Sunday, March 5, 2023



Circuit bending digital cameras has been a love of mine over the past decade or so. I recently picked up a new camera at the thrift store, and it reminded me that I really need to do a write up on it. 
In the mid 2000's, about the same time I started circuit bending my first Casio SK-1, I was really obsessed with this key chain camera I had. It had extremely low resolution and frame rate, and no display, but it could take video clips, and if you really abused the auto white balance, you could get the camera to glitch a few frames. At the time I thought this was the greatest thing I had ever seen! A few years later, my circuit bending skills had come a long way. I was the proud owner of a pocket oscilloscope, and I was using it on just about everything I could get my hands on. My little key chain camera revealed a lot about how it worked while probing the data pins with the camera set up as a PC cam. I noticed that the data signals coming from the CMOS sensor would change when I passed my hand in front of the lens. I did my best to short the data pins with tiny pieces of wire, and was instantly blown away with the results. The glitches were like huge bursts of color patterns made from the original image. It was pretty obvious why this happens. The data from the sensor is simply misread by the processor chip, and all of the incoming image data is mixed up. Different combinations of shorted pins give different colors and intensities. This was my first circuit bent camera, and needless to say, it didn't last very long. Thankfully, cheap digital cameras are not hard to find these days. They are practically free, and nicer older models are very affordable. I spent many years collecting and looking for the perfect digital camera for circuit bending. For a while, my ideal camera was any small point and shoot camera with a CMOS sensor. It had to be CMOS because they have the data pins in parallel straight from the sensor. CCD sensors did not(or so I thought). The ideal camera also had to have lower resolution; usually no more than 5MP. I found quite a few models that worked great, but each had their own flaws. What I really wanted to find was a camera with a "live view" viewfinder. Unfortunately those are usually reserved for nicer cameras, and nicer cameras use CCD image sensors. Years later I decided to have another try at CCD sensor cameras,and I'm glad I did. I had an old Canon that was half broken. I found a service manual for it, and in the schematic I noticed an analog to digital converter chip between the CCD image sensor and the image processor.. Could it be? Parallel data lines? Yes! Not only that but there were solderable test pads for all of the pins on the circuit board. I tested the pins with my oscilloscope, and they were just like what I would find coming from the CMOS sensors. I carefully soldered 0.1mm enamel wire to the test points and led them out through the case to a micro switch circuit board cut from my CNC. This was my first circuit bent CCD camera! Both CMOS and CCD cameras are amazing when they are circuit bent. CMOS camera glitches tend to be brighter and bolder and make your images seem more minimal and impressionistic. This pairs really well with a manual zoom security camera lens for focusing out on the image. CCD cameras excel at pretty much everything else. I tend to look for older flagship point and shoot cameras because while their resolution isn't quite as high as modern standards, the optics and user interface are top quality for the era. My go-to's have been canon and Panasonic. Each has their advantages and flaws. I learned the hard way that there was a brief time in the early 2000's when one company was making all of the image sensors for everyone, and they all went bad, so there are a lot of used cameras out there that work fine, except they don't take pictures and never will again because they can't be fixed. Consider this when looking for a used camera from the early 2000's. One BIG advantage to Canon cameras is that many of them are compatible with CHDK which opens up even more potential!

Ok, so  some thing things to mention on the "HOW"..
Modding cameras is easy in theory, but is actually pretty difficult, and could potentially be dangerous. Cameras have high voltage capacitors used to drive the flash, and can store a pretty big blast even when powered off. When I open up a camera the first thing I do is ground myself. Then I find the flash capacitor and discharge it. Most service manuals I've read recommend shorting the pins of the capacitor through a 1K 5 watt resistor for 30 seconds, then check that the voltage is more or less zero. I always follow the service manual if one is available. Manuals help keep track of the disassembly procedure and if I'm lucky there will be a schematic that shows me where to find the ADC. Soldering to the tiny pins can be very frustrating and tedious. I use 0.1mm enamel wire. It is about as thick as hair and can be hard to even hold. A steady hand and strong eyes go a long way.









  1. This was a great write up. I love the glitched out photos at the bottom too. I've experimented with bending cameras, but often struggle getting them back in the case. So I have a few dissected, but functional, digital cameras lying around the apartment.

  2. thank you! yes, they can be tricky to put back together. I am always amazed at whoever designed and built them in the first place. so small and tight in there

  3. Please post some bent cameras for sale!