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Closed Digital Cameras - Does Anyone Care? 506

Posted by Cliff
from the one-trick-picture-ponies dept.
Karamchand asks: "Free Software and open standards are ubiquitous in the server and even desktop area. But why does nobody seem to care about openness in digital cameras? I couldn't find a single hint as to what main processor my camera uses (I guess many use ARMs and others use TI DSPs), and while searching for information about (re-)programming digital cameras, I had to give up (apart from the scriptable Digita OS which was used by some discontinued cameras by Kodak, HP et al). Do you know of any efforts in this direction, whether they are actual disassembling/programming of cameras or asking vendors to get more open?" I still have my Kodak DIGITA-based camera from several years ago and I loved the flexibility, even though the performance is poor by today's standards (long cycle times, poor battery life, etc). Why are digital camera manufacturers keeping the lid on the capabilities of their products, when digital cameras could be so much more than their film-based counterparts?
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Closed Digital Cameras - Does Anyone Care?

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  • Obvious reason (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fembots (753724) on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @05:19PM (#11412620) Homepage
    Why are digital camera manufacturers keeping the lid on the capabilities of their products

    I'm guessing any for-profit companies will be keeping the lid on the capabilities of their products, so that they can slowly roll out "new" features every quarter, and consumers will be attracted to upgrading.

    when digital cameras could be so much more than their film-based counterparts?

    Seriously? I would rather digital cameras function like, and only like a camera. I'm already having hard time finding a standard mobile phone that makes calls, and that's all it does.
    • Re:Obvious reason (Score:3, Informative)

      by oneiron (716313)
      I think he meant that they could be 'so much more' in that they could function in camera-like ways that extend beyond the capabilities of their film-based counterparts. That's how I interpreted it, anyway.

      As it is, digital cameras still can't take the place of film in all situations. 'Open' cameras could serve to narrow the gap.
      • Re:Obvious reason (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ipfwadm (12995)
        As it is, digital cameras still can't take the place of film in all situations. 'Open' cameras could serve to narrow the gap.

        I don't see how an open camera could make digital do anything that it currently cannot, that film can. An exposure is based on a combination of three things, that's it: aperture, shutter speed, and sensitivity (ISO speed). All other features that the camera provides are just fluff, and are certainly not film-specific. I imagine the vast majority of digital cameras allow you to adj
        • Re:Obvious reason (Score:4, Interesting)

          by jimfrost (58153) * <jimf@frostbytes.com> on Thursday January 20, 2005 @12:17AM (#11416432) Homepage
          An exposure is based on a combination of three things, that's it: aperture, shutter speed, and sensitivity (ISO speed).

          While this is true, the image is more than just the exposure. You get color and intensity sensitivity variations between different kinds of films, for instance. And grain, of course.

          If your camera offers a raw format (again, the two I've owned do), these raw files will contain the EXACT values that came off the sensor. If you have a better processing algorithm, you can implement it on your computer, no need to try to shove it into the camera

          There's some truth to this, too, but what if you don't want to post-process to get a particular effect (eg emulate T-Max film)? Some people really hate photoshopping every image. This is why there are so many parameters to tune in pro-level digicams.

          Besides, the general consensus is that for every application that mere photographic mortals care about, digital cameras CAN take the place of film.

          That may be the general consensus amongst laymen, but not amongst photographers. Not yet, anyway. Amongst the two serious limitations of digital versus film today are limited gamut and severely limited exposure lattitude.

          It's technically possible to correct both of those, of course, for a price.

          But for the majority of photographic situations it's true that there's really no need for film anymore, and a lot of economies in digital.

    • Re:Obvious reason (Score:2, Insightful)

      by remigo (413948)
      > I'm already having hard time finding a standard
      > mobile phone that makes calls, and that's all it
      > does.

      Well, you better find one fast because that whole "phone" thing is rapidly going out of style. The only way I was able to get a half-way decent phone was to buy one with a camera in it. It's an interesting little gimick but drains the battery quickly, so I almost never use it.

      I had to basically change my criterion to a phone that would just RING, not play the latest hit from Top-40 land...
      • Re:Obvious reason (Score:3, Informative)

        by galaxy300 (111408)
        I bought a new Nokia 3390 on Ebay for $30 a couple of months ago. This is the most basic, easy to use and straightforward model I could find. No fancy ringtones, no camera etc. Batteries and accessories are cheap, and the thing is solid as a rock. No problems with reception, and it's not brick heavy, either.

        This is because I bought a fancy, camera/color screen/PDA phone from T-Mobile when I opened my acount a year ago and it *sucked*. No reception whatsoever, random blinkouts where the OS would become
      • Re:Obvious reason (Score:2, Informative)

        by fitten (521191)
        There are places where you can't bring a camera, either still or movie. Granted, the number of folks who have to worry about that is relatively small, but some of us will be hurt.
      • Re:Obvious reason (Score:3, Interesting)

        by finkployd (12902)
        The only way I was able to get a half-way decent phone was to buy one with a camera in it. It's an interesting little gimick but drains the battery quickly, so I almost never use it.

