Dakota Digital Camera

Okay, so Ritz Camera is selling a $11 digital camera at some of their stores. The catch is, of course, that you have to bring it back to Ritz and pay them $11 to get the pictures out.. and you don’t get to keep the camera (“it’s disposable”).

This, of course, hasn’t stopped some intrepid people from hacking the camera and putting instructions online to read the contents of the camera. In fact, the software is quite functional, even if the camera has some limitations.

The Camera

First, a little about the camera itself. From all outward appearances, it looks like a normal disposable camera. It comes in a bubble-card package, and at least at the Ritz I purchased it from, they were next to the cash register. They cost $10.99 (plus, of course, tax).

Upon opening the package, you will quickly discover that it’s a pretty cheaply constructed device, with a plastic lens and a little LCD display on the back to tell you how many photos you have remaining and battery life. It uses two “AA” batteries (provided). It has a flash (although, as I observed, it’s a pretty pathetic flash).

My first impressions of the camera were mixed. I had heard that the quality of the camera’s pictures left something to be desired, and physically examining the camera did not dispel any misgivings I might have had about it. But, I decided to hack on!

I took a couple of pictures with the camera, and then Technopagan and I started digging in.

Hacking the Camera

(technopagan’s disassembly instructions go here)

How Is It As A Camera?

Being a bit of a photo geek, I was immediately interested in how it worked as a camera. Immediately after hacking it, we took the camera out for a bit of a drive around Orange to see what it could do. I’ve placed most of the pictures from the experimentation process here.

The first thing I noticed was that the camera is VERY contrast-heavy and the color is a bit saturated. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in a consumer camera: in some ways, I kinda like the look of the pictures it takes. It would never do for something professional, but for taking pictures at Disneyland on a nice sunny day it would certainly be good enough.

Also, being a fixed focus camera, it just doesn’t do closeups at all. Hyperfocus happens at about 4 feet in my experience.. well, maybe five really… so forget about taking pictures of small stuff for eBay. However, my camera was razor sharp past the hyperfocus range.. seemingly to infinity (as you’d expect).

Another limitation I noted is that the camera is optically “slow”. As you can see if you browse around the pictures directory, there are a lot of blurry shots, mostly because of camera movement.


More Later..

Like most projects, this thing is a work in progress. Expect more here later as I come up with it.

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