Friday, 9 September 2016

Project 1 - Convert a Nikon FE to shoot Film & Digital

1980 Nikon FE to 15mp Digital

Update - Completed project at Youtube Nikon FE Digital

Rather than stripping the guts out of a digital camera to make a complex hybrid back, I am mounting the near complete Sony Nex with a 15mp APS/C sensor, on to a spare Nikon FE back. (Besides which, there is no way I can solder those small electronics.) This will retain the Nikon as a great film camera, or as a digital camera with a quick change over of the rear door. After trying various options this seems to be the best mounting position despite the screen being inverted. I only want the screen for the setup menu anyway. After that it will stay turned off.

The sensor is in position and is very close to the critical film plane to lens mount measurement. The biggest obstacle at present being the motherboard to sensor circuit board connections which need to be redesigned for shape and length. Work on this is proceeding slowly but with some positive signs despite the complexity and cost outlay. Actually this is costing way more than the purchase cost of both cameras combined.

The benefit of this experiment into the unknown is that if successful, the same removable back to the Nikon FE fits the other models of Nikon FE2, Nikon FM and Nikon FA. Maybe a few more, but this is all I am aware of at present.

A slightly used Nikon FE with front half of the Nex mounted.

Why do this?
I like the old film cameras of this era. The Canon A1's and Nikon FE's and FE2 that I own are a just superb machines to use. Shooting in film is difficult and challenging with black and white especially so. B&W is not too costly as I develop myself in Caffenol. But colour film is expensive to develop. So I thought it would be fun to have the best of both worlds, a great old camera that can shoot digital plus all those great old lenses put to use. Nikon FE & FE2 shots - Nikon FE  Nikon FE2

A few years ago this would not have been viable. But mirrorless cameras have been around for a while and there are 5 year old ones with the APS/C 15mp sensor. There is a heap of technology in a Sony Nex but as they age they become a throw away camera. Now you can buy all that technology for under $100 which is cheaper than a good Nikon FE. So it becomes an inexpensive project - if it works. A Nikon FE in 1980 was $300USD + 50mm lens $98 + Motor Drive $178 + Zoom lens $218. I reckon that money is worth $5,500 today. Gives these cameras a sense of worth. Check my Nikon FE night photos to see just how good they are at midnight pitch black photography on auto.

Sensor Mount
This seems to be the difficult part for any of the other conversion attempts found on google. The film plane to lens mount distance has to be near perfect. I think the tolerance for a Nikon FE is 0.02mm over 46.5mm. It is hard to ascertain just what the distance is from the lens mount to the cmos sensor face as there are some filters in the way plus the looped wire perimeter. However on the Nikon FE, FE2, FM & FA (maybe others) the shutter action is hinged on the side and the shutter works vertically. On the right side is the hinge mechanism. The APS/C sensor from the Nex when placed hard to the left gives room for the shutter hinge to work with the shutter curtains not touching the sensor filters. When I sat the sensor circuit board in place you would think it was made especially for the Nikon. Clearance from the shutter curtain of 0.10mm and the mounts for the circuit board fit exactly in between the outer film rails holding the sensor perfectly in position. My caliper measurements indicate I am really close to the 46.5mm. Only testing once it's working will confirm this. Will just have to allow for areas at the far right of the view finder will not be in the shot.

CMOS Sensor circuit board sits neatly between film rails.
There is still room for the shutter hinges to operate on the right side.

Sensor held in place with high strength tape.
Once shut the camera door holds it secure.

How it will Shoot - hopefully
I've already tested this through the open back of the Nikon and it works. First the Nex needs to have some presets done on the Settings Menu. Turn off nearly everything automatic. Autofocus Off. Lens recognition Off. Auto ISO Off, set it to say 400.
There are two options to shoot with.
Option 1: Set the Nex to Bulb. Hold on the Nex shutter button, take the photo with the Nikon, release the Nex button and the picture is processed.
Option 2: Set the Nex to say 10 seconds. Click the shutter button. Then take your time to focus and shoot the Nikon lets say at 1/250th F8 within 10 sec. The Nex closes it's shot and processes the picture.

Looks pretty Retro from the front with Nex just visible.

Next Project
Looking at the space inside the lower casing of the Nikon I think there is room for a microswitch that could be armed when the camera is cocked. If I can wire this on from a power source either from the Nikon or the Sony and fit a small actuator against the Sony shutter button then I may be able to syncronise the two cameras. If so the motor drive could be used. If I was good with electronics then it would be possible to wire it directly into the Sony Nex switch but the connections are tiny and I want to keep my projects as DIY & KISS.

I've stuck my neck out here posting all this before it's up and working but some of the above might be of interest to Nikon film camera owners who might offer some good tips. I am expecting to manufacture the prototype connection ribbons soon. If you have an interest in trying this project yourself and may require the connecting ribbons and detailed instructions of how I am doing all this then email me at Cross Over Cameras .

Have received the gerber files for the new extension cables. The quotes so far are costly for a one off set but greatly reduced for quantity. So I will need some interest from other Nikon FE, FE2, FM and FA owners who would like to try this digital conversion too. My thoughts are to put this on Kickstarter to arrange extra funding which would cover having cables designed and produced for other Nex models and possibly other mirrorless cameras that would be suitable.

Cost Guide
As a rough estimate you could expect the following.
Extension cables and an easy to follow pdf manual. $50AUD
Sony Nex 5 14mp cameras can be purchased body only for around $100
See my basic tool guide on the Leica M3 post.

Hope you show some interest.
Feel free to comment but keep it constructive and nice. Thanks.

1 comment:

  1. it looks like a great project. one of my dreams is if someone can create a working/full frame digital back for slrs. i would instantly sell my d800 to buy and put that back into my fm2