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Hardware Hacking Technology

Homemade Digital Cameras 230

Michael Golembewski writes "For the past three years, I've been taking apart cheap secondhand flatbed scanners and turning them into homemade large format digital cameras. They are well over 100 mexapixel in resolution, and produce results that are both similar to and significantly different from traditional digital and conventional cameras."
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Homemade Digital Cameras

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  • by dada21 ( 163177 ) * <> on Thursday January 19, 2006 @03:22AM (#14507593) Homepage Journal
    That is some eerie art! Is your initial part of your last name really pronounced "Golem" by chance?

    Very cool effects. When I read the snippet I figured this was going to be something like the old "Make an E-size scanner out of any hand scanner" fraud that was popular for a few years back in the old days (remember stitching manually on a Pentium 200, anyone?).

    For some reason I can't believe this works. I figured the scanning element (CCD) needed an intense amount of light to properly "read" an image on the bed.

    The fact that you use duct tape to get everything "light tight" put a good smile on my face, as well as the fact that you even got this working. If you're thinking of selling artwork, I'll be the first in line (the lady and I realized it's time for more photo-prints in the house). By the way, the image taken of the actual camera doesn't seem very high res. Was this by choice?
  • Analog hole (Score:5, Funny)

    by KiloByte ( 825081 ) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @03:32AM (#14507623)
    Well, well. Since the quality exceeds those provided by "consumer-level" equipment, how are these guys going to deal with the Digital Transition Content Security Act?
  • Vacation (Score:3, Funny)

    by Frankie70 ( 803801 ) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @03:34AM (#14507633)
    I will need a pickup truck to take this along on my next vacation.
  • by core plexus ( 599119 ) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @03:38AM (#14507653) Homepage
    This is a good idea for recycling old equipment. I have several of those laying around, and I'll make something useful to donate to our local schools.

    Opened a path to new computer technologies and related devices []

    • This is a good idea for recycling old equipment. I have several of those laying around,

      Several of what? An old scanner is pretty useless without a decent lens with large area coverage, and a housing to mount it in. That's not exactly cheap. If you have old large format cameras or lenses just lying around, then getting a scanner is the least of your problems.

      I don't know about you, but I have Horseman 4x5 cameras coming out of my ass.

      • "I don't know about you, but I have Horseman 4x5 cameras coming out of my ass."

        Sounds painful, however, FTA: "Things from the thrift store...

        As a way of improving on the results of my first primitive scanner camera frames, the redesign of existing optical devices and simple cameras proved to be extremely valuable. While large format camera frames are traditionally prohibitively expensive for the amateur photographer, there are a number of alternative sources that can provide high-quality results. The red

        • You actually have to understand what is being said. 'Alternatives to the primitive models' aren't all cheap either. Good luck finding a cheap magic lantern. And you should note that it says "fairly" high quality.

          In other words, you won't be getting the same results as the pictures you see taken with his Horseman 4x5 version. Especially if you use a Box Brownie lens. And then there's the time to assemble it - a task which is more difficult without a pre-built camera to modify. And this guy seems pretty exper

      • How well would a Fresnel lens work?? 10" x 7" with focal length of just over 10" is $6 at
  • by CarnivorousCoder ( 872609 ) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @03:39AM (#14507656)
    Salvador Dali meets a camera. Brilliant stuff!
  • Brave guy (Score:5, Funny)

    by loraksus ( 171574 ) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @03:41AM (#14507659) Homepage
    Sticking 25+ mb images on your server and submitting it for a slashdotting.
    Still, quite cool. He did a good job of describing the effects - made it informative, yet simple enough for most people to understand.
  • I'm sold (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Belseth ( 835595 )
    This has got to be one of the more fun geek mod projects. I'm definately assembling one. Got to keep an eye out on Ebay for a suitable camera. A great new use for my notebook. I'd love to try some shots at a carnivale. The spinning rides would make for some interesting shots. I'd love to try some high res landscapes though. Could also do some stunning macro photography as well.
    • Re:I'm sold (Score:3, Funny)

      by heatdeath ( 217147 )
      I'd love to try some high res landscapes though

      If you want to do landscape photography with this, then you've missed the point entirely. =P (Unless you're talking about clouds or something)
      • If you want to do landscape photography with this, then you've missed the point entirely. =P (Unless you're talking about clouds or something)

