Nikon patents a digital back for 35mm film SLR cameras

This is probably the most interesting Nikon patent since I started my coverage in 2008: last year Nikon filed a patent (2012-242615) in Japan for a digital back that will transform a 35mm film SLR camera into a DSLR. The sensor is attached to the camera's back panel and by replacing it, you will be able to get the digital solution many have dreamed for years (digital FM2 anyone?). Since the back panel is detachable, the switch between film and digital SLR will be simple and fast. The patent application is current - it was filed on May 19, 2011 and was published a week ago (December 10, 2012). In the patent Nikon describes a mechanism for adjusting/fine-tuning the flange distance with a screw located on the digital back. Here are few paragraphs from the actual patent application I copied directly from the Japanese IPDL database (machine translated):

The camera back exchange type camera which images the object image acquired by the photographing optical system by the side of a camera body, and obtains electronic image data is known by replacing with the rear lid with which the camera body was equipped, and equipping a camera body with the camera back having an image sensor.

In the camera back of the description to this Patent document 1, when the moving mechanism to which the position of an image sensor is moved, and the position detection sensor which detects the position of an image sensor are provided and a moving mechanism moves an image sensor based on the output of a position detection sensor, The image sensor to the photographing optical system by the side of a camera body is positioned.

Figure 4

Fig.4 is a rear elevation of the film camera which illustrates the state where the rear lid 7 was opened wide. In Fig.4, the rear lid 7 is constituted centering on the hinge 17, enabling free rotation. The pressure plate 8 is provided inside the rear lid 7. The pressure plate 8 is processed so that the surface may be provided with high flatness and slidability. The rear lid key 16 is engaged where the rear lid key 13 and the rear lid 7 which were provided at the cartridge chamber 12 side of the camera body 2 are closed.

Figure 5

Fig.5 is a figure which illustrates the electronic camera back 101 by this embodiment. The rear lid 7 illustrated to Fig.2 and Fig.3 is replaced with and equipped with the electronic camera back 101.In Fig.5, the hinge 17 and the rear lid key 16 are the same as the hinge 17 and the rear lid key 16 which were provided by the rear lid 7. Unlike the pressure plate 8 in the rear lid 7, in the electronic camera back 101, the image sensor retainer board 102 holding the image sensor 103 is arranged by the camera back main part 101a. The image sensor 103 is fixed to the image sensor retainer board 102. If the camera body 2 is equipped with the electronic camera back 101 and engagement of the rear lid key 13 and the rear lid key 16 by the side of the camera body 2 is carried out, the image sensor 103 will oppose with the opening 11.

Figure 6

Fig.6 is the cross sectional view which cut the electronic camera back 101 by this embodiment with the section A-A shown in Fig.5.The image sensor chip 103a is installed in the inside of the image sensor 103. The image sensor chip 103a converts the image imaged with the taking lens 1 (Fig.2) in the imaging surface 103b to electric picture information, and the conversion is performed only in the rectangular range of a predetermined size. The glass plate 103c for protecting the image sensor chip 103a is provided by the image sensor 103.

Figure 7

Fig.7 is the cross sectional view which cut the electronic camera back 101 by this embodiment with section B-B shown in Fig.5.The left lateral of the positioning protruding part 102a functions as the X positioning part 102c as mentioned above. The X lever 117 is provided so that the end 117a may project to the camera body 2 side through the hole 102e of the image sensor retainer board 102, and it is supported pivotally with an axis parallel to Y-direction by the axis 117b pivotable to the image sensor retainer board 102. The X lever 117 stands, it has the bending part 117c, and levorotation power is given by the torsion spring 118. However, by the protruding part 117d of the X lever 117 abutting the left part of the hole 102e of the image sensor retainer board 102, the X lever 117 has the levorotation restricted and is held at the position to which the protruding part 117d abuts the left part of the hole 102e.

Figure 8

Fig.8 shows the cross sectional view cut in the state where the electronic camera back 101 was closed in this way in the same section (section A-A shown in Fig.5) as Fig.6.If the electronic camera back 101 is closed, the point of the Z-direction adjusting screw 104 will abut the inner rail 10a of the camera body 2, and the point of the Z-direction adjusting screws 105 and 106 will abut the inner rail 10b of the camera body 2, respectively. About the Z-direction adjusting screw 105, it did not illustrate in the convenience above figure 8 of a section.

