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Canon Hacker's Development Kit (CHDK)

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  • Canon Hacker's Development Kit (CHDK)

    I was excited to learn about CHDK on I've been using it with my Canon A720IS digital camera for over a month, and I've been having lots of fun. It takes your basic point & shoot camera and unlocks hidden features found on more expensive prosumer dSRL cameras.

    Here's a list of goodies I've been playing with:

    exposure bracketing (Tv, Av, or ISO)
    auto ISO shift (automatically bumps up ISO to prevent motion blur)
    live histogram (luminance, RGB, linear, logarithmic, over/under exposure indicators, auto magnification, etc.)
    wider range of shutter speeds (1/100,000 sec : 64 sec)
    add a custom grid to help compose shots (I've been playing with a Golden Ratio one, and another for composing macro scenes)
    show extra data (35mm equivalent focal length, scene luminance, depth of field, etc.)
    save photos in RAW format with or without noise reduction
    live zebra patterns (indicates over-exposure)
    a benchmark test to measure the performance of your memory card

    Here's a few interesting features I haven't tried yet:

    time lapse mode
    motion detection (quick enough to catch lightning strikes)
    synchronize two cameras to take stereographic photos
    adjust zoom and focus during video capture (which is usually frozen when you start recording)
    finer control over quality vs. compression of video captures

    Why would Canon put features into your camera but not make them available? There are many possible reasons:

    - their marketing department decided your specific camera model didn't need advanced features to compete with a similar camera from Nikon
    - their bean counters were afraid advanced features in their value cameras would cannibalize sales of pricier models
    - their user interface designers realized having an uncluttered LCD screen is more important to the average consumer (who uses the screen to aim their camera) than it does to prosumers (who tend to use the higher quality viewfinder in their dSRL cameras)
    - their quality assurance team just didn't have enough time to make sure the feature worked flawlessly in all conditions, in time for xmas season
    - their engineers couldn't make the feature work perfectly and shelved it (by leaving it in the camera but disabling it)

    Is this too good to be true? In the photography world, you get what you pay for. Considering the CHDK is free...

    There's not a lot of hand holding, when it comes to figuring out how to use the CHDK. The help pages are sufficient, but a bit disorganized. Basically if using an Apple computer makes you feel safe, while the thought of using a Windows PC terrifies you, you might want to stay away from the CHDK.

    We don't know the reason why Canon left out a particular feature. If we're lucky, the feature works perfectly and they decided not to put it in for business reasons. If we're unlucky, the feature doesn't work perfectly and we may ruin our only chance at capturing a fleeting moment (though I haven't experienced this yet). If we're really unlucky, our camera blows up.

    Can I permanently damage my camera?

    For the most part CHDK is pretty safe, but there is always the possibility something could go wrong. You use the CHDK at your own risk. Rest assured the development community doesn't want all their hard work tarnished by stories of exploding cameras splashed across CNN. Despite their diligence, problems can still slip through the cracks.

    The key is to not stray off the beaten path. What I mean by this is there are a bunch of different versions of the CHDK out there (called "builds"). Some are safe (but a bit behind the curve in terms of features). Others are very experimental and cutting edge (also called the bleeding edge for a reason).

    "Allbest" is the recommended build. You want to stay on the Allbest "trunk" (versions that have been deemed stable). Avoid the automatic daily builds, since they are works in progress. Be cautious with the scripts (mini programs which CHDK can run) which mess with physical stuff like the motor driving the zoom lens.

    The real nice thing about the CHDK is it doesn't modify the firmware in your camera. What you do is simply copy files to your memory card. If you don't like CHDK, just delete the files from the memory card and your camera goes back to normal.

    How do I get my hands on this?

    First you want to see if your camera model is supported. Here's the trunk of the Allbest build. Some models may have multiple entries. This is because Canon released the same model with different versions of firmware. Then follow the instructions in the getting started guide.

    Have fun!

    Last edited by MyopicJoe; June 24, 2008, 11:01 PM.
    "By concealing your desires, you may trick people into being cruel about the wrong thing." --Steven Aylett, Fain the Sorcerer
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