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This may well be a question to which the answer is "can't be done," but I was wondering whether it was possible to convert a film SLR to a DSLR by putting a sensor in place of the film. I have a bunch of old bodies and lenses which I would love to be able to use, but I just don't want to mess around with film, so I was wondering whether it's possible to convert them to take digital images.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ If only this was real - re35.net \$\endgroup\$
    – John
    Commented Jul 24, 2012 at 18:59

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This has certainly been done with medium format SLRs that have interchangeable backs (e.g., Leaf and Phase One backs).

For a 35mm camera, the situation isn't nearly so positive. There was once a company that claimed to be working on a digital sensor that would be shaped like a 35mm film cannister with the sensor sticking out roughly like the film tongue. I'm reasonably certain they never produced even a partially working prototype, and even more certain they never put a product onto the market. Personally, I rather doubt it could be done.

In any case, the market opportunity for such a product is mostly past -- the vast majority of people who want to shoot digital have given up on the idea and bought digital bodies. Most have upgraded at least once by now, so used digital bodies are fairly common and quite reasonably priced...

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    \$\begingroup\$ The company you're talking about is Silicon Film. \$\endgroup\$
    – stevenvh
    Commented Sep 9, 2010 at 14:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ You can trace the history of it with some links here dpreview.com/news/0109/01091702siliconfilmvaporizes.asp \$\endgroup\$
    – Paul Dixon
    Commented Sep 9, 2010 at 16:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks -- that's the one all right. Rereading the old coverage, my memory was obviously wrong on one point: they apparently did produce a prototype that worked to at least some degree. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 9, 2010 at 20:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ I actually got to use a couple of Silicon Film's prototypes, so I know they worked. I knew someone who worked for them, they lost their funding and closed shop \$\endgroup\$
    – BillN
    Commented Sep 14, 2010 at 18:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ I thought about this, recently. lol, very interesting project! it could actually launch if the product could attract old camera enthusiasts! i'd buy something like that :) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 1, 2011 at 23:25
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A quick Google for 'Nikkormat "digital back"' suggests that such a thing doesn't exist at the moment. A 'digital back' is the technical term for what you're after, as several medium format cameras come with that option where the film plane is replaced by a digital sensor. They are usually horrendously expensive however, so I doubt that, even if it WERE available for your Nikkormat, it would be cheap.

A decent film scanner would let you scan in your 35mm negs and slides - it's a laborious process, but can be rewarding.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ that makes me a bit sad. The camera is 40 years old and worked flawlessly without a glitch for both my father and I. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 27, 2010 at 13:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Keep using it then! A lot of people still shoot film, and it's an easy process to scan film, if you want digital output. \$\endgroup\$
    – Reid
    Commented Jul 27, 2010 at 13:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @reid - I guess it is not just the output, but people today are spoiled by the instantaneous feedback. I can't imagine myself going out today shooting with a film camera. \$\endgroup\$
    – ysap
    Commented Mar 27, 2011 at 5:59
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It is possible. I did it with an F6. I used parts from a D700. Some dials do not work and you have to drill away for a larger LCD read out on top. I did it to prove that it can be done. The film back is larger and sticks out because of the added electronics. There is not viewing the picture because there is not enough room for the LCD preview. Compact flash card is external because I couldn't find room to put a drive there. It is just like using an F6, but I can download my pics without waiting for photo lab processing. No meues because no LCD. Its fun and can't wait till I do my F5.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Sounds like a cool project! Do you have a writeup? \$\endgroup\$
    – gerikson
    Commented Jan 29, 2011 at 14:46
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No, that doesn't exist and it's unlikely to ever be built - not enough demand. However, your lenses should work on a modern Nikon DSLR. See the Nikonians and Ken Rockwell lens compatibility charts for details.

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While you could try to find some form of a digital back for your camera. You probably won't be happy with the quality of the photos. Unless you want to shoot film and scan the images you might want to consider buying a new digital body. The good news is that as long as your current camera uses a Nikon F-Mount most (if not all) of you existing lenses should work on a new body. Keep in mind though that some of the really nice features of a digital body such as the built in meter may not work unless you have newer electronically controlled lenses.

