Hacking My PowerShot - InformationWeek

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Government // Enterprise Architecture
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2/29/2008
01:27 PM
Serdar Yegulalp
Serdar Yegulalp
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Hacking My PowerShot

Hardware hacking: it isn't just for those of us with soldering-iron skills anymore, as the hacks for the iPhone clearly show.  I don't have an iPhone, but I do have a Canon PowerShot A560, and as it turns out, that's another device that can be hacked thanks to some firmware wizardry.

Hardware hacking: it isn't just for those of us with soldering-iron skills anymore, as the hacks for the iPhone clearly show.  I don't have an iPhone, but I do have a Canon PowerShot A560, and as it turns out, that's another device that can be hacked thanks to some firmware wizardry.

Canon's PowerShot cameras all use a family of image-processing chips known collectively as the DIGIC series.  The most recent variants of these processors, the DIGIC II and DIGIC III, are used in Canon's PowerShot camera line -- mainly, the A500 through A700 models, but several others, too.  Different versions of the PowerShot sport different functions, with some of them being available with a mere firmware hack.

I picked up an A560 late last year -- it's a wonderfully handy point-and-shoot camera that even shoots full NTSC video, so it not only replaced my old Casio Exilim but my long-broken DV camera as well (despite not having the gamut of features you'd find in a full DV camera, but it was fine for what I needed).  It didn't take long for me to discover that some of the more advanced features of the A600 and A700 line were simply disabled in the A500 series, such as the ability to shoot photos in RAW (uncompressed) mode.  I figured the relatively limited optics of the A500 series would limit the quality you'd get from shooting in RAW mode, but I was still wildly curious.

Enter the CHDK project, a custom firmware written for cameras that use the DIGIC II and III processors.  Aside from enabling the ability to shoot RAW, it throws in a whole bevy of other nifty features like a more detailed battery meter, "zebra" mode (to show what parts of an image may be blown out or overexposed), a depth-of-field calculator, a live three-channel histogram, the ability to run scripts, and many more.

The best part about using the CHDK firmware is that it's not permanent.  You can set up the firmware to load automatically or manually, and the default firmware within the camera doesn't have to be overwritten -- it's something you can try out and then roll back safely by simply turning the camera off.  I'd love to see some more features rolled out in time, like the ability to make finer adjustments to the DV-camera functions, but for now this is great fun.  And terribly addictive in the best way.

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