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Faded dream: blogger looks back at the failure of the Silicon Film project

By Richard Butler on Aug 20, 2013 at 14:54 GMT

In the early days of digital photography a small American company, Imagek, started developing a digital sensor module that could be installed in film SLRs. The idea still generates excitement today, more than ten years after the company (by then named Silicon Film) failed. Photographer and blogger Olivier Duong has taken a look back at the promise and disappointment of the Silicon Film dream.

Silicon Film - an idea that still spurs the imagination.

Duong has collected images from the time, including some from dpreview.com and Imaging Resource's contemporary coverage of the company's initial EFS-1 model. Based around a roughly 1" sensor, giving a ~2.6x crop factor, the system offered a 1.3MP camera that could store up to 24 images on its internal memory and promised up to 300 images per battery change. Even back in 2000 (around a year after the idea was first touted), Phil Askey was expressing doubts about the company's ability to deliver.

Dpreview.com covered the story when Silicon Film originally promised to launch the EFS-1 and was one of the few sites to publish a full-resolution sample from a prototype example.

Duong says he hopes someone would attempt a crowd-sourced version (which, in turns out, someone is), overlooking the many potential problems and still wanting one, despite the drawbacks of the system, many of which were identified by Askey at the time.

The lack of battery space, the need to open the camera to change ISO, White Balance or any other image setting, and the need to indicate a crop in the viewfinder if anything less than a full frame sensor is used, are all difficult to get around, especially considering that this had to work in more than one model of camera. And that made the large assumption that many modern photographers would be willing to live without a rear LCD to check their images.

For a still-more detailed look at the challenges of creating a digital insert for existing film SLRs, read forum regular Joseph Wisniewski's posts about the physical challenges faced and the economics of why it's probably simpler to go out and buy a D600/EOS 6D, rather than wait for someone to breathe life back into your F6/EOS-1V.

Comments

Total comments: 173
12
H Braga
By H Braga (4 months ago)

It's my dream. I would buy one. Honorio, Brazil.

0 upvotes
JF69
By JF69 (3 months ago)

You didn't even READ the article did you, let alone Joe. S. Wisniewski's posts linked in the article? Will never happen.

Comment edited 20 seconds after posting
1 upvote
bionet
By bionet (7 months ago)

I think some of the original reasons why this didn't work out are no longer valid:

1. With one of today's small WiFi modules, you could control the unit with the camera closed.

2. It should be possible to build a sensor that can use the full (or nearly the full) film size. Connected to the board at the back or just at the sides left and right. Might be extremely expensive though.

0 upvotes
JF69
By JF69 (3 months ago)

You didn't even READ the article did you, let alone Joe. S. Wisniewski's posts linked in the article, did you? Go on & take a a look why you are (unfortunately) incorrect.

0 upvotes
DigiPod
By DigiPod (8 months ago)

Well if nothing else DigiPod has you talking, I created DigiPod, I did it for the same reasons I have a classic Mercedes Convertible (that I bought new!) and a Patek Phillippe watch, I appreciate great design, craftsmanship and quality. I don't seem to be able to buy Kodachrome anymore and found it difficult to get HP4 processed.
I have a cannon 600D that I use ( I still don't use all it offers after 2 years).

I didn't set out to put digipod on a crowdfunding site, I wanted one and no one made one! I have just updated the website http://igg.me/at/digipod/x/4301479 and we now have 89 backers and just short of £12,000 in funding with 27 days left, will we make production, that will be up to the backers, we have a way to go, but every journey starts with a small step.

I thank those of you that have shown support and those that have constructive negative comments, I respect that everyone has an opinion I wish you all the very best & may your God go with you. James

0 upvotes
SirSeth
By SirSeth (8 months ago)

I hope you succeed James. The folks who have never owned a classic film camera and who are saying a DSLR would be cheaper and better just don't get it. Personally, I think making complete digital backs for certain popular SLRs like the OM-1 and FM2 would be a good place to start too. I see Nikon has a patent for one. But this would mean a smaller pool of "backers" to help fund it if going independent. Good luck.

0 upvotes
Roland Karlsson
By Roland Karlsson (8 months ago)

I agree that it would be fun to use my old (very nice) cameras with a digital film roll. Fun indeed.

But, it needs to be FF. Because the cameras are designed for FF. Maybe it could be APS-C, but I doubt it would be all that fun.

Moreover, it will always have less functionality than i digital camera.

Moreover, it is much more difficult to implement than you first think. In your video you showed a prototype. It was put in an open camera where the shutter was held open and then you pushed a button on the sensor package. Thats easy. Very easy. But, is that what you want?