I would suggest the Nikon D5000 or D3000 if you are on a tighter budget. You may even be able to find a used D50 or D60 pretty cheap. (I bought both the D50 and D60 new they are fantastic cameras for the price.)

If you don't like the suggestion for the upgrade...

Feel free to find a digital back as I (and others) have suggested. The problem being that not many exist and most of the ones that do exist are pretty low resolution. Here is an example from 2001.

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First the good news: yes, it's possible! And then comes a big "but".

A digital camera is more than a CMOS sensor in a film body. As a matter of fact the sensor is only a small part (not in physical dimensions) of the camera's electronics. You'll have to wire a processor to the sensor, storage, and the camera's controls. I want to see you do it. No wait, you'll have to lay your hands on a processor in the first place. You'll have to write software for it; the controls on the body of your camera will differ from the camera the processor was meant for. Get your details right: how are you going to show the user the SD card's free space (the camera's frame counter has only 2 digits!).
So let's change my opening line to: yes, theoretically it's possible. In practice you'll spend a large multiple of a new digital camera's street price.

At the end of the 90s there was Silicon Film which promised a digital module to place in a film camera. The idea was not bad given the prices of digital cameras at the time. They never produced a working prototype, however, and the product went from vaporware to fartware (vaporware with a smell). And their product was an industrial design, which should have loads of advantages over DIY.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ They did have working prototypes, but didn't make it to market. \$\endgroup\$
    – Greg
    Commented Jan 29, 2011 at 7:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Greg They claimed to have working prototypes which were never successfully demonstrated in public. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 8:41
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As of 2023, look at imback.eu. But it does not claim to make a true full-fledged digital out of an analogue, but giving "retro style" digital images.

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Kodak actually did this by converting a Nikon F5 into their Kodak DCS line. But I assume you are talking DIY kinda thing? I am not sure that it's worth the effort.

If you have old lenses, some or most are still usable in the digital world. Like my old manual Nikkor lenses are usable with my Nikon DSLR. You can also sell you old film bodies and get a used DSLR ... Something like Nikon D70 or D50 are really cheap now.

What brand are your old equipments?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It's a variety of old stuff...some cannon, some olympus, a few other odds and ends. I do have a D70 that's my primary DSLR, but I was wondering it the other was also possible. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 2, 2010 at 15:12
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It's highly likely that you can continue to use your existing lenses, but as others have said, probably not possible to get a digital back for your bodies.

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As far as I know, the only 35mm film slrs that had an addon digital back were the Leica R8 and R9, both of which took the same 10mpx back.

All of the above have been discontinued, and were very expensive when new.

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Siliconfilm's efilm product was expected to cost $700, work in about six film-camera bodies, have 1.3 megapixels, a 30% of 35mm sensor giving a x2.58 crop-factor, hold 24 shots and have no on-camera LCD display for review & deletion. A huge amount of investors money was sunk into this product.

It is not a surprise that no business has seen this as a good area for product development.

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About 2000, I was dealing with the same potential problem. At the time, I saw an ad on the internet for a digital attachment for the Nikormat. It included a "film" that one put into the camera. And then the user attached a "box" shaped with a profile conforming to the camera to the bottom of the camera. Inside was a thing like a film that converted the image to electronic impulses and "brodcast them to the "box". A USB flash drive (or similar) was inserted into this box so one could take the digital photo and download it onto your computer. This was sort of like what one does with a digital camera. I was totally impressed. However, the price was too steep for a non-professional photographer at the time. I recall it was about $1200.

So, instead, I bought an HP Photosmart film scanner. It scans individual slides in cardboard jackets, strips of negetive or positive film, and prints that are sized up to 5 x 7 inches. It's a Photosmart S-20 and it does a fantastic job. You can still download the software to run it, so, I imagine a lot of people are still using this model. I'm sure you could still buy a copy on eBay or similar.

I like the fact it allows me to use my 1972 Nikormat in the digital age.

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Leica I know produced a digital back for their SLR range. Nikon did the same with their F6.

There might be other examples, and I don't think either of these two are still in production (the F6 certainly isn't).

So it's theoretically possible (because it has been done) but to the best of my knowledge there are currently no products on the market that allow it.

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