Digital film design concept

After the RE-35 April Fool's prank, a group of students from Hongik University designed another "digital film" concept:

While we are on the digital film topic, you can read few interesting comments from someone who used to work for Silicon Film back in 2001 in this thread (search for Jon). I am expecting/hoping Jon will share some more details about Silicon Film in a future guest post since his NDA has already expired.

Via Yankodesign

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  • bjrichus



    No seriously… if this kind of concept came to reality, I would be first in line to buy one.

    It is an OUTSTANDING idea.

    Make ones “old” 35mm film cameras new again…

    • Peter

      Kodak has ability to manufacture such products, but the Kodak is already downfallen. Kodak’s compact cameras are floundering at market, that is inferior to himself to produce the digital film.

    • but only if this cartridge will be compatible with internal design of those “old” film cameras… And me personally having some doubts about it.

      • Steve

        Do people really think this is a new idea ?

        Does no-one understand the need for the body to be able to communicate with the sensor ?

        For some people April 1st just isn’t long enough.

        • bjrichus


          The technical limitations are true for TODAY. This is why the 2001 attempt was doomed.

          Even if the is a kludge to get things working, paying $300 to $500 for the ability to convert my old 35mm film camera into an FX DSLR (OK, so it would be manual, but so what? I know what I’m doing with a light meter), would be worth it… certainly cheaper than buying a multi-thousand dollar FX DSLR, don’t you think?

          April fools? Perhaps it is *for now* ….

          • Steve

            Seriously, you think you can get D700 image quality at Coolpix prices by hacking a sensor onto a non-digital body ?

            A fool and his money are easily parted.

  • cptrios

    This seems more and more possible to me as time goes on. I think that technology has advanced far enough that many of the limitations that killed Silicon Film are no longer problems. However, there would be issues with any product that did come out:

    1. It would almost definitely only work with certain cameras. “Jon” said that they had the sensor activate on the sound of the mirror flipping…this would rule out rangefinders, sadly.

    2. In order to be any kind of successful, it’d have to be CHEAP. Sub-$500, certainly. Possibly around $300, which would be possible given the fact that it wouldn’t require 80% of what a DSLR does.

    3. It would be a very tough ask to design something like this that didn’t require the removal of the camera’s rear plate. It’d mean a small battery, no LCD display (therefore no chimping!), and possibly even MicroSD support only. Also, you’d have to keep opening up the back panel to change the ISO speed.

    Still, it’d be freaking awesome. Too bad it’d drive the price of old SLRs through the roof just like old MF lenses!

  • For me it’d have to be cheap, universally compatible, variable ISO, no Moire filter, no magenta/green colour banding and over 20MP, or else I can do better with FIGITAL.

  • Rudy Mack

    This is nothing new. There was a company trying to perfect this years ago. Announcements were made, money was spent, prototypes were shown. Eventually the company went belly up. I think it was called eFilm. Thats not to say technology hasn’t avdanced enough it the intervening years to make it work. How soon we forget.

  • Eugene

    This thing actually might work. I hope this concept takes off.

  • Alex

    New camera concept.

  • 300$? This only works out, if you’ve got a 35mm-sensor and they are far more expensive. I think the sensor of the M9 costs Leica about 1000€ (not $!) in purchase…
    And if rangefinders are out, I loses quite a bit of potential, if I’d like to turn my Bessa into digital or the Leica I hopefully soon own…

  • richard

    this design would never work. many different cameras have different lengths between the roll and the take up spool

    • With redesign that idea can come true, but there are two significant issues. If remove right barrel that lays in take up spool and leave only left barrel, matrix then could fit to every 35-mm camera. Okay. But my doubts about this design are coming within the thickness of that matrix layer. Film press table could prevent this DigitalFilm from laying-in and the door could not close. Second issue is that there no ways to capture image with native camera release button without dismantling.

      I’m aware about paper-thin monitors and if that problem will find solution, then there won’t stones to force. Look: micro SD, battery and image processor could simply fit in the size of film barrel. If you wish to have rear LCD and some controls, flexible OLED with touch-screen function could fit brilliantly. It can stick to the camera door with suction cup. OLED will have personal battery and it will communicate with image processor through bluetooth or other wireless technology. There even can be Live View: set camera to bulb, open the shutter and voila. Stick-out OLED, leave camera alone and you have ideal spy tool. 🙂

      I love that idea. All film cameras will find a new life with it. I’m first in line to buy that 24×36 matrix. Even if it will have only 5 mpix. The question is who will bring this to us…

  • regular

    Look at the digitial backs for Hasselblad’s camera. Of course, you can put a sensor at the position of the film.
    The problem stays : how do you fit the additional electronics in your Olympus XA and close the rear door?
    Maybe it could be feasible with a cable running from the sensor to an external processing unit. I would buy it.

  • Pitata

    You guys should know this has already been done.

