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Large Format Camera

Building a digital large format camera

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This project was created on 07/04/2014 and last updated 7 months ago.

After finding the TSL1412 sensor on Mouser I knew immediately I wanted to build my own large format digital camera.

Photography have always been a passion of mine, ever since I got a Nikon 5700 camera in exchange for doing some coding about 10 years ago. 

The heart of this camera is the TAOS TSL1412S sensor. This is a linear array sensor with 1x1536 pixels, each 63.5um square. By scanning the sensor in the focus plane I get a monochrome 4190x1536 image. The physical image size is 138x97mm. These numbers give non-square pixels, but that is easily adjusted in Photoshop.

I use an Arduino Due to A/D convert the image and an EasyDriver drives a stepper motor from ITeadStudio. A 2.2" TFT from Adafruit displays the light meter , settings and the image in progress. It also holds the SD-card.

I take full advantage of the 12 bit A/D in the Due. Using oversampling I can get 15 bits/pixel images.

The focuser is taken from an old film enlarger i found at second hand. I made the bellows myself.

It takes a while to scan the image. In daylight/sunlight I get an image in about two minutes (2ms shutter), but in twilight it takes about 45 minutes (200ms shutter).

I also added an adjusteable delay between each column. This way I can take an image over several hours, for example during sunset/sunrise.

Since a 10x100mm IR filter would probably be quite expensive I opted to skip it, giving near-IR images.

Connected: A Wifi module will hopefully allow me to store the pictures directly to an Android phone, avoiding SD-card latency and making it easier to use. By storing the pictures directly in the DCIM directory on the phone I can take advantage of the phone's connectivity and immediately upload them to the service of my choice.

Open: The source code for this project is released without any licence whatsoever. You are free to use it in any way you like. All drawings I made are published as well. But since most of the hardware is hand-built I don't have many of those. See the links on the left side of the page for source code and drawings.

This project uses the Adafruit_CC3000 library [ Copyright 2013-2014 Limor Fried, Kevin Townsend for Adafruit Industries & Tony DiCola. ]

And the Adafruit_ILI9340 library, slightly modified [ MIT licence, Written by Limor Fried/Ladyada for Adafruit Industries.]

Also the Adafruit_GFX library is used. [ BSD licence, Copyright (c) 2012 Adafruit Industries. ]

First light! It took about two months to get to this point.

A macro image of some flowers during sunset. Image is scanned from right-to-left.

An image from a mountaintop near where I live.


Project logs
  • Blowing up the apple

    7 months ago • 0 comments

    Here is a higher resolution version of the apple picture from the video:

  • New focus screen is ready

    7 months ago • 0 comments

    The new focus screen is hinged in the bottom and a lot more solid than my earlier attempt. 

    Also it is adjustable, something I found out is necessary. The tolerance needed to get a good focus is a lot less than 1mm.

  • WiFi module

    8 months ago • 0 comments

    Success! WiFi module is working and connects to AP!

    Running all three external devices on the same SPI bus caused some trouble. After a lot of debugging I found out that the CC3000 and the ILI9340 TFT uses different SPI modes, plus the CC3000 library uses an SPI interrupt. The quick-and-dirty fix was to add this to each driver function in Adafruit_ILI9340.cpp:



      // function code



    The elegant fix would be to take advantage of the SAM3X's enhanced SPI capabilities to select the correct mode and speed automatically when accessing different devices on the same bus, but then I would have to rewrite all three libraries.

View all 5 project logs


oeylinux wrote 2 months ago point

Really nice project! What is the F-stop on the lens?

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jimmy.c.alzen wrote 2 months ago point

Thank you :) The lens is 140mm f/3.2.

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Matt wrote 7 months ago point
Hey Jimmy, maybe this UV/IR filter would work for you? Don't know your filter thread but maybe you can find the right one for that lens.

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jimmy.c.alzen wrote 7 months ago point
Yeah that would work. Well there is no filter thread on my old dia projector lens..

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Jasmine wrote 8 months ago point
Hello Jimmy, now is the time to add a few more details to your project to give it the best chance of going through to the next round of The Hackaday Prize.

By August 20th you must have the following info on your project page:
- A video. It should be less than 2 minutes long describing your project. Put it on YouTube (or Youku), and add a link to it on your project page. This is done by editing your project (edit link is at the top of your project page) and adding it as an "External Link"
- At least 4 Project Logs
- A system design document. Please highlight it in the project details so we can find it easily.
- Links to code repositories, and remember to mention any licenses or permissions needed for your project. For example, if you are using software libraries you need to document that information in the details.

You should also try to highlight how your project is 'Connected' and 'Open' in the details and video.

There are a couple of tutorial video's with more info here:

Good luck!

