Photographing a Display Controller Die

Who doesn’t like integrated circuit porn? After pulling a PCD8544 display controller from an old Nokia phone, [whitequark] disrobed it and took the first public die shot.

As we’ve seen in the past, removing a die from its packaging can be a challenge. It typically involves nasty things like boiling acid. Like many display controllers, the PCD8544 isn’t fully encapsulated in a package. Instead, it is epoxied to a glass substrate.

Removing the glass proved to be difficult. [whitequark] tried a hot plate, a hot air gun, sulphuric acid, and sodium hydroxide with no success. Then the heat was turned up using MAPP gas, which burned the epoxy away.

After some cleaning with isopropanol, the die was ready for its photoshoot. This was done using a standard 30 mm macro lens. Photo processing was done in darktable, an open source photography tool and RAW processor.

[whitequark] plans to take closer photos in the future using more powerful magnification. These high resolution die photos can be useful for a number of things, including finding fake chips and reverse engineering retro hardware.

Finding Meteors, Satellites, and Star Trails with a Raspberry Pi

meteorite

The Raspberry Pi is an incredibly popular, cheap, and low power computer that also has a nifty camera add-on that is completely programmable. This opens up a log of possibilities for long-exposure photography, and [Jippo] has found the best use so far: long exposure astrophotography for capturing meteors, satellites, and star trails.

[Jippo] is using a stock Raspi and camera module with a little bit of custom software written by his friend [Jani Lappalainen] that grabs image data from the camera and saves it either as a time-lapse, or only when something significantly changes. This would include meteors and Iridium flares, as well as passing planes, reflections of satellites, and of course long-exposure star trails.

So far, [Jippo] has already captured enough images to amount to a great night of skywatching. There’s a great picture of a meteor, a few pictures of satellites reflecting the sun, and some great star trails. The software [Jippo] is using is available on his site along with a gallery of his highlight reel.

Timelapse Photography on an Android-Powered Dolly

camera dolly

If you’re heading off on a trip to Alaska, you need to make sure you have plenty of supplies on hand for the wilderness that awaits. If you’re [Bryce], that supply list includes some interesting photography equipment, including a camera dolly that he made to take time-lapse video of the fantastic scenery.

On the hardware side, the dolly carries the camera on a rail that is set up on a slant. The camera starts on one side and moves up and towards the otherside which creates a unique effect in the time-lapse. The rig is driven by a stepper motor, and rides on some pretty fancy bearings. The two cameras [Bryce] plans to use are a Canon T2i and a EOS-M which sit on the top from a tripod.

The software and electronics side is interesting as well. Instead of the usual Arduino, [Bryce] opted for controlling the rig through Android and a IOIO board. This gives the project a lot of options for communications, including Bluetooth. The whole thing is powered by a 19V battery pack. If you’re looking for something a little simpler, you might want to check out the egg timer for time lapse! Check out the video of [Bryce]’s rig in action after the break.

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Simple Photo Flash Trigger for Water Balloon Photography

Water Balloon Photography

There have been countless projects to make custom photo flash trigger circuits. Usually the circuits react to sound, triggering the camera flash at the moment a certain sound is triggered. That type of trigger can be used to detect the popping of a balloon or shattering of glass. Other triggers detect motion, like a projectile crossing a laser beam for example. [Udo’s] friend had a fun idea to take photos of water balloons popping. Unfortunately neither of those trigger methods would be well suited for this situation. That’s when [Udo] had to get creative.

[Udo] built a unique trigger circuit that uses the water inside the balloon as the trigger. The core component of the circuit is an Arduino. One of the Arduino’s analog pins is configured to enable the internal pull-up resistor. If nothing else is connected to the pin, the Arduino will read 5 volts there. The pin is connected to a needle on the end of a stick. There is a second needle on the same stick, just a short distance away from the first. When these needles pierce the balloon’s skin, the water inside allows for a brief moment of conductivity between the two pins. The voltage on the analog pin then drops slightly, and the Arduino can detect that the balloon has popped.

[Udo] already had a flash controller circuit. He was able to trigger it with the Arduino by simply trying the flash controller’s trigger pin to one of the Arduino’s pins. If the Arduino pulls the pin to ground, it closes the switch on the flash controller and the flash is triggered. Both circuits must share a common ground in order for this to work.

