While the official history of the digital camera begins with a Kodak engineer tinkering around with digital electronics in 1975, the first digital camera was actually built a few months prior. At the Vintage Computer Festival East, [William Sudbrink] rebuilt the first digital camera. It’s wasn’t particularly hard, either: it was a project on the cover of Popular Electronics in February, 1975.
[William]’s exhibit, Cromemco Accessories: Cyclops & Dazzler is a demonstration of the greatest graphics cards you could buy for S-100 systems and a very rare, very weird solid-state TV camera. Introduced in the February, 1975 issue of Popular Electronics, the Cyclops was the first digital camera. This wasn’t a device that used a CCD or a normal image sensor. The image sensor in the Cyclops was a 1 kilobit DRAM from MOS, producing a digital image thirty-two pixels square.
The full description, schematic, circuit layout, and theory of operation are laid out in the Popular Electronics article; all [William] had to do was etch a PCB and source the components. The key part – a one kilobit MOS DRAM in a metal can package, carefully decapsulated – had a date code of 1976, but that is the newest component in the rebuild of this classic circuit.
To turn this DRAM into digital camera, the circuit sweeps across the rows and columns of the DRAM array, turning the charge of each cell into an analog output. This isn’t a black or white camera; there’s gray in there, or green if you connect it to an oscilloscope.
This project in Popular Electronics would be manufactured by Cromemco in late 1975 and was released as their first product in January, 1976. The Cromemco was marketed as a digital camera, designed to interface with the MITS Altair 8800 computer, allowing anyone to save digital images to disk. This was the first digital camera invented, and the first digital camera sold to consumers. It’s an amazing piece of history, and very happy [William] was able to piece this together and bring it out to the Vintage Computer Festival this weekend.
The Panono is a rather cool take on the panoramic camera: it is a ball-shaped device fitted with 36 individual cameras. When you press the button and throw the camera in the air, it waits until the highest point and then takes pictures from all of the cameras. Sound familiar? We first coverd [Jonas’] work way back in 2011.
Photos are stitched together into a single panoramic image with an equivalent resolution of up to 106 megapixels. The final image is panoramic in both horizontal and vertical directions: you can scroll up, down, left, right or in and out of the image. Since images are all taken at the same time you don’t have continuity problems associated with moving a single camera sensor. There are a number of sample images on their site but keep reading for a look at some of the updated hardware since our last look at this fascinating camera.
The well-dressed hacker [Sean Hodgins] has put together a neat little project: a battery powered remote shutter. He built it for use with Beme, the latest Snapchat clone that all of the cool kids are now using.
This service is designed to get away from the selfie culture by starting to record when you hold your phone against your chest, so you are looking at the thing being recorded, not your phone. [Sean] wanted a bit more control than that, so he built a remote control that starts the recording by moving the servo arm over the proximity sensor.
He built this neat little device from an Arduino Pro Mini, a battery, a small servo, a couple of power control boards and a cheap RF link from SeedStudio, all glued onto an iPhone case. It’s a bit rough around the edges (the servo makes some noise that is picked up on the recording, for one thing), but it is a great example of how to lash together a quick prototype to test a project out.
[Peter] wanted a camera slider and found some inspiration on the good ole ‘net. He then gathered some parts and came up with his own design. We’ve seen camera sliders made from roller blade wheels before but never one that uses skateboard trucks as the carriage! On each truck axle are 2 bearings spaced apart without the skate wheels. Each pair of bearings rides on one of two 48 inch long closet rods supported between two push-up stands. The top portion from an old camera tripod makes a handy mount that allows adjustment of the camera’s aim.
Some camera sliders are manual operated. This one, however, is lead screw driven with a goal of keeping the camera moving at a constant rate. A disassembled hand drill provides the motor, gearbox and speed control necessary to turn the lead screw. Although it works well at slow speeds, [Peter] admits that it becomes less usable as the speed increases. This is mainly due to the 5/16 inch threaded rod lead screw oscillating and whipping around after reaching a certain RPM. If you stick with a straight run, a belt-driven system might make those faster movements more smoothly.
[Artlav] wanted to build a digital camera, but CCDs are expensive and don’t respond well to all wavelengths of light. No problem, then, because with a photodiode, a few stepper motors, the obligatory Arduino, and a cardboard box, it’s pretty easy to make one from scratch.
The camera’s design is based on a camera obscura – a big box with a pinhole in one side. This is all a camera really needs as far as optics go, but then there’s the issue of digitizing the faint image projected onto the rear of the camera. That’s fine, just build a cartesian robot inside the box and throw a photodiode in there.
There are a few considerations when choosing a photodiode for a digital camera. Larger photodieodes have higher noise but lower resolution. [Artlav] has been experimenting with a few diodes, but his options are limited by export control restrictions.
Even with the right photodiode, amplifying the tiny amount of current – picoamps in some cases – is hard. The circuit is extremely sensitive to EMI, and it’s inside a box with stepper motors pulled from the scrap bin. It’s amazing this thing works at all.
Still, [Artlav] was able to get some very high resolution images across a huge range of wavelengths. He’s even getting a few images in mid-wave infrared, turning this homebrew digital camera into the slowest thermal imaging camera we’ve ever seen.
[Glitchmaker] loves photography and wrote in to tell us about his newest project. He has a Canon 1000D camera but, unfortunately, it does not have time lapse capability. So, instead of shelling out a chunk of change for a new camera [Glitchmaker] decided to make an external shutter control device that can continue to instruct the camera to take photos at predetermined intervals. He calls his project: SHTTTRRR. You didn’t think that meant something else, did you?
You can see the unassuming box above, there is just enough stuff packed in there to get the job done, nothing extra or fancy. Luckily, the Cannon camera has a remote shutter input jack that only requires connecting one pin to another in order to take a photo. Inside the box is an ATTINY45 microcontroller. It reads the button pushes from the single panel-mounted button and calculates the time between two button presses. That time between button presses determines the frequency of the photos taken. At the appropriate times, the ATTINY45 signals a transistor to connect the two appropriate pins on the camera’s remote shutter input jack. The device continues to tell the camera to take photos until it is shut off. The result is a series of time-lapse photos that was previously not possible on that camera!
This is a simple project that solves a problem and gets the job done. What’s better than that? [Glitchmaker] is proud of the SHTTTRRR he made and also learned a bunch about programming the ATTINY45 along the way. Check a video of it working after the break.
Several decades ago, the all the punks and artsy types had terrible lenses with terrible camera that leaked light everywhere. Film was crap, and thus was born the fascinating world of Lomography, with effects and light leaks unique to individual cameras. Now, everyone has a smartphone with high-resolution sensors, great lenses, and Instagram to replicate the warm look of filters, light leaks, and other ‘artististic’ photographic techniques. The new version of this photography is purely in the digital domain, and wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to make your digital selfies analog once again? The SnapJet team has your back.
Instead of adding filters and other digital modifications to smartphone snaps, the SnapJet prints pictures onto Polaroid film. Yes, you can still buy this film, and yes, it’s exactly how you remember it. By putting a smartphone down on the SnapJet, you’ll only need to press a button, wait for the film to be exposed, dispensed, and developed. What comes out of the SnapJet is an analog reproduction of whatever is displayed on your phone’s screen, with all the digital filters you can imagine and the option to modify the photos in the analog domain; eac Polaroid can be turned into a transparency, with backlit LEDs being an obvious application: