Hacking Digital Cameras (ExtremeTech) Paperback – 23 Sep 2005
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"Each project is meticulously described…I have to take my hat off to the authors for their ingenuity." ( Northern Echo , August 2006)
From the Back Cover
Why waste a thousand words? Photos tell stories. And the more you can do with your digital camera, the better the story you can tell. So build a remote control and sneak up on that picture that keeps eluding you. Create an adapter that lets you use SLR–type lenses on your point–and–shoot. Play with lens magnification or create a pinhole lens. Beef up flash memory. And that′s just where the tale begins. The ending is up to you. Hack any digital camera Illustrated step–by–step directions for more than 20 hacks, including Building triggers Accessing raw sensor data Making accessory lens adapters Eliminating the infrared blocking filter Extending lenses Making reverse macro adapters Building a monopod Creating bicycle and car mounts Hacking microdrives from other devicesSee all Product Description
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Years ago a hacker was a person who modified software to adapt it to his or her own purposes. Over time it's also come to mean a malicious person who deliberately attacks the functioning of computers, but the author is using this earlier meaning.
In this book, Cheng tells of a variety of simple modifications that one can make to cameras and other photographic equipment to allow them to be used to extend their capabilities. Some are quite simple like building a remote trigger for a camera, or a battery pack that can be tucked inside the user's jacket for winter shooting. Other projects are more complex, like getting data in the RAW format from cameras that normally only deliver JPEG files. And I wondered why one would want to open up an MP3 player to remove its micro drive. (The answer is because the particular player with micro drive was at one time actually cheaper than a separate micro drive that could be inserted directly in a camera.) The projects are well explained, and illustrated with plenty of photographs. The equipment needed for the hacks is inexpensive, and the tools are readily available in most homes.
Now I have to tell you that if I wanted a camera with a tripod socket on it, I would buy one that was so equipped. But I can see that a certain kind of do-it-yourselfer might have a socketless camera on hand and regard it as a nice challenge. Ditto for a camera that shot RAW files, especially if I would have to learn how to decode the raw file after I had downloaded it. On the other hand, if I had a camera that needed a filter holder but had no provision for the device, I'd certainly consider one of the author's hacks.
Most of the projects are aimed at the modification of specific equipment but they can easily be translated to other cameras. For the more complex hacks, the author can both provide you with an idea for a project and a site on the web where you might be able to find detailed instructions.
Because this book probably only appeals to a small audience, the publisher has probably had to keep the production costs down. The quality of the paper is not high and the photographs of the project steps are of a rudimentary, but sufficient nature.
I have to confess that what this book most reminded me of was the project books that I got for my kids' science fairs. I loved to browse through these books, and I always wondered why my kids never tried any of the cool projects. Maybe now, I can try a project for myself.
Part 1 - Hacking Cameras: Building Triggers; Adding a Tripod Socket to Your Camera; Accessing Raw Sensor Data; Hacking Power; Controlling Your Digital Camera from Afar; Improving Your Canon EOS Digital Rebel
Part 2 - Hacking Lenses: Using Accessory Lenses; Making an Accessory Lens Adapter; Changing the Lens Magnification; Making Your Own Pinhole Lens; Extending the Lens on Canon EOS Cameras; Making Reverse Macro Adapters; Modifying the Canon EF-S Lens for Use on Canon EF Mounts
Part 3 - Create Photography Hacks: Hacking with Filters; Shooting Infrared Pictures with Your Digital Camera; Eliminating the IR Blocking Filter from Your Digital Camera
Part 4 - Building Fun Camera Tools: Building a Car Camera Mount; Building a Headrest Camera Mount; Building a Spycam Mount for Your Bicycle; Building a Camera Stabilizer; Building a Flash Bracket; Building a Monopod; Making a 500-Watt Home Studio Light
Part 5 - Flash Memory Hacks: Modifying the CF Type I to PC Card Type II Adapter; Removing the 4GB Microdrive from the Creative Nomad MuVo2 MP3 Player; Removing the Microdrive from the Rio Carbon 5GB MP3 Player; Removing the 4GB Microdrive from the Apple iPod Mini
Appendixes: Soldering Basics; Circuit Symbols; Glass Cutting Basics; Photographer's Glossary; Index
If you're the tinkering type that loves to take things apart to see how they work, you'll find stuff here that I haven't seen in other photography books. I think this is the first book I've seen with a section on taking your camera apart... literally. Once apart, you can start adding things like shutter triggers to give you more options than a timed 10 second delay. I guess you could also just go out and buy something that already does that, but what's the fun in that? :) But not everything is quite as adventurous as that. If you have a camera with no tripod mount, there's a nice hack that shows you how to add one. You can go big time and actually build a block that you can velcro your camera to, or it can be as simple as gluing on a nut that's the same size as your tripod screw. Something I wouldn't have thought of...