        There were two points. First, cool effect with the motion and all. Second, 100+ megapixels!!
  • Here's another idea. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by robbak ( 775424 )
    Disable the motor (maybe just remove the carriage), and set it up to take pictures of things going past it. Cameras like this are used at finish lines at athletic meets. Interesting distortion. Might be an interesting project for someone still at school - I was once around the teachers trying to work out who won a 100m dash: some of them were a little bald(er) by the end of the day.
    • by robbak ( 775424 )
      Self-reply: they are called "line scan" cameras, for anyone searching .
    • 35mm SLRs have mechanical shutters. Most (not all) work by releasing two curtains in sequence. The first retracts from one side to the other, letting light reach the film. The second extends in the same direction shortly thereafter, covering the film again. What you get, then, especially for short exposures, is a negative which was exposed at different times from one edge to the other. Normally you can't see this effect, but it is possible to capture (or miss, depending on the direction of motion) hig
  • What a great idea. It reminds me of when I got my first scanner and I'd scan my face, following the light down as it passed my eyes or mouth, which created some very Blackhole Sun video type images. I can't decide if the details he gives on how to make the camera aren't detailed enough because a) I just haven't played with it enough to see that it is self explanatory or b) because it really isn't detailed enough. I can't tell if this is a really old school camera obscura type hack that would require movi
    • I had an Amiga with a Newtek digitizer. It would scan the analog video input one line at a time. So, connect a black-and-white security camera, and scan my friend's face as he rotates his head. One picture distorted his nose so he looked like a camel. If I can find those pictures on an old floppy, I will post them.
  • by Kayamon ( 926543 ) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @03:57AM (#14507710) Homepage
    This is kinda similar to the technology they use for doing photo-finishes in track & field races.

    See here - 2004/photofinish_75pc.jpg []

    The best ones are when somebody puts their feet on the finishing line, and it gets stretched out to several "metres" long.
  • Argh! (Score:4, Informative)

    by HoneyBunchesOfGoats ( 619017 ) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @03:57AM (#14507713)
    It seems he figured out how to script the camera to take continuous photos, and animated them into movies []. Unfortunately, these movies require Flash 8 to play, and the latest Linux Flash Player is v7! This is the second site today that has kept me from viewing content because of this issue (though in this case it simply seems inadvertent; by contrast, you can't access any of [] with Linux).
  • That's the kind of thing that makes you wish you'd thought of it first. =)

    Those pictures are amazingly one-of-a-kind.
  • 115 Megapixels? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lhk ( 196041 ) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @04:10AM (#14507747)
    I find it hard to believe that he can get 115 megapixels out of that scanner. Since he is using a 4x5 camera, that works out to a scanner resolution of 2400dpi. That is the kind of resolution of high-end film scanners, not a cheap flatbed (whatever the marketing material says).

    • Re:115 Megapixels? (Score:3, Informative)

      by heatdeath ( 217147 )
      The scanner he uses on his primary camera is 600x1200 dpi, so he's clearly not talking about that. (a full 8x10 scan would be 65 megapixels, but the 4x5 frame would only be about 15 megapixels) Kinda confusing as to why the images are so large then...that's not much bigger than my DSLR. Even a RAW image with my 8 megapixel camera is only about 8Megs.
      • Re:115 Megapixels? (Score:3, Interesting)

        Even a RAW image with my 8 megapixel camera is only about 8Megs.

        Is it only those of us who DON'T do digital photography that wonder if that's not as obvious as it looks?

        Not a flame. I know fsckall about this, but I thought a megapixel was a marketspeak way of saying a 32x32 (or similar factors-of-1024 dimensions)
        • Re:115 Megapixels? (Score:5, Informative)

          by bogado ( 25959 ) <bogado AT bogado DOT net> on Thursday January 19, 2006 @08:41AM (#14508395) Homepage Journal
          A raw image should have more then 8Megs, since each pixel has at least 3 bytes, but since many cameras that provide raw uses 16 bits per channel this would acount for 6 bytes per pixel. On the other hand, if your raw has the information direct from the ccd that usually is a black and white sensor that has a colored mask in front of it this would make each pixel to have a single channel (usually in an array of 4x4 squares that hold red and green in the first row and green and blue in the second).
          So in this configuration the raw file would hold 16Mb more or less. If this file is compressed with a non-lossy (gzip, zip, bz) compression it can be expected at least a 2x compression rate, so it would re-shrink it to 8Mb.

