A Picture-Perfect Discovery

By Matt Parrish

Breaking it Down

When the Game Boy Camera (GBC) launched in 1998, it held the world record for being the world’s smallest digital camera. While it may no longer hold that title, the GBC continues to be an interesting topic for video game enthusiasts and photographers alike.

Shooting with a GBC is essentially putting digital photography on hard mode. The GBC only shoots images in black and white, although more specifically grayscale. It consists of only 4 shades of gray with a dithering effect to simulate more shades on a CMOS sensor with a maximum capable resolution of 128×128 (although the Game Boy crops it to 128×112 of usable resolution).

Photos courtesy of Matt Parrish

To put this into comparison with other digital cameras you may be familiar with, the iPhone 4 had a camera resolution of 2592 x 1936, a standard which is even considered to be low resolution now in 2018. However, as any decent photographer knows, technical specifications of a camera alone are not what create a good image, but a good photographer takes a good image.

Something which does matter more than an image sensor in the camera world is the quality of a camera’s optics, as a camera relies almost entirely on its glass to create what could be described as a sharp image. This is why most photographers do not use phone cameras since is a problem with the optics rather than the imaging sensor.

Knowing this information, I wanted to create my own customized GBC in which I removed its less-than- desirable plastic lens with my favorite lens, an Olympus M. Zuiko 50mm OM system lens from my old film camera. What better way to do that than reusing broken camera parts?

A Discovery

The broken camera sat in my camera drawer for a few months. It was a cheap one that I had picked up at a thrift store for $5 last year and had jammed up after just a few months of use. This warranted me to simply replace it with another camera of the same model (at this point in time, I think I have gone through 3 of these cameras; they are old and break easy because of their age) and kept this one for spare parts. I had pondered many ideas on how I could use the broken camera for creative things, and one of these ideas was to try and use Sun Print paper as film. This idea was one of my many that simply did not work.

As time passed, I continued to tinker with the broken camera as I sat down at my desk while my computer performed a lengthy Windows update. I first noticed the broken camera sitting next to the GBC peripheral I had purchased a few years prior.

I had seen other similar projects online where photographers had modified their GBC to use telephoto lenses designed to take photos of things very far away from the camera like a telescope.

It had occurred to me that I could essentially use the broken camera as a lens adapter for my GBC without even needing to take any measurements for the image projection of the lens (although it created a huge crop factor on the image.) I figured I would be able to use the lens that I had to take sharper-than-usual GBC images at a much closer distance than I would be able to with a telephoto lens, which requires the photographer to be further away from its subject.

I hastily taped and rubber-banded the broken camera to my partially disassembled GBC and ran to
my backyard to take a test image. I was surprised and impressed at the result. I had never seen a GBC image with such clarity in its presentation before, and I had just created it.

The Story Continues

I posted the camera onto my Facebook where it was then reposted by a friend to Twitter. It was re-tweeted thousands of times, gaining media attention. I was featured on Daily Mail, Deadline News and Denfaminicogamer, a Japanese gaming news outlet. The attention started with my co-workers who saw the Daily Mail article and progressed into people I didn’t know striking up conversations with me about the camera on Youngstown State University’s campus.

There are some issues with my design, however. One of which I have already corrected was adjusting the placement of the Game Boy on the camera body to allow for greater ease of use. The Game Boy now lays parallel with the back of the camera rather than perpendicular. This allows me to take images without having to fight with the unwieldiness of the camera quite so much. One design flaw I have yet to correct is the crop factor of the lens on the sensor.

The lens I have been using on this modified GBC is one that is designed to project a 35mm image, otherwise known as “Full Frame” by the digital camera industry. This is a much larger image than what the GBC sensor is able to capture, as the sensor size is much closer to that of 8mm rather than 35mm.

As a result of this issue, the GBC sensor only reads a small middle portion of the image that is being projected by the lens, meaning I have to stand about 10 feet away from whatever I am trying to capture. I should, in theory, be able to correct this by swapping the lens for one designed for an 8mm camera, although I have yet to find one for a reasonable price.