Maybe you want to shut the back and use the camera as you normally did. Not so easy any more. Not impossible. But hard.

And all this is, as we say in Sweden, to go over the creek to fetch water. If you want a good digital camera, there is a much simpler way.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
ciao_chao
By ciao_chao (8 months ago)

Canon's affordable full frame cameras have made the whole project redundant. Since the original EOS 5D was launched, it has opened the door for all kinds of adapted lenses running on their original format, a bonus is that Canon's EF system allows for metering and function without a detected lens. Most of the major systems can mount to Canon EF with no optical modification, including Nikon F, Olympus OM, Pentax K, Leica R, M42, Contax/Yashica, and Rollei mounts. So you can faithfully reproduce the optical quirks that these various vintage lenses posess, without having to use the lens on it's native system.

1 upvote
vtinitus
By vtinitus (8 months ago)

Time for a kickstarter relaunch

0 upvotes
Roland Karlsson
By Roland Karlsson (8 months ago)

Digipod: according to himself he need 1000 backers for a crop 4 sensor, 2000 backers for a crop 3 sensor and 5000 backers for a crop 2 sensor. He currently have 35 backers and a third of time has passed. It does not look good.

2 upvotes
Silversilver
By Silversilver (8 months ago)

You can just shoot film and get the negs digitalized when you bring them to the lab to be processed. I get very good scans on dvd from my lab at fair price. The best of both worlds... I have the pleasure to shoot portra on leica m6, nikon F3 or hasselblad and get good scans in a few hours, less time that i usually spend on editing and processing raw files in LR. When i want or need digital, i use a digital camera.
The digital cartridge seems nice at first, but at the end wont be as good as an integrated digital slr. And a lot of the pleasure with film cameras is the delay between shooting and viewing the images.

2 upvotes
solsang
By solsang (8 months ago)

There is a hidden link in the article to a real version being croudsourced right now!!

This really ought to be highlighted so people have a chance to evaluate, comment or support it, most comments show that people didn't see the vague text link:

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/digipod

0 upvotes
photoholiko
By photoholiko (8 months ago)

Didn't Leica have something like this for their R-System?

0 upvotes
misha marinsky4
By misha marinsky4 (8 months ago)

Yes, and it cost ~$6,000.

0 upvotes
Jon Stern
By Jon Stern (8 months ago)

Yes, and that came out a collaboration with Silicon Film. After Silicon Film closed its door in Sept 2011, Leica continued development with Imacon.

0 upvotes
Joseph S Wisniewski
By Joseph S Wisniewski (8 months ago)

By September 2011, the Modul-R was long discontinued.

Leica announced development with Imacon almost a decade earlier, back in June 2003.

http://www.dpreview.com/news/2003/06/25/leicadigitalr9

They shipped in June 2005.

http://www.dpreview.com/news/2005/05/31/leica_due

2 upvotes
Jon Stern
By Jon Stern (8 months ago)

Whoops, I meant Sept 2001, not 2011!

I must be getting old when I start getting the decade wrong.

0 upvotes
Joseph S Wisniewski
By Joseph S Wisniewski (8 months ago)

Been there, done that. LOL.

This "getting old" stuff sucks.

0 upvotes
JF69
By JF69 (3 months ago)

Joe S. Wisniewski where art thou? I miss your insights on these forums, hope you are OK.

0 upvotes
thomo
By thomo (8 months ago)

I would buy one or more in a flash! I've still got my Nikomat, F, F2, FM2, FE2, FA, F3, F4 & F5 and 18 manual AIs lenses. I just need a digital or insert to go with them.

I'd pay $500 for it if it was full frame!

1 upvote
solsang
By solsang (8 months ago)

There is a link in the article about one being made right now!! The digipod is actually becoming real if 1000 backers support it http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/digipod
(it cost 200 pounds for the first backers:)

0 upvotes
thomo
By thomo (8 months ago)

As I mentioned, I would be happy to pay $500 for a proven product (DX or FX) but I don't think $300 for is a good prospect for a 2/3" sensor that is still 'vapour ware'.

I just can't understand why the major DSLR manufacturers have not developed some sort of digital back or insert for the old film cameras - they have for medium format film! Just imagine the buzz of being able to get digital images out of an old Nikon F, F2As or F3.

0 upvotes
JF69
By JF69 (3 months ago)

"I just can't understand why the major DSLR manufacturers have not developed ……"

My gosh, you didn't even bother to READ the article did you, let alone Joe. S. Wisniewski's posts linked in the article before posting, did you? (basic manners!)
Go on & take a look, an interesting explanation.