          So I guess that it is not that obvious that a 8Megapixel camera will have a 8Mbyte raw file, even if it seem obvious.
          • On digital cameras each pixel delivers only one color channel by using a Bayer filter [] (unless you have a 3-chip camera, of course). The colors are then interpolated into those pixels which measure different color channels. Therefore you have only 1 to 2 bytes per pixel in the raw format.
    • Re:115 Megapixels? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by markandrew ( 719634 ) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @06:11AM (#14508045)
      Firstly, 2400dpi is not "high-end" for a film scanner. My Scan Dual III (several years old, and only GBP 200 new) has a 2820dpi resolution. That gives around a 10-mpixel image for 35mm film. You can get consumer scanners of 4000dpi and more for not much more than that. I know of at least one flatbed scanner [] which is quite cheap and easily exceeds your supposed limit - and this from a person who has never bought a flatbed scanner in my life (there are sure to be many others). As for supposed "marketing" claims - I've yet to hear of a scanner which doesn't deliver the advertised resolution. They may not make full use of that resolution, and many high-res scanners may produce subjectively worse scans than lower-res scanners, but any scanner which advertises 2400dpi and only delivers 2200dpi would be false advertising, apart from anything else.

      Secondly, just because it is a 4x5 camera doesn't mean that the image being scanned is 4x5; if the scanner is placed behind the film-plane of the camera, the projected image size will increase. In fact, even if it is ON the film plane exactly, it's likely that there would be a (slightly) larger area than 4x5 inches available, as the projected image would be cropped to fit the rectangle of the film frame in normal use.

    • Re:115 Megapixels? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by leuk_he ( 194174 )
      Take a look at the pictures again. Yup there are 115 Mega pixes for sure, but these are not numbers you can compare with your typical digital camara. This just a case of counting the pixels.

      You can see the scanning lines in a lot of the pictures and they are not a result of the art, but from techincal shortcomings. The time distortion effect is nice however.

    • "Since he is using a 4x5 camera, that works out to a scanner resolution of 2400dpi. That is the kind of resolution of high-end film scanners, not a cheap flatbed (whatever the marketing material says)."

      I browser the shops few days ago looking for combo scanner/printer and I can confirm there's a load of 2400dpi scanners + printer for about a hundred of dollars or less.
  • by s0l3d4d ( 932623 ) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @04:12AM (#14507753) Homepage
    Nice. My first thought was that it would be just one of the many how-to-make-your-own-digital-camera articles that have been around for ages at Make magazine and other similar media... so a lot nicer and more creative than that. And now I want to find an old, old camera, with an old flatbed scanner and try some of that stuff myself.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 19, 2006 @04:15AM (#14507761)
    Back in the early 90's Dicomed introduced a digital camera back for 4x5 cameras for commercial use. It used the same theory, slap a scanner on the back of the camera. You had to use hot lamps, a studio environment and nothing could move. But the results were stunning, 100MB files that could easily be printed on the cover of a 150 line screen magazine. Wonderful.. What is really cool about your work is that you are celebrating all of the motion artifacts that studios were killing themselves to remove when using this technology. Your stuff is pretty creative and fun, and most importantly makes one look at the world differently.
  • My first digicam (Score:5, Interesting)

    by David Off ( 101038 ) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @04:22AM (#14507784) Homepage
    Interesting project, it reminds me of the digital camera I built with a fellow student as a degree project. We ground the top of a 256 byte DRAM using a grinding machine in the mech.eng lab and fitted a glass window. The DRAM capacitors discharge at a different rate when exposed to light. We mounted the chip to a PCB, cut the back out of a 35mm Zenith camera and mounted the PCB. Obviously the optics and chip were poorly matched, we were only using a small part of the lens.

    Knowing the discharge rate of the DRAM and the time to load and scan all 256 elements you could get a black and white image. We used the camera for some image recognition work. One application was counting the number of cups remaining in a drinks machine hopper by edge detecting the image then counting the "lips" that we saw.

    That was back in the autumn of 1986. We've come a long way.
    • EPROMs (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Tune ( 17738 )

      I remember reading about a similar attempt using EPROMs in late '80s. In a normal recycling procedure, these were erased by shining a high intensity UV light for a couple of minutes through the glass window that's present in the IC shielding. After making sure all bits are reset, the window is covered by a sticker or label. Then the data is 'burned' and the (typically 256Kb/32KB) ROM was inserted into your BBC micro (insert favorite hobby computer).

