Flat Camera Uses No Lens

Early cameras and modern cameras work pretty much the same way. A lens (or a pinhole acting as a lens) focuses an image onto a sensor. Of course, sensor, in this case, is a broad term and could include a piece of film that–after all–does sense light via a chemical reaction. Sure, lenses and sensors get better or, at least, different, but the basic design has remained the same since the Chinese built the camera obscura around 400BC (and the Greeks not long after that).

Of course, the lens/sensor arrangement works well, but it does limit how thin you can make a camera. Cell phone cameras are pretty skinny, but there are applications where even they are too thick. That’s why researchers at Rice University are working on a new concept design for a flat camera that uses no lens. You can see a video about the new type of camera below.

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PiNoculars – A Farseeing Pi Camera

The Raspberry Pi camera provides a 5 megapixel resolution with still images of up to 2592 x 1944 and multiple video modes including 2592 x 1944 at 15 frames per second. With it being mounted on a small board it is ideal for using in hacks. [Josh Williams] mounted the camera on the lens of binoculars to capture some startling images, including this squirrel.

The camera is installed on a custom, laser cut mount that fastens to one eyepiece of the binoculars. The Pi itself is mounted above the binoculars. An LCD touch screen from Adafruit allows [Josh] to select the image and adjust the focus. Snapping pictures is done using either the touch screen or switches that come with the screen.

The Instructable [Josh] wrote is extremely detailed and includes two different ways of mounting the Pi on the binoculars. The quick and dirty method just straps on with tape. The highly engineered method delves into Inkscape to design a plywood mount that is laser cut. For portable operation, [Josh] uses one of the ubiquitous battery packs meant for USB charging.

Basic setup of the Pi and camera are in a video after the break.

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Drive a Sony Camera with an ESP8266

Nearly everything has WiFi these days. [glaskugelsehen]’s Sony camera uses the wireless network to transfer photos to the computer, naturally, and it also has a remote-control application that’ll run on Android smartphones. [glaskugelsehen] doesn’t have an Android — but he does have shows us an ESP8266 that he turned into a WiFi-powered remote for the camera (Google translate into English).

Sony actually made [glaskugelsehen]’s work easy here. They have a publicly available API for the camera’s controls, and it’s all run by JSON sent over HTML HTTP POST. Which is to say, that it’s a piece of cake to script as long as you can send HTMLHTTP directives.

[glaskugelsehen]’s code, written in the Arduino environment for the ESP, first finds the camera’s WiFi network and authenticates to it. Then it sets the camera into remote-control mode, and takes over from there. So far, he’s only implemented taking still photos, but from the API it looks like you can also stop and start video recordings and more.

And yeah. We just wrote up another project doing virtually the same thing with a GoPro. [glaskugelsehen] read that too, and mentions it in his blog. We love it when people take inspiration from each other!

Hillbilly Lego Focus Puller

There’s almost nothing you can’t build with the right set of Lego parts. [Rigjob] built up a Lego-based wireless remote follow-focus system that’ll give professional systems a run for their money.

Now [Rigjob] self-identifies as a hillbilly, but he’s not just a redneck with a camera. He’s set up the Lego controller to remember minimum and maximum focus positions as well as mark points along the way. The controller simply won’t turn the lens outside of the focus range, and an interactive graph shows you where you are within the range. For a focus wheel, he uses (drum-roll please!) a Lego off-road wheel. It looks really comfortable, usable, and actually quite professional.

There’s a lot of tech in the Lego controller and motors that make this “simple” hack simple. Under the hood, there’s a Bluetooth connection, a geared stepper motor with a position sensor, a communication protocol, and a whole ton of programming in the Lego controller that makes it all drag-and-drop programmable. But to a long-bearded hillbilly cameraman, it all looks like child’s play. And that’s the hallmark of good design. Kudos, Lego.

If you can’t get enough Lego camera tech, check out this DIY slit-scan stargate rig, or (what else?) a Lego 3D chocolate printer.

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Mostly Wood Motorized Camera Slider

Camera slides can make for interesting dolly shots in your videos, or can spice up an otherwise drab time-lapse sequence. When it came time for one of his own, [Bob] did what any hacker would do and rolled his own motorized camera slide in the wood shop.

We always like to see work based on a hacker’s own prior art, and [Bob] managed to leverage parts and techniques from his impromptu claw machine build for this slider. The rollers in this project use the same 3/4″ angle aluminum and skateboard bearings as the previous build. The bearings roll on a plywood strip capped with the same angle stock for durability and low friction. The stepper motor bracket and pillow blocks are 3D printed, as are the timing pulleys. [Bob] admits that the whole rig is a little noisy and blames it on the rough quality of the pulley prints. He has plans to replace them with commercially available pulleys, which should help; one further suggestion we have is to code a soft-start algorithm into the ATtiny85 to eliminate that jerkiness you see when he demos the slider in the video below.

There are plenty of ways to move a camera along a single axis, and a surprising number of them use parts from the roller sports. We’ve covered quite a few of them before, like this slide that uses skateboard trucks, or this non-motorized rig built from fence posts and inline skate wheels.

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Four Seasons In One Photo

What an interesting way to show a year: Norwegian hacker [Erikso] created a condensed timelapse that shows a year in a single photo. He had taken a timelapse of the view from his living room window in the frozen north every day during 2010, using a camera that was locked in place taking an image every 30 minutes. Then, with the help of some hacker friends, he came up with a script that slices these images up and combines them so that each day is represented by a vertical slice. The result is a gorgeous image that gives a wonderful sense of the seasons, and how that affects the trees. You can see the leaves grow and fall, and the snow on the ground come, go and come again.

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Nikon Resurrection: Repairing a Broken Lens

Modern DSLR cameras are amazing devices. Mechanics, electronics, and optics, all rolled up in a single package. All that technology is great, but it can make for a frustrating experience when attempting any sort of repair. Lenses can be especially difficult to work on. One misalignment of a lens group or element can lead to a fuzzy image.

[Kratz] knew all this, but it didn’t stop him from looking for a cheap lens deal over on eBay. He found a broken Nikon DSLR 55-200mm 1:4-5.6 AF-S VR camera lens for $30. This particular lens is relatively cheap – you can pick up a new one for around $150 online. Spending $30 to save $120 is a bit of a gamble, but [Kratz] went for it.

The lens he bought mostly worked – the auto-focus and vibration reduction system seemed to be fine. The aperture blades however, were stuck closed. Aperture blades form the iris of a lens. With the blades closed down, the lens was severely limited to brightly lit situations. All was not lost though, as the aperture is a relatively simple mechanical system, which hopefully would be easy to repair.

pinNikonKeeping screws and various parts in order is key when taking apart a lens. [Kratz] used a tip he learned right here on Hackaday: He drew a diagram of the screw positions on a thick piece of paper. He then stuck each screw right into the paper in its proper position.

Carefully removing each part, [Kratz] found a pin had slipped out of the rod that connects the lens’ internal parts with the external aperture control arm. Fixing the pin was simple. Getting the lens back together was quite a bit harder. Several parts have to be aligned blindly. [Kratz] persevered and eventually everything slipped into alignment. The finished lens works fine, albeit for a slightly noisy auto-focus.

It’s worth noting that there are service and repair manuals for many cameras and lenses out there in the dark corners of the internet, including [Kratz]’s 55-200 lens. Reading the repair procedures Nikon techs use shows just how many tools, fixtures, and custom bits of software go into making one of these lenses work.