Film rules...but the king is almost dead. Refactor your Rolleiflex 6008AF without the king's ransom.

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Let's face it, film will always be the superior medium to capture photographic moving/still images. Anybody who has developed their own negatives and printed them knows this - and medium/large format negatives are the most expressive in that arena. Sadly however, in the memory hole of the disposable society, most people prefer quantity over quality.

Options to continue in medium format photography in the digital age:
0) mortgage the house for a digital back or RED CAMERA®
1) wait for that big inheritance (assuming the world doesn't end in the meantime)
2) build your own digital back with inexpensive off the shelf components and share the fun with others

Maybe we use something like this => OmniVision Technologies Inc OV14825-A16A ($23) with FPGA?
(however, is having an NDA very friendly to open hardware/hacking/making community? - I don't think so...much due diligence ahead)

ON semi/Aptina MT9F002I12-N4001-PF ($69) seems more promising, but no stock from Arrow/Digi-key?

A refresher:

More reference(s):


An approachable optics reference:

"Introduction to Modern Optics" by Grant R. Fowles - Dover 2nd.

Mechanical TODO:

0) careful measurement and initial spec of Rollei 6008AF camera body/film back, plane dimensions

1) think and scope out the first cut of a platform to house the first cut of image sensor hardware

Hardware TODO:


Software TODO:




  • 1 × MT9T031 3MP CMOS image sensor (for first cut experimentantion/learning)
  • 1 × PIC32MZ2048ECM PIC32 200Mhz monster MCU

  • Rolliflex redux log

    counter.culture04/30/2015 at 11:58 0 comments

    2015-04-29 A collection of sub-optimal 3MP imaging sensors from ON semi were ordered for experimentation. Still in due diligence phase for righteous size/capacity/open information sensors. CMOSIS can suck it - no soup for them.

    2015-05-06 Got an email this morning that the sensors have been shipped - oh dread, time to stop dreaming and start working out the details.

    2015-05-08 Thar be CMOS sensors here!!!

    2015-05-09 Thinking about a PIC32MZ and a PIC-tail just to get the hang of vacuuming image data (fairly simple device vs. the $1500+ multi-lane differential chips):

    [[app note schematic]]

    - then Xilinx Spartan 6 and some simple timing logic to stitch the output of more of these together ("LEXX, Destroy that planet!!!").

    [[rough throw away design image goes here]]

    Probably a total waste of time except for the learning, but curiosity is longing for a cat... Crawl before we run (or get run over).

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adamtdeen2 wrote 01/20/2016 at 01:24 point

I have been searching all over for this project. Wishing you the best! 

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frankstripod wrote 04/30/2015 at 09:34 point

I would like to do this with my old 35mm. I always wanted to do this on a Nikon F3 w/ the DA2 Sport Finder (just because the viewfinder looks like a screen), and only dreamed about having having a house big enough to mortgage for a MF back, so I will just follow this instead :)

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counter.culture wrote 04/30/2015 at 12:36 point

sensors are coming down in price.  it's not just the # of megapixels, it's the photodiode element size in μm, global vs. rolling shutter, RGB response curves.  FPGAs powerful enough to handle the image processing are in the $20 single quantity neighborhood.  pseudo-SRAM organized 4Mx16 is $5.00 in single qtys.  the effort is to see what is possible with commodity hardware first, then either EPIC_FAIL = 1 or take the lessons learned and go big.

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The Big One wrote 04/16/2015 at 15:22 point

Very useful project... but how are you planning on making it medium format?  That sensor is tiny (~8mm wide).  Would you be ganging multiple ones together?

I have wanted to do similar in the past (but for 35mm cameras), but looking around there is no economical source for small quantities of large sensors (and by large I don't even mean medium format, even APS-C is essentially impossible to find, let alone 35mm).

  Are you sure? yes | no

counter.culture wrote 04/17/2015 at 02:28 point

I'm still in the research phase - I just threw that (OmniVision
OV14825-A16A) sensor out there as an example of cheap (and because it
garners helpful feedback like yours).  Seeing as how they want an NDA
before giving you a is a non-stater, but the ON semi 14MP
(MT9F002I12-N4001-PF) is independent developer friendly but as you say,
hard to find (perhaps a group buy or dare I say it, kickstarter
campaign).  The initial thought was (as with every effort) to get
something cobbled together and working first, then worry about stitching
together a ganged array of sensors and working out the semi-complicated
algorithms and hardware.
Speaking of APS-C, my Canon version sits next to my Rollei...
Maybe the answer becomes to cannibalize and reverse engineer other equipment (like Fujifilm S9XXX 9MP cameras) to make something great - this project is to lay down the idea and start the work and conversations.

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The Big One wrote 04/17/2015 at 14:04 point

Ahh, ok.  I will be following your project with interest!

What I am interested in is taking an old 35mm camera and putting a sensor in it instead of film.  I don't care about a display, I don't care about fast shooting, etc; I just want a simple camera.

I know there have been commercial ventures trying to do this in the past, but they used small sensors (this was early on in the digital revolution, and 35mm sensors were very expensive then) and they never really got off the ground.

I realize that a MF back will be at the same time both easier and harder than a 35mm back: you will have more room to play with, but will need a larger sensor (and if I think that 35mm is hard to find, MF is even harder!)  If you are able to figure out the problem of sensor size, I think it would go a long way towards realizing this.

Anyway, feel free to chat if you want to bounce ideas off me or something.


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counter.culture wrote 04/17/2015 at 14:37 point

"I don't care about a display, I don't care about fast shooting, etc; I just want a simple camera."

That's what I'm aiming for, simple tech...allowing a person to recapture/retain their expenditure in quality photographic gear.  Put the money into a quality sensor and beefy FPGA and forget about the luxuries (dual ported RAM is off the table, and <= 10ns SRAM, etc.)

I'm going down the line to see who'll talk to me in the sensor domain - they (mfgrs, distributors) act like this is anti-gravity, zero point energy, or nuke warhead privileged info...really sick of it already.

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