      Similar to the process you describe, an image could be gath
    • A co-worker and I did the same thing a few years earlier. I took a 22pin 4k dynamic ram and peeled
      the lid off the top of it (it was a ceramic package with a soldered on lid). I then glued a microscope
      slide cover on top of the chip. I interfaced the chip to my friend's apple-2 computer and he wrote
      software to read the dram multiple times and convert the bits to a bit mapped picture on the apple.
      We could get a few levels of gray scale by the multiple read and timeing technique. The first image
      was that of
  • by anagama ( 611277 ) <> on Thursday January 19, 2006 @04:28AM (#14507797) Homepage
    Check out this: /index.html []

    The scanner software that comes with the scanner he's presently using shuts the thing down if there are hardware faults. All his mods count as hardware faults thus making the shipped driver useless to him. He discusses a closed source pro driver which is a bit better, but still not perfect for his needs. Then explains how he uses SANE to make the thing actually work like he wants.
    The true usefulness of the SANE drivers lies not in the front-end applications, but rather in the fact that the raw code for the back-end is open source. ....I was able, with a bit of practice and programming study, to disable the calibration and error correction routines found in the driver for the Canon LIDE 20. This allowed me to use the more extensively modified scanners easily and effectively, and was vital in letting me create the higher quality photographs of the later-model scanner cameras.

    That's cool -- an artist embarks on getting enough programming language to modify a program so he can use it like he wants to. That's owning your hardware in the purest sense. And it's made possible by the community that generates all that great open source software.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 19, 2006 @04:29AM (#14507800)
    "They are well over 100 mexapixel in resolution..."
    Does that mean each pixel can hold 100 mexicans worth of optical information?
  • Putting aside for a moment the artistic effects, this project could be turned in a distortion-free ultra-cheap ultra-hi-res digital camera. You only need to "fix" the image so that it stands still while the scanner works. For example, you could expose to light a plate covered with some photo-sensitive chemical (like, for example, a silver halide) and then putting that in front of the scanner. I wonder why nobody thought of this before...
  • Repeating History (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Betabug ( 58015 ) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @05:17AM (#14507922) Homepage
    This seems to be actually repeating early developments in professional digital photography. The first digital backs for cameras like the Sinar, and the Arca Suisse were miniaturized flatbed scanners like that. Obviously they were really good only for still life. But still (back in 1992 or so) when I was in photographers school and we visited someone who had one of those backs, we managed a portrait of someone sitting very still. There were little smears where his breathing caused motion.

    Sadly we did not experiment with more motion. I think the "experimenting" with motion is the interesting part (as far as photography is concerned). Some of the pictures on the site are enjoyable. Hacking it all together yourself is interesting too, at least for us geeks.

    As for the comments in the style of "large format photography is only about the image quality"... it isn't exactly only about that. It is also about stuff like parallax control (putting buildings "upright" with parallel lines) and depth of field control (laying the plane of the depth of field folded through the scene in order to allow image to be sharp on other areas). All this can theoretically be achieved even with smaller formats, but due to mechanics it gets harder the smaller the format (Arca Suisse's 6x9cm cameras seem to be the smallest that still work very well, at least in my experience).

    Therefore the "experiments" done with this hack to in a line a bit with stuff like putting ordinary photographic paper into a large format camera or using polaroids for transfer prints. The "long exposure" part of it is also a reference to the times way back, when due to old processes like the daguerreotype, portrait subjects were held up with wire constructions. Very cool, all of this hack, congratulations.
  • Similar tinkering (Score:5, Informative)

    by Alkind ( 449960 ) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @05:23AM (#14507940)
    Andrew Davidhazy has done similar things at the Imaging and Photographic Technology
    Rochester Institute of Technology years ago. His site is interesting []

    Many have done the same later on. I got through a Christmas period converting a Umax page scanner to a panorama scanner. It was fun. /index.html []
  • This is the first HE hack I've seen on /. that made me go "I wanna do that!". Perhaps it's because photography has become a bigger hobby of mine than computers?
  • Mobile phone camera (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dimss ( 457848 ) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @06:59AM (#14508148) Homepage
    This is somehow similar to mobile phone cameras. Some of them are very slow too: l []
  • Absolutely fantastic images.

    I'm just wondering if you (or anyone else) has considered changing the speed of the scanner motor so you can do long exposure stuff. Capturing a sunset or something running from top to bottom would look absolutely awesome.

