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The Canon Powershot Camera: A Hackers Paradise

Imagine programming your thrift store point and shoot camera to do things no other inexpensive camera can do. Take time lapses, star trail photos, and far more. I’m not talking about raspberry pi’s or arduinos. Instead, I thought it would be neat to show you all my favorite camera in the world. It’s not a particular model, but rather a series: The Canon Powershot. By the end of this post you’ll have an idea why it is that when I see a Canon PowerShot for a good price, I buy it. Let me explain.

The Canon PowerShot A530

In the mid 2000’s, our family purchased our first digital camera, the 5.1MP Canon PowerShot A530. It was a fantastic camera that we always enjoyed using. It took great macro photos (something I the PowerShot cameras excel at) and had a great 4x optical zoom.

One day in 2010 I found out about a thing called the Canon Hack Development Kit (CHDK). With this software, I could do things like make the camera take pictures automatically or do long term exposures, or any number of things that the stock firmware wouldn’t allow for. No modification to the camera is required, and it’s completely reversible, since the software only lives on the SD card.

Image sourced from eBay or some other place. This was a GREAT camera.

Using Lua, a scripting language that’s used by CHDK, I could write software to do pretty much whatever I wanted, within the cameras limitations. I’m not much of a coder, but many people had put together great scripts that could be used and modified as needed. Using one of these scripts (an intervalometer) and an external battery pack that I built, I was able to make the following videos. Skip below for the rest of the article:

The Canon PowerShot A470

Eventually the camera stopped working. The Canon’s are great, but once you capture several hundred thousand photos, things just stop working right. The camera died, and I replaced it with another: The Canon Powershot A470. I bought it from a seller on Craigslist around 2012, and paid only $45. For a 7.1MP camera I considered this a great deal. I took more time lapses with this camera, and built a small power supply for it. Poor construction of the power supply led to the camera getting a full 12V instead of the regulated 3.15V needed, and it died a quick but quiet death. Oops. Here are some of my favorite pictures taken with the A470:

The Canon PowerShot A700

With the A470 dead, I didn’t really have a camera. I used my wifes A1100IS now and then, but seeing as how it is hers I didn’t do anything fancy with it except take pictures. This changed recently with the purchase of a Canon A700 that I found at a GoodWill store. Before I tell you about it, let me show you some pictures that I’ve taken with it.

What excites me the most about the A700 is that it takes amazing photos for being a camera that was released in 2006. It’s got 6x optical zoom and is 6MP. It takes wonderful photos, despite not being the latest 20MP monstrosity. What is also amazing is that the camera cost me $8 at GoodWill. Eight Dollars. It’s fully capable of running CHDK, too! If you’re looking for a more modern Canon Powershot that can take large SDHC cards (the A700 maxes out at 2GB SD cards) then I can’t recommend the Canon PowerShot ELPH 180 enough. I purchased an ELPH 180 for my daughter, and it takes absolutely stunning photos. Click the link below for more information about that camera:

You can tell I really love these cameras, and if photography is your thing, you will too. 73!

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