To be honest, I'm not sure I'd have the guts to try a lot of this stuff. I'm not good with tools, and prying open my camera would cause bad things to happen. Maybe not to you, but it would to me. As such, I'm probably not the intended audience for this book. But I was surprised to see what you could do with a little ingenuity and a soldering iron. I can see where this book would offer hours of entertainment for the right type of photographer/geek...
Such as making triggers. An entire chapter is devoted to this. You can see that the issues here are not so different from building triggers for analog cameras. A trigger is a basic and important extended functionality for many camera users.
There is much other experimental functionality given. The most interesting seems to be taking infrared photographs. Many digital cameras do respond in the IR. Unlike standard photographic film, which favours the visible spectrum. So whereas with an analog camera, you would need special IR film, if you have a digital camera, it should already have a decent IR sensitivity. For some of you, this may be an unexpected bonus of using a digital camera.
Two chapters do deal mostly with software. One involves getting raw sensor data from Casio or Nikon cameras, and then using some publicly available software to decode these into a more standard graphics format. While the other chapter is about programming a remote control for the camera.
A lot of it still deals with converting film cameras. ( Despite the title, and being written in 2005, no less, it still goes on and on about converting infrared film cameras, and about where to buy "scarcer" infrared film and have it processed, even though digital infrared technology is already conceded in the book as being clearly superior. OK, whatever... ) Even the use of the term "hacking" is a bit misleading here, since it also describes things like "how to attach an external filter to your lens."
One way involves using epoxy to glue a threaded ring onto the camera, doing a similar thing to a short piece of PVC pipe on both ends, screwing a filter onto it and slipping that assembly over the lens, which is interesting - and useful perhaps if you don't ever plan on a resale of your newly-stylish, PVC-piped camera (which of course you can also show off to all of your friends, too, if you feel brave) - but I wouldn't exactly describe that sort of thing as "hacking a camera." Tinkering on a budget, yes, but not really hacking. There are some other suggestions, too.
There are 519 pages of this kind of stuff, ranging widely from the arcane and complex to the tediously mundane. It is hard to characterize this book fairly. It is a mixed batch of information that is both too simple and too advanced at the same time. But even wading through all of that, much of the digital camera information is unfortunately just a bit dated at this point.
For example, I bought this book specifically because it claimed it would show you how to convert a digital camera to be able to use an external battery pack. I am specifically interested to learn how to convert a proprietary-battery camera to be able to run on much cheaper, standardized, rechargeable AA batteries. (I am a bit of a camera "survivalist," and I think in the coming years it will be important to be able to continue to run scarcer items on simpler forms of power like standardized, rechargeable AA batteries.) Well, it does show you how to build the battery pack (not much to it except solder together a couple of wires to some parts you can easily buy at Radio Shack,) but THEN it makes the assumption that the original camera just "runs on AA batteries already."
What if it runs on the newer-style proprietary batteries? ( The author calls them "specialized" batteries back in 2005, ...quaint... ) Well, in that case there is a side note to help you out as follows:
Page 99: "NOTE: It's also possible to interface to digital cameras that use specialized batteries, though it would take more work on your part because you would have to disassemble the camera to find the power cables."
That's all is says. No photos, no diagrams, not even any words explaining how to find the power cables, what they might look like, or what to do with them once you do find them. You are on your own to figure out the rest of it. Well, that's not really very much help for anyone trying to modify virtually any point-and-shoot digital camera sold on the market today. In effect that entire chapter is rendered pretty well useless by the lack of the inclusion of that one critical piece of information, because without it there is no way for you to follow any of the other steps carefully described and try it out yourself.
If you decide to buy this book, please keep in mind that the author just assumes that the camera you will be "hacking" into runs on AA batteries, is possibly also a film camera - not digital, and nothing that has happened to digital camera technology since 2005 is going to be discussed here at all. Take it from there, and you can easily figure out which types of camera model "examples" you will be studying to try to figure out how to hack into your own digital camera to make modifications to it in the present time.
The book does have some very good, solid, useful information in it. I'll agree with that. It's not a bad place to start, and this type of information is scarce to come by. I know because I have searched for it myself. It is not something that the camera companies just give out. So in certain places it could be a very intriguing read for certain types of people.
Probably the best aspect of this book, however, is that regardless of anything else all of this is explained for someone who needs to tinker with things - if at all - only on a serious budget. It is not the Rich Man's Guide to camera modifications by any means. So in that respect it is really a pretty interesting and even a pretty challenging read.
I am somewhat satisfied with the book, and personally I will keep it and study it more. But this book is only for a pretty specialized audience. Fundamentally, many of the concepts in the book could be very useful to anyone interested in how cameras work and how to make certain kinds of modifications to them. On the other hand, if you already know that kind of information, then this book would probably be a bit too basic for you. In any case you will still probably have to update much of the information you learn from it first before you can actually apply it to your own digital camera. It is already (2012) a bit dated, and in my opinion it really is in serious need of a revised edition to bring it current.
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