0 upvotes
budi0251
By budi0251 (8 months ago)

Back in the day when we could get date back replacement upgrade for our camera; I suppose it'd still be possible with such data backs, thus having enough room for electronics (with some problem for nose area, photog needs to breath as well)
About electromechanical control/sensor, now that's another engineering problem.

Today?
2nd hand 6MP APS-C sized sensor DSLR can be bought for about 150 bucks, coupled with some basic lens.
If this device wish to compete with that, it should cost less than 100 bucks and still no more easier than that relic DSLR (and worse IQ).

1 upvote
Joseph S Wisniewski
By Joseph S Wisniewski (8 months ago)

I think that's what killed the Leica Modul-R. The day I first tried it, the unusually thick "digital back" and the limited eye-relief meant my nose was squashed painfully against the back of the camera. Even though the 1.3x crop added eye-relief, it still wasn't enough.

That same day, back in July of 2005, I tried the Nikon D2X. That experience totally convinced me that the whole idea of a modular DSLR was dead. (Although I subsequently tried to revive it. Long story).

An opportunity a few months later to spend a week with the Modul-R reinforced that conclusion. The R9 with a Modul-R was a thoroughly obnoxious camera.

1 upvote
cgarrard
By cgarrard (8 months ago)

Inconvenient, who cares. That's the point really. Film was, but now we can develop ourselves. Raw files (dng format especially) would be best then you don't have to worry about white balance. No preview of your images, just reliance on good photography fundamentals without the hassle of film after.

I think if someone makes a full frame one that shoots up to 200 images or more on one charge, it's an instant success. Period.

I'd go get one then go buy some more film cameras tomorrow. It's a great idea, soon as someone does one successfully its going to sell in boat loads and you'll probably see film camera prices go up too. Imagine using a Contax G2 with this. Oooooops!

First cam I'd get is a Contax N or Maxxum 9 Ti, then go have a fricken blast.

C

Comment edited 6 minutes after posting
3 upvotes
thomo
By thomo (8 months ago)

I'm on the same page - just raw images, no preview, manually set ISO. I don't even care if you have to have a cable plugged into the flash sync like the MF digital backs for 6x6cm film cameras.

0 upvotes
SirSeth
By SirSeth (8 months ago)

For me, it would be a Hexar RF, Maxxum 7, and OM-1. It would be a total kick in the pants and I think it would be very successful even today. I do think it would be easier to replace the entire film back though for certain cameras like the OM-1. Having a LCD, slot for a battery and microSD card, and a few controls would be nice. That seems more possible to me.

0 upvotes
misha marinsky4
By misha marinsky4 (8 months ago)

Why this will not work in two words: Moore's Law.

0 upvotes
Lance Chee
By Lance Chee (8 months ago)

I'm thinking ... if they incorporate all the technical bits into the "film cylinder" portion to mimic Sony's new idea, this might work - i'd pair my ole' Nikon FM2N with my Nexus 7" tablet or 5" smartphone
http://www.itwire.com/your-it-news/mobility/61188-sony-lens-camera-could-break-all-smartphone-camera-limitations

0 upvotes
Mark
By Mark (8 months ago)

OMG. Given the big moves in Sensor & Battery Technology this simple idea would be a very affordable option today. Brining it back I say. Who owns the patent?

Comment edited 23 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Joseph S Wisniewski
By Joseph S Wisniewski (8 months ago)

Dominik Schmidt probably did more real work on this stuff than anyone else, and a quick check shows at least one of his patents still in force

Silicon Film didn't pay their maintenance fees, all theirs are dead.

Kodak has some, not sure of the status.

0 upvotes
andy amos
By andy amos (8 months ago)

I remember the news, the sceptism, vapour ware labelling and clear signals it was a no-go project...BUT, deep down, in the soul of thought I really wanted them to succeed. With 5 or 6 film bodies unused in years and just as many digital bodies bought and sold, I'd still love to have something to bring life back to life so many marvelous camera designs....that were built to last more than a couple of years!

2 upvotes
markg26
By markg26 (8 months ago)

It's a great concept, but they missed the boat by a few years. Most photographers from the film era have probably thrown away their film bodies by now, or they are so out-of-date with regard to autofocus and other features there's no point in using them.

0 upvotes
Jon Stern
By Jon Stern (8 months ago)

This is a historical perspective. Silicon Film closed its doors in Sept 2001. There was a subsequent attempt to revive it, but that's the footnote.

Comment edited 18 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
cgarrard
By cgarrard (8 months ago)

Moved on until they see this for sale. Buyers don't care, this would sell regardless.

