The Raspberry Pi camera module has allowed DIYers to build their own cameras for shooting photos and videos. But the finished cameras tend to be basic point-and-shoots. What if you want to build and hack a camera that’s a bit more sophisticated, namely the ability to change lenses? That’s the concept behind the SnapPiCam.
The SnapPiCam is based on an open-source prototype created by Gregory Holloway. He developed his camera after having read a tutorial on how to create a Raspberry Pi camera with a touchscreen. Holloway evolved the camera to one that could be self-powered and accept different lenses. He entered the camera into Instructables.com’s Raspberry Pi contest, and took first place. Because it’s a Raspberry Pi Open Hardware and Open Software project, Holloway plans to make the build tutorial available for all, which you can read more about here. But if you aren’t as confident in your technical ability, Holloway is running a SnapPiCam Kickstarter funding campaign to develop SnapPiCam kits that are easy to put together using basic tools.
There are four SnapPiCam kits available. All come with a Raspberry Pi Model A mini computer board, a Raspberry Pi 5-megapixel camera module, laser-cut body materials, battery and charger, and other components that you piece all together. You can add an optional USB Wi-Fi dongle to upload files to Dropbox, and there are ports for HDMI, analog video, and microphone. The lens mount works with magnetic lenses, such as the ones made for smartphones, and each model comes with either a 0.67x wide/macro lens or a 180-degree fish-eye lens. The basic Compact model includes everything mentioned except an LCD (we’re not sure how you’re suppose to view an image). The Adventure model does include a 2.8-inch LCD touchscreen, as well as a few other things like a tripod mount SD card. The MegaZoom kit throws in a 4x-12x Variable MegaZoom lens with manual focus, while the MegaZoom Plus Kit includes a 2x Zoom Magnetic Telephoto Lens and a 6x-18x MegaZoom Plus lens with manual focus. If you make the highest pledge, Hollway will hand-assemble a MegaZoom Plus Kit for you. Holloway, however, doesn’t mention who makes the lenses, where he sources them from, or where you can buy them, should you decide to add new lenses; it appears, from the images, the 4x-12x lens is made by an unfamiliar company called Khama, and designed to extend the focal range of smartphones, so we are presume you could get a magnetic lens from the likes of Photojojo.
The SnapPiCam starts at £99 (approximately $167) for the Compact kit, although you can pledge less and just opt for the laser-cut parts and purchase the Raspberry Pi components on your own. Of course, you can purchase a fully built camera that offers a much higher-resolution image than the 5-megapixel SnapPiCam (and probably a better build quality that’s been tested), but the point of the project is it offers some fun to those who like to tinker with their gadgets. Plus, being that Raspberry Pi can be hacked, you could program it to do what you want – with the benefit of an interchangeable lens. If an improved Raspberry Pi Camera Module comes out in the future, you could most likely upgrade this camera as well. Will it replace your DSLR? Probably not, but you can brag that you built it.
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There’s 25 days left in the Kickstarter campaign, although Holloway has only raised a little over £6,500, well short of his £40,000 goal (as of this writing). There’s still time, but even if the campaign never comes to fruition, you could study Holloway’s published tutorial and make one on your own, as many of the components can be purchased on their own, but it’d be a more involved process.