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Hacking Digital Cameras 102

whawk640 writes "I came across this book via the author's website I was interested in making a pinhole lens at the time so I picked up the book. Disclaimer: I'm NOT a hacker by nature. I only did a hack on a lens cover. Most of the hacks in here are for those with a better relationship with screwdrivers, drills and soldering irons than I have. I don't think this book was intended for me, so keep that in mind when reading my review." Read the rest of Daniel's review.
Hacking Digital Cameras
author Chieh Cheng, Auri Rahimzadeh
pages 519
publisher Wiley
rating 8/10
reviewer Daniel LaFuze
ISBN 978-0-7645-9651-3
summary Interesting and Fun

A quick list of the types of hacks in the book are as follows.

1: Hacking Cameras -- (triggers, tripods, raw data, power, remote control and updated firmware)
2: Hacking Lenses -- (accessory adapters, changing magnification, pinhole, lens extension, macro adapters)
3: Creative Photography Hacks -- (filters, infrared, and removing infrared blocking)
4: Building Fun Camera Tools -- (car mount, headrest mount, bicycle spy cam, stabilizer, flash bracket, monopod, and studio light)
5: Flash Memory Hacks -- (CF Type I to PC Card Type II, removing microdrives)
6: Appendices -- (Soldering Basics, Circuit Symbols, Glass Cutting Basics, Photographer's Glossary, Index)

This book has quite a few hacks and if you're interested in hacking, the step by step instructions presented in the book will be useful and interesting. Quite honestly, I've only performed one of the hacks myself. I followed the step by step instructions for making a pinhole lens and it worked just perfectly. My wife will tell you I'm no Bob Vila. About all I know about a drill is that one end is pointy and spins.

Anyway, if you want to tinker with digital cameras, pick up the book and read through the contents. If the specific hack you want to do is not in the contents, look for something close. If it's not there or the book doesn't give you any ideas on anything to do, then it may not be for you. Read one more paragraph to find out.

In addition to the hacks, this book covers quite a bit of introductory concepts in photography in general and the math behind it. I found it easy to read as a beginner and it gave me an appreciation for why there are professional photographers and 'the rest of us'. Concepts covered in the book include focal length, magnification, filters, softness, ambient light, field of view, white balance, infrared, ultraviolet, depth of field and many more. These sections are brief and provide only an introduction though. If you're an experienced photographer, you probably won't find anything new in these sections. One down side about this is that since an introduction to photography is not the focus of the book, these introductions are scattered throughout the book whenever they tie in with a specific hack. On the upside, it gives you the information when you need it to decide if a hack is right for you.

Now, the hacks in the book are step by step with loads of pictures, schematics where necessary and tips. What you need to perform each hack is identified clearly before you start. Additional ideas about how the hack could be modified in function or in fit are available after each hack.

In my opinion, the disclaimer telling you not to take apart your $400.00 brand new camera is not quite strong enough. People like me are rightly afraid of that sort of thing. From what I hear, your average hacker though is much more adept and less fearful.

This is not the type of book most people would pick up and read cover to cover. It is more like a reference you would want to have handy if you spend a lot of time taking creative pictures or messing with your camera.

Negatives: Hacks seem to apply to specific cameras, if you want to apply them to other cameras, the author's experience may not help you... be careful! I found section 3 very interesting and would have liked to see more chapters on fun camera hacks. Unfortunately, it was the smallest section in the book.

Are you a propeller head who loves to take things apart?
Are you a techno-junkie who has 9 or 10 digital cameras lying around because you always buy the newest one?
Are you an amateur or professional photographer who just can't quite get all the features you want in a single camera?
Do you have a specific need for a hack that the book covers?
Do you have an interest in this sort of hack and a desire to learn some photography basics?"
If you answered yes to any of the previous questions, then this book is for you.

You can purchase Hacking Digital Cameras from Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.
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Hacking Digital Cameras

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  • True monochrome? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Cybert14 ( 952427 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @03:39PM (#14726481)
    How about having a CCD that takes true monochromatic images? No RGB overlays. So a sodium lamp would register near zero unless near its wavelength.
  • worst. review. ever? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jspectre ( 102549 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @03:42PM (#14726500) Journal
    i'm sorry. was this an review posted on /. by mistake? did you try any of the hacks? what did you like? what didn't you like? did you just copy this off the back cover of the book or what?

    -1 for content, -1 for copying from amazon or somewhere else, -10 for wasting my time reading and writing this reply

    please write a review when you've actually read the book. thanks!
  • by szyzyg ( 7313 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @03:48PM (#14726540)
    Astronomers have been doing the same kind of thing with Webcams - specificly the Phillips TouCam, Vesta Pro and the Quickcam 3000 all use CCD sensors which are sensitive enough for astrophotography. It's possible to open them up, modify them for long exposure photography, add peltier cooling to reduce noise and some people even replace the CCD with a different kinds. []
  • Re:Raw data (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dslbrian ( 318993 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @04:13PM (#14726686)

    One of the topics listed in the book is the raw file format. Why do camera manufacturer encrypt our pictures? Our pictures belong to us. We are the copyright holders of our pictures, not the manufacturers of cameras. There is probably no acceptable answer.

    I followed your link, and I think your right, there is no acceptable answer to that from a user standpoint. Looking at the information from your link this sounds like a rather lame attempt at locking the camera to the raw processing software.