1 upvote
Roland Karlsson
By Roland Karlsson (8 months ago)

The main two problems with Silicon Film was that there would be a race between it and digital cameras and that there was rather profound technical challenges.

The main advantage for the efilm team was that they did not have to make a camera.

The disadvantages made it doomed from the start IMHO. While the efilm team tried to solve the problems, large camera makers, like Nikon made cameras. Not so good and rather expensive cameras to begin with. But, the efilm team had the same problems and much more and not the same kind of muscles.

The only hope for the efilm team would be if the camera makers decided to go on concentrating on film cameras, and postpone their interest in digital cameras. But ... this would also mean a lack of suitable sensors.

1 upvote
Breidablick
By Breidablick (8 months ago)

Has this been posted here before?

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/digipod

Edit: Yup.. sorry

Comment edited 6 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Roland Karlsson
By Roland Karlsson (8 months ago)

So . someone is trying to do it again Now as an indie project.

Indie projects are strange beasts. Its very much about feelings.

The digipod might just well materialise, but in a bad shape and no one will buy it. We will see - won´t we?

0 upvotes
Roland Karlsson
By Roland Karlsson (8 months ago)

For Jon Stern.

You have a long list of misunderstandings you want to put right in the posts below. Interesting to read maybe.

But, was not the biggest misunderstanding that this idea had any bearing at all? How come that you even tried it?

To me it was obvious the first time I heard about it that it was not a brilliant idea. Making a camera is much easier than making the digital film insert.

1 upvote
Jon Stern
By Jon Stern (8 months ago)

Making a full camera would have been easier, but when we started a DSLR cost around $40,000. What's more, those early DSLRs really weren't very good cameras. Certainly they were inferior to the film SLRs that many people already owed and loved.

It's easy in 2013 to sit here and throw stones at an idea whose time has largely passed, but try to look at it through turn of the century eyes.

2 upvotes
Roland Karlsson
By Roland Karlsson (8 months ago)

I remember when this was proposed. I said the same back then :-)

It was (IMHO) an obvious failure.

Maybe you can find some old comments from me from that time - on DPReview or UseNET.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
Joe Ogiba
By Joe Ogiba (8 months ago)

That idea was interesting back in 2000 but today it is the dumbest idea on the planet just like flying cars.

0 upvotes
GodSpeaks
By GodSpeaks (8 months ago)

No, flying cars are a great idea, provided humans are not the ones doing the flying.

2 upvotes
forpetessake
By forpetessake (8 months ago)

It already wasn't interesting in 2000. Canon announced D30, and in 2001 I got it.
Even if the company had perfectly working device in 1998, they would have had just 2 years to monetize that idea. In no event they could have made any profit worthy of investment. It had DUMB idea written all over it.

0 upvotes
cgarrard
By cgarrard (8 months ago)

Speaking for yourself of course. It's still a great idea, soon as someone does one successfully its going to sell in boat loads and you'll probably see film camera prices go up. Imagine using a Contax G2 with this. Yeah it has no value, right.

First cam I'd get is a Contax N or Maxxum 9 Ti, then go have a fricken blast.

Comment edited 31 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
GodSpeaks
By GodSpeaks (8 months ago)

Back in the day, I loved my Nikon F2As and would have loved a Silicon Film insert, but not at a 2.6x crop factor, nor 1.3MP.

Today, I would not go back to my beloved old F2As. It is now a piece of history. Even if someone produced a slipin FF Silicon Film cartridge, I could not be induced to buy it for anything. You would have to pry my D800E from my cold dead fingers.

Nope, today's DSLRs are sooooo much better than the SLRs of yesterday.

0 upvotes
Frank Dernie
By Frank Dernie (8 months ago)

I have a Leica DMR which works brilliantly on my R8 but results in a heavy camera.

I always thought the digital film idea was wishful thinking. Until all the electronics and battery of a digital SLR can be packaged to fit inside the cylindrical space enclosed by a 135 cassette it will be impossible. Why didn't anybody seem to think of that before throwing away so much money?
Blindingly obvious, from an engineering perspective, I would have thought.

0 upvotes
Joseph S Wisniewski
By Joseph S Wisniewski (8 months ago)

It struck me as utterly impossible using 1999 level technology.

I've looked at all sorts of financial info on these guys, and never could find where they'd spent any money on electronics design. They had an IC packaging designer (not much use, unless you can order in large enough quantities to get a sensor maker to implement your package design). They ended up in such debt to Quest Manufacturing, a plastics fabricator, that Quest ended up acquiring the defunct Silicon Film.

