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Turning a broken digital camera into a Time Lapse camera

All > Tech > Inventions > Turning a broken digital camera into a Time Lapse camera by natetrue
I must admit I loved my Konica Minolta DiMAGE x50 camera. When the screen broke on it I was very saddened - though I moved on to a customized Kodak V570, I figured the old camera might still be useful.

For a couple of months my old camera sat on my desk, staring into my soul with its beady little lens. I knew it was no good for interactive photography any more since its screen was quite broken.

So what's the least interactive kind of photography you can get? That's right! Time lapse!

For those not in the know, time lapse photography constructs a video from pictures taken at long intervals, causing very slow motion to speed up to something appreciable.

Normally you need a very expensive camera and remote timer rig combo to do time lapse photography, but today you will learn how to make one out of a broken digital camera (worthless), a handful of electronic parts ($6), and a few hours of your time (priceless?).

If you want to follow along, there are plenty of broken cameras on eBay (search for "digital camera as-is").

Step 1 is taking apart your camera. Don't be afraid - it's already broken, right? Well be careful. You don't want to break anything else in there. What you're looking for is a couple contact points that will help you control the camera with external electronics. Every camera is different - this one has a power switch that's triggered by opening the front lens cover, and a two-stage focus/snap shutter button.
The switch here labeled S5452 is the two-stage focus and shutter switch. You know the deal, one click focuses, the other takes the photo. We need wires to two of these terminals - I ran wires to all four so I could test what voltage levels I'd need to activate the camera.
I then removed one because some multimeter testing showed that it wasn't connected to anything. On this particular camera the bottom lead was the 'common' lead tied to ground, and the other two were inputs that would be activated if connected to ground.
The next two wires connect to a connector that runs to a ribbon cable that runs to the lens cover switch on the front of the camera. When the two wires are crossed together the camera will turn on. When they get disconnected the camera turns off. Simple!
Reassemble the camera and run the wires to a convenient place so they all exit the camera in an orderly fashion. If you're smart you also ran wires from the battery to power the time lapse module. I spaced on that part. That's why the time lapse module has its own battery. Also smart people would have used color coding for the wires.
Then, uh, assemble the time lapse module. You'll need a fair bit of electronics skill for this - all digital cameras are different and will have different needs at this point.

I went with a PIC16LF628 microcontroller here for its low power consumption and the fact that I have a lot of them on hand from the lucid dreaming mask kits. I also used a similar program to run the time-lapse module, since they have similar program requirements - waiting a long time then doing something.

All of the button inputs on my camera needed to be pulled to ground in order to be activated, so I used a 1k resistor (to prevent any possible damage to the camera) and then a diode (cathode toward PIC, also to protect camera) to the PIC's output.

The program is simple - wait 30 seconds, pull power pin low, wait 1 second (this camera has a fast startup time), pull focus pin low, wait 2 seconds (this camera can be slow to focus sometimes), pull shutter pin low, wait 1 second, release all buttons. Then it repeats itself.

Once that's built it's all up to you. Point the camera at something interesting, turn on the time lapse module, and let it go! Check out the video from a burning down candle:

I also want to add buttons in the future so I can change the delay between pictures without reflashing the PIC every time. That will be coming soon too.

That's all for now! Check out my other creations too!

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Posted by jesse 8 years ago ( 25-Jan-2007 13:54:07 )

Awwww sweeeeet! I cant wait to steal this from you and train it on flowers blooming and banana peels rotting and peaches getting moldy and pike place martets emptying, and clouds zooming and hotels being build and maybe Ill screw it to your head and watch your hair grow.

Posted by mbrngrboy 8 years ago ( 26-Jan-2007 12:18:17 )

Can you post a diagram of the picbasic on the protype board?

Posted by madeline 8 years ago ( 01-Jun-2007 19:42:59 )

Hey, I found this blog while looking for something like "taking apart konica"... It's the best thing I've seen so far for practical repair info. Like you, I loved my Konica (KD-500Z), but it started becoming less and less likely turn on when I moved the lens cover back, until now it does not ever open out and become a camera. I suspect fine leather dust from a purse it was in gummed up the works, but after blowing it out with an aircan duster, still no go. But it still works to review photos (the only non-camera function), so I feel it's still alive in there...

Anyway, how did you identify which circuits and so forth were involved in the lens cover switch and the power switch?

And I've been having trouble getting the rear part of the camera's shell off. The front part was only held on with screws around the edge, and the rear part had screws around the edge and one in the center back, but when I try to pull it off it seems stuck around the top. Is the screw I can't reach deep in the battery chamber likely to be the culprit, or do you think I should just try to muscle it?

What you've done here with the time-lapse thing is really neat. Congratulations!

Posted by natetrue 8 years ago ( 01-Jun-2007 20:17:50 )

Hi Madeline,

Hopefully the front will be all you need, if you can see where the lens cover switch is located. When I'm removing a shell that's stuck like that, I like to pull on it ever so lightly and watch how the shell bends. If you watch very closely you will see what parts of the shell are free to move and what parts are bound - from there you can locate what's holding it back and hopefully identify what's keeping it there. With my X50 I had to do a lot of that; many parts were just inexplicably caught together.

Best of luck with repairing your camera!


Posted by javapda 8 years ago ( 13-Sep-2007 23:12:03 )

Great job! You amaze me Mr. True.

Hey, so, do the images remain in the camera? If so, how do you do the transfer? Is there a way to do something similar where you have the camera connected via USB and periodically upload the images from the file system?

I have some old (ancient actually) cam-corders and was wondering if something could similarly be accomplished. One of these devices has the color-lcd cracked, so interactive use is all guess work :-)

Thanks again for the terriffic post.

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