        Not only that, but some of us routinly enter secure facilities (DoD contractors and such) that simply do not allow cameras of ANY type. It is a massive pain to have to leave my cell phone at the front desk.

        Finkployd
        • Re:Obvious reason (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Dashing Leech (688077) on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @05:59PM (#11413106)
          It is a massive pain to have to leave my cell phone at the front desk.

          I'd find it odd that a "secure" facility would not confiscate cell phones in addition to cameras. I've been to a few secure military places and they required cell phones to be left at security.

          After all, if a picture is worth a thousand words you could always transmit the same info as the camera in a few minutes (or a few seconds if you are from Newfoundland).

    • Re:Obvious reason (Score:2, Informative)

      by jszymkowski (323091)
      The firmware for the Canon EOS Digital Rebel was recently hacked (by some guy in Russia IIRC) to enable functions only available on it's big brother the 20D. Besides, the 20D having a magnesium body compared to the Rebel's plastic body, there really aren't any other differences. The price difference is about $300 - $400 however.
    • I have a Canon Digital Rebel, their consumer-range digital SLR. They make a next model up which features heftier physical construction, more end-user control over light metering, and a couple other small but useful features. It turns out that other than the case, the electronic guts are the same, and if the firmware were to be open then end users could patch it to have all the extra features without shoveling out the extra bux.
      While I love that camera, I despise crippleware when you have a hardware p
      • Re:Crippleware (Score:3, Informative)

        by radish (98371)
        You can get a hacked bios for the dRebel, and some of the missing features are added. Many of the interesting ones aren't though, because the hardware is not the same, regardless of what some people may have you believe.
      • Re:Crippleware (Score:3, Interesting)

        Some of the internals on the Rebel (300D) are different as well, it isnt just hte construction. For example the Rebel has a penta mirror instead of a glass pentaprism like the D60 (the model up you are talking about), and the D60 has a much larger image buffer allowing for quicker shots. There ARE differences between the models, it isnt simply a case of the firmware being the difference (I have also heard of horror stories with updating the 300D to the D60s firmware - it isnt 100% compat). Dammit, I HAVE
      • Re:Crippleware (Score:3, Interesting)

        by rlk (1089)
        Doesn't quite make it into a 10D -- as you note, the body is very different, and the FPS and buffering just aren't there. However, certainly the firmware hack does enable some very useful functionality. I store only a small JPEG in my RAW files and sometimes use mirror lockup; flash exposure compensation is also very useful.

        The limitations of the Rebel aside, it's a great camera. In addition to the landscape work I enjoy, I also do event photography for a club [hubtall.org] that I belong to. As limiting as 2.5 fps a
    • Re:Obvious reason (Score:2, Interesting)

      I wouldn't necessarily think that they want to add Snake, Tetris, and an alarm clock/scheduling program to their camera. I'm guessing there are some kinda photography nerd features that could be programmed into such a camera. I'm one of those point and shoot people. Not cutting people off at the neck is the extent of my picture taking ability. I'll probably never understand what all of the settings on a $2000 camera do.. but apparently some people not only use all those features, but want to add more and
    • when digital cameras could be so much more than their film-based counterparts?

      Seriously? I would rather digital cameras function like, and only like a camera. I'm already having hard time finding a standard mobile phone that makes calls, and that's all it does.

      There are a billion interesting images I'd love to capture that would be way more feasible if I could read directly from the CCD. Time lapse animations & such. Dude never said he was trying to run a webserver. Maybe he just wants to use his camer

    • Re:Obvious reason (Score:4, Informative)

      by pchan- (118053) on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @06:40PM (#11413568) Journal
      As an embedded systems engineer, I'll tell you why:

      1) The firmware is highly hardware dependant. You will not be porting this to any other hardware, you won't use it anywhere else. It is of little use to anyone not using your same PCB.
      2) There is proprietary, licensed software included, that cannot be redistributed. Particularly the following:
      (a) The focus control software (this is the DSP software that figures out when the image is in focus).
      (b) The CCD filtering software.
      (c) The OS, if any, may be licensed from a third party.
      3) There is no way to interface to these devices without a proprietary hardware device costing possibly thousands of Dollars. For example, a common camera chip is the TI DSC24, which can be reprogrammed via a specific JTAG emulator, and requires TI's Code Composer Studio compiler to develop for the DSP part of it. Even if you had this stuff, you won't find a JTAG header on the production boards. This is not a Tivo hack, the number of people that would be able to actually apply a hack to this device is limited to the people who can solder a JTAG interface, or desolder the flash and reprogram it on a flash programmer. This means that even if one guy in Norway can do something cool with this camera, he can't share it with the world.
      • Re:Obvious reason (Score:4, Informative)

        by phsdv (596873) on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @07:28PM (#11414017) Journal
        As an electronics engineer with a few years of embedded engineering experience, I do not agree with your statement about JTAG. What you are telling is correct, however most modern cameras can be programmed by putting a special named file on your flash card and by selecting the right commands in the menu you can reprogram your OS or firmware in the camera.