    Also i don’t think a communication back-to-body would be needed. A passive light-sensor could activate the photo senor when the shutter opens. And deactivate when it’s shut again.

    • Jon S

      A light sensor cannot be used to wake up the sensor, there’s insufficient time for that. That was one claim in Polaroid’s patent on an electronic film cartridge that wasn’t our earlier Silicon Film patent. Their lawyer kept trying to come after us for that, even though we used the sound of the mirror flip to wake up.

      The Leica Modul-R was born out of a collaboration between Silicon Film and Leica. SFT didn’t survive long enough to see it get beyond the specification stage (I was working with Leica on that), but Leica did go on to bring it to the market after working with someone else (I can’t remember who it was).

      • Pitata

        Ohh, thanks for the insight 🙂
        Interesting stuff.

      • regular

        Tell us, Jon, why Silicon Film did not survive?

        • Jon S

          Quite simply, we ran out of money. After the dot com bubble burst it was nearly impossible to get VC money. For us that was made even harder by the fact that Irvine Sensors (who we had spun out of) would not give up control of the board (i.e., would not accept going to <51% ownership). That was completely unacceptable to VCs who want to have control of the companies they invest in.

          Now why did we run out of money in the first place?

          Our major share holder was not experienced in the area of consumer electronics and believed that the proof-of-concept that they had built in '98 was 90% of the way there, when in fact it was more like 10%. The architecture had fundamental flaws that meant it could never be turned in to a viable product. In any case, going from prototype to a reliable product that can be mass produced at low cost takes a lot more time and effort than many people realize, and that included most of the board.

          As a result, the newly-formed company (originally called Imagek, Inc. and later renamed Silicon Film Technologies, Inc.) had to embark on a fresh design for the actual product and basically throw away the prototype. This was reluctantly accepted by the board, but the time required to do this and then get to market was badly under-estimated by them.

          My personal estimate was that we had an 18 month development ahead of us and to this day I stand by that. The board, however, wanted to see something on the market within 9 months and put a lot of pressure on Rob Webber, our CEO, to make it happen in that time.

          If you try to develop something in half the time, the odds are that it'll take you twice the time! In the rush to meet the board's schedule demands corners were cut, resulting in a architecture that was difficult to debug and code. As a result it took a lot longer than expected to get things working right and the 18 months process turned in to a 36 month one (exactly matching my half the time, leads to twice the time rule).

          There were some other mistakes made along the way that I won't go in to now, as many of these were "normal" errors that are made in the course of doing anything that's challenging and has never been done before. Fundamentally, the reasons we didn't make it all stem for the unrealistic schedule pressure coming from the board.

      • Zaph

        Why not turn the sensor on with the film advance lever? Kind of like it would be with film.

    • bjrichus

      A $6k 10MP digital back … top draw price considering we are being the focus group for the newer concept!!!! These days $600 might do it if it was between 16 and 24MP,

  • Pitata
  • Jon S

    The very first concept produced by what would later become Silicon Film looked a little like this. It was developed purely as a proof of concept and fitted in a Canon AE-1, and only a Canon AE-1.

    We rejected going this route at SFT even though it provided a lot more space for the electronics, simply because it would only fit one particular camera body.

    The approach we settled on (a “can” with a sensor “flag”) allowed a lot more cameras to be covered by each model and the fit was adjustable in the factory. Basically, we simply trimmed a flex cable down to a set length, connected it to the sensor package, and then bonded the sensor in to place on a metal backing, thereby setting the can to sensor spacing. A thin metal front cover plate with a cut of for that sensor location then protected the flex cable and added stiffness.

    We had surveyed a large range of camera bodies and found that most (and all the important ones) could be covered by about a 5mm range in can to sensor distance. Given that the alignment of the sensor didn’t need to be to sub-millimeter precision, a handful of variants was all that was needed to cover our target market.

    • Huggs

      The can and flag idea is brilliant. Is there a way to make a sensor based on AMOLED or flexible LED technology?

      • Jon S

        NHK has made a sensor using organic semiconductors. Conceptually what you are asking could be done, but we’re a long way from achieving sufficiently-high quantum efficiency (and therefore sensitivity) from organic materials to produce a low noise sensor.

        There are also still challenges in building organic semiconductors on flexible substrates but there’s been a lot of progress in that area, so that could be just a few years from commercial viability.

  • hobo

    Nothing new. Leica DMR–has been around for several years already. Actually, Kodak did it before that with their SLR/n, DCS 760, etc. All film cameras with digital backs.

    The “brilliant idea” posts really tells you about when some people started photography and their limited knowledge.

  • jsv

    Thanks for sharing your insights Jon.