Figure 9

 Fig.9 shows the cross sectional view cut in the same section (section B-B shown in Fig.5) as Fig.7 in the state where the electronic camera back 101 was closed to the camera body 2.If the electronic camera back 101 is closed, the X positioning part 102c and the end 117a of the X lever 117 will enter into the opening 11 of the camera body 2. The size of the X positioning part 102c and the X lever 117 is beforehand decided so that the X positioning part 102c and the end 117a of the X lever 117 may not bar a motion of a shutter curtain at this time.

Over 20 years ago, Kodak had a similar digital back solution with the Kodak Professional Digital Camera System (DCS 100) which was the first commercially available DSLR camera:

Here is a closer look of the Kodak DCS100 mounted on a Nikon F3 camera:

Via Egami

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  • Time to buy that film camera I’ve been dreaming of!

  • jes

    Finally. Back at the camera shop I worked for in the ’90’s where we were selling Nikons more than any brand, we all agreed Nikon had plans in this direction. That’s why I kept my F3T HP and FM2’s.

  • Back to the Future

    Leica already did that with the R9 SLR film camera in 2003, plus MF cameras have been doing it for years as well.

    • J Shin

      Indeed. It made some sense because the R8/9 were designed from the beginning to accept the Digital-Modul-R, with identical interchangeable backs. R8/9 were expensive to start with, so an upgrade solution was theoretically appealing. Still, sadly, the DMR ended up an overpriced flop, and the R line discontinued, way before economy of scale could kick in and new technologies incorporated.

      I think it is a cool concept, but I don’t really see the point with Nikon systems, since there is a surfeit of inexpensive digital bodies, new and used, with decent manual control, that take the same lens mount with diaphragm control and what not. It will also need to be somehow customized for each body, since Nikon infamously made sure that almost every model had a completely different back design, with the notable exception of the FM/FE pairs. My bet, if it ever comes out, would be that it will be only for the F3. F4 is as bulky as the current digitals, and there won’t be enough professional interest in any of the other bodies.

  • nc_mike

    New life for my F2as body!!

  • peteee363

    they just need to make interchangeable sensors. then we won’t need to keep getting whole new camera bodies. i just recently sold my nikon f, that was a old workhorse, never needed updating every few years.

    • Up $#!t’s creek

      thats a pretty cool idea. i was thinking a similar thing that they should be interchangeable like the medium formats, so you just keep upgrading. Nikon can probably make more markup on selling just the sensor backs than having to assemble a whole camera…

      • Jens M

        They’d have to integrate all the processing into the sensor back then, since newer tech needs more processing power. It’s not like you could make my D700 shoot 4k all of a sudden, just my switching sensor.

  • jm.leguizamon

    I hope it fits on my FA !!

    • peteee363

      i also sold both of my fa bodies, no more film cameras here, except for my 4 x 5 stuff.

  • Retro

    My FM2 is ready to this one. When will it be???

  • Geoff Yen

    FM3A and I no longer need to worry about how long I’ve left that roll in there? Sign me up!

  • telecentricity

    This would be a dream come true. Don’t need to make it fancy – no LCD, maybe 6mp – put this on an FM3a and you are golden. Here’s hoping Nikon has the moxie to actually bring it to market . . .

    • timon_comment

      you can download the file P2012-242615A from Japan patent office.
      I believe Nikon will not launch a digital-back about the file P2012-242615A.

      Looks like the filed patent merely prevent third party to launch a relevant product.

      • a4

        If this is the case, then god damn those greedy bastards… I’ve been dreaming of something like this for years.

    • NYC Moron

      Thats the day when pigs learn how to fly………..

  • `/1nc3nt

    Yeah, I think you guys gonna be cheated again. The most plausible outcome is a new film camera with detachable digital back that will cost you USD 3000-4000.


    • neuron_engine

      Sadly, I’d have to agree; the Nikon of today is more about selling bodies and lenses than it does with providing original technical solutions for photographers

      • a4

        Sad but true.

      • NRA Advocate


        Joe McNally would utterly reject that argument.

    • stepper

      Yup. Either that or it will be available for the F6 only.

    • Aldo

      Plausible…. but you can get an F4 and a d800 for 3k.. your price is a bit off

    • NRA Advocate

      No, because Nikon would never sell a back priced at $3 or $4K. Nobody at Nikon – who wants to keep their job – would seriously advocate a business case at those prices.