    However, I guess you'd need to stop down dramatically for something like a 15 minute exposure of the sun...
    • A pinhole camera would fit your needs methinks. Just punch a very small hole in a lighttight box and voila there is your camera. But you will have to figure out your own exposure time though.
  • by j75a ( 808267 ) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @07:09AM (#14508161) Homepage
    Dude, you should let me be your slashdot dupe checker. I'm pretty confident that this was on Slashdot the last time it happened. I was a bit impressed by this guys contraptions so I guess I remember the URL, here you go. []
  • []
    With that many pictures I would have used the coral cache link in the summary.
  • by slim ( 1652 ) <john@hartnup . n et> on Thursday January 19, 2006 @07:50AM (#14508254) Homepage
    You can get a similar effect, at much poorer resolution, by processing digital video of a pan. You take a narrow slice out of each frame, and append them together into a scanned image.

    I've played with this and got some images I'm very pleased with. However it's spurred me into wanting to hack some scanner hardware. Unfortunately I'm more comfortable with software than I am with the mechanical...

    I wrote up the video to panorama stuff [].
  • I used scanners set to 4800DPI or higher for eXtr33m close-up photography of tiny chips - the depth of field was enough to get the whole thing in focus. The detail was amazing - the mold marks and casting flaws

    You have to set the scan area as small as possible.

    I had to prop the lid open a tiny bit, which left tiny shadows, as if the chips were floating above a white surface.

  • by digitaldc ( 879047 ) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @08:45AM (#14508404)
    Site temporarily down - too many people looking! Sorry... I'll sort it out soon. Mike

    Is there anyway to disassemble a scanner to create a fast server?
  • Next challenge...strap on an scanner/printer to that camera and take instant pics.
  • I once did something similar with a scanner. I needed a close-up shot of a keyboard for use as a splash screen for ergonomic software I was working on. I didn't have a digital camera but I did have a scanner, so I took a keyboard and placed it upside-down on the flatbed and scanned it in. I was a little desperate and did not expect a very good image. But I was amazed at the results. The image was perfect!
  • The page now says:

    "Please Visit my site on this cached mirror... scanner photography []"

    Which of course takes you to a page that says:

    "Please Visit my site on this cached mirror... scanner photography []"

    And following that link.....
  • by chinton ( 151403 ) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {todhsals-100notnihc}> on Thursday January 19, 2006 @09:53AM (#14508676) Journal
    Taking apart a scanner and assembling a device to bring down his web server. Oh, wait...
  • Macro with scanner (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Smallest ( 26153 ) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @11:26AM (#14509442)
    My wife used to have a jewelry business, and I did all the product photography for her.

    At first I tried using film; but the turnaround time, even with 1-hour developing is a drag, because it's tough to get everything Just Right, when you're dealing with highly-reflective and very small objects. So, we discovered that it's much easier to just drop the stuff onto a flatbed scanner and do a hi-res scan. The old HP scanner I had at the time had a really deep depth-of-field and a nice wide, diffused light source, so even non-flat pieces came out very nice. And, you could stick colored paper or cloth on top of the product for fun backgrounds - propped-up a bit if you needed to get the background out of focus.

    Then that scanner died and I couldn't find another scanner that would duplicate the DOF and diffused light source. So I bought a digital camera.

    But, boring story short: if you can find a scanner with the right DOF, you can do some really great macro stuff with it. 4000dpi at 1:1 shows a surprising amout of fine detail.
  • by majk_g ( 947175 ) on Thursday January 19, 2006 @11:43AM (#14509603)
    Well, I didn't expect that to happen... My bandwidth limit was drastically exceed this morning. As you know. Luckily, some great people have offered me a bit of help... so you can see the project again. I've put up a link on Thanks so much for looking at my work... I hope you enjoy it! Mike Golembewski
  • by capsteve ( 4595 ) * on Thursday January 19, 2006 @02:29PM (#14511357) Homepage Journal
    kodak came out with a panoramic camera []called the cirkut, and images were captured by moving the lense with respect to the film plane, essentially a shutter slit that was constantly exposing a new supply of film. because the shutter was a travelling slit, one could capture some bizzare images if the subject was in motion.

    combine this with some really wild slit/film configurations, and you can get some interesting images... check out what andrew davidhazy [] is doing with moving slit photography, especially some of this stuff []. he even has some articles discussing scanner derived camera backs here [] and here []

"Pull the wool over your own eyes!" -- J.R. "Bob" Dobbs