Hackaday Prize 2022: Old (and Distinguished) Camera Learns New Tricks



In the 1950s, major Hollywood studios needed impressive cinematic technology for their epic films, both to meet the threat of television and to differentiate themselves from their competition. For most of them that meant bigger screens and therefore bigger frame movies, and for Paramount that meant VistaVision. [Steve Switaj] works on one of the original VistaVision cameras made for the studio in the 1950s, and shares some of the story with us and the work needed to update its electronics for the 2020s.

VistaVision itself had a relatively short life, but the cameras were retrieved from storage in the 1980s as their properties made them suitable for special effects work. This mostly analog upgrade hardware on it was dead, so he defined and designed a PIC-based replacement. Unexpectedly, it uses through-hole components to facilitate replacement using bushings, and it replaces a mechanical brake installed on the 1980s upgrade with an electronic booster on the appropriate reel motor.

The whole thing makes for an interesting dive into film history, and also a chance to see technology that most of us will never encounter, even if we have a soft spot for cameras.

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