  • matt

    Wow. I’d be in. Would love to snap that on to my FE

  • Dr. Frankenstein

    I’ll convert my old Canon 35mm SLR with a Nikon digital back and call it “Nikanon.”

    • Indeed. With Canon flange distance and the ability to use almost any SLR lens ever created, Canon wield massive advantage.

  • YES YES YES, THis would be something I have dreamed of for so long….. EPIC

  • Donji Hogfan

    Just make sure:
    1. Full frame sensor (from D700 would be just fine)
    2. No protruding carcinoma like the Kodak DCS100
    3. Keep the analog spirit and forget the lcd
    4. Under $2000

    • It had better be way under 2000$. No reason to be more than 1000$. If alignment is done via manual adjustments and the thing fits into or on a digital camera, mount, and everything else are unnecessary.

      Therefore, this device, unless manufactured in very very small numbers, shouldn’t be too expensive.

      • Donji Hogfan

        Yes, even though there are enough people to buy this in order justify the development, the number is still very small for a low price point.

        • How many FM/FE series did they sell?

          They should make it for FM/FE series with the cheapest APS sensor ad keep it below $500. I believe a lot of people would try just for fun and revive the millions of FM/FEs many people kept.

          The market for F3-6 would be much more limited.

          Now, I would imagine they would also need a “Power drive”to go in the bottom for power. I would suggest make it a replica of MD-12 to keep it retro…

          • Sahaja

            APS-C sensor would make it less appealing to the sort of people that would actually want something like this – and you’d need to mask the viewfinder which would then look pretty small.

  • oldbean

    Hey, so you know how sometimes companies file patents for things they have no intention of ever actually building? I’m 98% that’s what this is. I don’t see what the upside for Nikon is. How many could they really sell?

    • Slow Gin

      I’m with you, buddy. They did this for bragging rights, just to defednd this idea from other patent trolls. I’m 100% sure we’ll never see such a product in the market.

      • An anonimous Photographer

        It might well be possible they sell this patent to a company who can make this idea much cheaper and without any investment risk (hint China)

    • AlexinMontreal

      I agree. Nikon is protecting from anyone coming up with a way to recycle 35mm Nikons and scavenge their digital camera sales. This will never go to market: 1. No display 2. No power source 3. No memory.

      • MyrddinWilt

        More likely this is a continuation in part of an earlier patent that was filed when the idea was current.

        The important thing in a patent is the claims and it is quite likely that the claims are still relevant even if the actual original patent is not.

    • Bret M

      You’re exactly right, this is just to prevent competition. I’d love to have something like this for my Olympus OM, and several other companies have talked about several similar products and nothing has ever come of it.

    • Michel

      They would sell ONE. (To me)

      • GCass

        And 3 other for me (one for my f4, another for my fe2, and another for my nikkormat ftn). So that`s already 4.

  • AlphaTed

    Oh boy … something for my F90s please.
    In the mid 90s, it costs an arm and a leg.

    • AlphaTed

      And that’s with the Kodak digital camera back.
      I mean late 90s.

  • I knew I was right not to sell my first FE2… That would be so great. Worked with the first Kodak digital back on a Nikon 6008. 20 years ago… 640×480…

    • Aldo

      eww FE2… sorry 😛

      • Aldo

        Had really bad experiences with them.. .mainly the battery depletion in a week.

  • Wolfgang (Germany)

    Wow, what a older an great idea! Hope it will become true!!!!!!!!

  • joseph

    PLEASE MAKE THIS – and if they can make ones that will fit into a Nikon SP rangefinder…I’ll buy two and never look back.

    • Would love it in my Canon P.

    • Ant

      Exactly why they won’t do it.
      They want you to not just look back, but keep coming back for upgrades. That’s enough reason to not make it.

  • John

    Leica had a 10 mp back for the R series camera whice to be useful.oo lath did not sell. If it were 2002, I would welcome this. Too e useful.late to be useful.

    • Rosco Tanner

      You really need to engage that spell checker of yours, dude…

    • iamlucky13

      There was also this clever solution, announced on April 1 a couple years ago:

      • Slow Gin

        Unlike Leica with their DMR-solution, Rogge & Pott have no intention to make it true, so forget about it.

  • Sahaja

    This would be nice.
    I only hope they are not patenting it so no one else can make one.

  • Geoff

    Is this 10 years too late.

  • Tvrtko Maras

    This should be a robust, full frame sensor with no more than 10 mpix resolution, removable anti aliasing filter, excellent dynamic range and price under 500 US$, and everyone would buy it. Self-cleaning sensor and similar things don’t matter, but if the back would be easily replaceable without service hours payed, Nikon would show some decency here.

    • Chris

      I’ll second that! A new life for my FM2a…

      • It’ll cost around $3000 because of the limited production. How many rolls of film (processed and scanned) is that?

        • NRA Advocate

          Nope. Wouldn’t cost anywhere NEAR that. Put in an “older” sensor like the one in the D700, for which R&D has long since been amortized, then you’re just talking about developing a back, not an entire contemporary camera and everything that goes with it. I don’t believe such a device would cost more than $1000.00, ASSUMING a business case could be made for a significant enough market. That’s the real question.

          • Haven’t you noticed the premium that Nikon charges for the D800E, which is essentially the same camera as the D800 with one feature reduced? And you still think that such a niche thing will come out in to the market for $1000?

            Sure, it’ll cost them $1000 (or possibly less) to make but it’s going to be priced much higher.

            • NRA Advocate

              No it won’t, simply because Nikon won’t be able to sell them beyond that price.

              But the idea that they’re developing the technology to prevent anyone else from doing so, is absurd, because it by definition it advocates the argument that other manufacturers might want to bring such a product to market, which, if a business case could not be made for them either, they clearly would not do…either.

            • “No it won’t, simply because Nikon won’t be able to sell them beyond that price.”

              And that’s the reason why no one saying this is going to come to the market.

              “But the idea that they’re developing the technology to prevent anyone else from doing so, is absurd”

              It’s a prestige thing… to claim they own X number of patents.

            • NRA Advocate

              Little prestige in a patent like that.

            • Tell that to them 🙂

  • AnthonyH

    In the late 90’s, there was a company called Silicon Film working on interchangeable camera backs for 35mm SLRs. It failed miserably, because the image quality sucked, each model of camera had a different back design, and of course, the design issues associated with adding electronics to a camera not designed for digital. There was more pressure then to succeed, but far less pressure now. I just don’t see this happening.

  • Spy Black

    This would be cool if it can fit any number of Nikon bodies, not just something like an FM. I always wanted something like this for my F2SB body, as it’s always been the body I have felt most comfortable with. This would truly be awesome if it were something like an 18-24 meg FX back, although I guess even a 10-12 meg back would be better than nothing.

    • Sahaja

      Different Nikon bodies have different backs. F2 is wider and a little taller than the backs of the FM/FA series – though the F2 cameras do have an easily removable back.

  • Rich in TX

    I would love to use this on my FT2!

  • Captain Megaton

    Maybe in 2047 when a full-frame sensor, battery, storage, touchscreen display, and wi-fi can be built into something the size of a stack of three credit cards and costs less than $500.

    • Michel

      It will be sooner than that. Some years ago I bought the canon s70 when it first came out, and a MASSIVE 1gb memory card for it. The camera was about 1000aud and the card was $250. That’s right, a one gig card was $250. Also if it is wifi the display and controls could be embedded into your smartphone. since some sd cards have wifi capability now, the back would simply just need to have the full size sensor and some electronics, easy to fit in a slim case, even 20 years ago Kodak did that as illustrated in the article here on NR. It’s a fantastic patent, along with many others I would like to see it come to life, pity the world ends tomorrow….

  • Luke Lee

    This is indeed a dream come true. I’d like to get Nikon F3 and use this. I just love F3’s shutter sound. Even better with motordrive!

  • Aldo

    omg… I sold my Fm2N titanium shutter in min condition 🙁

  • Aldo

    I would pay 4k for the d600 sensor and processor in the d700 😛

  • Gerry Walden

    Leica did this some time ago for the R8 & R9. Nikon may have patent problems with this from Leica.

  • Laurance Marvin

    With sensor technology moving a the speed of light..a full frame sensor that is 24 megs would be a no brainer….and may this conversion if simple could be done for even older cameras ! This has massive up side and in theory lower the cost of digital technology and actually change the direction of photography back in the direction of the wider consumer base that is now going into “techno overload” !!

  • HHAF

    Definitly ready to reactivate my good old sturdy F90X again. To have the camera lying dormant is a waste. A 12-18 MP resolution at FX, or the D600 sensor would be good. Will be interesting to see how they solve the issue of powering the backpack as the normal camera back is unpowered. Could this be soved via a “motor pack/grip” type add on? Would also give space for any electronics that will not fit inside the back.

