A Year Long Time Lapse Camera

All [val3tra] wanted was an RF-accessible camera. A camera that would take pictures, save them to an SD card, and occasionally send them over an RF link to a computer. This project has grown out of control, and now it has become an open-source camera that’s able to take year-long time-lapse movies.

The build started as a low power camera using an eBay JPEG camera modified for 3.3V. That’s only 640×480, but each frame averages only 48kb – small enough to store a few thousand pictures on a FAT16 formatted SD card. A $4 RF module, an ATMega, and an RTC make up the rest of the build that has a power draw of about 100 Joules per hour. A D-cell has about 60,000 Joules, and a pessimistic estimate of a battery of four in series, two in parallel gives a run time of 200 days.

This build was then improved, bringing the total battery consumption down to about 3.5-4 Joules per frame, or at one frame every 10 minutes, about 24 Joules an hour. That’s impressive, and getting this camera to run longer than a dozen or so months raises some interesting challenges. The self-discharge of the battery must be taken into account, and environmental concerns – especially when leaving this camera to run in a Moscow winter, seen in the video below – are significant.

If you don’t want to go equipment-lite you could seal your DSLR, Pi, and some serious batteries in a weatherproof enclosure.

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Multiplexing Pi Cameras

The Raspberry Pi and its cool camera add-on is a great way to send images and video up to the Intertubes, but what if you want to monitor more than one scene? The IVPort can multiplex up to sixteen of these Raspi camera modules, giving the Pi sixteen different views on the world and a ridiculously high stack of boards connected to the GPIO header.

The Raspberry Pi’s CSI interface uses high-speed data lines from the camera to the CPU to get a lot of image data quickly. Controlling the camera, on the other hand, uses regular old GPIOs, the same kind that are broken out on the header. We’ve seen builds that reuse these GPIOs to blink a LED, but with a breakout board with additional camera connectors, it’s possible to use normal GPIO lines in place of the camera port GPIOs.

The result is a stackable extension board that splits the camera port in twain, allowing four Raspi cameras to be connected. Stack another board on top and you can add four more cameras. A total of four of these boards can be stacked together, multiplexing sixteen Raspberry Pi cameras.

As far as the obvious, ‘why’ question goes, there are a few interesting things you can do with a dozen or so computer controlled cameras. The obvious choice would be a bullet time camera rig, something this board should be capable of, given its time to switch between channels is only 50ns. Videos below.

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Crypto Photography and Custom Firmware

Imagine a camera that took encrypted pictures. If your camera is stolen, the only thing on the memory card would be random data that can only be unlocked with a key. If you hire a photographer, those images cannot be copied without the key. At the very least, it’s an interesting idea made impressive because this actually exists.

[Doug] recently got his hands on a Samsung NX300, a nice camera for the price that conveniently runs Linux and is kinda open-sourced by Samsung. With special firmware, [Doug] created public/private key encryption for this camera, giving only the person with the private key the ability to unlock the pictures taken with this camera.

[Doug] started his build by looking at the firmware for this camera, figuring out how to take everything apart and put it back together. With a few modifications that included encryption for all images taken with this camera, [Doug] repackaged the firmware and upgraded the camera.

The encryption firmware is available on the site, but considering how easily [Doug] was able to make this hack happen, and a great walkthrough of how to actually do it raises some interesting possibilities. The NX300 is a pretty nice camera that’s a little bit above the Canon PowerShot cameras supported by CHDK. It also runs Linux, so if you’re looking for something cool to do with a nice camera, [Doug] has a very good resource.

Towards More Interesting Instant Cameras

When [Ch00f] was getting jeans rung up at Nordstroms, he noticed how fast thermal receipt printers can put an image on a piece of paper. This observation isn’t unique to the circles [Ch00f] frequents – there are a few small receipt paper printers out there that connect to the Internet, iPhones, and a whole bunch of other Kickstarter-friendly keyword devices.

Nevertheless, a device that can make a hard copy of an image quickly and cheaply isn’t something you just stop thinking about. After rolling the concept around in his head for a few years, [Ch00f] finally came up with the perfect build – a camera.

The hardware for the build is based around an STM32F4 Discovery board. It’s a bit overpowered for this sort of application, and this is one of [Ch00f]’s first adventures in ARM-land. The rest of the hardware consists of a thermal receipt printer and a JPEG camera, the latter of which replaced a cellphone CMOS camera module that was lost in a move.

A custom camera requires a custom enclosure, and for this [Ch00f] made something remarkable. The entire enclosure is CNC milled out of a beautiful piece of figured walnut. The end result looks far too good for a prototype, but it does polish up nicely with a bit of linseed oil.

