Building A Digital Camera From Scratch

Sure, [Stan] could have bought a nice full-frame DSLR like a Canon 5D or a Nikon D3, but where’s the fun in that when he could build his own digital camera? The build isn’t done yet, but [Stan] did manage to take a few sample pics.

The 14 Megapixel sensor [Stan] found was originally used for benchtop applications. There isn’t any reason it can’t be used for photography, so all that needed to be done was design a camera around this sensor.

[Stan] built his hardware around a DSP, an FPGA and a pair of ADCs, an amazing piece of engineering. Of course building a full-frame digital camera has as much to do with mechanics as electronics, so [Stan] used a 60mm cage system and a 3d-printed nylon enclosure.

Of course, [Stan]’s camera doesn’t look much like and off-the-shelf DSLR. There’s a reason for this; the sensor in the camera has a rolling shutter, much like the last few iPhones instead of a focal plane shutter. Not a bad piece of work, we only wish there were more build pics.

25 thoughts on “Building A Digital Camera From Scratch

  1. The main reason it doesn’t look like an SLR is probably because it doesn’t have a viewfinder or any moving mirrors. The name SLR doesn’t really have any purpose when there is no viewfinder.

  2. The readout limits it to about 3fps. However, the next version (2048×2048) would hit ~180fps at full area. Again, drop me a note at skylark unaligned org, and I’ll message you when it’s done (probably February 2012).

    Yeah, the site is down. I’m on it.

  3. I am more interested as to how he got the datasheet for the sensor, how much the sensor cost, and how he got the sensor in the first place.

    I have been trying to get my hands on some good sensors, but Kodak does not seem interested in a single unit order, and Nikon does not even seem to sell it to non companies. Trying to find the information on a sensor in a current working camera is very difficult, mostly because I can’t find any identification on the sensor anywhere.

    1. holy crap! I just realized that the PCB is SIX layers! Dear god, how much did it cost to fab that !?

      Not to mention you are using BGA’s, did you assemble it yourself, or did you get a company to get the bga’s on the PCB?

      I presume this was a very very expensive project. :P

  4. Are you working for AMD? Very impressive work with the camera – made me google you and first thing that came out was powdertoy from Siggraph Asia 2008.
    Then I remembered that I have seen your site before – Jtag pinout discovery tool you wrote for NSA@home.

    Is there some index page with links to all of your projects?

    ps: Polibuda Poznanska rulez.

  5. The last sensor I got was $135. Gotta love eBay (look for “kodak 14n sensor”, they show up sometimes) :-) The specifications are openly available for the sensor.

    I have a bunch of extra PCBs. If you can get the sensor, I will send you a free board.

  6. It doesn’t look like a SLR because it’s not a SLR. SLR stands for Single Lens Reflex, where Reflex refers to the mechanism that swings up a mirror, which you were using to check the focus against a frosted glass, so that light can reach the focal plane shutter and sensor / film.

  7. Totally awesome! In one of my last jobs I was writing digital camera firmware and since the device was 6 months away from final prototyping I built a basic model out of corrogated cardboard and duct tape. Since we had a rolling shutter, cardboard was perfectly satisfactory. That was the most fun job ever.

  8. Another Open Source Camera is from Elphel.

    $900 gets you a 5 MPixel camera including a Linux computer. Or you can just download the software, FPGA Verilog files, board layouts etc. and head out on your own. Or buy some and build some mix and match.

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