        On the Nikon D70 for example there are even 2 different firmwares you can update. Does anyone know which 2 processors are used in the D70? I understand one is used for the user interface and the other for the signal processing(DSP)

        So no technical reason to stop us disassembling the code (lateste update for example) and make some changes or extensions and reprogram your camera.

        With an JTAG connection debugging would be way easier. Although, we might be able to use the USB port for feeding debuging data back to a PC.

        The only real problem I see, is if you really mess up the firmware, you might block the possibility to reprogram the firmware and you end up with a non functional camera...

        In the case of the D70 we could start with the DSP only, assuming the other processor can still reprogram the firmware in case of an 'accident'.

        • Re:Obvious reason (Score:4, Interesting)

          by pchan- (118053) on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @07:49PM (#11414252) Journal
          Well, firmware updating does take care of dissemination of new software once it is created. However, have you ever tried writing new code and debugging it via flash updates? I have (while testing the in-system programming feature of one of our boards). Let me tell you, it is painful. And every time you screw something up that causes the software to fail, you have to wipe and rewrite the flash through a debugging interface. Otherwise, one typo and your camera is toast and you will have to desolder the flash and find a flash programmer, or you're back to your jtag/debugger interface. Is it possible? Yes. Is it a good idea? No. Not exactly the ideal solution to open-sourcing their firmware.
  • because (Score:5, Funny)

    by spac3manspiff (839454) <spac3manspiff@gmail.com> on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @05:20PM (#11412624) Journal
    They dont want you to port mario 3 to it. I guess
  • I only buy digital cameras with Compact Flash, and use my usb2 reader... Am I missing any features by doing this as opposed to plugging directly in..?


    • I wonder about that. I've never tried anything but my CF reader either. Can digital cameras (like my powershot G5) act as really nice quality webcams if hooked directly with usb?
      • Not usually (but sometimes). There's rarely any difference between a card reader connection and a USB connection. With my cameras (a collection of Canons) you can edit some camera settings via USB, and also do things like remote triggering.
    • IME, not really. However, it's getting hard to find a compact digital camera which takes CompactFlash. It's still the standard in digital SLRs though.
  • Camera hardware (Score:5, Insightful)

    by chris09876 (643289) on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @05:20PM (#11412639)
    Are you planning on writing some custom software to run on your camera? Heh, I'll never stop to be amazed by the creativity of some people! Digital cameras are like Macs - they 'just work'. I haven't heard of any efforts to customize them, or build an open one.
    • Right, they do exactly what they need to do. Some better than others, to be sure (c.f. Olympus's user interface, which is horrid, compared to, say, FujiFilm's).

      More than that, they have standard interfaces for getting data in and out: USB, firewire, or a removable memory card. For that reason more than any other the "openness" and "hackability" of the firmware is not an issue.
    • Re:Camera hardware (Score:5, Informative)

      by jdcook (96434) on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @05:35PM (#11412824)
      The Canon Digital Rebel (a/k/a 300D) is in many ways a crippled version of the Canon 10D. A Russian hacker developed a version of the firmware that unlocks much of the hidden potential of this camera.
      • It also sports some improvements over the 10D and a cheaper body.

        The software is part of the price tag. Microsoft sells XP Pro and Home for different amounts despite the fact that it costs the same to press one CD or the other. It costs more to develop the pro version, to support the pro version, and it allows them to sell into multiple markets.

        That said, if Canon included all of the 10D firware features in the software that they installed on the Rebels and just flipped some bits to disable certain feat
  • They already are so much more than their digital counterparts. And personally, even though I am a super-techno-gearhead-whatever, I don't really care to mess with the internals of my digital camera as long as I can get the pictures off of it.
    • But by being digital they have a much greater potential. For example including a GPS with the camera so that the position where each photo is made is recorded in the EXIF header of the images. Or wireless and automatic transfer of pictures made as soon as I put the camera near my computer. I think the possibilities here would be (nearly) endless! Or just simple automated shooting of pictures with specific intervals. Scriptable, like the Kodaks already mentioned.
      Of course, both of the features I have mentio
      • While the features mentioned are technically possible, these companies are very much constrained by cost, and want to maximize their profit while giving the user what they want. Wireless transfer is probably the one that would make it into cameras first, as I can see this being desired. While the GPS would be nice, I can't see it being a selling point for most people.
      • those things you talk about all require additional HARDWARE in order to function. All the software in the world won't add GPS functions to a camera that doesn't have accessability to GPS hardware.

