The $277 gadget that turns old film cameras into digital shooters is back

With the resurgence of film photography comes the inevitable attempts to mix classic photography with digital convenience. I’m Back was one of those attempts to create a digital back for existing film cameras, but the original crowdfunding campaign didn’t reach full funding despite the hype. Well, I’m Back is now, well, back — and this time the digital back is fully funded on Kickstarter. The I’m Back Pro attempts to bridge the film-digital gap by converting old 35mm shooters using a digital back for film cameras.

This is I’m Back’s third Kickstarter campaign after an earlier one didn’t reach full funding but it did successfully deliver a 3D-printed system designed from Rasberry Pi for the first campaign. Now, the Italy-based startup is aiming to reanimate more old film cameras using a mass-produced camera back.

A film camera’s lens typically sends light to a film strip at the back of the camera, passing through a focusing screen. Instead, I’m Back takes a photo of that focusing screen to create a digital image. Earlier prototypes used a large sensor to capture the image,  but the solution was an expensive one. The I’m Back Pro uses a 16-megapixel Panasonic-made sensor to capture an image of the focusing screen. Using different back covers, the digital back can properly align with a number of 35mm camera models, turning the camera into a digital shooter.

Converting a film camera creates both a number of new features and renders other options incompatible. For starters, the digital back allows a traditional still-film camera to shoot video. The latest Kickstarter doesn’t detail what controls are left out, but the previous model had only the shutter release and the aperture control on the lens. The shutter release has to be set to “bulb” to use the system, holding the release for two to three seconds to take a photo. The company did say that the latest design improves on vignetting.

While the previous version used a Wi-Fi connection and a smartphone to display the images, the I’m Back Pro has a small built-in screen to view the shots.

The I’m Back system has a number of dedicated back types designed to fit with the most popular film cameras, including models from Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Olympus, Minolta, Praktica, Contax, and Diana cameras. A universal back cover allows the accessory to fit “most” film cameras, the designer says.

The developers are a bit vague on the specifications — the back uses a 16-megapixel sensor developed by Panasonic, but details on the sensor’s size are not included. While the actual film is responsible for a big chunk of the image quality and aesthetic coming from old photos (along with whatever old lens is paired with the camera), it’s unclear if I’m Back’s sensor attempts to imitate the film aesthetic. The focusing screen, however, does introduce film grain into the images, according to the developers.

Film hasn’t fizzled out as photo enthusiasts choose the traditional medium for both the aesthetic and the slower process, which film fans say helps enhance creativity, thanks to the control system, limited number of shots, and lack of an immediate way to view the photos. The I’m Back campaign joins other attempts to mix the best of film and digital, including Yashica’s new DigiFilm camera and the Fujifilm Instax SQ10 hybrid camera, as well as Polaroid’s line of digital cameras with built-in printers. Other companies restoring old instant cameras don’t mix with digital but add modern features to old cameras. Notably, I’m Back aims not to make an entirely new camera, but tries to keep the old ones around longer.

If the development is successful, early backers could pick up the backing system for pledges starting at about $277. Funding is open until April 5.

Updated on March 13: Included the latest version and the new Kickstarter.