Photographers looking to create High Dynamic Range images in the field have traditionally been faced with heavy equipment and the lack of user controls offered by digital SLR cameras. HDR Labs took a Nintendo DS gaming device, created a custom camera interface, loaded on some innovative imaging apps and the Open Camera Control Project was born. The open source, DIY controller puts powerful image processing control right in the palm of your hand.

High Dynamic Range Imaging (HDRI) is a technique to really bring photographic images to life by merging multiple shots taken at different exposures, resulting in real-world color and luminance, rather than that deemed proper for paper or digital display. With some cameras limiting bracketed exposures to just three shots when some scenes call for five, seven, nine or even 11 (or more) exposure variations, a team of professional photographers decided to go about creating a flexible and truly portable HDRI solution.

Open source freedom

The Open Camera Control Project team were sitting around on a movie set waiting for their call to action and decided to pick up a Nintendo DS for a spot of Mario Karting when the inspirational thunderbolt struck. Being pocket-sized and designed to be tough, the DS was the perfect candidate for the creation of the Open Camera Controller (OCC). The team then set about writing some software and creating a camera/DS interface.

A circuit board was designed which would be home to a microcontroller, a 16MHz resonator, a couple of diodes, a couple of resistors and a couple of optical isolation chips. After creating some coded instructions for the microcontroller to place the camera's shutter release under DS control, a wired shutter release cable was sacrificed to provide the necessary interface wiring, which then joined the rest of the party on the custom circuit board. The next step was to seek out a large Game Boy Advance cartridge to house the new interface, open it up, strip out the game board and slip in the custom board.

The interface card slots into the DS and the other end of the cable uses the camera’s remote shutter release cable port. A number of apps, including the original prime application for extending Auto Exposure Bracketing, have been developed for the OCC, which will require a slight modification to the DS. The source code is freely available for users to tinker with and produce new and innovative camera control apps, which can then be shared with the wider community.

Just the start

The whole modification process and circuit schematics are detailed on the OCC pages of HDR Labs' website allowing anyone to create a user-programmable computer operating system for their digital SLR camera, "with such an option, one could add the ability to control the camera in situations that the manufacturer hasn't preconceived". HDR Labs also states that the microcontroller can be connected to "GPS, accelerometers, tilt sensors, web servers, and more. It is even possible to add more extensive USB based camera control using the PTP protocol".

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