        I bought a 3MP digital camera for $99 and that was about a year ago. today you can get a 5MP for about that price. Anyone who wants a digital camera can get one for less than a week's salary at the mcdonald's. You may not be able to hack the CPU, but so what? they're cheap, low end commodity goods anyway and not s
  • by slagdogg (549983) on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @05:22PM (#11412665)
    Ummm, good luck with that. I'm still trying to figure out how to get pictures off of my cell phone without paying @#$%ing Verizon $0.25 every time. Weak.
  • Many Reasons (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gbulmash (688770) * <semi_famous&yahoo,com> on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @05:22PM (#11412666) Homepage Journal
    Why are digital camera manufacturers keeping the lid on the capabilities of their products, when digital cameras could be so much more than their film-based counterparts?

    Two words: "Unintended uses"

    The camera manufacturers want to control how their cameras are used, within the realm of what control they can have. Imagine camera hackers adding functionality with the new software, creating software that uses the hardware more efficiently, adding new compression formats... People wouldn't upgrade nearly as soon as they otherwise would.

    There are probably some bad examples too: a virus that detects when a camera is connected, updates the firmware, and then without a complete reflash of the ROMs, every time you turn on your camera it starts zooming in and out and you can't stop it. Who wants the bad publicity of being the first camera to be virus infected?

    Last, and probably most importantly, the trouble of publishing the specs and documenting the hardware so that programmers could actually really dig into the system... well, it's an expensive proposition. Convince them that enough people who wouldn't have bought the camera would change their minds if there was a programming interface - make it make financial sense - and they might do it.

    - Greg

    • Seriously, if manufactures let people hack/rewrite their firmware, how much does that increase their support overhead? (don't give me "users are on their own, it still costs $$)
      • From the perspective of a vendor making a small embedded device whose success is dependant on time-to-market open source is quite often a very expensive proposition. 95% of the stuff on the market is in fact broken hardware fixed by a quick and ugly fixes in software. It was done this way because the budget and the delivery schedules did not allow fixing the hardware properly. Do you thing that the vendors would like to have the breakage documented, well known and available to the average luser doing a goog
      • Seriously, if manufactures let people hack/rewrite their firmware, how much does that increase their support overhead? (don't give me "users are on their own, it still costs $$)

        Have to agree. As someone who does support as part of my job, there's still a cost for the customer contact, even if you say "we're sorry, but we can't do anything for you." It may take 5 minutes of trying to patiently question someone who is irrationally frustrated or just flustered, merely to to establish the particulars of th

    • Two words: "Unintended uses"

      There is already a precendent. The firmware of Canon Digital Rebel has been hacked enabling most of the features that are present in a more expensive 10D. Aparently Rebel is a crippled version of 10D and most of the functionality is already there. The hack is available here [narod.ru]. It's a great thing for Rebel owners.

    • Who wants the bad publicity of being the first camera to be virus infected?

      the local sales moron at my "Norman photo" is always telling people that buy the Canon D10 or D20 that they need to get a card reader and NEVER connect the camera to the PC.

      "because it will get a virus and then we have to charge you $120.00 to get the camera fixed by removing that virus."

      Sales people blow my mind, there are reasons to buy a CF card reader, but making things up so you can boldly lie to your customers is not one of
    • You left out one. Support.
      The less that people can futz with something the cheaper support.
      If your Grandfather downloads Billy Bobs super zoomie digicam upgrade and your camera stops working guess who Granddad will call? If the company does not fix it then it is the company's fault for being evil.
      Yes it is true. I have a customer that asked one of the techs here two questions.
      1. "Why does my software do the wrong thing when I tell it to do the wrong thing?"
      2. "Why should I take my computer to someone to fix
  • by CypherXero (798440) on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @05:23PM (#11412672) Homepage
    Instead of trying to fuck up your camera, why not just give it to me? I'm sure I could use it. :)
  • by supersuckers (841107) on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @05:24PM (#11412676) Homepage
    Answer: no. Where's my open source cell phone, playstation 2, ipod, microwave oven, roomba, etc? Most people are only concerned that the product they use functions as it was intended.
    • Well, you're open source iPod is here [ipodlinux.org] (and kind of here [neurosaudio.com], eh?). The PS2 got a Linux kit, and many handheld devices (such as cell phones) use embedded Linux. There is a LOT of effort being put into using open source software on such devices, I could see if being put to cameras.
    • by N0decam (630188) on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @05:50PM (#11413005) Homepage
      More important than functioning as it was intended is functioning as it's expected.

      My digital camera lets me take pictures, and lets me do whatever I want with my pictures. That's why you don't see people getting up in arms about the lack of openness of digital cameras, but you do see active communities built up around "hacking" cell phones to remove artificial restrictions.

      Sure it's possible that some hardware hacking could result in some new whiz bang feature in my camera, but honestly, I (and I assume many others) don't use 99% of the whiz bang features that are already enabled on my camera, so why do I need more?

