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Do you want to hack your camera?

Book Review: The Canon Camera Hackers Manual by Berthold Daum

The Canon Camera Hackers Manual is really targeted at the more tech-savvy owners of Canon consumer cameras, who want to explore the expanded possibilities of these devices and make them do things that go beyond the specifications that the camera maker had intended them to do.

These hacks are based on the Canon Hack Development Kit (CHDK). This is a set of free software programs that are published by a group of enthusiasts. Keep in mind that many of these are published on the web and available for no charge, but this book brings them together and adds additional content and abilities. The Canon Camera Hackers Manual is 256 pages in length and contains 9 chapters.

Chapter 1, “Introduction,” begins by talking about a group of MIT students who launched a balloon with a digital camera into near space to take photographs of the earth. After five hours and a 17.5 mile high flight, the camera returned with a whole set of images. The rest of this chapter is a breakdown of the book.

Chapter 2, “Cameras and Operating Systems,” looks at the kind of cameras that the software runs on. Currently it is only with compact cameras like the Canon Powershot, and the Digital Elph (IXUS). Here you will look at the hardware, a bit about the CHDK, and an overview of how it works.

Chapter 3, “Installing the CHDK,” now looks at the software that runs on the camera. Here you will see how to download the software, and manually install it. It also gets in to warranty concerns and explains that since the software runs on a memory card and does not alter the camera nor its firmware in any way, there should be no more issue than if you had put a third party lens on your camera. That is, it is safe to use.

Chapter 4, “Teach Your Camera New Tricks,” shows you how to access the software from the camera. It begins by creating an key on your camera and, depending on the model, will determine what key it is. Here you will work through all of the different things that you can do with the additional menus including High-Speed Photography with speeds of in excess of 1/25,000 sec, and night photography using advance techniques.

Chapter 5, “Scripting,” is the ability to control the camera using the CHDK. Through scripting you can control almost every photographic task including shooting time series, reacting to motion, bracketing for High Dynamic Range (HDR), or setting depth of field (DOF). Here you will learn to work with, create, and configure scripts.

Chapter 6, “Advanced Techniques,” now takes a look at techniques like HDR photography, panoramas, and videos. Here you will see what it takes to manipulate the camera to accomplish each one of these tasks.

Chapter 7, “The Stereo Data Maker,” or SDM is a specialized version of the CHDK that is more lightweight because much of the rarely used functionality has been removed and some other functions have been added — primarily for creating stereo 3D photography. Here you will see how you can create a photo that emulates a 3D scene.

Chapter 8, “Kites, Balloons, and Multikopters,” now show what can be done with the SDM and CHDK for aerial shots using Kite Aerial Photography (KAP), using balloons and other motorized platforms. This software is well equipped to handle remote as well as unattended operations.

Chapter 9, “A Look Across the Fence,” takes a quick look at the future of CHDK. Currently, the software only works with the compact type of camera. With the success of the platform, others are looking to port it to the pro-sumer level of camera such as the Canon 40D. This chapter also looks at the Canon 5D as a professional movie camera and a project that intends to supply the missing features to make it one.

While The Canon Camera Hackers Manual is not a book for everyone, it does have its place for those who want to take technique to a different level. It gets you deep into the software and deep into the code.

If you do want to see how to work with your camera on totally new ground, are not afraid of getting your hands dirty with code, and are willing to work at it then I think that The Canon Camera Hackers Manual will provide the needed guidance and can easily recommend this book.

About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.

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