With the sad news that Orford Ness lighthouse will be demolished, here are a few 360 photos I took with a borrowed Ricoh Theta S when visiting the site on a tour organised by the Orford Ness Lighthouse Trust in 2016.
Orford Ness lighthouse has stood on this site since Napoleonic times, finally being decommissioned in 2013 following erosion which made the structure unsafe – since then the site has been owned and run by the Trust who are now supervising the demolition and preservation of the light’s artifacts.
I’ve linked to these images on momento 360 – they should work in a browser but also using VR goggles.
First is the exterior, showing the Oil Store building and outside entrance. You can see the sausage bags placed to attempt to control the retreat of the coastline.
Next is the entrance to the Lighthouse – on the beach behind me is the remains of one of the buildings that was used to test RADAR in the 1930s.
Ground floor interior. Originally there were two lightouse keeper cottages, and this is reflected in the double staircase.
Up the stairs. Quite steep and I’m not great with heights.
Onto the landing – the green and red windows were used as navigational aids for the river Alde.
And finally onto the top. The light mechanism which sat in four tonnes of mercury was removed when the lighthouse was decommissioned in 2013. You can see behind my head the two communication tubes which connected to the two lighthouse keeper cottages outside.
Thank you to the Orford Ness Lighthouse Trust for the tour. I do hope one day that their dream to rebuild this iconic lighthouse closer to Orford could one day be realised.
Here’s version 1 of the Holga Raspberry Pi Camera – a hackable, programable camera with a 5 megapixel sensor and HD video capabilities, in retro camera form.
My original concept was to do something like this:
And I managed to build something like this:
The Holga is an ultra-cheap medium format camera – if you shop around you can get one for about £15-20 – the model I used for this was the Holga Camera 120N (120 N) (Plastic Lens / Hot Shoe) with the Raspberry Pi Model A – although with a bit of modification it would work with the larger model B. Potentially by soldering the power supply and USB directly to the Pi you could make this a slimmer fit, but I wanted something that didn’t modify the Pi in any way.
The model A Pi fits quite well – you just have to remote the 2 plastic struts inside the case, and peel off the foam that secures the film reels inside the case. I had to remove the plastic panels that enclosed what would have been the flash (my Holga came without one). I cut up a cheap USB extension cable to mount on the top of the camera – and to plug into the side of the Pi. In order to make it fit with the right angled micro USB on the other side I needed to solder and make my own USB cable (you’ll need the shortest USB plug available – I used a poundland retractable USB cable as the source for mine).
If you don’t want to bother with the soldering you could probably just drill holes in either side of the case – there is room, and the plastic is easy to cut through.
I also added a couple of plastic struts to locate the Pi in place – it’s a snug fit so doesn’t rattle around inside the case.
With the Pi removed you can see how it sits in the camera:
The yellow wires go to the flash hotshoe – the green to the trigger button on the side of the lens housing, and the red to the power button.
The camera module sits inside the lens with the ribbon cable carefully wrapping around the board and over to the socket – I experimented with Sugru to hold the camera board in place (which would work) but wanted it to be removable, so opted to cut up a piece of spare plastic and drill a hole for the module to peek through – it’s a fairly firm push fit which holds it in place. The lens can still be rotated a little to make it easy to level the Pi camera.
For the power switch I used the same circuit as for the Motorola Lapdock, and added it to the lens mount. I’ve also added a press button on the other side to use to take photos – this will be (eventually) wired to the GPIO.
Despite it’s cheapness the case feels solid – most of the modifications could be done with a sharp craft knife, apart from a few places where the plastic was thicker or I needed to make holes and a dremel was needed. There’s a lot of empty space inside this case so plenty of room to add things later (I wanted to add a speaker and a few other outputs and inputs, so will do later..)
Overall this was a fun project – all the messy cables and glue are neatly hidden (I went a bit overboard on the glue gun when soldering my USB extension cable) and the case was fairly easy to work with.
The case also has a nice screw mount for a tripod – handy for securing the Pi with camera to things.
Making it more than ‘just a camera’
Replicating a simple Camera with the Pi and Holga (HolgaPi? Piga?) would be a bit boring so my aim with this project is to provide a nice case with the possibility of extending it beyond what I could achieve with a normal compact camera.
At the moment the GPIO isn’t connected to the shutter button or flash trigger – i’ll do this next and write up the method in another blog post.
Things to do:
Think of a name
Calibrate the viewfinder
Write / find some code to make the camera operate over a network. As it lacks a screen the idea of putting all the camera controls into a web app makes sense
Add an LED indicator to the viewfinder
Add a speaker and think of some sound effects for the camera to make
Make use of the flash hotshoe (I’m thinking of using an opto-isolator for this, as some flashes have high trigger voltages running through them)
Add some more inputs – this could make the basis of a camera trap. Would be fairly easy to make this rainproof. As it is it would work with a Makey Makey…
Write some code to make the GPIO stuff work. I’m relying on this blog post to learn how.
Spray it red / green to match with the Pi look, neaten up the lens mount where the glue has discoloured the plastic
Investigate batteries or solar power
See if I can add a filter mount
Send a detailed proposal to the Lomo people to ask them to make a modified Holga case for the Raspberry Pi
CHDK – the Canon Hack Development Kit is a very neat bit of software that allows you to add lots of new and exciting features to Canon compact cameras, and is something I’ve been wanting to try out for ages.
I’ve been on the lookout for a cheap as chips digital camera for a while now, with the purpose of using it for things like underwater photography / space program / CHDK hacking. I was able to buy a nice PowerShot A480 for about £30 on ebay (they’re about £100 new on Amazon). It’s small, light, and works off AA batteries – although is a bit fussy about what type of AA battery it takes (prefers NiMh). Imagine a box brownie type camera for the noughties – cheap and super simple to use.
The A480 has a ten megapixel sensor and was launched in 2009 – although newer cameras are now in the 14 megapixel+ range a lot of this is besides the point since lens quality starts to become a limiting factor. It even has a 3.3 zoom, although with a camera like this it’s generally easier to take a few steps forward. It’s still infinitely better than the camera in my mobile phone.
CHDK is a download that sits on the SD card in the camera – the software loads off the SD card when you switch the camera on. It sits fairly neatly alongside the existing camera firmware (you can still access all your normal menus), and if you switch to an SD card without CHDK your camera reverts to it’s default state.
There’s a really easy to follow guide on the CHDK website – the only hitch I encountered was having to use a loader script since I’m using a mac – other than that everything worked smoothly.
The difference it’s made to the camera is incredible – it can shoot in RAW format, and you have complete control over aperture, exposure, ISO and a whole load of more advanced things like colour balance and flash power. There’s a huge array of settings to discover and play around with, but for me the real killer feature is the scripts.
Accessed through CHDK you load a script from the Scripting parameters -> load script from file menus, and then run the script by hitting the shutter button whilst the <alt> text is displayed. I did a bit of experimenting with the time lapse script and created the animation below.
This is the sort of movie camera functionality that I always dreamed of when I was little – back then the only option was cine film / video, and even with that it wasn’t really in the budget of a 10 year old. It’s a blurry first attempt, but I’m quite into creating doodles.
CHDK alone is a really good reason to invest in a simple Canon compact, and although the site comes with lots of disclaimers, as I’m sure it voids warranties / Canon will come and hunt you down etc etc it’s a fairly easy way to dip your toe into the world of hardware hacking. Long may it continue!