      On the other hand, I'd never buy a cameraphone that didn't let me download my pictures to my computer and use them myself without paying a fee to the service provider. That's just insane, and wrong.
    • Most people are only concerned that the product they use functions as it was intended.

      Keyword here being "most". I am not "most" people, I am a hacker and a thinkerer. The rest of the world can be happy with black box that "just work", and that is fine by me. But the mere knowledge that I hold in my hand a microprocessor-based device that I can't reprogram nag me in some very annoying way. YMMV. Mere mortal can't understand.

      We can see that the hacker spirit have definitely left this board when mo

  • Why?? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @05:24PM (#11412682)
    What is it you want access to change? The camera really has 2 or 3 base functions that can only be improved within the confines of the hardware. Why does everything have to be open? Just because it's there and you like to hack?
    I'm not flaming/trolling, I just don't see the point of your question...
    • Some ideas:

      Manually control shutter speed, zoom, all kind of settings, instead of those "easy to use" scenery settings in modern camera's (read: we know you are a moron, just let us decide for you what's the best setting).

      Because you want to reprogram it to take a snapshot whenever the image changes suddenly.

      Because you want to save images as PNG.

      Or simply because hackers enjoy hacking stuff?

      Why are philips webcams so popular as cheap CCD imagers with astronomers? Because a) the ccd chip is of
    • Speak for yourself!!
      "Just because it's there and you like to hack" is more than enough reason to open your new digital camera, or any other gadget, digital or not.
      I like to do that sort of thing, even if I don't accopmlish anything, it would give me some sense of fulfilment to know which color the pcb on my digicam was, if I had one. I have opened most pieces of electronics I own, but I never thought that
      I needed a reason to do so.
      Of course, with digital cameras, theres a lot to do, for example, what's with
  • by Lord Kano (13027) on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @05:24PM (#11412683) Homepage Journal
    I don't care how my digicam does it, as long as the files are available to me in a format that I can use.

    My visioneer camera gives me .jpgs and .avis that I can get via a USB cable. It makes no difference to me how they end up on the flash memory device.

    LK
  • The only reason I can think of for having an open-source camera OS is so someone could port MAME to it.

    Seriously, the newer cameras have decent screens and long battery lives. They have four-way controllers. Why not drop donkey kong, pac-man, or galaga on them and have something that would effectively be a mutant gameboy advance?

    This would make a Nice Project for someone with Too Much Free Time.
  • Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ucblockhead (63650) on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @05:27PM (#11412714) Homepage Journal
    Because the vast majority of people just want to take pictures, and the last thing camera companies want to do is spend lots of time documenting stuff and answering support questions from the ten or so people who might want to do this.
  • I would imagine... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by harrkev (623093) <<kfmsd> <at> <harrelsonfamily.org>> on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @05:27PM (#11412720) Homepage
    I would imagine because nobody cares...

    If you are starting from scratch, there is a lot to screw up. First of all, you need to get the metering right, which is far from trivial. You also need to be able to auto-focus, which is also far from trivial. And this is AFTER you figure out the interface to the CCD, LCD, and buttons. Plus, you have to know how to control the zoom motor, auto-focus motor, and flash.

    If you DID re-invent the wheel (and did a good job of it), what do you gain at the end? Sure, you might be able to improve metering a little. You might be able to improve the user interface. But if a camera has a raw file format, you are already getting all of the quality that the hardware can deliver. And JPEG already has pretty good compression, so it is hard to improve on that.

    I saved the best part for last. You go through all of this work on a 5MP camera, which is discontinued after one year and replaced by a 7MP model with a different architecture. So, you decide to upgrade, and throw all of your work in the trash.

    If you want to, feel free. But include me out.
  • by geneing (756949) on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @05:28PM (#11412734)
    I don't know the processor, but I know that canon digital cameras run a version of DOS (DR-DOS?). I am not joking. You can get command prompt by connecting through USB.

    If you are interested you should look here: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/canondigicamhacking/ [yahoo.com]

    Personally, I try to concentrate on the artistic aspect of photography rather than the technical one. It's much more fun.

  • canon created their own chip, and sony may have as well... shoot, probably into fourth generation of them by now. point is, it's a one-trick pony and a good place to put an embedded real-time system. so are medical devices; why they are using generic OS in medical devices like NT custom and linux is way, way beyond understanding.

    if you have one or two defined tasks for a system, and you can make an ASIC FSM and not be bothered any more by updates, obsolescence, hacks, and fumblefscks, why the hell not?
  • Nobody gives a shit about openness with things like digital cameras because if they have certain needs, they buy a camera that fits those needs and it performs as expected. Nobody who researches their purchases thoroughly is going to be unhappy with the performance of their camera, and anyone who DOESN'T research their purchase is not going to want to hack around with the internals trying to "improve" their camera.

