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Hardware Hacking Build Technology

Hacking Canon Point-and-Shoot Cameras 242

Pig Hogger writes "If you're stuck with a cheap Canon point-and-shoot camera and have feature envy over the neighbor's sophisticated latest model, fret not! According to this LifeHacker article, the CHDK project allows nearly complete programmatic control of cheap Canon point-and-shoot cameras, enabling users to add features, up to and including games and BASIC scripting."
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Hacking Canon Point-and-Shoot Cameras

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  • by Thelasko ( 1196535 ) on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @04:58PM (#23317104) Journal
    What's the cheapest camera on the list?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      You must be new. The real question is "does it run linux"
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jimicus ( 737525 )
      Take a look at the list. There's a lot of cameras it supports past and present; I'd suggest you look around ebay.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Aggrajag ( 716041 )
      I am currently porting CHDK to A430 which cost me around $100 when I bought it about a year ago.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by apt-get moo ( 988257 )
      A good firmware won't help you in any way if you are limited by the specs of your camera. You should go for the best combination of a good (i.e. not too small) CCD and the zoom coverage you need. The G7 and the SD870/ Ixus860 would be some good picks.
  • Pointless (Score:5, Funny)

    by Uncle Focker ( 1277658 ) on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @05:01PM (#23317142)

    enabling users to add features, up to and including games and BASIC scripting."
    Just what everyone in the world was clamoring for: games for their camera.
    • by Intron ( 870560 ) on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @05:02PM (#23317158)
      I need games on my camera. I'm running out of room on my cell phone.
    • Re:Pointless (Score:5, Informative)

      by J-1000 ( 869558 ) on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @05:08PM (#23317264)
      It's for more than that of course. It allows you to enable certain camera functions that do not exist in the shipping firmware, like RAW mode.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by xtracto ( 837672 ) *
        It is really cool. I just read this and installed it on my PowerShot A530. I ran some tests with a DOFStacker + CombineZM and shoot some RAW pics.

        IMHO it has some really nice features so that we casual photographers can get more from the cameras.

        Of course I won't be taking all my pictures in RAW but it is nice to have some of those features. Oh! and the optical-zoom while in video is a really useful and simple feature.

        There are tons of other functions that *really* make CHDK shine...
    • Withstanding OR notwithstanding the DCMA, I think the developers and players could be literally figuratively "shooting themselves in the foot"... (LOL!)
    • Re:Pointless (Score:5, Interesting)

      by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @05:26PM (#23317488) Homepage

      Just what everyone in the world was clamoring for: games for their camera.

      While games are a nice gimmick that gets the project attention, it looks like there are real features here. Me, after I lost my old Powershot I bought in 2004, I got a new Powershot A550 [amazon.com]. I was unhappy, however, to see that it had even less features than the old Powershot. Instead of trickling whizbang features down into cheaper cameras over time, Canon has been getting rid of them altogether. Now, one missing feature is hardware, the swivel viewfinder, and I can't do anything to remedy that. Similarly, I cannot use the camera as a webcam with a few hacks like I could the old one. However, this open firmware project will restore my precious RAW capabilities. It will also give me longer exposure times that I've long craved.

    • by Pope ( 17780 )
      The first big hack I heard about years ago was getting MAME on some early Kodaks. Now THAT is silly & fun!
    • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @06:00PM (#23317902) Homepage
      Well I'm assuming that's just some initial hacks they got working.

      What I really want to know is if you can disable the software that prevents the camera from stealing the souls of those photographed. Digital cameras are amazingly convenient and powerful compared to their non-digital ancestors, but they're useless to me unless I can steal souls.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ShakaUVM ( 157947 )
      >>Just what everyone in the world was clamoring for: games for their camera.

      I have had CHDK installed on my A620 for a while now, mainly so that I can use it to do exposure bracketing so that I can take HDR photos automatically (using Photomatix Pro to piece them together).

      But -- while hanging out at Tahoe with some buddies of mine -- we started talking about Nethack. Without saying another word, I clicked on my camera, turned on CHDK Sokoban, and handed it to a friend of mine, who was duly impressed.
  • they cripple the cameras like Linksys did with the WRT54G?
    • by Ford Prefect ( 8777 ) on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @05:27PM (#23317496) Homepage
      If it's anything like the 300D versus the 350D, they'll notice that people are hacking features back into the camera, and enable them by default on the newer model.

