Modify Old Canon Point-and-Shoot Cameras to Gain Extra Features

When paired with a Raspberry Pi and CHDK software, the Canon PowerShot S80 can be network-enabled and used for any number of projects.

Cabe Atwell
10 months agoSensors

Cannon released their PowerShot S80 over a decade ago and was a beast of a camera that featured an 8-megapixel CCD, 2.5-inch TFT LCD display, and a 3.6x optical zoom lens, along with a host of other bells and whistles. While it was an excellent camera for its time, it can’t hold a candle to today’s smartphones, which pack 12-megapixel or higher lenses.

Like most obsolete technology, the PowerShot S80 was summarily thrown into the proverbial cardboard box, seemingly never to be used again, that is until IEEE Spectrum’s Stephen Cass hacked his to create a time-lapsed video. Cass paired the PowerShot S80 with a Raspberry Pi, which he used to control the camera, allowing it to photograph the Empire State building once every few minutes.

The task wasn’t as simple as it sounds, as the camera’s original firmware would only allow Cass to take photographs at fixed intervals between 1 and 60-minutes at 1-minute increments. To get around that issue, he decided to use VitalyB’s CHDK (Canon Hack Development Kit) firmware, which was back-engineered from the original firmware but offers more fine-tuning.

Unfortunately, the CHDK package only works with Cannon’s 1.00g firmware version, and Cass' S80 was equipped with 1.00f. He decided to install it anyway and used the STICK cross-platform tool to finish the CHDK install, making it a smooth process. After hitting a few roadblocks that he overcame using some mode commands, Cass' S80 was ready for taking time-lapse images, allowing him to set the camera to shoot a photograph at specified times.

Cass explains, “To implement my variable time-lapse schedule, I wrote a short Python program on the Pi. I looked up the time of the sunset and set the Python program to check the clock. Outside a half-hour window around sunset, it would take a photo every 10 minutes, and one every 30 seconds inside the window.” He left the platform running from early afternoon to dusk, which produced 113 images, which he stitched together using iMovie, thus creating his time-lapse video.

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