    I mean honestly, who the fuck cares? Is it really that important to make your camera run NetB
  • Canon deserves some credit--like I've mentioned before [slashdot.org], while not giving low-level access to the guts of the operating system, their SDK is head and shoulders above what I've heard is available for other cameras. And, in theory, it's under active development--some features seem to exist in the SDK's header files that aren't (yet?) fully implemented, which will make it interesting to keep an eye on.
  • Why bother? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Telastyn (206146) on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @05:30PM (#11412768)
    I'm not a big photography nut, and don't personally own a digital camera, but what neato effects can the little ARM do in the camera that cannot be done later on a 3+ghz desktop running photoshop?

  • Capitalism 101 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fmaxwell (249001) * on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @05:30PM (#11412769) Homepage Journal
    I still have my Kodak DIGITA-based camera from several years ago and I loved the flexibility, even though the performance is poor by today's standards (long cycle times, poor battery life, etc). Why are digital camera manufacturers keeping the lid on the capabilities of their products, when digital cameras could be so much more than their film-based counterparts?

    Because they don't want you keeping their cameras for several years. They want you to upgrade every year or, at most, every two. Most digital cameras are all-in-one affairs -- a one-time purchase. It's not like the days of old when Kodak could sell a 35mm point-and-shoot and count on film sales for years to come. Nor is it like the SLR market, where the camera body is just the initial sale and the consumer will buy multiple lenses, expensive flashes, and filters.

    Even in the digital SLR market, the manufacturers still have not introduced replaceable "film" backs that allow consumers to upgrade the CMOS sensors as higher resolution comes out. And that's probably why the digital SLR market is not taking off faster. No one wants to spend over a grand on a digital SLR and then, a year later, find that $300 point-and-shoot cameras have double the resolution. It's not like my Nikon 6006, where I can "upgrade" the camera's performance by purchasing newer, better film.
  • by KalvinB (205500)
    Cameras should work as advertised out of the box without tweaking. If the camera doesn't have the features you want then buy a different camera.

    Unless by hacking the camera I can reveal the ability to fine tune the exposure time or the arpeture of a point and shoot camera, I really don't care. And I highly doubt that a "cheap" point and shoot has the mechanics to support fractional to multiple second exposure times. Or the ability to have a greater brightness setting.

    So, even if I could hack it, I coul
  • Hmm... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by delmoi (26744) on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @05:31PM (#11412780) Homepage
    I don't know why camera companies make their camera's locked down, but it might have something to do with support costs. Make the software easy and limited and you don't have to worry about people fucking them up.

    The other thing is, I think that the majority of people who buy a camera, digital or otherwise just want it to 'work'. The low-cost of actually using digital cameras, as opposed to their film counterparts has lead to a lot more people taking pictures as a hobby (I regularly see people randomly walking around snapping pictures of buildings and stuff now), which means more people are going to be interested in messing around with the shutter, etc.

    But not many people are going to want to try hacking the CCD driver to to take prettier pictures. Not many people are going to want to play video games on their cameras when they could buy a gameboy or something, and really there aren't that many interesting applications to put on a camera.

    (the few I can think of involve automation, for doing things like time-lapse photos and such, but you could always just hook a camera up to a regular computer to do that)
  • by terminal.dk (102718) on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @05:33PM (#11412812) Homepage
    The difference between digital cameras are often the software. The same camera can be sold in different packges (Canon IXUS/Elph vs their S-series vs G-series), and they are basicly the same camera with different sensors and packaging.

    The cheap cameras has very bad image processing algorithms, so they would gain from open software. They would still use an old plastic bottle for molding the lens though.

    The famous example of camera hacking is the Russian hack for the low-end Canon EOS 300D. 2 bytes changed enabled the custom functions menu of the big brother, the 10D. Then there were a few more mods. Think the best firmware had 20 bytes changed, and closed the gap between the 2 products.

    The is also lots of things that are the same between the Canon 20D and the Canon 1D Mk II. If the extra features were enabled in the 20D, there would be even less reason to pay 3 times as much for the 1D Mk II. (It also has more buffer RAM + weather sealing).

    So it is there in the hope they can sell the same product as 3 different ones.
    • If only I had mod points to give you! Read through every comment, not wanting to be redundant, and you said what I had planned on. If you can make a single product, and pass it off as three, at different price points, by enabling and disabling features why not do it? I'm sure those of you in software have programmed features that your boss told you to turn off for now, so they can sell it to the client later.
    • I'm not sure anybody who wants the 1 big feature of the 1Ds-II (full 35mm-sized sensor) is going to get it from a 20D, no matter how much firmware hackery takes place.

      The EOS 1D is the only digital SLR that I know of that has a full-sized sensor, which makes it more or less the only digital camera useful for doing professional ultra-wide photography (although that is admittedly a small market). As such it commands a price premium, its not simply a 20D with 'unlocked' features.

