Building a DIY Digital Movie Camera With Vintage Lenses

Capture the 8-mm film look of yesteryear with a Raspberry Pi

4 min read
Building a DIY Digital Movie Camera With Vintage Lenses
A Classic Look: Filmmaker Claire Wright uses digital video with 8-mm lenses to re-create a retro-movie feel.
Photo: Phoebe Rourke-Ghabriel

My father is an engineer who, as fate would have it, has raised only artists. I am a filmmaker, and he meets me at the intersection of our different passions with at least one email a day containing an article about a camera, a YouTube video, or a new technical discovery. It was among these emails that a conversation about the digital versus analog filmmaking debate mingled with notes about the Raspberry Pi camera module, which allows people to build DIY cameras. This was of particular interest to me because years ago at a garage sale in Kerrville, Texas, an old 8-mm film camera made its way into our lives. I was 14 and I really wanted this camera to work. Alas, it didn’t. So, for the next six years it gathered dust on a bookshelf in our home. But now a theory was born. What if you used the lens of a 1950s 8-mm camera and a Raspberry Pi equipped with an imaging module to create a digital film camera?

My dad was fascinated by the optical attributes of the old lenses, while my goal was to create a video with an unfiltered vintage look. We had noticed that many lenses for old film cameras had been adapted to modern digital technology, but not those for lowly 8-mm cameras, which had been used only by families and fledgling filmmakers. We bought a number of cameras on eBay and tore them apart to get at the lenses. (We didn’t use the original garage-sale camera because we found that the compound lenses used on other cameras served our purposes better.)

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From WinZips to Cat GIFs, Jacob Ziv’s Algorithms Have Powered Decades of Compression

The lossless-compression pioneer received the 2021 IEEE Medal of Honor

11 min read
Photo of Jacob Ziv
Photo: Rami Shlush

Lossless data compression seems a bit like a magic trick. Its cousin, lossy compression, is easier to comprehend. Lossy algorithms are used to get music into the popular MP3 format and turn a digital image into a standard JPEG file. They do this by selectively removing bits, taking what scientists know about the way we see and hear to determine which bits we'd least miss. But no one can make the case that the resulting file is a perfect replica of the original.

Not so with lossless data compression. Bits do disappear, making the data file dramatically smaller and thus easier to store and transmit. The important difference is that the bits reappear on command. It's as if the bits are rabbits in a magician's act, disappearing and then reappearing from inside a hat at the wave of a wand.

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