You never forget your first love, and for many digital photographers, that was the Game Boy Camera: a $90 low-resolution digital camera for the Game Boy released by Nintendo in 1998. Almost a quarter century later, there are still devoted fans of the lo-fi shooter, including Christopher Graves, who turned a Game Boy Pocket into a surprisingly professional looking mirrorless camera that takes Game Boy Camera photography to the next level.
Digital cameras had only become available to consumers just four years before the Game Boy Camera accessory was released, including models like the Apple QuickTake (made by Kodak) that could snap 0.3-megapixel images and came with a price tag just shy of $1,000. With a 128x128-pixel CMOS sensor that snapped and stored images at a resolution of just 128x112 pixels (the equivalent of 0.001434-megapixels) in a lovely four shades of gray, the Game Boy Camera was one of the most limited and basic digital cameras ever released to consumers, but its unique pixelated aesthetic remains popular even today.
Modern Game Boy Camera photographers have come up with ways to use it to snap photos of the moon, and even capture color images with some additional post processing, but Graves has come up with what is easily the most polished Game Boy Camera hack we’ve seen to date. He’s tentatively dubbed it the Game Boy Camera M, as it’s technically a mirrorless shooter.
The guts of the Game Boy Camera M are a sacrificed Game Boy Pocket: a follow-up to the original Game Boy which was smaller, slimmer, and far less battery hungry than its predecessor. It now sits inside a custom shell complete with a leatherette finish wrapped around it. The GBP’s PCB works alongside a handful of other custom PCBs, while the original unlit screen has been upgraded with a backlit IPS display that includes brightness adjustments. To maximize battery life, instead of gobbling up a pair of AAA batteries, the Game Boy Camera M uses a rechargeable 1,800 mAh battery pack instead, which keeps the camera running for up to eight hours.
The controls from a Game Boy Advance SP were used instead of the Game Boy Pocket’s, with one of the action buttons positioned on the back of the camera next to the D-pad, while the other sits on top and serves as the shutter button. Graves hasn’t tried playing any actual Game Boy games on the camera, but thinks “it could be fun for a turn-based RPG like Pokémon,” as the button layout and camera shell allows for one-handed gameplay.
To make the Game Boy Camera M look as much like a real mirrorless camera as possible, Graves also heavily modified a Game Boy Camera cartridge, preserving its original PCB and relocating its sensor, which now sits behind a CS mount holding a manually focused 5-50-millimeter varifocal lens. Graves says it could easily be swapped for something larger and more capable, but prefers this lens for practicality reasons. “Sure, I can put on a massive Canon lens with huge zoom for “the clicks”, but that’s not what I’m interested in. This is a completely personal and selfish project mean to improve my GBCam photography and expand my skills as a beginner, self-taught designer.”
The results... well... still look like they come from a 24-year-old, 2-bit digital camera, but the Game Boy Camera M gives Graves more creative freedom when it comes to playing with different lenses and focus adjustments. Graves also says there’s still a lot of work to be done on his creation before he attempts to create a DIY kit for other Game Boy Camera enthusiasts to build their own. But based on the feedback he’s gotten after sharing the Game Boy Camera M online, there are plenty of lo-fi photography enthusiasts eager to try this thing out.