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matt.a.thurman wrote 8 months ago point
for the exposure, what if you put a spring loaded screen such that the due would only have to fire once and the mechanics of the spring would control the shutter speed? you could rig it up to a mechanism that would tighten/loosen the spring to control shutter speed.

just a thought, not sure how feasible that is.

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rifo wrote 9 months ago point
Hello, I have checked the datasheet of TSL1412. It says 1536 x 1 Linear Sensor Array with hold. In a similar project I saw a TCD132D 1024x1 Linear Image Sensor being used.
What is the difference between a linear sensor array and a linear image sensor
they seem to have different inputs
thanks for your help

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jimmy.c.alzen wrote 9 months ago point
As far as I can tell the sensors are very similar electronically. The TCD132 is harder to use since it needs two clocks, and it is a lot smaller with 14mm active area.

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rijrunner wrote 9 months ago point
Looks interesting. Have been thinking about doing something like this since I heard about Adam Magyar.. He shoots a very similar system from cars or subways..

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S Kilian wrote 9 months ago point
For replaceable apertures, I've liked the LensBaby method of replacing aperture cutouts: a ring magnet around the lens opening and a mildly magnetic paper that likes to just fit itself in the circular front opening.

no idea if it's a patented paper or if it is something that is easy to get in other sizes.

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jimmy.c.alzen wrote 9 months ago point
Yeah magnets would work great, I just thought it would be better to have the aptertures behind the lens instead of infront. My thinking is that you get less vignetting this way. Well it doesnt matter if it is patented to me since it is only for personal use and I live in Sweden, where lawsuits are a lot less common.

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Felix L. Esser wrote 9 months ago 1 point
Hi Jimmy, I came across your project on DIY photography on would like to report on it for a major US photography website (I'm a freelance tech journalist.) How can I best get in touch with you? Thanks!

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jimmy.c.alzen wrote 9 months ago point
Contact me on my hackaday name at gmail dot com :)

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LeoM wrote 9 months ago point
Hi !
Great project, I'm developping myself an SLR camera and this could be a great feature to adapt to it and make an DSLR ! ^^
You can have a look to my project here :
Fell free to contact me.

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Comedicles wrote 9 months ago point
There was a group some years ago that started a World wide network of small units with a linear array and a camera lens - about like a 200mm lens on a 35mmm camera. The idea was to get a full sky image every 24 hours that was continuously updated. The project kind of decayed as good DSLR for astronomy came along and the members were on to better things.

Have you thought about centering the array and not moving it as you scan a slow moving train? I think that would be pretty cool.

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dcgill wrote 9 months ago point
I see your point however whether or not the device is tracked will depend on the maximum exposure time the CCD can accept which may be MORE than that achieved just by allowing the sky to pass across it!

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jimmy.c.alzen wrote 9 months ago point
You are right about that. I did some calculations and using the 140mm lens, field-of-view is 38 degrees giving 2.5 hours vertical. Going horizontal we have 2.9 hours. Four times oversample at 5kHz (4*310ms) = 2.8 hours. I think 1.2 seconds total exposure is a bit on the low side. It's doubtful I will see much at that exposure, escpecially considering I have no gain circuit on the CCD output.

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DusteD wrote 9 months ago point
That is beautiful! Very interesting idea! :)

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jimmy.c.alzen wrote 9 months ago point
Thanks! Much appreciated!

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OiD wrote 9 months ago point
It's a very elegant project. Congrats on getting it working smoothly!
I recently bought a Due and a 5" display and one of the thing I have wanted to build for a while is a scanning camera.
Why not use an external faster ADC? Or use sample and hold with multiple adcs?

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jimmy.c.alzen wrote 9 months ago point
That would certainly be possible, but I like to keep things simple wherever I can. It took only a few days to code up the arduino code using the built-in A/D.

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Jasmine wrote 9 months ago point
Hello Jimmy, your project has been featured over on

I know you have just created the project, but it would be great if you could explain the 'connected' aspect of your project in more detail. It will really help the judges when they come to review it.

Your images are beautiful. Keep up the great work.

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jimmy.c.alzen wrote 9 months ago 1 point
Well it isn't very connected, right now. Except maybe in a more abstract sense. This is the first project I have put up on the Internet, and the response has been fantastic! I feel a lot more connected now :) Thank you everyone for the feedback!

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dcgill wrote 9 months ago 1 point
Have you any details on the cameras performance in starlight conditions? It may be a great place to start on a long exposure, wide field, star capture device if coupled to a tracking telescope mount.

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jimmy.c.alzen wrote 9 months ago point
Well it is a thing I have planned to try. The thing is, you dont need a tracking mount. You don't even have to move the sensor. I can just store image columns and let the sky rotate past the sensor.

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