Camera Hacks — A640 Canon gets the Mod

Post by blogger | May 17, 2007      

Canon camera hack.
One of many option sets that the A640 firmware hack provides. Customizable real-time histogram shown.

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.



7 Responses to “Camera Hacks — A640 Canon gets the Mod”

  1. Anthony Rabinowitz May 19th, 2007 10:10 am

    In your initial review of the Cannon 640/630, you mentioned you wished the camera had and “Action Sports Mode” with higher shutter speeds. Do you know of any hacks that let you achieve that, without the extra steps you described while using TV mode? I bought a 630 on your reccomendation and like it so far.


  2. Lou May 19th, 2007 11:03 am

    Hi Anthony, no, nothing in the hack for a sports mode, but TV really is almost as simple. One extra step, that of setting the shutter speed. If you do a lot of action shooting, just program the C (custom settings) function with your favorite settings for action shots, that’s what I do, then you have a sports mode you can get to by just twisting the modes dial.

  3. Drew Larson May 21st, 2007 7:44 am

    Lou, Thanks for the great info!! I just lost my camera a few weeks ago on a trip, and my new A640 will be arriving today via FedEx. (can’t wait) I previously had an S70 which took great pictures, but is now discontinued and I wanted a little upgrade anyway. I almost did not go with the A640 mostly because I wanted my pictures in RAW format instead of JPEG. I also like to use the histogram, and this will be nice to have before I take the shot. Noelle says hi. See you on the pass soon? Thanks again for the great info!

  4. bob murphy February 25th, 2008 3:22 pm

    has anyone figured out if it is possible to power up and down the Canon a640 camera remotely using the usb???

  5. dave July 10th, 2009 4:19 pm

    hey Lou, I just got this camera a month ago and never knew you could get raw pictures from it! the battery voltage would definetly be handy too so i think i might be trying this mod soon.
    im just curious about the continuous shooting drive mode. it allows you set a delay on the camera and then take a maximum of 10 shots all about a second apart. is there any way to hack this and instead choose to take 500 shots or fill up the card?it would be nice to be able to do that without having to keep your finger on the button for hours and i think you could get some nice time lapse photo too.


  6. Lou July 10th, 2009 6:05 pm

    Dave, we found an intervalometer hack that did EXACTLY that, but I don’t have the link. Louie installed it and made some really cool time lapse movies. This was a few years ago. It’s amazing how crippled Canon keeps these cameras. I suspect they could probably have nearly every software feature a pro camera has, if the maker chose to include.

  7. dave April 13th, 2010 3:46 am

    @dave i just used a strip of double sided velcro to hold down the button, you just have to put a small bit of plastic on the button and then wrap the velcro around tight, but a piece of string would do the job either. beats holding your finger down for an hour…yawn!
    id still rather be able to program it though as it takes around 2 shots every second and i would like to change it to 1 shot every 10-20 seconds sometimes.
    did you try out the hack yet anyway? im just curious how it went? ill probably try it myself in a few months

    @ did you find that intervalometer hack since?

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