You would expect electronics design and tooling to cost about 20-50x what the housing designs cost for a product like this, If your biggest creditor is the guy who molded the insert housing and the spiffy looking reader, the logical conclusion is that there was no electronic design, whatsoever.

1 upvote
Joseph S Wisniewski
By Joseph S Wisniewski (8 months ago)

That's not where the story ends.

Eventually, Quest hired Applied Color Science to build some electronics, and ACS got as far as a prototype board stack about twice the volume of an SLR (not a film canister) when Quest couldn't fund it and traded all rights to ACS in exchange for their debt. That, as far as I can tell, is as close to working as Silicon Film ever got.

0 upvotes
Jon Stern
By Jon Stern (8 months ago)

Joseph, we had our own electronics designers and had layout done by a company in San Diego (I forget their name).

We went through several companies before finding one who could build our rigid-flex PCBs correctly. I can't remember who we ended up with.

Our chip packaging was being done in San Diego by an IC packaging company called MeltroniX. We were buying wafers from VVL (and then FillFactory for the next gen 4M sensor).

At our peak we had 31 employees. Most of those were engineers. Matt Whalen was our senior color scientist. He set up ACS after the collapse of SFT.

Our industrial design and plastics were designed by IDE in Scotts Valley. I just looked and you can even find (e)film on their website. Like many of our subcons, including Quest, they came to us via our engineers who had worked on the original Palm Pilot.

Maybe you'll find yourself in the Bay Area some time and we could meet up so I can show you the box full of old electronics.

0 upvotes
Jon Stern
By Jon Stern (8 months ago)

Joseph, Quest was our biggest creditor. They took over the company by BUYING the assets from the creditor. The debt to them wasn't sufficient to allow them to just take the company as you claim.

The reason they bought the company is because the owner of Quest really believed in the idea. My personal view is he made a series of bad business decisions because he was so blinded by his love of the idea. But that's a different story.

0 upvotes
Jon Stern
By Jon Stern (8 months ago)

Joesph, I actually agree with you that it was impossible in 1999! At that point, we couldn't get everything to fit in the film can in a way that was manufacturable at low cost, in high volume. The FPGA was too big and the Flash memories took up too much space to get enough shots.

However, Actel (supplier of our FPGA) brought forward the development of their smaller BGA package by something like 9 months in order to reduce the footprint of the FPGA. Before that, we were looking to buy bare die and to use chip-on-board. That was technically feasible, but would have been a major pain.

More importantly, the flash memory doubled in capacity from 128Mb to 256Mb, meaning that we could go from 4 parts to just two.

Those two changes were enough to make it possible using 2001 technology.

0 upvotes
SirSeth
By SirSeth (8 months ago)

Most of the popular SLRs had removable doors on the back. Why not make camera specific removable "film backs?" OM and FM for starters. It seems like it would overcome most challenges except viewfinder crop. (This could be helped by custom focus screens that were also removable).

Comment edited 59 seconds after posting
1 upvote
Roland Karlsson
By Roland Karlsson (8 months ago)

1. The market should be too small.

2. There are still huge problems to solve.

0 upvotes
forpetessake
By forpetessake (8 months ago)

For those curious, more information can be found here: http://cultureandcommunication.org/deadmedia/index.php/Silicon_Film

0 upvotes
CarVac
By CarVac (8 months ago)

They just need to make a nice DSLR with real ergonomics.

Fuji's X-series is nice, but I really crave the look of a big, bright, MF SLR viewfinder (fully silvered mirror) with a true matte, along with the refined ergonomics, build quality, and compact size of something like the Contax 139.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
3 upvotes
richheath
By richheath (8 months ago)

Couldn't agree more - especially with the Contax reference. I loved my 139...

0 upvotes
Reg Natarajan
By Reg Natarajan (8 months ago)

I loved the Contax G series, but the fact that Kyocera shuttered the Contax brand should tell us something about the viability of that product line.

0 upvotes
CarVac
By CarVac (8 months ago)

Perhaps it wasn't the camera, but instead the ecosystem that killed the Contax brand.

I'm sure there would be more interest now than there used to be, now that advanced users are demanding more direct, tactile control over their cameras.

0 upvotes
AppleDuck
By AppleDuck (8 months ago)

It's great seeing Joanna again. I think Phil and Joanna did an excellent job getting this site off the ground as it quickly became the cream of the crop during the early days of digital photography.

1 upvote
peterwr
By peterwr (8 months ago)

Seconded. What became of them - did they retire as multimillionaires when they sold DPReview, or are they still involved?