      (Is there any alternative firmware for the 350D onwards, or have the hackers simply not bothered?)
      • by jimicus ( 737525 )

        (Is there any alternative firmware for the 350D onwards, or have the hackers simply not bothered?)

        Not that I'm aware of, and I've got a 400D so I'd be interested to know as well.

        The main reason there were hardware hacks for the 350D is because it was basically a higher-end camera (can't remember exactly which model - 30D?) in a cheap plastic shell with a crippled firmware. I suspect the differences between the product lines are a touch more pronounced these days - either that or they're checking the firmware at boot to ensure it is correct for the model.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by MrCrassic ( 994046 )

        I own and frequently use the 300D, and it's pretty obvious to any previous or current owner of this camera that this camera was Canon's experiment into consumer-priced SLRs, as it was nearly feature equivalent to the 10D (the only difference was the buffer size and 0.5 second shutter speed difference). The separation between the Rebels and the double-digit cameras has been widening ever since.

        A great example is the Canon 400D and 450D. While they do take stunning pictures and are great SLR cameras in thei

  • by Applekid ( 993327 ) on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @05:09PM (#23317278)
    Canon hacking has hit mainstream, it seems... with extra visibility I'm sure the higher ups in the company will soon know about them (no doubt the engineers already knew about the project). I LOVE my Canon cameras, so, I really hope Canon doesn't pull an Apple or a Creative and start intentionally guarding against firmware hacks because then my future purchases will have to go elsewhere.

    Sidenote: I had an old A80 camera that's maybe 6 years old stopped taking pictures. Turns out there was an old technical bulletin about it in their KB and that Canon was offering free repairs to any affected unit regardless of its age. I sent it in and they did what they promised AND the turnaround was around a week.
  • Ease of use... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I have long been aware of CHDK, and own one of the cameras that was recently added to their "list"... the S5-IS. I got as far as downloading the file and trying to make head or tail of the 'intructions'. Not even the worst offending Microsoft 'undocumented' feature you can think of is this badly documented. There is NO step by step guide that makes you feel confident at all about loading this onto your camera. Yes there are steps - more like leaps off the edge of the Grand Canyon! Huge gaps of logic, no fin
    • Re:Ease of use... (Score:5, Informative)

      by dfn_deux ( 535506 ) <datsun510@NospAm.gmail.com> on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @05:31PM (#23317536) Homepage
      There is no risk of "screwing up" your camera, the hack loads the "firmware" into volatile ram in such a way that simply deleting the file from your mem card will revert your camera to the original state.
      • I will just add a link to "Loadlin [wikipedia.org]", a tool which boots Linux from DOS using similar technique.

        It is how the old viruses used to work on DOS - loading into memory and then overtaking COMMAND.COM
      • Re:Ease of use... (Score:5, Informative)

        by neonfrog ( 442362 ) on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @05:58PM (#23317876)
        The risk of screwing up your camera comes from potentially feeding it a parameter outside of it's safety zone.

        For instance what if there were a RAM mode in the hacked firmware for firing the flash at a rate faster than the camera's default firmware would allow. You try it for that super cool skateboard picture and wonder why your flash Fresnel is brown and smoking after the fact. Granted the caps shouldn't be able to do that, but what if?

        Or you try to drive the aperture 1 click past its physical limit? Do you know if the camera has limit switches or is relying on firmware pointing to known values in RAM (pulled from EEPROM at boot) that define the scope of aperture values to control that motor? Maybe it can handle a few slams at the end of travel, but what if you keep doing it by mistake?

        Or you use a mode to leave the LCD backlight on while the flash caps recharge (normally the LCD backlight is off) and you fry the power supply in the camera because you sourced too much current?

        Or you use a mode to drive the lens into the extended position, but somehow the hacked firmware ignores the limit switch for the little lens cover door and tries to run it at the same time? Scraaaaape.....

        Don't get me wrong, this looks freakin' cool! But to presume there is zero possibility of damage seem naive to me.
    • Re:Ease of use... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Cruciform ( 42896 ) on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @05:54PM (#23317838) Homepage
      What exactly was hard about the instructions?
      When I first found out about CHDK I had it running on my camera *3 minutes* after the download completed.

