Going beyond the device: Expanding the horizons of Super Zoom

Have you ever pushed your device to the limit? Have you ever made your device do what it was not meant to do, like over-clocking your CPU or Jail-breaking your iPhone? I just did something like that. Only it’s something much safer than over-clocking or jail breaking. And I did it to my camera.

I have been using a Super Zoom camera for a while now. A super zoom camera comes with a lens that can go from a Wide Angle to Super Zoom. The Canon SX 40 HS is a good example as it can go from 24mm (wide angle) to 840mm (super zoom).

There are some advanced features that are not available in a Super Zoom. One of the most important missing features is a Remote Shutter Release option. Some DSLRs come with a Wireless Shutter Release option where you can mount your camera on a tripod and take the picture without touching the camera.

Many a time I’ve really really needed a Remote Shutter Release option. For example, when I take photos of the Moon/Super Moon or when I take artsy pictures at night. My super moon picture:

Downtown Vancouver at night:

[For more photos, visit my Photo Blog]

In such cases, I have either zoomed in quite a bit, or am taking the picture in low light conditions. The slightest shake translates into a very bad picture. To avoid shaking the camera in such cases, I usually activate the 10 second timer. But there is some residual oscillation (shake) which sometimes messes up the photos. Reading the camera’s user guide told me that that there was no inbuilt no Remote Shutter Release option available. I also visited many specialty camera in the hope of finding an external device that could act as a remote shutter release. To my utter disappointment, I could not find such a device.

Then, one fine day, I discovered CHDK – Canon Hack Development Kit. This is an open source community that creates programs for Canon cameras to add capabilities in addition to the existing features, for example, a Remote Shutter Release option. So, I decided to build my own Remote Shutter Release kit. Here’s what I did:

(A) Installed CHDK on my camera (the easy part)

To install CHDK:

  1. Go to the http://chdk.wikia.com/wiki/CHDK
  2. Check the firmware version on your camera.
  3. Download the correct build based on the firmware version. Unzip it on your computer.
  4. Copy the CHDK files on the SD card.
  5. Insert the SD card in the camera and press the Review button.
  6. Go to  Menu and update the firmware.

The program is loaded into the memory temporarily. When you shut off the camera, it is removed from the memory. The program does not interfere with the manufacturer’s original firmware. CHDK also provides a detailed user guide.

(B) Created a physical Remote Shutter Release device (the most difficult part)

I searched the Internet and discovered that I have to build a remote shutter release device on my own. I found a great video of a camera user who had built a shutter release device from scratch. I could not follow the same path since I am not as tech savvy. Imagine the trouble if I were to solder a diode onto a circuit!. Moreover, being a technical writer by profession, I believe in simplicity. I wanted a solution that was simple, easy to implement, easy to use, and of professional quality. I could not build a remote shutter release device, and nobody sold one for my camera. It seemed like a dead end.

Numerous searches on the Internet provided no answers. However, I discovered a few things that helped me create a solution for myself:

  • Send > 4V on the data port of the camera to release the shutter.
  • A very high voltage (> 8V) might damage the camera!

I performed some trial-and-error experiments and discovered a very simple solution for the problem. I used the following readymade components:

  • Duracell USB Battery Backup: I used the Duracell USB Battery Backup to experiment with the Remote Shutter Release feature of CHDK. The Duracell USB Battery Backup is rechargeable, has an ON/OFF switch, and is slightly bigger than a matchbox. It has a USB (output) port for charging external devices and a mini-USB (input) port for charging the backup battery.

  • Mini-USB cable: I used a mini-USB cable for the solution. You can easily use the data cable that came with the camera.

(C) Made the hardware and software work together

To make the hardware and CHDK software work together:

  1. Install CHDK on the SD card and update the Firmware [as explained in (A) above]. Once CHDK is in the memory, go to the CHDK menu and enable Remote Shutter. (Print button + Menu button displays CHDK menu.)
  2. Connect the mini-USB cable to the camera’s data port and the other end to the USB port on the Duracell USB Battery Backup.
  3. Switch ON the Duracell USB Battery Backup and Switch OFF immediately. The camera focuses.
  4. Switch ON the Duracell USB Battery Backup and Switch OFF immediately again. The camera releases the shutter!

And I am sure this solution will not damage the camera. Here’s the simple reason why: The camera is designed to use a mini-USB cable that is connected to a computer’s USB port (which has a ~4V output). The Duracell USB Battery Backup also has the same output since it is basically a USB port without the data transmission capabilities.

I was amazed that another device could work as a remote shutter release for a camera that was not built to use one! Amazon, eBay, camera stores, and photography forums did give me ideas for creating this seemingly simple solution. So I thought I must share this discovery with all the other Super Zoom users out there that are also looking for something similar.

Happy Super Zooming!

More information about the Duracell USB Battery Backup: http://www.duracell.com/en-US/product/instant-usb-charger.jspx

Update: May 12, 2012: If you want to use a clicker-like device, the iGo Anywhere USB Micro/Mini Charger would be ideal. Instead of a switch, you could use the button to release the shutter. For more information about iGo Anywhere USB Micro/Mini Charger, visit the Source website here. I tested it out and it works perfectly fine.

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12 thoughts on “Going beyond the device: Expanding the horizons of Super Zoom

  1. Has the duracell charger effected the ckdsk program of the sx40 or the other firmware of the sx40. In other words has their been any problems with your camera since using this technique. Have you used it alot? Thanks!!

    • Hi,

      I never had a problem with the CHDK or Canon firmware when using the Duracell USB charger. It works perfectly fine each time. I have used it and tested it out for over 10 days without any problems.

      Thank you for checking out the post!

  2. Thanks for your reply and this sounds like a great idea i.e for the non-electrically inclined ones who can?t solder a lick.

  3. hi, I try to download the CHDK but it doesn’t work. I downloaded the ”The latest Builds – Stable 1.1”, unzip & copy to my SD card, but when I insert the SD card to the camera and press the Review button just show the photo.. Isn’t I miss out something? Thanks.

    • Hi Chamaine. Assuming you downloaded the correct file and copied the correct files to the SD card, here is what you need to do…

      Make sure the camera is off (SD card is already inserted).
      Turn on the camera USING THE PLAY BUTTON. DO NOT USE THE POWER BUTTON.
      Press the Menu button on the camera and scroll all the way down to Firmware Update and press the Func Set button (center of the dial)
      Do the update.
      The camera will reboot.

      To access the CHDK menu, you have to press the Shortcut button on the top left of the camera (on the left side, just above the top left of the screen) and then press the Menu button.

      Hope this helps.

  4. kindly, enumerate what i would need for my sx40 hs to use it for a photobooth. i want to take pictures and directly save it to computer or a live view in pc monitor that would be ready for editting. thanks!

    • (@ the person who wants to set up a photobooth) Some CHDK developers are working at exactly this topic but I do not know how far they have come (their discussion threads are hard to understand for those who are not involved in their work). Look for “chdk” and “ptpcam”. – But for now, I believe you could set up some photobooth functionality (convenient wireless automatic uploading to the pc but no remote control of the camera, and pc no monitor preview) with an Eye-fi SD-card; this is a memory card which has wifi capabilities built in. – I would love to hear other information because I’m waiting for photobooth capabilities of my own tiny Powershot A3300.

      (@Sri Raghu) Very beautiful pictures, I enjoyed them. Thanks a lot!

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