All of the code for [Udo’s] project is freely available. With such spectacular photographs, it’s only a matter of time before we see more of these floating around.

Reverse Engineering a Wireless Studio Lighting Remote

If you want to take a photograph with a professional look, proper lighting is going to be critical. [Richard] has been using a commercial lighting solution in his studio. His Lencarta UltraPro 300 studio strobes provide adequate lighting and also have the ability to have various settings adjusted remotely. A single remote can control different lights setting each to its own parameters. [Richard] likes to automate as much as possible in his studio, so he thought that maybe he would be able to reverse engineer the remote control so he can more easily control his lighting.

[Richard] started by opening up the remote and taking a look at the radio circuitry. He discovered the circuit uses a nRF24L01+ chip. He had previously picked up a couple of these on eBay, so his first thought was to just promiscuously snoop on the communications over the air. Unfortunately the chips can only listen in on up to six addresses at a time, and with a 40-bit address, this approach may have taken a while.

Not one to give up easily, [Richard] chose a new method of attack. First, he knew that the radio chip communicates to a master microcontroller via SPI. Second, he knew that the radio chip had no built-in memory. Therefore, the microcontroller must save the address in its own memory and then send it to the radio chip via the SPI bus. [Richard] figured if he could snoop on the SPI bus, he could find the address of the remote. With that information, he would be able to build another radio circuit to listen in over the air.

Using an Open Logic Sniffer, [Richard] was able to capture some of the SPI communications. Then, using the datasheet as a reference, he was able to isolate the communications that stored information int the radio chip’s address register. This same technique was used to decipher the radio channel. There was a bit more trial and error involved, as [Richard] later discovered that there were a few other important registers. He also discovered that the remote changed the address when actually transmitting data, so he had to update his receiver code to reflect this.

The receiver was built using another nRF24L01+ chip and an Arduino. Once the address and other registers were configured properly, [Richard’s] custom radio was able to pick up the radio commands being sent from the lighting remote. All [Richard] had to do at this point was press each button and record the communications data which resulted. The Arduino code for the receiver is available on the project page.

[Richard] took it an extra step and wrote his own library to talk to the flashes. He has made his library available on github for anyone who is interested.

Cheap Under-Cabinet Lights Reimagined as Photography Lighting

diy photography lights

Professional photography lighting can be expensive. Sometimes the professional photographer may not want (or need) to spend the big bucks on lighting. [Alex] is one of those folks. He needed a specialized light source and instead of going out and buying some, he made exactly what he needed out of components unlikely to be found in a photography studio.

The project started off with some off the shelf $12 Home Depot under-cabinet lights. Foam core board was attached to the sides of each light to adjust the beam’s width. Opening and closing these foam flaps allow the light beam to be adjusted to ensure the perfect shot.  The entire assembly was then taped to long, thin pieces of wood. The wood’s sole purpose is to facilitate mounting of the light.

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Lux: A 100% Open Source Camera

luxCamera

[Kevin Kadooka] recently finished his open source camera. The Lux Camera is 100% open source. Lux uses no parts from other cameras – not even a lens! To date we’ve only seen this with achieved with pinhole cameras. [Kevin] isn’t new to camera hacking. He was the man behind the Duo camera, which had a successful Kickstarter campaign in February of 2013. Duo is a DIY camera, but it still required lenses from Mamiya-Sekor, and a shutter from Seiko. Lux is a different animal. It has a manual focus 65mm f/5.6 Single Element lens. The shutter is [Kevin’s] own solenoid based leaf shutter design. Just as in the original shutter, an Arduino controls shutter operation and timing.

The main camera body and many of its parts are 3D printed. [Kevin] got some very nice quality parts from Shapeways 3D printing service. We have to say that some of the assemblies look a bit complex for desktop printers. However since everything is open source, anyone willing to put the time in could adapt them for the average RepRap or Ultimaker. [Kevin] has posted detailed build photos, as well as some photos taken with the Lux on his flickr stream. The pictures have  a decidedly holga-esque look to them, due in part to the single element lens. Even with this limitation, we love the idea of having a brownie style camera built completely from scratch.