This is a guide on how to install the CHDK Custom firmware on a Canon PowerShot A490 camera. Aka using the Canon Hack Development Kit. Plus I show you how to maximise the use of this budget camera using scripts, and include photography examples and a review.
Here is specifically what this post covers:
- Why I’m using the firmware.
- A quick overview of the camera.
- How to install CHDK on a Canon A490 camera.
- HDR photos created with the A490.
- Motion detection.
- Time-lapse photography and video creation.
- Using small and large light tripods.
I’ve not bothered to look, but I presume you will void your warranty installing CHDK on a camera. You follow my how to guide at your own risk, whether financial or other issues. Please presume you could kill your camera.
I’ve been tempted to try out the Canon Hack Development Kit firmware for a long time, but didn’t own a suitable camera. Now I’m happy with second-hand prices of some cameras, so snapped up a Canon PowerShot A490 on ebay for £26 (including postage and packaging).
I now own three cameras, not including mobile phone cameras! Photography is a hobby, and whilst I’m not willing to currently buy expensive hardware, it doesn’t mean I can’t have some fun, especially thanks to the CHDK project.
The A490 Camera
It isn’t a great camera by today’s budget standards, especially the time it takes to ‘recharge’ the flash. The video functionality is awful, and it definitely has a low cost feel. That being said, it has 10 megapixel functionality, seems to have a good auto-focus and works responsibly well in low light.
What I found attractive about the purchase, was not just some of the basic functionality, but the fact it can take 2xAA batteries, which means no mucking around with third party bespoke batteries. This already has reduced my costs, as I already use rechargeable AA batteries for another simple point and click camera.
Secondly I had an old 2GB microSD card lying around, which I put into a microSD adapter, meaning I can reuse a memory I originally used in a mobile phone with this camera. Glad I didn’t dispose of my old memory cards a couple of months ago!
How to install CHDK on a Canon A490
A huge thank you to the CHDK community as I read the wiki for much needed advice.
I’ve written my own version of the instructions specifically for the A490, covering problems I experienced, extra hardware I used and have provided photos. I hope my A490 specific instructions and insight, help other people get up and running quickly. Below is how I installed the firmware.
What you require:
- SD card or MicroSD Adapter with MicroSD card depending on what type of memory you are going to use.
- USB SD card reader (which also can write).
The whole process should take you no more than five minutes, if you don’t experience problems. I brought a cheap USB card reader in the UK from a pound shop. i.e. £1 GBP . Whilst I used Microsoft Windows Vista, I don’t see any issues with many other operating systems following the below instructions
- Low level format your SD card. *
- Visit here and download the a490-100f-1.2.0-3297-full_BETA.zip from the correct section.
- Place your SD card into a card reader, connect to your computer and transfer the contents of the zip file to the card. i.e. Extract the files and folders into the root location of the card. **
- Turn the camera on, press ‘Menu’ and scroll down to the bottom of the menu.
- Then find the firmware update option, select and when asked agree to update the firmware. The CHDK logo should briefly appear.
- Briefly press the ‘play’ button to enter the CHDK settings, and then press the ‘Menu’ button to enter the menu area.
- Scroll down to ‘Miscellaneous stuff’ and select. Then scroll down to ‘SD card’ and select.
- Select the option to ‘Make Card Bootable…’.
- When done it should say ‘Finished’, and press ‘Func. Set’ to OK.
- Turn your camera off, and then remove your SD card.
- Set the card to ‘lock’ by moving a small tab on the side of the SD card.
Now when you turn on your camera, you should quickly see the CHDK logo. This means the firmware is correctly loading, and if you press the ‘play’ icon, you can again enter CHDK’s menu.
* The first time I low level formatted the card, it came up with a memory card error. I then tried again and it worked. Perhaps my SD card is faulty, but I’m not too bothered as I’m not using this memory card for important photos.
** If you try and connect the camera directly to the computer for file transfer, it won’t allow all the files to be transferred.
How to select a script
One of the awesome benefits of using this firmware is the incredible range of scripts, maximising your camera. So for example the first script I ever ran, enabled me to easily take HDR photos with the a490 (use a tripod!).
- Enter the CHDK menu by briefly pressing the ‘play’ button.
- Press the ‘Func. Set’ button.
- Make sure ‘Load Script from File…’ is highlighted and then press ‘Func. Set’ again.
- Select a LUA script file from the available list by highlighting the script name and press ‘Func. Set’.
- Press ‘Menu’ to exit the menu.
How to run a CHDK script
I will grudgingly admit I didn’t know how to actually run a script for a minute. It is actually a straightforward process once you know how.
Once you have selected the script you do the following:
- Press ‘play’ to bring up either the menu area or to display the word ‘alt’ at the bottom.
- Press the ‘shutter’ button (big circle button next to on/off) to start the script you have previously selected.
Using different CHDK scripts.
The firmware makes HDR possible for all, including the lazy photographer! It will take the three images with different exposure settings (1/250, 1/1000 & 1/1250) in quick succession. Then it is up to you, to download and squeeze the images into one!
The software I use to create the HDR photo is ‘Luminance HDR‘ which is free. Once the images have been loaded, you can choose from different filters.
Tips for taking HDR photos!
Next tip, is to use a tripod, which will not only helps reduce shake, but will help you capture the same setting in the different exposures.
We had a major thunderstorm where I live the other day and the motion detection was awful! With all the lightning, I didn’t get one decent photo as the camera seemed too slow. I’ve not tried to take another MD photo since, but I have some advice below.
I’m going to say something extremely silly here, but please make sure your camera is in capture mode before starting a motion detection script. If you camera is only showing a blank black background with a grid overlay, you need to stop the script, select the camera capture / record button to show a live / real-time image on the screen, and then restart the script.
It is also possible to run the motion detection without the flash enabled. Just disable the camera’s flash before you begin running the script.
Time-lapse with CHDK
This ability to set the camera to take photos at set intervals has to be one of my favourite scripts!
Just set the camera up on a tripod, run the script and be patient!
To compile the photos into a video clip, I used Windows Movie Maker! You can tell the Windows software how long to leave between photos, and then when ready create a video clip which is suitable for uploading to YouTube.
There are plenty of available scripts for me to play around with, and whilst the A490 is not an amazing camera, it is definitely improved by the installation of the firmware. Using CHDK on this camera has given me the confidence to buy a better camera in the future to use with the firmware.
It has made an old camera more fun to use and you can expect me to blog again about the camera, firmware and other photography topics.