Add RAW Capabilities To Low-End Canon Cameras

canon.jpgIf you’ve got a low-end Canon point-and-shoot you could have access to more features than you think. Most of Canon’s recent digital cameras, even the low end models, are based on the DIGIC II chip, and, as points out there’s an alternate firmware for that chip that unlocks the features Canon disables in the low end models — including the ability to shoot RAW images.

The alternate firmware for Canon’s DIGIC II processor is known as CHDK. You can grab the firmware from the site, which also has a list of supported models and instructions for installation.

CHDK adds the following features to your supported camera:

  • Shooting in RAW
  • Live histogram (RGB, blended, luminance and for each RGB channel)
  • Zebra mode (blinking highlights and shadows)
  • DOF-calculator
  • Battery indicator
  • Scripts execution (exposure/focus/… bracketing, intervalometer and more)
  • File browser
  • Text reader
  • Calendar
  • Some tools and games

You’ll need to put CHDK on your memory card and then use Canon’s provided firmware update feature to launch CHDK, which means you’ll need an SD card reader to load the firmware files on to the card to begin with (though a couple of model have instructions for loading the firmware files straight to the camera).

By default the CHDK firmware will need to be manually booted each time you restart the camera, which, while it protects you from bricking your camera, is less than ideal. Fortunately, the latest version allows you to make CHDK auto-boot by locking your SD card. Instruction on how to set that up can be found on the CHDK wiki.

It’s also worth noting that SDHC cards (most SD cards over 2 gigs) are not supported.

Still, despite a few shortcomings, this looks like a nice way to add RAW support to Canon’s low-end line. Of course, RAW image support isn’t going to make up for the less than stellar optical components of low-end cameras.

This isn’t a way to replace your SLR, but for those times when you don’t want to lug an SLR, but you’d like to have the advantage of RAW images, this could be the solution.

Note that I don’t have a Canon digital camera so I haven’t tested the CHDK firmware, but unlike some things, such as replacement firmware for routers, CHDK is non-destructive so it’s worth a try. Of course, this is a hack, and even though you’re unlikely to damage your camera, if you are under a warranty, proceed at your own risk.