The Game Boy Camera isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you think “high end.”
The unusual peripheral, released in 1998, could be inserted into the Nintendo handheld’s cartridge slot to give you a lo-fi digital camera capable of capturing a 128×112 black and white image. Now, a full 20 years later, someone’s managed to make the thing work with a massive Canon zoom lens.
That someone is Bastiaan Ekeler, a product designer and photography enthusiast. The idea came to him recently after he saw how photographer Tim Binnion managed to shoot the 2018 Chinese Grand Prix using a Game Boy Camera and a clip-on telephoto lens for smartphones.
Ekeler felt he could take the idea a step further.
“I’ve seen people use cheap cellphone lens adapters on the Game Boy Camera before but I wanted to see what a high-quality lens would do for this vintage piece of technology,” Ekeler said in an email.
“I wanted to see what a high-quality lens would do for this vintage piece of technology.”
“I just really like the idea of using professional photography gear with this little 128×112 greyscale camera, it’s very funny and interesting to me. Plus I’ve been getting into wildlife/nature photography lately so I figured a big long lens combined with some childhood nostalgia would be the perfect fit!”
To make this unholy marriage of new camera tech and vintage gaming tech work, Ekeler first needed a way to connect them. So he set out to build a custom EF mount — Canon’s standard lens mount — with the help of a 3D printer.
The particulars of how he built something with the right fit get fairly technical if you’re not a camera enthusiast. But to attach the lens to the Game Boy Camera when neither was built to accommodate the other, Ekeler needed a lens mount that was sized correctly.
He figured out what he’d need and worked up a design in Rhinoceros 3D, then printed his creation using Monoprice Select Mini V2 printer. The Canon lens he planned to use is a 70-200mm telephoto — a powerful zoom lens that can capture images at great distances. But because of the way camera sensors and mounts work, his finished creation would actually have a maximum focal length of around 3,000mm.
That’s very long.
Making it all fit together meant partially disassembling the Game Boy Camera. It also took some additional cutting and filing of the printed mount. But in the end, Ekeler made his creation work:
For the final piece of this puzzle, Ekeler needed a way to transfer his shots to a computer.
He ended up using an Arduino circuit board coupled with a Game Boy Printer Emulator found on github. After some creative cutting of a Game Boy Link Cable that he then soldered to the Arduino, Ekeler had his pipeline all set.
With the technical work finished, all that remained was for Ekeler to go out and test his creation.
He took his self-described “abomination” out into the world and captured a bunch of shots: Nature scenes, wildlife, even the moon. The results, though captured in black and white and at a positively tiny resolution, are impressive.
Overall, Ekeler was pleased with the results he came away with.
“Shooting the moon handheld with a ~3000mm equivalent lens on an unlit [Game Boy] screen that updates at about 1fps in low light situations is not an easy task but I got a couple of shots in,” he wrote on his website.
“The bird shots actually show some surprisingly creamy bokeh for a 2-bit, 14 kilopixel image, there might be some portrait session in this camera’s future.”
He also took a couple of “control” shots using his iPhone 6s, which shoots at a 29mm focal length with no zoom. These images, when compared against the shots of the birds and the lighthouse, “give an idea of the insane zoom you get from this kit. You can probably just barely make them out if you zoom and squint.”
There are many, many more images to be found on Ekeler’s website, so definitely click over and give them a look. It’s incredible what a little ingenuity and creative problem-solving led to here.