Free upgrade to your Canon Point-and-shoot Camera

A quick primer on Digital Cameras:
Most folks who get seriously interested in Photography eventually upgrade to a Digital SLR Camera.  These bulky cameras have a number of features that a cheap point-and-shoot lack:

  • The most obvious difference is the ability to change the lens based on what you are trying to photograph. 
    Some folks make do with a single lens which will be good at everything, but great at nothing.  We carry three lenses at the moment; each is great at something different. (The 10-22 is very wide, the 30mm is fast and sharp, and the 70-200 can zoom and is also very sharp.)
  • One of the other important features of a Digital SLR is that the sensor which gathers light and creates the digital image is comparably large. 
    The sensor of a point-and-shoot is about the size of a tic-tac, whereas the sensor on a SLR is about the size of a postage stamp.  This gathers much more light, and leads to a sharper image with less noise.
  • The last big difference is the ability to shoot in RAW format. 
    Cameras record anywhere from 10-16 bits of information for each pixel in the photo, but when you convert the image to the standard JPEG format, you are limited to 8 bits of information for each color/pixel.  If this conversion occurs in the camera, you get easy to use JPEG files on your memory card, but you cannot go back to the original data if you want to make changes to the brightness or the color balance.  There is no technical reason preventing a cheap camera from saving photos in RAW format, but rather they do not offer this option as it drives sales of higher-end cameras.

So, how do I upgrade my Canon point-and shoot camera?
This is where the hard work of a community of hackers comes in with a program called Canon Hack Development Kit, or CHDC.  They have put together a hack which allows a inexpensive Canon Point-and-Shoot camera to do many things that Canon did not intend.  The most significant new feature is the ability to save yoru photos in RAW format.

I installed their software on my camera and fought through their poorly-designed menus to set it up, but it really works.  I shouldn’t overstate the value of saving RAW images from a low quality camera. There is only a little extra data to work with in these RAW images, and the resulting files are significantly larger than their JPEG counterparts.  The excitement is further weakened by the fact that you have to run a crappy utility (DNG4PS2) on your PC to convert these RAW files into .dng files which are compatible with popular software such as Lightroom.

Update (8:29pm)
I wanted to see if the RAW files from my camera actually contained extended dynamic range compared to the camera JPEG, so I did a quick test.

The images below are crops from an overexposed portion of a photo taken on my Canon SD630.

Image 1. This is a crop from the unmodified in-camera JPEG.
Image 2. I took the in-camera JPEG and decreased the exposure in Lightroom, -4.00
Image 3. This time I applied the same -4.00 exposure to the RAW image.
As you can see, there is definitely additional information in the RAW image which was lost as pure white in the JPEG.

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2 Responses

  1. Ingunn says:

    Hm, this is interesting. Is there any risk (of messing up something or other in the hardware – I don't know how the crap this stuff works) in trying it? We're getting a compact camera and it would be nice to be able to shoot in RAW, especially since we're used to SLR quality photos.

  2. Tom says:

    I doubt you would mess anything up. Th hack is software-only and it boots off the memory card. As such, you can remove the hack by changing memory cards.

    That said, it doesn't make your point an dshoot take SLR quality photos, it just gives you a tiny bit more latitude in post-processing, at a great hassle.

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