These days, spur of the moment memories will probably be captured for posterity (or Facebook) using a smartphone camera, but there are still a few of us who prefer to carry a compact camera around. If your interest in photography extends to learning what goes on under the hood of a modern camera, however, options are limited, and will likely void any warranties should you take the DIY route. The Bigshot camera has been developed precisely with inquisitive youngsters and aging tinkerers in mind. It's shipped as a self-build kit that includes everything needed to make a fully working camera, by following step-by-step online instructions.

The brainchild of Columbia University Professor of Computer Science Shree K Nayar, the Bigshot camera was inspired by a 2004 documentary project that put cameras into the hands of the children of prostitutes from Sonagchi, Calcutta, providing a unique snap shot of life in the city's red light district while the kids learned new skills.

Concept sketches in 2006 depict a box-shaped device fronted by a lens wheel that was also home to different-sized viewfinder windows, and sporting a crank to the side to provide emergency power in the event of a dead battery.

Early prototypes were created and tested with the help of students from the Computer Vision Laboratory, who also played a part in building the first version of the website. Children from New York, Bangalore (India), Vung Tai (Vietnam), and Tokyo (Japan) aged between 8 and 14 years received the first few hundred pre-production cameras for evaluation, with the makers using feedback to tweak and refine future iterations.

In 2011, Nayar founded a startup called Kimera, LLC to get Bigshot into the hands of students and teachers worldwide. The market-ready camera kit is now being manufactured under license by Hong Kong's EduScience, and sold in the US by Elenco Electronics Inc. for just US$89 each. A slice of the sales money received by Kimera is used to supply free kits to children in poor communities around the world.

With Bigshot, users are given the opportunity to gain some knowledge of the science of modern photography, while also learning about optics, electronics, and image processing. The website is home to picture-based, walk-through build instructions, supplementary information on each component and process, lesson ideas for educators, tips for taking snaps, and even the odd quiz or two.

At the end of the build project, users will have a fully-functional, 129 x 72 x 40 mm (5 x 2.8 x 1.6 in) point-and-shoot camera. This features a 3-megapixel sensor, enough internal storage for about 120 photos in the JPEG image format, a built-in LED flash module, and a small (1.4-inch) LCD display that shows information about the setup, and caters for playback of snaps.

The Bigshot is supplied with a Li-Pol battery that's charged via USB, and has a hand crank to the side that provides the battery with enough juice for one photo, in about seven rotations.

The lens wheel out front offers three image capture choices, allowing users to explore panoramics, stereoscopic images and wide-angle shots. There's a mode dial on top for control of camera settings and operation, or to use the included timer function, and users can frame up a shot by looking through the viewfinder, or by sizing up the image on the display.

Each kit comes with a small screwdriver, a pair of old school 3D glasses, and some Windows/Mac imaging software. The Kimera team reports that it's currently exploring ways to add new features to the Bigshot camera, while also looking at developing other self-build gadgets.

An overview video of the Bigshot camera can be seen below.

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