      Also, there are a significant
    • Happened to me recently while looking for a cheap GSM cellphone. I bough the Siemens A56 [siemens.com] phone, which i thought it was a pretty nice gadget, until i ran onto a site that described how to flash the firmware of the more expensive C56 [siemens.com]. So i thought 'what the hell'; brought a car adapter (for the data connector) and hacked myself a serial cable.

      40 minutes later i have a phone sporting GPRS, Java, keyboard shortcuts, voice dialing, polyphony and sound recording/reproduction, hands free, voice commands, and
  • There may be an OS scanner that you can run over USB that you could use. Probably the easiest way to find out would be to get a semi-functioning/non-functioning camera and open it up. You'd then be able to see the processor used, dump any ROM/Flash chips, etc.
  • Some People... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by eno2001 (527078) on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @05:36PM (#11412844) Homepage Journal
    ...just are not visionary enough. For all this talk of "innovation" from the closed side of the technology world, they sure can't see farther than their own faces. Here are some really good reasons why you would want to reprogram your camera:

    1. Turn it into a temporary USB data storage device if it has a USB port on it
    2. If it has audio capability, turn it into a digital audio recorder that works kind of like a mini-cassette recorder (ie. shitty quality, but lots of record time)
    3. Make it into a "cam" that can be attached to your PC for live web cam stuff
    4. Turn it into a video recorder for short clips in a format like MJPEG
    5. Make it into an e-book reader that can read PDF or Postscript docs (after all many digital cameras have scroll wheels and multiple menu buttons, etc...)
    6. Play some old school video games on them: Space Invaders, Pac Man, maybe even Doom. Doom's been done before...
    7. Set it up for motion sensitive mode. It will span a picture only when something in the field of view moves
    8. Or similar to above, in motion sensitive mode with USB, it could just dump the image straight to your PC whenever there is motion. Imagine combining this with a laptop to work as a spycam...
    9. MP3 or Ogg Vobis player the works from CD or Flash media (again if your camera has audio capability)
    10. A USB video monitor. Combine your camera with a Mac Mini and a foldup KB and mouse and you have a pretty compact but powerful system for travelling. (Yes, I don't mind squinting at small screens)

    That's just ten ideas to get you started. I'm sure I'm not the only person with any imagination here... Note, I didn't say that these ideas would work for every camera, but they are feasible for at least some models. I'm pretty sure my Sony CD Mavica could do a lot more than it does right now. But I'm also pretty sure they probably have the OS on a ROM...
    • Re:Some People... (Score:5, Informative)

      by cbiffle (211614) on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @05:58PM (#11413096)
      Personally, I like to have a nice, working, manufacturer supported camera more than I like having a 1337 LEENOOKS-2000 fuzzy image device. But then, I also stopped using Gimp and Linux in favor of Mac and Photoshop, so flame on.

      I really hope the parent was tongue-in-cheek. In terms of a modern digital camera, my DiMAGE A2:

      1. Turn it into a temporary USB data storage device if it has a USB port on it

      Check.

      2. If it has audio capability, turn it into a digital audio recorder that works kind of like a mini-cassette recorder (ie. shitty quality, but lots of record time)

      Check. The video function works fine for this, and if you leave the lens cap on, the black-frame video takes up almost no space.

      3. Make it into a "cam" that can be attached to your PC for live web cam stuff

      Check.

      4. Turn it into a video recorder for short clips in a format like MJPEG

      Check. You have, y'know, used a digital camera, right? MJPEG's been the main video capture format for years, only now being supplanted with MPEG4.

      7. Set it up for motion sensitive mode. It will span a picture only when something in the field of view moves
      8. Or similar to above, in motion sensitive mode with USB, it could just dump the image straight to your PC whenever there is motion. Imagine combining this with a laptop to work as a spycam...


      Check, check.

      That said:

      5. Make it into an e-book reader that can read PDF or Postscript docs (after all many digital cameras have scroll wheels and multiple menu buttons, etc...)
      6. Play some old school video games on them: Space Invaders, Pac Man, maybe even Doom. Doom's been done before...
      9. MP3 or Ogg Vobis player the works from CD or Flash media (again if your camera has audio capability)
      10. A USB video monitor. Combine your camera with a Mac Mini and a foldup KB and mouse and you have a pretty compact but powerful system for travelling. (Yes, I don't mind squinting at small screens)


      The fascination people have with putting Ogg/DOOM/eBooks on random objects amuses the hell out of me. I have a Vorbis player on my iPaq, and an eBook reader on my iPod, and never use either of them. As for porting games...oi. I recommend a GameBoy.

      In response to the original poster, my camera's a MIPS, according to my firmware disassembly. Here's something I'm amazed nobody has mentioned:

      My camera's firmware contains a TCP stack, PPP implementation, SMTP implementation, and dinky FTP server. It's pretty clear that the manufacturer intends (or intended) to release a modem of some sort. Yet, nobody seems to have mentioned network connectivity!
  • by JustNiz (692889)
    MAME has already been ported to a camera!

    http://digita.mame.net/
  • They don't release specs or source for a simple reason, lack of interest.

