The Emerging Open Source Camera


Build your own Raspberry Pi powered touchscreen digital camera with interchangeable lenses!


As you look at the photo above, I am sure some of you are thinking … “I have no use for such an odd beast.”

Think again.

A while back, I wrote about what I hope to see when GoPro releases the Hero4 camera later this year. Of the five items listed, the first three are all software solutions which should be relatively simple for GoPro to execute. Sadly, as consumers, all we can do is hope that GoPro listens to such requests or a competitor comes along with a better alternative.

Everyday, technology continues the march towards the “computer with optics” as opposed to the mechanical camera. This evolution makes once difficult shots easier to obtain and opens the doors to new methods of imaging for both motion and stills. However, as a platform, the hardware of the modern camera has not changed much since digital sensors replaced film. Lenses are lenses. They get smaller and lighter but the optics don’t change very noticeably. Sensors gain sensitivity and size, but have not changed much otherwise.

Much of what we think of as advancements in cameras over the the last ten years are really advancement in imaging software. Image stabilization in the lens or body? Software. Video compression? Software? On-board HDR and intervalometer? Software.

I could go on, but you get the picture.

Software is driving most of the innovation in camera technology. The problem is that most of this software lives behind a walled garden of proprietary code bases. Intrepid hackers have delivered unsupported mods like Magic Lantern for Canon DSLRs and MegaLapse for GoPro. However, these hacks void warranties and add complexity to the shooting process, so they are not widely adopted.

Enter SnapPiCam.

Admittedly, SnapPiCam is very high on the geek scale. I don’t expect many of our readers will rush to build their own. And as geeky as I can be, I am still on the fence myself. There already plenty of projects vying for my attention at the moment. Regardless, I will back the SnapPiCam kickstarter.


Projects like SnapPiCam represent a potential sea change in camera software because they are built on an open source platform, wherein lies their real potential. Open source means that anyone can design their own camera and the software to run it. This opens the door to cheaper purpose built cameras like camera traps, beetle cams and aerial drones. It is a platform on which developers can build innovative camera applications … in both form factor and software control … that no one has considered before.

We are still very early in this game. Like all disruptive technology, there will be blind alleys and missteps. But, eventually, a clear leader will emerge and imaging will change dramatically again.

As the open source camera platform emerges and gains popularity, mainstream camera manufacturers are sure to take notice. Ideally, that will lead some manufacturers adopt the open source model themselves. If so, we’ll see independent developers and an app market emerge for camera systems, much like we have seen in the smartphone revolution.

From my creative left brain to my analytical right, I hope the open source camera evolution achieves critical mass. It will it provide shooters interesting new ways to capture the world around them while keeping the camera market vibrant for years to come.

Image Credits: Greg Holloway.

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Doug Daulton

Doug’s career has been invested in leveraging emerging technology to tell stories that interest him and helping others do the same. His work includes ground-breaking, high-profile live streams and independent feature films.

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