    • Sahaja

      On an FM/FA type body you could put a battery pack where the motor winder was attached

      • Michel

        There is also the space where the film cassette went

  • Ian G

    A 24 or 36 MP Full Frame on a Nikonos V would be great!.

  • Bernard

    At long last !!!
    Glad I kept my F2 and my Nikomat ! 🙂

  • servus

    Want it on my f!

  • miso

    this is the best rumor ever,
    hope one time it will become true..

  • gsum

    Yes, Yes, Yes – I want one. Nikon please do it.

  • j v

    Strange… Intel has a world patent for this (WO 99/ 12345), and Silicon Film tried it ( ).

    Still, it would allow for an easy exchangeable sensor…

  • Danonino

    Would be a dream come true.. I would love to put a 24mp FF sensor in my FM2.. Wow.. OH PLEASE GOD MAKE IT HAPPEN!!!

  • GG

    Looks like Chris Niccolls’s dream comes true:
    I personally don’t think it will happen, but its nice to see some innovative spirit.

  • Mike1

    Great news! Hope it would be a reality soon. For the time being I’ll keep my FM2 that I almost put on ebay just last week.

  • molebomb

    How would the digital back know when the shutter is pressed? How would it know what the settings are for exposure time; EV+/- etc. Presumably ISO and WB would have to be set on the digital back itself?

    • They already solved that problem in MF and digital backs you know?

  • bjrichus

    If Nikon made this (it looks like a defensive patent suggested by a lawyer to “protect” a previously released product concept against predatory companies like Apple or perhaps against a patent troll outfit), they’d screw it up by putting a 10MP limited dynamic range CX sensor in it. Turn your ultra wonderful film camera into a J1. URGH!

  • John T. Harding

    My favorite all time Camera has always been my F-100 with my FM2 a close second. . A digital back on that camera would be heaven.

  • zoetmb

    A digital back is actually impractical, because you can’t use it digitally while film is in the camera. (Right?)
    Furthermore, the typical Nikon DSLR has tightly packed electronics throughout the body which is one of reasons why they’re so expensive to repair. So how is it now that it can all fit onto the backplane?
    And as per Geoff, it is 10 years too late.
    By the time Nikon released this, if they ever did, who knows if you’ll even be able to buy a roll of 35mm film? It’s been reported that Kodak, if it emerges from backruptcy at all, is going to emerge as a printing company, not as a film company, and they’ve been reducing the number of emulsions they sell for years. Last time I checked, about a year ago, they were down to only 14 35mm films. And Agfa isn’t in much better shape.
    But if they are able to put the sensor onto the backplane, rather than a 35mm and digital camera in one body, you could have a camera which is modular in that different backplanes could have different digital sensors. That might be what this is really about.

    • “A digital back is actually impractical, because you can’t use it digitally while film is in the camera”

      Congratulations on making the dumbest comment under this post.

      Also, I don’t know if you know but some have heard of a company called Fujifilm or something that makes film apparently.

  • John

    How about Nikon adopting this idea to their digital cameras. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to update your camera to the latest sensor just by changing out the back. Being able to switch in a sensor for infrared photos, an FX sensor for your landscapes, a DX sensor for wildlife, all using the same body. One can dream.

    • Ant

      Will you be willing to pay even 60~70% the price of this digital back or will you demand lower profit margin because it doesn’t have all the “bell and whistles” ? 🙂

  • this would be great if Nikon could make it work. I have an F100 stashed away that would love a second life.

  • Joe

    Where is it I will buy it yesterday. I can’t wait….

  • oregano

    What? Where’s my mirrorless DX body with Series 1 technology? Where’s a Series 1 RX-100 (something that will actually sell off fire sale)? Where’s all those DX lenses I’d like?
    Where are all those Film bodies that this invention would work on? Oh, right, at the back of the storage closet of all those folks who bought in to the Nikon system back in the film days and want to resurrect those glorious antiques. Wow, if this is Nikon’s way of offering a DSLR as compact as their film bodies were, then they’ve really gone off the rails. A digital camera is a completely different animal than a film camera. And the world is moving away from flippy mirrors. All those FM3 and F4 owners will be dead soon (disclosure: I’m not far from that age group). Perhaps this is just another one of those useless patents that keeps Nikon’s patent group busy and stacks another chip on the stack for bargaining. I sure hope so.

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