DSLRs the way it could have been

  Maybe this article will seem like a "me too" kind of concept in the shadow of Easycass's recent article about "what would be the ideal camera".

Although labeled as "not entirely plausible" his concept was a bold statement and surely for me this was a push toward "coming out of the closet" with one of my own concepts about what an "ideal camera" could be.

  Modern camera technology is amazing, and it's this technology that enables great artists to take photography and cinematography further. But it can also develop into a barrier between the photographer and his images. More features don't necessarily lead to better photography, sometimes they just distract.

Traditional photography is way more demanding, film cost, processing time any many other factors, required more commitment from camera users. There was greater pressure from photographers to get it right, to understand light, composition, timing. Ironically, all this information is more available now then ever before, it's also possibly more overlooked than ever, since everything is done for us by computers.

On the other hand digital is cool too, it lets us experiment, try out new things, and it can help us learn faster from our own mistakes since taking shots is almost free.

 Digi-Back, concept for converting a classic film camera to the digital age.

The Digi-Back Concept I am proposing here is not a new idea and certainly I am not taking claims for being an inventor. Actually this is how digital photography started in the early days, with cameras like Kodak DCS100 or Nikon F4 NASA, fitting CCD/CMOS sensors in place of film and connecting them to an external storage unit. These cameras were huge, bulky and extremely expensive.

So is this concept still relevant today? I would say it's more than ever, and here are a few reasons why:

- From a tech point of view timing seems to be right: continued miniaturization has enabled us to fit bigger and better sensors into ever smaller bodies, cameras such as the Nex or RX1 from Sony prove it's definitely possible to fit a big, high quality sensor into a small footprint.

- Features are reaching a saturation point, just as the megapixel race had. The basics of taking pictures remained the same for almost 200 years. Medium changed, lenses changed, technology changed, but no amount of technology is going to turn a picture without something to say into a work of art.

- There is an continued interest in the LO-Fi aesthetics classic film cameras produce, trends like Lomography, Instagram, Hipstamatic, hint that today's users are not looking at pixel sharpness only, they are looking for SOUL, even if it's an digitally reproduced version of an analogue era via a smartphone app.

- Changing cameras every 1-3yrs whenever there is an upgrade "with features and specs you can't live without", leaves you little time to actually learn your camera, its limitations its flaws and its strengths, and more importantly leaves you little time to learn about yourself as a photographer.

 The modularity of many film cameras allows for many parts to be replaced and upgraded, in this case the removable film cover can be replaced with a modern sensor unit.

  This concept is nothing more than a digital back similar to what you see on medium format cameras, no additional shutter controls, no additional metering and no additional features other than what the camera already provides, it's nothing more then a image capturing sensor with memory and display, simplicity that in theory should also make manufacturing costs lower then a mid-range slr.

Energy could come form conventional li-ion cells but it could also be harvested from the camera's film advance lever movement via the motor drive couple.

Several film stocks could be pre-programed and users could select desired look to match their favorite film such as velvia, astia, kodacrome, tri-x, etc.

 A clean layout, minimal set of features and little automation is meant to keep the shooting experience as close as possible to film.

For my Digi-Back concept I've chosen the FM3a as a platform, it's the most "modern" of the classic SLR's, but there are many other examples of excellent film era SLR's out there such as the Pentax Lx, Olympus OM Ti, Canon AE, and the same technology can be adapted to any Range-Finders with a removable back film door.

Many of these cameras are more compact and better built than today's plastic digitals, and there is something unique about holding a mechanical camera in your hands. Viewfinders are big, simple and clean, all the controls are straight forward and tactile, and most of these used cameras can be had for little money on the second hand market.

But what's more important about this Concept is the freedom of choice and modularity, weather you want to upgrade to a higher resolution sensor, to a BW specific or a foveon, or even go back to film, all these options should be available while at the same time keeping your camera familiar.

 The digital back with screen and controls replace the standard film cover door, while the battery pack and additional electronics take the place of the optional motor drive.

 Photography represents different things for different people, perhaps the ideal camera is one that adapts, changes shape, accessories, lenses, sensors, resolutions, that transcends the continuous need to upgrade to the latest tech, perhaps the camera you already own.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by dpreview.com or any affiliated companies.


Total comments: 9
By montoni (Apr 18, 2013)

interesante. Muy buen artículo Valentin, felicitaciones!

By daveinla (Feb 17, 2013)

I think this would be a fantastic, beautiful creation. I got into MFT to use older "legacy" lenses in a manual way on a digital body (as such, I only have adapters and old lenses, no native AF lenses), and that led me to pick up several mechanical bodies for my lenses of choice (Minolta SRT, Canon FTb QL, Fujica STX-1, Yashica FX-2). All of these frames are gorgeous and well-made, and the ability to stick a digital back on any would be a dream come true. Heck, I'd be satisfied with a full-frame but low megapixel sensor (scans often come in at 5 meg anyway), with little to no preview of the captured image, and DNG output.

I get that none of my cameras mount current lenses, but heck, I think most are still tied in some way to current manufacturers (not sure what happened to Yashica). In theory Sony could produce a no-frills back for the SRT and it wouldn't threaten the DSLR or NEX markets; just give us a way to get digital output for stills. If anything, it might add another market.

By ianz28 (Dec 24, 2012)

Nice write-up!

I've been a long time supporter of a similar idea and even started a post about it a year ago. Seemed some like the idea and others are against it.


I agree that the FM3a would be the perfect form factor for such a camera.

Comment edited 6 minutes after posting
By starwolfy (Dec 22, 2012)


By rkwchu (Dec 20, 2012)

Where can we find one of these digital back?

By CFynn (Dec 20, 2012)

Love the concept.

If there was an LCD on this, as you've depicted, the back would obviously need to be thicker. A thicker back would also require an extension to the eyepiece - which could then have a diopter adjustment included.

You'd also need some kind of direct link between the bottom unit and the back.

Of course it would probably be much easier for them to make a "Digital FM" in this form factor without an opening back.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
By marcio_napoli (Dec 20, 2012)

Just beautiful !

I'm drooling ... !!!!!

By valentin_neda (Oct 29, 2012)

Hello Easycass, thanks and nice to hear you like the concept. Honestly was expecting more readers to express their opinion, feedback weather positive or negative is always welcome.

By Easycass (Oct 27, 2012)

Hi Valentin, I for one am all for it... and an FM3a is a great body to explore the concept with... This is an important topic, so more from me soon... Good article.

Total comments: 9