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Camera Mashup - Sonikon NikkorNex - vintage digital conversion

Brendan Taylor , Jan 26, 2013; 03:34 p.m.

Hi all. I'm new to the forums. I'm working on a project right now that many many people have thought about before but I rarely see done, in fact I've only seen it once with the canon ae-1 and it was a point and shoot transplant so no interchangeable lenses. So I thought I'd share my progress as some people might be interested. Hopefuly this is an appropriate part of the forum to post this.

I love vintage cameras. I love digital photography. Like many, I pine to combine the two in a satisfying way. The vintage themed modern mirrorless cameras (e.g Olympus OM EM5) are all great, but they dont quite do it for me, not to mention cost. So the original idea was to transfer the innards of a Nex 5 into a non functional Leica M3. The focus peaking of the nex cameras is ideal for use in a rangefinder with old manual lenses, and thats key because there would be no communication between camera and lens. I quickly realized that it's not possible without irreversibly mutilating both of the cameras, and I can just imagine the nightmares I would give to leicamen with pictures of an M3 with bits being hacked off by dremel! As a "practice" run I thought I would attempt it using an old Nikon Nikkormat EL I had lying around. Plus the extra room in an SLR might make my life easier.

It turns out the Nex 5N is very well sized to fit inside a nikkormat. The key dimension being the height of the screen and the positioning of buttons to make transferring the buttons and functions as easy as possible to the nikkormat controls. The screen fits perfectly in the rear door of the nikkormat. I wasnt sure what to expect at first but I thought I would just go for it and work out any problems I found along the way as I went. I was concerned about having to move components around because the ribbon cables are all made to measure and extremely difficult to extend. Thankfully I havent had to move any components out of reach of the cables. The only soldering required is to move the battery contacts which is easy enough and to bypass the playback and video record buttons with 3rd party push buttons so that they can be placed in convenient parts of the nikkormat frame.

Why am I doing all this? I've "destroyed" 2 perfectly good cameras to create something that has less functionality than either of them in their original forms and is more cumbersome;
Because its fun
The finished mashup will not have autofocus and some other more minor features (IR remote receptor) but in the end I will be using it with manual lenses only, so thats just fine. I'm building in the sony EVF to replace the SLR prism so it wont just be a point and shoot either. See my progress below

Part 1: Nikkormat teardown

All innards of the nikkormat had to be removed. There are an unbelievable amount of moving parts in these things

Size comparison with the 5N

You'll notice that the grip of the nex 5n is wider than the body of the nikkormat. The only way to fit the battery in the nikkormat is to turn it sideways, which means everything in that grip has to be reconfigured (SD card slot, battery cage, power cables). By shaving off the front of the control panel in the grip and sacrificing the IR remote sensor, it becomes thin enough to fit in the nikkormat without reconfiguration, which is lucky because its just one solid ribbon cable with switches soldered to it.

Part 2: Nex 5N teardown
The inside of a 5n is simple enough. It consists of the sensor, shutter unit, the mainboard with image processor, sd card reader, controls and battery.

Part 3: Customizing the nikkormat
The nikkormat had to have almost all of its interior structure removed to accommodate all the nex parts. I used a dremel to cut out anything that was unnecessary. It also helps to cut down on weight because these things weigh a ton.
The thing about digital cameras compared to film cameras is that the focus plane in a film camera tends to be almost right at the back, wheres a sensor tends to be much further forward in a digital camera. This is why digital backs are quite uncommon, and why the leica digital cameras are thicker than their film counterparts. I didnt want the screen to protrude way out the back of the camera to maintain the flange focal distance to the existing F mount, so instead I am positioning the sensor where is convenient for the lcd screen, and will then 3d print or machine a custom made extension tube to make up the difference. It should be approximately 10mm but I will wait until I have the sensor fixed and an exact measurement before dealing with that.

Part 4: Placing the parts and sizing it up
Lots of bits had to be ground away to fit the nex parts snuggly. Conveniently, the accesory port for it EVF is exactly centered with the sensor, as in an SLR, so the EVF will fit perfectly in the existing nikkormat viewfinder with minimal work

Part 5: Fixing in place the components
The nex components all have to be fixed in place so that the sensor is as perfectly centered and parallel as possible. Then I have to finish resoldering the battery connectors and controls. I also have to cut the rear panel for the screen and dial. The winding lever will be the on/off switch as it always was in the nikkormat. I dont think I can make the speed dial useful, as the 5n has no dials. The playback and movie buttons will go to the right of the "Nikon Japan" on the back side of the top plate, above the screen controls. I'm also have to look into possibly adding a second smaller battery in the empty space to the left of the screen in order to boost the life of the main battery and balance out the camera a bit. Finally, the edges protruding out the back from the lcd control panel will need to be finished nicely to intergrate with the rear panel and the whole thing will be light proofed, weather sealed (to some extent) and recovered with leather.

Since the lens mount will be custom made, I'm considering making a couple to interchange as I like leica R lenses, so a leica R mount might be my primary mount.

If anyone is interested I'll keep my progress updated

Full gallery is here
https://plus.google.com/photos/113804062246503305242/albums/5837844165184674913

Responses

Steve Solomon , Jan 26, 2013; 03:47 p.m.

Brendan,
I think you may have voided your warranty...

Andy L , Jan 26, 2013; 04:46 p.m.

This is amazing. I want to see updates.

Leslie Cheung , Jan 26, 2013; 09:24 p.m.

Wow!

Louis Meluso , Jan 26, 2013; 09:37 p.m.

Neat project. Best of luck. Reminds me of a Canon FD project someone did a few years ago HERE.

Mark Amos , Jan 26, 2013; 09:52 p.m.

Brendan, more power to you! I look forward to the day you tell us that Nikensony is alive! It's alive!

Howard Stanbury , Jan 28, 2013; 07:12 p.m.

I'd heard talk of Nikon cameras having Sony sensors inside them ...

Fabulous project, and I look forward to seeing more!

Enrico Pelos , Jan 30, 2013; 06:32 a.m.

Well Brendan
not so simple as it seems but a very good idea for all nikon lovers with old analog bodies.... my compliments for the idea and thanks for sharing

El-Deane Naude , Jan 31, 2013; 11:27 a.m.

WOW - All modern Nikon's use a Sony sensor (except Nikon 1 sewries). Now you've gone back in time and made the old ones use Sony sensors too. Well done!

Brendan Taylor , Feb 05, 2013; 09:23 a.m.

I've set up a blog page at www.cameramods.com for the project which gives a little more detail on the build. I will still add pictures to google+ as I progress but that site will have my explanations

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