Camera Hacking

It’s long been said that even the most (seemingly) high-tech gadgets aren’t that cutting-edge; most products have only those features their manufacturers have chosen to give them, not those they could have. It’s sad, but an unavoidable side-effect of companies producing so many products that they’re, even within a given market segment, competing with themselves. Choice is good, choice is grand, but making intentionally “crippled” products that you can sell at a lower price-point just seems, well, stupid.

Venerable camera manufacturer Canon are guilty of this; more guilty than most, in fact. Their newer “PowerShot” compact digital cameras boast the DiGiC II or DiGiC III processors – the same clever bits of technology that power their much more expensive line of digital SLRs. Yet, because these are “consumer” cameras, most of the really nifty features of the dSLRs – shooting in raw format being perhaps the biggest example – aren’t available. In automotive terms, this is a bit like giving a Volkswagen Golf a turbocharged V8 – and then a six-speed manual transmission whose fourth, fifth, and sixth gears have been removed. (Hmmn, note to self: Automobile analogies suggest I may have been watching too much Top Gear of late.) In short, the “brains” of a newer PowerShot are capable of considerably more than Canon have chosen to let it do.

That’s where the folks from the CHDK project come in – clever hackers who’ve come up with custom firmware for DiGiC II and III-based cameras that allow them to take full advantage of their silicon powerplants – and in some quite clever instances, allowing them to do things even Canon’s multi-thousand-dollar top-line dSLRs cannot (or, rather, may not) do. Shooting in Raw mode is exciting, if you’re a hardcore photo geek; exposures out to 65 seconds’ duration have rather wider appeal. A stunningly clever use of movement-detection technology to identify – and photograph – lightning strikes is , frankly, incredibly cool, though not something you use everyday. Flash sync at up to 1/20,000 of a second is, really, just showing off… as are functions to sync up two cameras for stereo-photography, support for wired (and wireless, on some models) cable releases… I could go on, but, really, if you’ve got one of these cameras, head on over to the CHDK website, and see what your camera is capable of doing – but which Canon decided it shouldn’t.

Published in: Geekiness, General | on February 11th, 2008| 1 Comment »

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  1. On 12/1/2008 at 1:57 am Gene Cash Said:

    Sometimes it’s not that stupid. For instance, there used to be an old IBM mainframe printer where it was widely known that if you moved a certain jumper, the printer would run twice as fast – as fast as the next much more expensive model. Of course, one reason the model was much more expensive is that it required twice as many scheduled service visits, parts, and repairs, which was a cost usually borne by IBM and not charged to the customer. If you moved the jumper, that voided the service contract and meant IBM could charge you the extra service costs.

    I have a Canon SX-10 IS camera, and I’ve been in the computer industry for 40 years, and this is still one of the most complex pieces of equipment I’ve ever dealt with. You should see the manual. It’s 288 pages and doesn’t devote more than a few pages to each feature. It makes a Cisco enterprise-level network switch look like a walk in the park.

    It’s got a built in 20x optical zoom and I can zoom in and read the VIN sticker inside the front window of a car in the parking lot from the 6th floor at work.

    It’s even got a timer method where it fires the shutter 10 seconds after the camera DETECTS A NEW FACE! So you press the button, run around the front to join the group, and the camera goes “ah-ha, new guy!” and starts the countdown. Image processing sufficiently sophisticated to detect faces. In a consumer camera. James Bond ain’t got nothin’ on that.

    It’s interesting to see that most of the stuff in the wiki is already enabled on my camera, except for RAW format & remote. I really miss my old Olympus with the remote.