2 upvotes
Roland Karlsson
By Roland Karlsson (8 months ago)

I think Phil did something with cars.

0 upvotes
Stpix
By Stpix (8 months ago)

An interesting and admirable concept but basically obsolete by the time it was ready for market.

Kind of like a carbon fiber buggy whip. The pinnacle of of an obsolete technology.

0 upvotes
forpetessake
By forpetessake (8 months ago)

Even if all technical obstacles didn't exist, why would anybody invest money in a rapidly shrinking market?

1 upvote
Erik Magnuson
By Erik Magnuson (8 months ago)

Possibly the most technical write up:
http://www.edn.com/design/sensors/4338303/Electronic-film-focuses-on-low-power-high-image-quality

Major limitations included other than those already discussed.
- could not use a shutter speed slower than 1/15th It doesn't mention if there were limits on sequential shooting.
- used sound of mirror up for activation - could not be used for RF cameras and not reliable with manual wind noise.
- could not use DX coding - some cameras assume DX read means advance film when back closed.

If SF had been able to ship, would they have survived? The tricky part would have been how well it would have worked in customer hands (I.e. defect and return rate) and surviving the cash-flow killer of the Osboune effect (I,e., who will buy the current product if its known a supposedly better one was on the way.)

0 upvotes
Joffun
By Joffun (8 months ago)

This idea hasn't gone away. I see that someone has already mentioned a "new" version of this - interesting insight here: http://www.imaging-resource.com/news/2013/08/20/history-doomed-to-repeat-project-promises-digital-cartridge-for-film-slrs

0 upvotes
Richard Butler
By Richard Butler (8 months ago)

It's actually mentioned and linked to in the story.

0 upvotes
Joe Ogiba
By Joe Ogiba (8 months ago)

The digital 35mm full frame sensor module for 35mm SLRs would cost much more than todays full frame DSLR so the market for this is zero. It reminds me of people who talk about how small some 35mm SLRs were compared to todays DSLRs but they forget the ones they remember did not have motor drive that is on every DSLR or a 500 frame bulk film back that is equal to a DSLR with SDXC card.

0 upvotes
CameraLabTester
By CameraLabTester (8 months ago)

It was the dream of every film SLR owner for this to take off. They wanted to hold on to their SLR and mix it with digital.

It was a noble goal, but technology just zoomed past and never looked back.

Consumers today are so spoiled with AF Micro Adjustment and Live View.

The tolerances of even the most basic of DSLRs coupled with modern cheap high IQ lenses just raised the stakes beyond reach of this project.

.

1 upvote
SergeAP
By SergeAP (8 months ago)

Do not bother your head with useless technologies. Just use film cameras as intended (if you know how) and get pleasure from the process until it is available.

3 upvotes
Jon Stern
By Jon Stern (8 months ago)

The "6 models" were all the same until the very final step of the assembly process, when the distance between the "film can" and the sensor was locked down. It was all achieved by simply cutting the sensor flex cable to the length required for a particular model, sticking it down and applying the top metal "flag" cover. Oh, we also had a different-colored vinyl label that was applied to the "film can" for each of the six variants. Interestingly, most of the major SLRs were covered by just three of these configurations.

This approach allowed close to complete production and inventorying of the EFS-1. When orders for different models came in we would have been quickly able to configure them (in a few minutes); perform final test; package; and then ship.

I won't say much about "Silicon Film EFS10-SF", as I had little involvement after the closure on 9/14/2001. I don't really consider that to be part of the real Silicon Film history.

3 upvotes
Jon Stern
By Jon Stern (8 months ago)

Re: 8) William Patton never accepted the position of Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of SFI. In a nutshell it was not going to work for the time. Plus Silicon Film saw that they needed to create 6 different models to cover most of the cameras available. Everything was looking bad for the EFS-1.

The William Patton ("General" Patton, as we called him) incident was a funny one. The staff was introduced to him and never saw him again. This was not long before we finally ran out of cash and closed our doors (the week of the 9/11 attacks). I don't think this affected the outcome, it's just a strange footnote in the history.

Comment edited 9 seconds after posting
2 upvotes
Jon Stern
By Jon Stern (8 months ago)

Re: 7) several key employees on the EFS-1 project left SFI further hampering the development process

We were struggling towards the end. As mentioned above, the dot com bubble bursting had it close to impossible to get VC funding for tech companies (how ironic given that just a few years earlier we were being asked if we could see a way of putting a dot com angle on the business by some investors who would then have been interested). We had to downsize to preserve cash in Sping of 2001 (or thereabout). None of the people let go were deemed essential for the development process.

