Chen Liang's "Mirrorless Camera for Makers" Is a Tiny Photography Powerhouse

Built around a LILYGO T-Display S3 Pro, this compact camera offers interchangeable lenses and the possibility of onboard machine learning.

Maker Chen Liang (陳亮) has built a "mirrorless camera for makers," and it's considerably more compact than anything you'd find in an off-the-shelf package — powered by a LILYGO T-Display S3 Pro microcontroller.

"The full name of [the] mirrorless camera is 'mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera,'" Liang explains by way of introduction to the project. "Previously, [an] interchangeable-lens camera is [a] DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) camera. Start from digital camera, the optical viewfinder can be replaced by a digital viewfinder or live view screen. Then the whole optical design are simplified and the mirror of DSLR also be eliminated, so the new design interchangeable-lens camera is called [a] mirrorless camera."

This compact camera offers an introduction to mirrorless photography in a pocket-friendly package. (📹: Chen Liang)

Rather than buying an off-the-shelf commercial camera, though, Liang opted to jump into the mirrorless world with something a little more pocket-friendly. The heart of the project is the LILYGO T-Display S3 Pro, a compact smartphone-like development board with a 2.33" color touchscreen display behind which is an Espressif ESP32-S3R8 dual-core microcontroller.

To this, Liang has added the builder's choice of an Omnivision OV2640. OV3660, or OV5640 camera sensor — or any other with a compatible interface and an M12 mount, which provides the interchangeable-lens part of the camera's definition. A 3D-printed replacement for the T-Display's housing provides both somewhere the mount the camera and its lens and a tripod mount point — "[I] highly recommend us[ing the] tripod for the stabilities of manual focus," Liang writes. "Any tiny camera tripod should be OK."

A demonstration program captures photos when the button connected to general-purpose input/output (GPIO) Pin 12 is pressed, storing it to a microSD card. The result is a truly tiny camera which offers surprisingly high-quality captures — though Liang has suggested a range of possible improvements, including modifying the software to offer focusing aids and adding Wi-Fi-based remote control, GPS-based location tagging, or even onboard machine learning models for speech-driven capture, face-targeting auto-focus, and facial recognition.

The full project is documented on Instructables, with links to the parts used and the camera source code.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire:
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