    Look guys, lots of buyers of wireless access points are geeks so a developer community can build up around the popular products, see Linksys for an example. But how many digital camera owners are developers? And just how many would WANT to develop on a camera? Yes, if my Olympus came with the source tree on the CD there are a couple of itches I'd probably scratch but I really can't think of any major software issues with the sucker
  • I ran strings on my digicam's firmware and found a lot of intriguing stuff, but I have no experience with this sort of thing. I have no idea where I'd even begin trying to decompile it.
  • I agree that open would be nice, but I can see several reasons why the camera's remain closed.

    1. Competitive reasons: if documentation comes out before the camera (it would need to in order to make openness contribute to the camera's success), the competition gets to see/copy/out-market the new camera
    2. Japanese: Most cameras are now designed and built by Japanese companies. Translation of the documentation, code, and specs into English (the open standard language) is a cost.
    3. Proprietary chips: Compa
  • When they make my perfect digital convergence device (combination cell phone, PDA, 3+ MP digital camera, 40GB USB hard drive, MP3 player, FM stereo radio, and GPS device), then it will matter. But for a digital camera that's *just* a digital camera, operating systems and openness don't matter as long as the thing is capable of taking pictures and loading them onto a PC. There's only a few items beyond those two that a digital camera needs. (Timed picture taking and zoom are good, manual settings for some
  • But why does nobody seem to care about openness in digital cameras?

    Well, for obvious reasons :-) Digital cameras are not general-purpose computing devices. They are tightly intergrated single-use devices which include a lot of custom hardware that tends to change every six months or so.

    In any case, I am not sure what are you trying to achieve. If you want to take a stab at better image processing, high-end digital cameras give you "raw" files with more-or-less-raw data from the sensor -- go play with it
  • Photography has always been extreamly competitive. Especially the big three (one part Canon, one part Nikon, one part Pentax, Olympus & Minolta). They like to keep things secret, or patented etc. The value to Canon of having the first USM lenses, and then OIS lenses must of been hugh. Before that Nikon dominated, now Canon has the larger share among Sports phtographers and has made large inroads into other areas.

    Software is also important. Nikon and Pentax use virtually identical CCD chips in there mod

  • 1) There really isn't much point to it.

    2) You're unobservant. Even though there isn't much point to it, people do it anyway. There are projects like this one [uberhax0r.de] and some others. None of them do anything useful, but see point 1.
  • The problem is the technologies used in cameras today are still too immature to open... in that they are still changing rapidly.

    I think when the maret starts to stabilize around a technology and resolution that is good enough for most users, we'll start seeing "kit" cameras that you can build and customize yourself. But we are very much in the wild west of camera development, with newer and higher MP sensors coming out pretty raipidly - not to mention different ideas being trield like the stacked sensor o
  • A perfect example of how a very lightweight programmable interface would be really useful: a common problem in digital (and film) photography is limited dynamic range. A scripting interface to a digital camera could help overcome this.

    First the problem. Just to give you some walking around numbers, typical desktop displays offer about 7-8 stops of contrast (e.g. 100:1), high-end plasma TV's offer 10 stops (1200:1), typical natural scenes have a dynamic range of about 18 stops, and the human eye, at a si

  • Most (all?) Canons run on an x86 using a modified Dos. It runs some dos applications fine.

    More info here [darkskiez.co.uk].

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @07:45PM (#11414203)
    - Canon D30/D60/10D/20D: 8086 microcontroller running ROM-DOS

    - Canon 1D/1Ds: PowerPC running VxWorks

    - Canon 1D/1Ds Mark II: ARM running VxWorks

    - Canon Powershot Sxxx/Axxx cameras: MIPS, some may use ARM.

    - Nikon D-SLRs (D2X, D2H, D100, D70): Fujitsu FR-V, running FR/OS (some FR-V chips run Linux too!)

    - Nikon Coolpix cameras: SPARC, uses Sierra OEM toolkit

    - Sigma/Foveon SD10/SD20: ARM, running Foveon toolkit on custom FPGA
  • I care (Score:3, Informative)

    by Kris_J (10111) * on Wednesday January 19, 2005 @08:50PM (#11414874) Journal
    And I'd really like someone to write a rehuff for my DC260 since jpegoptim [ldreams.net] shaves roughly 10% on average off the size of its photos. That's almost 20 extra shots I can fit on the current card with the current settings.

    The Kodak DC range absolutely rock. Not only are they open with the OS, allowing 3rd party extensions, but they use a standard card and standard batteries. This means that they hold their value a lot better than other cameras with expensive batteries, less available cards or no way to update them for newer techniques or standards.

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