Hacking your Canon Camera

An excursion into Timelapse photography with a “point & shoot” Canon                                                                              By Gary Smith

A Google search for timelapse photography led me to a website called CHDK which intriguingly stands for Canon Hack Development Kit. I’d never heard of this but it reveals a fascinating world of “unofficial” do-it-yourself camera upgrades.

CHDK is a firmware enhancement, developed by a group of enthusiasts,  that operates on a number of Canon Cameras, typically the small pocket point-and-shoot Canons. CHDK gets loaded into your camera’s memory upon bootup (either manually or automatically). It provides additional functionality beyond that currently provided by the native camera firmware. This includes an intervalometer function that enables the camera to capture an image at set intervals automatically.

We have a three year old Canon Ixus 100IS  that is on the list of suitable cameras for this “enhancement” – so rather tentatively I began to explore.

Essentially, you download the free scripts, written by this group of “hackers”, onto a normal SD card for the camera, just like you do to update your DSLR Firmware. Once the card is in the camera, the software is recognised as an “extra” but is never permanently loaded into the camera memory itself. It can be activated whenever you want to use the extra facilities, but otherwise the camera works as normal.

So, sitting in Nice Airport a couple of days ago looking for something to while away the time, I set up my “enhanced” Canon on a small pocket tripod, set the intervalometer to 2 seconds and let the camera fire away happily for several minutes.

Of course, you are creating a movie which runs at 24 frames a second, so this clip of 15 seconds or so requires around 400 images.

I also learned how to use Adobe Lightroom to adjust these images and turn them into a movie. I did some very basic editing of the images in Lightroom (cropping, colour and contrast), working on one image then applying those same adjustments automatically to the other 399. The Slideshow section of Lightroom will then turn the images into a movie in mp4 format (or similar). Add a soundtrack and here you are.

Not great footage – but it shows the potential. For more interesting and expert examples have a look at the Timescapes website.

Other features which the CHDK scripts will provide include RAW capture (the Canon is only JPG normally), motion detection, bracketing, HDR options and more.

Maybe not for the fainthearted or those with a brand new  camera under warranty, but exciting for those who dare and have an older Canon to experiment with.

Up to now, our Canon Ixus still works just fine and seems to have weathered the experience as much as I have enjoyed it.


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