    Its odd in that the image itself isn't encrypted but the white balance information is. It obviously takes additional work to encrypt the white balance, so why not the whole image? Probably its Nikon walking the line between irritating the software developer enough to drop support entirely, yet still keeping them from accessing the full potential of the raw file (locking out the open-source community - good job there Nikon...)

    Another case of the corporate mentality to maintain complete control over what you can do with the stuff you buy.

  • Re:Raw data (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nodens ( 137511 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @04:25PM (#14726799) Homepage

    It's not a question of the data being encrypted, it's a proprietary format. Actually, it's not even a single format, it varies by manufacturer and even within models from the same manufacturer. Some manufacturers are pretty good about providing providing details about their RAW format(s) while others aren't. Your statements cast all manufacturers in the same light.

    The RAW file is simply the raw data that the sensor recorded (okay, there would be some basic file header info such as EXIF headers too). Yes, some camaeras do still process the data to a certain extent (such as noise reduction) but the file is supposed to be the closest thing to an unprocessed file you can get from the camera. The intention of this is to give you the most to work with when you are editing the image later.

    I would like to see cameras use a single open format. I know Adobe has been trying to push the DNG format, I'm not sure how open it is but it would at least be a single standard format.

  • by norite ( 552330 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @04:28PM (#14726820) Journal
    LOL.....Have a look here [] to see a real camera hack. There's even a gallery to see what you can do with this camera in the air, and post your own results...
    I have just got one myself for my model plane. It's just an ordinary 2 Megapixel aiptek pencam, but modified to run off a model aircraft's battery pack and take instructions from a spare channel on your receiver. It has a programmable chip inside so you can alter the time in between shots. I'm taking mine to Spain this summer; we're going to try out some basic geological mapping, but with a bit of luck I should be taking some aerial photos of our model flying field this weekend to see how it turns out... :o)

    They're out of stock right now - I was lucky to get mine before they ran out! Perhaps a better camera will be modded by them in future....

  • Re:Raw data (Score:3, Interesting)

    by msbsod ( 574856 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @05:13PM (#14727203)
    Sure, this is just the usual proprietary file format game and an attempt to monopolize the market. This why it is important to name the manufacturers who do encrypt data or do not disclose the file format.

    Personally I would not count on Adobe. Adobe's stupid PDF update sagas serve exactly the same purpose as encrypting parts of the camera's raw data. You may also contact the makers of xpdf and gs. They certainly can tell a few stories about Adobe.

    There is an open raw [] format. OpenRAW gives more details about this issue. I think it is important that people know how well manufacturers support customers (or not for that matter).
  • Re:Raw data (Score:2, Interesting)

    by OldeTimeGeek ( 725417 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @05:21PM (#14727300)
    Insightful? You have to be kidding...

    Why not ask why camera manufacturers force you to use JPEG. Or TIFF. Why not use PNG? While you're at it, why not complain that most pro cameras use Compact Flash rather than SD cards. Or that the lens mounts aren't interchangeable. The camera is yours, right? Why should you be forced to use an adapter to put a Nikon lens on a Canon body? They should be forced to use what YOU want!

    Nikon encodes the white balance in their camera RAW format. That's their option. Don't like it? Don't use the format or don't use Nikon. That's your choice.

  • by Zarhan ( 415465 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @05:22PM (#14727316)
    ....does it have instructions on how to hack firmware so that the mirror lockup functionality is behind a single button on 20D or 5D? I especially wouldn't mind replacing 5D's "Direct Print" with a mirror lockup button.
  • Re:Raw data (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @05:28PM (#14727383)
    I worked in the photography industry for 6 years, many of them for Kodak.
    Camera Manufactures don't format images to keep you from doing anything with your pictures. They could care less what the masses do with their pics. They encode the images to take up less space so that the majority of consumers(not /. readers) can fit an entire vacation of pics on a single small memory card. Most professional level camers allow RAW format images and have for quite a while.
    Their decision to encode images on low-mid level cameras is a calculated marketing decision, and a correct one in my opinion.
  • by An dochasac ( 591582 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @05:59PM (#14727678)
    Astronomers have also been doing this with digital SLRs. Modifying the firmware to allow longer exposures, removing the IR dichroic filter... One camera manufacturer seems to have noticed this and made a specialized version: a.asp [] No, I don't work for Canon, I just wish Sony (and others) would either open up their firmware or provide more flexible options for semi-pro cameras such as the DSC-V3.
  • Re:True monochrome? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @06:25PM (#14727892)
    Not all color cameras have a Bayer CFA. Just get a Sigma SD9 or SD10 with a Foveon sensor.

    They detect colors by how far the photon embeds itself within the silicon. You could just take the raw data from the camera and sum the R, G, & B portions of every pixel to get a raw photon count. Then just gamma correct and you'll have a true greyscale image.

    I would recommend using dcraw for this, as it would probably just be a quick hack.

  • Re:Lame (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Kris_J ( 10111 ) * on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @07:12PM (#14728322) Homepage Journal
    running MAME
    Right here. []

    At the moment I'm digging out all my old digital cameras, including my DC260 that can run MAME, to do calibration sets for some funky software called "PhotoAcute []". It allows you to double the horizontal and vertical pixel count of your photos be processing multiple pictures of the same image (not useful for action shots, but great for static scenes). The means that your camera's megapixel count is multiplied by four. My A$140 4Megapixel cheapy Kodak Easyshare will soon be a 16Megapixel camera. I'm not sure this qualifies as "camera hacking", but I think it's closer than some of the examples from the book.

I use technology in order to hate it more properly. -- Nam June Paik