    Having read Jon’s comments on this thread and the other thread–it appears to me that Silicon film was almost there with their product at the beginning of the digital revolution–the problem was back then social media didn’t exist–so getting the news to mass market would’ve been difficult and costly. What do I mean by this? Case in point is the RE 35 rumor that nearly went too far–clearly there’s a demand for a product like this–I know I would buy one if it ever came to light. When news broke out that this “digital” film could be real–the rumor spread like wildfire. Another case in point–we’re talking about this here on this forum (just ask the admin how many hits his site gets).

    The problem at this stage of the game with this kind of product is most camera makers have pretty much abandoned their film SLR’s–Nikon stopped making them in 2006 (except for the F6 and the Cosina made FM10). If somehow this tech came to light, that might tempt some of them to re-consider their position on film SLR’s–who knows it could just twist Nikon’s mighty arm enough for them to make an FM4.

    Some people have speculated that this would be a niche market–well, in that case it would be just as much a niche as DX, FX, and video in an SLR body (not everybody shoots DX; not everybody shoots FX; not everybody uses video). There are plenty of photographers out there who would love to use their light-weight SLR’s with “digital” film. And so what if you can’t see what you shot–that was part of the mystery, the aura, the magic of photography that the digital revolution hasn’t really been able to capture–no pun intended.

    Jon–That was smart–use the sound of the mirror going up to trigger the sensor to turn on. With today’s electronics that shouldn’t be a difficult thing to pull (and the software could be tweaked for each camera; I’m sure they all sound different). Nevertheless, I do wonder how much power you’d need to run a full frame sensor. Also, setting ISO would be a pain–unless there’s a switch or something on the canister itself–that would certainly bring back those glory days of film when you had to open up the camera in order to “change” you ISO.

  • Baris

    Always interesting to read about these concepts but if you spend some time thinking about potential problems you will probably come to the conclusion that it is much easier just to build a digital SLR…

    That said, I love film more now than ever. It´s good to have access to both worlds. I use digital for technical documentation and product shots, film whenever I can work for myself.

    If you havent tried film yet, it may worth checking out.

  • mochapaulo

    May be we are too young to know what the pioneer has done. Please take a look to this post from nikonrumors:

    They used to make one, of course no fullframe. However, the market is too niche to serve those classic. The only possible brand to make such kind of thing is Leica, or exclusive make for Nikon F series or FM2, FM3a or so. And the cost should not be lower than 1500 USD. As I know, the parts for Nikon D3 sensor is about 800 USD already, the rest of the cost should be battery, processor, I/O device for memory card. You can’t make profit if the quantity is too low.

    It is not April Fool at all, but the timing is really not right, in this decade.

    • TaoTeJared


      This is nothing new and something existed before. There were many add on models for a few years. Mir has a list of them all.

      If you have ever taken apart a DSLR you would realize how much is actually crammed into the body. It could be a very pricey endeavorer as every camera body model is different.

      The film style would be a great idea if they could make it work.

  • This would be a dream come true.. Use older sensor tech and stitch two old 6mp aps-c sensors togeather. The market would be HUGE, for the right price that is.Make the module as simple as possible, using microSD cards. There must be some way to activate the sensor without having to use the sound of the mirror?!

    • Why cant you use something like the old bicycle pedal-wheel-driven light, but make it work with the advance-lever so one stroke on the level gives you one exposure? Common guys, its 2011, the technique needed is definitly here!

  • Bikinchris

    I think this would really work if the price is right. I know I wanted one before I bought a D100. I wanted to keep my F3. But having it inside the body in th ethin are where film passed probably won’t work very well. The same basic design built onto a camera back would work for many bodies. The Nikon bodies like the FE and FM series can pop the back off easily with a simple latch and all of the pro bodies from every company could replace the back easily, so having the back with this device built into it would be more sensible, so you could hang a battery off of it and turn it on on and off easily as well as change ISO speeds and use an SD card to store images on the back would work better, IMO. You could set it up where you pushed a button on the back and then be able to capture an image with the camera. Or even have the film advance setup the device to get ready to capture an image.

    • Thyl Engelhardt

      I would second that. Actually, I got a spare back lid for my F2 a couple of years ago, to be used for that very purpose 😉

  • sam shoots all

    Remember the Leica R8/9?? Leica made a digital back for those models…even though the backs were alittle bit expensive!! Seemed it worked out well. The Digiback had a 10MP sensor! Would compare to today’s sensor though.

    If these guys were to make the DIgibacks, they’ll have to choose one or two Brand to deal with.

  • Max Archer

    I also think the back idea is the way to go, but forget about having the sensor actually built into them. Make a removable sensor/electronics module setup, and then have cheap, simple plastic backs with the requisite cutouts that the modules can just snap into. That way you only make one set of electronics and the only differences between cameras are in the much-cheaper backs.

  • Thyl Engelhardt

    Trigger alternative (eg for non SLR): use an RFID soft release screwed into the cable release socket, wirelessly sendung a signal to the digital back.

    Control: again wirelessly with an external device. Could also be used for monitoring images taken.

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