2 upvotes
forpetessake
By forpetessake (8 months ago)

It sounds like dotcom bubble burst is blamed for company demise, while it's obvious that it was dotcom irrational exuberance that made the company funded in the first place. Every time I looked in to details of spectacular failures it was always irrational investing -- investor incompetence, following the crowd, reliance on names and titles rather than merits of the ideas, and so on. Now looking back, one can conclude with certainty, there was never a good time investing in that project, it would have failed no matter what, bubble or no bubble.

3 upvotes
Jon Stern
By Jon Stern (8 months ago)

forpetessake, no. We actually struggled to get funding in the early days because we were NOT a dot com company. Everyone had jumped on the dot com bandwagon and few traditional VCs were interested in funding a hardware company. They were too busy chasing pretty internet baubles!

I specifically remember our first CEO in early '99 asking me if I could think of a dot com spin on what we were doing because he'd just got off the phone with an investor who had said, "I'd be interested in you can come up with a dot com angle", or words to that effect.

1 upvote
Jon Stern
By Jon Stern (8 months ago)

Re: 6) SFI and ISC had scrapped the initial design of the EFS-1 and were scrambling to develop a new prototype

False. The orignal ~3x factor in EFS-1 was known to have limited market appeal. I was already leading the development of the next version to address this and enable a larger market acceptance. We already had functional sensors of a 4MP, ~29mm x 19mm sensor for the next product running in the lab.

I'm laughing at this one because somehow a positive (that we were working on a better gen. 2 product) has been perverted in to us scrapping EFS-1.

2 upvotes
Jon Stern
By Jon Stern (8 months ago)

Re: 5) EFS-1 technology presented potential patent conflicts with those already registered by Kodak

False. Kodak's patent had a later filing date than ours, and while it included some claims we didn't have, they were not useful (we didn't need to infringe on them).

Incidentally, we had an extremely good relationship with Kodak. In large part thanks to one of our board members, Tom Kelly, having formerly been a senior manager at Kodak (he led the team that developed what was marketed as the "Apple Quicktake"), and our CEO Ken Fey having been responsible for setting up Kodak's point-and-shoot production in China.

1 upvote
Jon Stern
By Jon Stern (8 months ago)

Re: 4) an internal design review was conducted in May, 2001 with all the top officers of SFI, ISC and all of the suppliers for the EFS-1 that were owed millions of dollars. [Snip due to DPReview character limits]

There's some fairness in this. We were short of ceramics for the sensor package, but already had prototypes for a lower-cost, more easily sourced design. Supply would have been limited until we could ramp that up fully.

We were not taking orders because we were not ready to ship. Our approach was to slowly ramp, in large part because money was tight in 2001 after the dot com crash. We were running on our cash reserves and pre-MP funding was almost impossible to find in a technology-hostile investment climate. The strategy set out by the executive team was to get to limited, volume mass production and product launch, knowing that raising funding for MP ramp would them be much easier.

1 upvote
Jon Stern
By Jon Stern (8 months ago)

Re: 3) the current design of the EFS-1 was extremely difficult to produce. Specifically, it took hundreds of engineering hours to produce one unit with a success rate of about one unit in three working;

We were hand-building the prototypes without the final mass production tooling and it was slow (I don't know where hundred of engineering hours comes from!) and we had a low yield. This was of concern to me, but mostly from the perspective of MP schedule and ramp.

Anyone who has been involved in real mass production knows that assembly cycle time and yield go through a steep, early learning curve. There were no fundamental issues with our assembly process, which was a lot simpler than DSLRs of the time.

2 upvotes
Erik Magnuson
By Erik Magnuson (8 months ago)

The "hundred of hours" is a quote from the lawsuit. But just ask Microsoft about early Xbox ramp up and yield issues.

2 upvotes
Jon Stern
By Jon Stern (8 months ago)

Re: 2) these design problems would prevent the unit from passing the required FCC and CE certifications necessary to publicly release the product

I love how that rumor with a grain of truth became an internet fact.

We did have some issue with some of our FCC pre-screens at one point (anyone who has ever done this kind of work knows how frustrating that process can be). This was when downloading from the (e)port to a PC over USB. We modified some of the filters on the board, but still we were having intermittent fails. Eventually we found that we only failed when using a USB cable without a ferrite chock. Switching over to that type of cable resolved this issue.

As for CE, the first version of our firmware would have failed CE testing because it didn't have a safe recovery from a crash (that required removal of the batteries). This was not a fundamental issue though. It just needed some new code that the executive management decided to de-prioritize until after the US launch.

