Photographer Hacks 5D Mk. II with Tiny Linux Computer

By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)

Camera man, turned computer geek David Hunt has been hacking his Canon 5D Mk. II in a very creative fashion.  He’s decided to put a computer to it, that runs Linux, and could give his camera several features that would be beneficial to shooters.  How did he do it?

I’ve had the idea of embedding a computer [into a[ DSLR camera for a couple of years now … With the release of the Raspberry Pi, embedded computing has all of a sudden become much more affordable.  – David Hunt, Blog

There’s a nifty little computer out there called a Raspberry Pi.  It’s really small and houses a low power ARM CPU, with bare bones features, on a small motherboard.  And it runs an open source and highly modified Linux OS. Cost? $25 USD. And it’s so small, that Hunt was able to fit it into a broken power drive he had lying around.  With some considerable modification, he was able to add two USB ports, and Ethernet port, video, and even HDMI and GPIO ports.  It runs on the bare bones version of Linux and has a few clever apps that query the camera itself via USB, to compare what pictures have been taken and downloads any images that have been added.  And it runs on a single Canon battery.  Pretty cool.

Other features Hunt is seeking to put in include:

  • Wireless tethered shooting and transmit pictures to a PC or tablet PC
  • Backup via USB thumb-drive  or hard drive
  • Remote control or tether to PC for triggering
  • Intervalometer – take a picture every few seconds for those high-speed sunset sequences, including exposure adjustment as you go.
  • On-the-fly image conversion for faster previews on remote display device (iPad, etc).
  • Add a small LCD display to give status, allow user input via buttons, etc.
  • Trigger camera via shutter release port, also allows waking up of sleeping camera, which cant be done via USB.

Hunt has had some challenges, which include his “PerlScript” apps playing nicely with Linux – especially the USB support, and being able to power the whole thing with a mobile power source.  Fortunately, he’s been able to at least create workarounds with  his USB trouble, and he’s managed to figure out how to power the whole thing with a Canon battery (very good for power safety issues) that is monitored through a DC-DC converter that converts down the 10v battery to a 5v signal.  That keeps the computer running healthy for several hours and the battery can be switched out through a spring loaded lock that keeps the battery in place.

All in all, this work in progress has proceeded with some manageable results including automatic off loading of images from his camera to his iPad.  And he’s even managed to get a WiFi dongle which not only transfers image data via WiFi, using an app called ShutterSnitch.  And in an unexpected bonus, Hunt has also turned the camera into it’s own WiFi Hotspot and managed multiple remote triggering options via USB and the camera’s shutter release port.

To follow Hunt’s pretty cool hack, check out his blog here.


About James DeRuvo

James has a multi-faceted career that spans radio, film and publishing. A writer about the technology in the video industry for nearly 20 years, James is also an award winning film director, having garnered a Telly Award for his short film Searching for Inspiration. He's also worked as a producer of many talk radio programs in Los Angeles with topics ranging from entertainment to travel to technology.