Digital Cartridge for Super 8 Cameras
By Clemens Mayer
What inspired you or what is the idea that got you started?
I have found a Super 8 camera in the trash at a local recycling facility, so naturally, I grabbed it out of curiosity.
I looked up film cartridges for it and was blown away by the prices. I also found that there is a big community of independent filmmakers that still use super 8 cameras for their distinctive look and so naturally I thought that must be a really expensive way to make films. And it is.
this gave me my initia goal of trying out if its even possible to convert a Super 8 camera to a digital Sensor which lead to this first video: https://youtu.be/J1vF0Zm3EOo
The results were promising but the biggest concern in the community is having to mod a Camera and therefore not being able to use film for the actual shooting anymore. Any digitized Super 8 would be used for test shoots and training, but for the actual generation of movie footage real film would always be preferred by enthusiasts. Naturally, my goal changed to creating a drop-in replacement for Super 8 film Cartridges.
What is your project about and how does it work?
The main goal is to make digital Film capture on an unmodified Super 8 camera possible (I also wanted to avoid any reversible mods to the camera as the users would not like that). The Cartridge is self-contained and includes the image Sensor (RPI HQ camera) a Compute module 4 for processing, a custom circuit board for connections and power distribution, Lipo, and a mirror system to allow the HQ sensor to fit in the device. The Size restrictions were the major hurdle and still, the positioning of sensors and mirrors is not perfect and does only fit my Camera in particular. to allow infinite focus some more development has to be done.
The controls of the camera are accessible over a webserver that runs on the CM4, instead of cables going through the outside which would not be possible on all cameras, I opted for Wireless controls. While image capture does work the unit browns out very quickly during operation so it is still a work in progress.
What did you learn by doing this project?
The size restrictions also came with a big need for accuracy in 3d printing the case and mirror holding pieces as well as strength. FDM 3d printing did not allow for the accuracy needed and conventional 3d printed Resin was not strong enough to withstand the Cameras' internal clamping mechanism. My resin prototypes just shattered the moment the Camera engaged the spooling clamp. this problem spawned the development of my own brand of extremely Impact-resistant Resin and the first test flask was used to create the Device shown in this video: https://youtu.be/3EvFHfOq9m4
I also learned that projects involving optics are extremely difficult and need a lot of precision work to even barely work. I got in contact with other people working on similar projects, but as of now, there is no commercially producible version available.
What impact does your project have on others as well as yourself?
It had a great impact on my stance towards product development and I learned that optics is maybe not my field of interest but 3d printing is.
Even chemical products start with a simple idea and get developed very similar to electronics with the same dreaded hurdles in certification and sourcing.
The project also got great resonance in the Super 8 community, I got in contact with amazing filmmakers and enthusiasts who really want a way to do test shots with the real gear but without the significant cost of film stock. They gave me great input and motivation for my second version and offered to do beta tests and other work to get the project to a marketable state. If I find the time and maybe some new skills to port the project to a fully purpose-built electronic base I might pick it up again and succeed in the ultimate goal, but until then it's a prototype that Spawned a very different product and other film and photography related projects.