2 upvotes
Jon Stern
By Jon Stern (8 months ago)

It's always interesting to read outsider's views on Silicon Film (especially those that quote me). Typically there are a number of errors.

Re: 1) the EFS-1 suffered from serious and insurmountable technical design flaws

Not true. There were many challenges that others could not forsee ways of over-coming (that included Canon's engineers when they reviewed the idea back in ~99). However, we had a really talented group of engineers and by a mixture of creative thinking and clever engineering, we managed to over-come all of these "insurmountable" flaws.

If Oliver Duong cares to list all of these flaws, I'd be happy to address them line by line.

Comment edited 17 seconds after posting
2 upvotes
Nabilon
By Nabilon (8 months ago)

I'd love it, in full format. No need for an LCD. It doesn't even need any JPEG processing. Just capture the light information on the sensor, and store it. Later, all the processing could be done on the computer.

3 upvotes
Nabilon
By Nabilon (8 months ago)

I just realized, that actually exists!

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/digipod

1 upvote
leicaman
By leicaman (8 months ago)

It could be done with todays technology. It would be great to flip a FF sensor into my Leica M4s.

Ah to have a well-built all metal hockey puck of a digital camera would be wonderful

0 upvotes
Joseph S Wisniewski
By Joseph S Wisniewski (8 months ago)

You can't have FF. The sensor needs to go through the camera's 24x36mm film gate. Sensors have about a 4mm "moat" of support circuitry, contacts, and mechanical framework around the sensor, so the biggest possible back for an ordinary 35mm camera is 1.3x crop, like Leica Modul-R.

1 upvote
electrophoto
By electrophoto (8 months ago)

Back in the day, nice idea... but today?
Well I simply don't see any potential advantage in this... We have an abundance of great digital bodies - for almost any taste.
The only thing this would bring is an awkward way to control it, even less practical for quick reviewing and I can't see any advantages over even the most basic DSLR with this.

1 upvote
NetMage
By NetMage (8 months ago)

You may want to look at the breadth of SLRs that used to be available and then imagine being able to use any of them as a digital camera... today's DSLRs still have left some things behind compared to film cameras.

5 upvotes
Joseph S Wisniewski
By Joseph S Wisniewski (8 months ago)

Such as?

0 upvotes
Uitwaaien13
By Uitwaaien13 (8 months ago)

A good friend of mine spoke with the developper of this idea on the Photokina long long ago. When he returned he was flabbergasted about the idea and over the problems that had to be solved.
The biggest problem that had to be tackled was money. May be Lomography could pick this up with a fund raisong project?

1 upvote
Jon Stern
By Jon Stern (8 months ago)

Which year was that? In '98 there were two people on the "Imagek" booth. I was one of them.

1 upvote
Clyde Thomas
By Clyde Thomas (8 months ago)

ISO could be read through the DX film encoding system. The whole thing could be an interchangeable back/grip combo that provided LCD and power.

This is going to happen. Make it for my Maxxum 9xi and 9 and consider two sold immediately. Our CaNikon friends would never buy such a thing. Do it for the loyalist Mino crowd. We still love our old cameras.
:)

Or at least do it for the Oly OM Series. The 1,2,3,4 all took the same back... Possibly the OM10 too. I'll start dusting off the M1 and get it ready.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Roland Karlsson
By Roland Karlsson (8 months ago)

No one will make an inset for old cameras. Its just not a good idea, neither technically nor market wise.

2 upvotes
NetMage
By NetMage (8 months ago)

I think it will be done eventually - for hobbyists, by hobbyists...

0 upvotes
Roland Karlsson
By Roland Karlsson (8 months ago)

It was doomed from the start. Extremely impractical, compared to a digital camera. There are so many problems to solve and so little functionality to get. And it assumed an already existing camera. It would be like selling electrical motors to petrol cars, or LCD screens to old TV sets. Its much better to make electrical cars and LCD TVs. The same goes for digital cameras.

3 upvotes
mr moonlight
By mr moonlight (8 months ago)

It it was FF, it would be fantastic. I could pop that baby into any of my film bodies and shoot to my hearts content without having to worry about processing. Popping the back to change ISO is better than wasting half a roll to do it. The real advantage would be the ability to take advantage of all those old smaller format Rangefinders.

1 upvote
Flying Snail
By Flying Snail (8 months ago)

It was impractical then and it'd be even more impractical now. Most of the technical limitations for this are gone now, but the dust problem remains. The old SLR cameras didn't need to be very dust-proof as a dust speck on film would only show up on a single photo.

1 upvote
Total comments: 173
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