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It’s one of the holy grails of photography — a practical, easy way to switch between digital and film for all the incredible analog 35mm cameras that are already in circulation. And while we don’t know if it’ll ever be produced, Nikon has recently patented a way of doing exactly that — a replaceable digital back for 35mm film cameras.
Spotted by the Japanese blog Egami, the patent sounds much like the equivalent of a digital back for medium-format cameras. The patent also specifically mentions being able to adjust the flange distance, to make sure it’s recording as accurately as possible.
Nikon Rumors has some translated text from the patent itself. From what I can gather, the back would probably have to be camera specific in order to be switched easily between film and digital. Naturally, there would be other hurdles to deal with as well — making sure you protect the sensor when swapping backs, and getting the sensor to play nice with the shutter mechanism, all that sort of thing.
If Nikon were to actually go ahead and make this, the real sticking point would be price. There’s a pretty good chance that this is patent for its own sake, so that no one else can make one, but if Nikon decides this is a product they want to create, how much would it go for? And what would users be willing to pay for it? Digital medium format backs cost tens of thousands of dollars, but I somehow doubt that a digital back for more than $1,000 would go over very well. Could a slightly lower resolution full frame sensor be assembled on the cheap? If they could create one for around $500, good luck finding old Nikons on pawn shop shelves anymore.
As a concept, adding a 35mm sensor to film cameras isn’t particularly new. One of the first digital cameras was the Kodak DCS 100, which was a heavily modified Nikon F3. Leica used to make a Digital Modul R for the R8 and R9, which still goes for more than $3000. There was also an April Fools prank from last year promising something similar, and more than a decade a go, a company was working on a real version of this that was never completed.