Nikon patents digital backs for 35mm SLRs

I don't know about all you young whippersnappers, but I learned how to take pictures with a Nikkormat EL manual SLR, shooting black and white film that I developed myself. Get off that brooding contrasty picture of my lawn. Yes, those days are over, but for those of us who miss them, Nikon has patented a digital back that can give your SLR a second chance.

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad that I have a DSLR, especially now that I'm pretending to be a journalist for a living. Shooting film was expensive, time consuming, and high risk. But the old SLRs were built like tanks, out of actual metal (even the cheap ones), and they have the most satisfyingly mechanical shutter sounds of any camera I've ever used. The other nice thing about old SLRs is that using a manual camera fundamentally changes the way that you take pictures. You have to care about everything, and it makes every picture a Big Deal that imparts a special sense of accomplishment when you get it right.

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Nikon's patent is for a back panel that can be swapped for the back of a 35mm film camera, replacing the place behind the shutter where the film would sit with a digital sensor. We're assuming there'd be a place to stash a battery and memory card, and while you'd need a different back for every type of camera, conceivably the electronics (the expensive bit) could be swapped in and out of different shells. There's a screw adjustment for that all-important focal plane, and it's all easily reversible.

As a patent, we have no idea whether this is something that Nikon actually intends to pursue or if it's just staking out some intellectual territory, but at a reasonable price, we'd be loving the idea.

We should also point out that arguably the very first digital camera ever was exactly what Nikon has just patented, except made by Kodak:

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The Kodak DCS 100 was a 1.3 megapixel digital back designed for the Nikon F3, and released in 1991. The thing had to be hooked up to a GIGANTIC Digital Storage Unit which could save 156 uncompressed images on a 3.5" 200 MB hard drive, and also provided battery power to the sensor. The cost? $13,000. Let's hope Nikon's backs are slightly cheaper.

Nikon Rumors, via Engadget

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