One of the best things about today’s digital cameras is that many models can be hacked by software engineers who write new “firmware” that adds features and functions. I got familiar with this with my first digital SLR a few years ago, when I added a firmware hack to my Canon Rebel that gave me features only cameras several times the price had.
I don’t carry my big SLR on most backcountry trips, but favor a point-and-shoot such as the Canon A640 I’m using these days. Problem with such “P&S” cameras is that their feature set is frequently a “POS,” as the saying goes. Thus, I’d always wondered if the brain trust out there in hacker land was working on hacks for the cheaper point-and-shoots.
Sure enough, the other day someone reminded me that indeed some excellent hacks are available for the Canon A series cameras. So I browsed over to a Wiki the hackers have set up and installed their firmware hack in my A640.
It’s not an understatement to say this stuff is amazing. Check the website for the full feature set, but a brief list of stuff I find useful, if not essential:
– Exposure histogram that displays during exposure check, and is customizable. (Before hack, to view exposure histogram for a planned shot you have to take a test photo.)
– Option to shoot photos as RAW instead of Jpeg.
– Depth of field and hyperfocal distance calculator.
– Battery voltage.
– File browser and text file reader (for files on SD card, such as a list of photography tips or a route description you downloaded).
– Games (Trapped at a photo shoot waiting for your model to show up? No more boredom.)
There is much much more than that, and sure, some of those things can be found in certain P&S cameras, but to get that whole feature set in one place, along with Canon’s usual menu of excellent options — incredible!
The other cool thing about this hack is that it doesn’t write over the camera’s existing firmware, but rather adds to it. And if you want the camera totally clean of any hack evidence (i.e, for warranty return) you just erase a few files from your SD card and take out the batteries for a total reset back to default.
About the only downside is that the hack menus appear in fairly small text and are thus difficult to view in bright light. But the hack offers options for font size and color, and perhaps that’ll work to improve the menus. In all, worth a look if you own a Canon A series camera and are serious about shooting high quality photos.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.