      All you do is:
      1) copy the files to your flash card
      2) Power up the camera in playback mode while holding the menu button to add the firmware update option to the menu. This is something you should already know how to do from the cameras manual!
      3) Select the update.

      Once the files are on the flash card you can repeat this process at any time in under 15 seconds. If you want to use the stock firmware then you just don't run the update.

      The custom firmware has all kinds of neat features. If you like making HDR pics, you can use available scripts or write your own to bracket the exposures. My Powershot A620 now has the ability to shoot RAW thanks to CHDK.

      Some builds even incorporate face detection and motion detection. Screw webcams, how about having a 7 megapixel camera capturing what's happening outside your window.

      Time lapse photography is now a cinch, as are all kinds of things that the stock camera doesn't do.

      I never found any of the features to be all that hackerish. They don't document using a histogram, sure... but if you're downloading a firmware for the use of a histogram, you probably already know what one is!
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by cjsnell ( 5825 )
        It's even easier on my A720 IS. All I had to do was to flip a few bits [wikia.com] on my SD card with a hex editor and flip the read-only switch on the card and the camera automatically boots to CHDK. Don't want CHDK? Simply flip the SD card back to read/write. The camera ignores a read-only card and happily writes photos to it when it's locked.
  • by lazyforker ( 957705 ) on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @05:36PM (#23317630)
    Wired.com also mentioned this stuff recently. I tried it - awesome.

    One of the coolest features is that at any time you can restore your camera to default settings just by turning it off - no permanent flashing of BIOS/firmware!
  • And now is when I regret getting a fairly decent Canon camera. The Powershot SX100IS. Doesn't have half the stuff this supports. Of course, to be fair, it was only $200 and it has an optical image stabilizer, 10x optical zoom, 8.0 megapixels, great manual controls, and is just generally the best camera you'll find without going for SLR. But man would it be nice to add some of this stuff.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @05:53PM (#23317834)
    Among things, most people use CHDK for one or more of:

    • RAW capture in cameras that don't normally support it (this one is huge)
    • Much shorter, or longer exposure times than supported by the camera's firmware (see this page [wikia.com] for high-speed examples)
    • Zebra striping mode (highlights over/under exposed areas in real-time)
    • Motion detection (which some folks have allegedly used to successfully take lightning photos)
    • Adjustable video bitrate
    • More adjustable ISO
    • DOF calculator
    • Hot pixel removal
    • Adjustable grid
    • Real-time histogram for cameras without
    • Detailed battery life meter
    • etc.
  • I tried CHDK on my Canon S2IS camera a while ago. While the RAW mode does work, the delay of several seconds between photos with a black screen was really frustrating. I've yet to properly process the RAW photos to compare the quality to the JPEG images, but unprocessed photos in Picassa varied wildly in exposure and colour.

    If you're using CHDK for RAW you might be disappointed (buy an DSLR with lots of buffer memory), but some of the other features are quite neat.
    • Frankly, unless you are a measurebator, high quality JPEG's are quite good enough for even the most discerning photographer. Especially when you consider the negatives such as long writes and sketchy interpretations.

      I'd download it for the RGB histograms alone. I can hardly believe they'd leave that out. I guess that's what happens when your bottom end and high end aren't very different once you get past the glass.
  • If you're stuck with a cheap Canon point-and-shoot camera and have feature envy over the neighbor's sophisticated latest model, fret not!

    The headline makes it sound (unintentionally) like Canons are crap, but actually they make some of the finest point-and-shoot cameras out there. I have an old Powershot A530 that, despite having "only" 5 megapixels, take beautiful sharp photographs, either in manual or auto mode, and holds it own when compared to newer cameras.

    Anyway, i'm so downloading this. Sounds like a
  • CHDK saved the day (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cjsnell ( 5825 ) on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @07:49PM (#23318924) Journal
    I discovered CHDK while trying to find a remote trigger solution for my high altitude balloon project [nw5w.com]. After destroying three digital cameras trying to make a remote shutter, I discovered CHDK and it's UBASIC [wikia.com] capabilities. I used a hacked-up USB cable [setepontos.com] and a simple UBASIC script to trigger the shutter from my Arduino [arduino.cc].

    Cool stuff. The HDR and RAW capabilities are incredible, for a $200 camera.

When a fellow says, "It ain't the money but the principle of the thing," it's the money. -- Kim Hubbard