Now [Ch00f] has an instant camera that takes the idea of a Polaroid and turns it into something that produces a print for tenths of a cent. There’s a time-lapse function – just a zip tie on the shutter button – filters with the help of highlighters, and the ability to record movies in flipbook format.

It’s a great project, and also something that will make for a great crowdfunding campaign. [Ch00f] has already started work on this. He already has a sleek, modern-looking website that requires far too much scrolling than should be necessary – the first step to a winning Kickstarter. [Ch00f] also learned a lot about ARMs, DMA, dithering, gamma correction, and the JPEG format, but that’s not going to get anyone to open up their wallet. You know what will? A slick video. You’ll find that below.

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Improving A Modern Instant Camera

Instant film never went away – Fujifilm has been producing instant film for decades before Polaroid ceased production. Yes, cries of a lost photographic heritage were all for naught, and you can still buy an instant camera. [Dan] picked up a Fujifilm Instax Wide camera – an instant camera that produces not-square images – and figured some electronic tinkering could vastly expand the capabilities of this camera. He took it apart and made some modifications, giving it a bulb mode for long exposures and multi-exposure capability.

[Dan] began his tinkering by figuring out how to put multiple exposures on one frame of film. The Instax Wide camera has an eject sensor, a wire for the shutter button, and a few wires leading to the motor. By adding a switch to turn off the motor and a pushbutton to bypass the ejection sensor, [Dan] can stack multiple exposures on a single frame of film.

Multiple exposures are one thing, but how about longer exposures for light painting and all those other cool things you can do with microcontrolled LEDs? Modding the camera for that is pretty easy. All you need are a few mini toggle switches. It’s just a simple matter of opening the shutter for as long as you need, painting a scene with light, and flipping a few more switches to eject the film. [Dan] is getting some pretty respectable exposures with this – somewhat impressive considering the camera’s fixed aperture.

Serial Camera, Courtesy of the STM32F4

Look around for a small, embedded camera module, and you’ll find your options are rather limited. You have the serial JPEG cameras, but they’re rather expensive and only have VGA resolution. A Raspi, webcam, and power supply is a false economy. GoPros are great, but you’re still looking at some Benjamins used.

The guys at GHI Electronics are taking a different tack. They’re using image sensors you would normally find in cellphones and webcams, adding a powerful ARM processor, and are still able to sell it for about $50. It’s called the ALCAM, and they’ve stumbled upon a need that hasn’t been met by any manufacturer until now.

On board the ALCAM is an OV3640 3-Megapixel image sensor. On the back of the board is a STM32F4 and a microSD card slot. The board can be set up for time-lapse videos, stop motion animation, or all the usual serial board camera functions, including getting images over a serial connection.

The ALCAM operates either connected to a PC though a 3.3V serial adapter cable, through a standalone mode with pins connected to a button or sensor, to the SPI bus on a microcontroller, or a serial to Bluetooth or WiFi bridge. Images can be saved to the uSD card, or sent down the serial stream.

It’s a pretty cool board, and if you’re thinking it looks familiar, you’re right: there’s a similar DSI camera/STM32F4 board that was an entry to The Hackaday Prize. Either way, just what we need to get better cameras cheaper into projects.

Astrophotography and Data-Analysis Sense Exoplanets

[David Schneider] was reading about recent discoveries of exoplanets. Simply put these are planets orbiting stars other than the sun. The rigs used by the research scientists include massive telescopes, but the fact that they’re using CCD sensors led [David] to wonder if a version of this could be done on the cheap in the backyard. The answer is yes. By capturing and processing data from a barn door tracker he was able to verify a known exoplanet.

Barn Door trackers are devices used to move a camera to compensate for the turning of the earth. This is necessary when taking images throughout the night, as the stars will not remain “stationary” to the camera’s frame without it. The good news is that they’re simple to build, we’ve seen a few over the years.

Other than having to wait until his part of the earth was pointed in the correct direction (on a clear night) at the same time as an exoplanet transit, [David] was ready to harvest all the data he needed. This part gets interesting really quickly. The camera needed to catch the planet passing in between the earth and the star it revolves around (called a transit). The data to prove this happened is really subtle. To uncover it [David] needed to control the data set for atmospheric changes by referencing several other stars. From there he focused on the data for the transit target and compared points across the entire set of captured images. The result is a dip in brightness that matches the specifications of the original discovery.

[David] explains the entire process in the clip after the break.

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