at 06:17 0 comments

    The case is designed to house the image sensor and other components.

    The following items are stored in the case.

    • Image sensor
    • Raspberry Pi 2
    • Main board
    • Sensor for acquiring shutter movement
    • Battery
    • Power switch
    • 2 LEDs
    • Dip switch

    The specifications of the device itself, which will be placed inside, have not yet been clearly decided, but I will make a mock-up and check it as we finalize the design.

    After three prototypes, I will proceed with development based on the shape shown in the photo.


  • Started software development

    AIRPOCKET04/14/2022 at 23:49 0 comments

    In 8mm film cameras, the shutter timing is linked to the frame feed of the film. When controlling the image sensor, the shutter timing must be detected in some way to capture an image. The captured image data is later connected and converted to video.
    First, we created a time-lapse tool that uses test opencv to take a picture at a specified timing, convert it to a movie, and then output it.

    Looks good. 

View all 15 project logs

Enjoy this project?



Hagtronics wrote 07/06/2023 at 17:44 point

Such a wonderful project - Thanks for sharing.  :-)

  Are you sure? yes | no

JohnBowers wrote 03/17/2023 at 04:18 point

I recently got a new camera, and I love it! I used to have a film camera that was difficult to use, but the digital camera is so much easier. I can upload photos onto my computer and I can also take photos with it. It also has a built-in memory card so I don't have to buy one every time I need to take photos. This camera is perfect for taking pictures at home or on vacation. Well, if you are a student and want to know how to write an essay about movie I would suggest you check it out because I was also one of the students who did not know where to start my essay about movies. I read an article sent by my friend that helped me a lot with my essay.

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Benji Greig wrote 09/02/2022 at 03:45 point

Would love to have a go at making one of these for myself. Really beautiful work I even have a 8mm camera on the shelf ready to go. If you had to do it again would you change any of the parts?

  Are you sure? yes | no

AIRPOCKET wrote 09/21/2022 at 03:41 point

We have not found any, but we are always looking for image sensors of a slightly larger size.

If there is an image sensor that is just the right size for the single8, we would like to make a digital module for the super8.
Oh, and I'd like to rebuild a proper PCB for the board.

  Are you sure? yes | no

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