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Using the Canon Hack Development Kit

New firmware allows Canon cameras to perform some neat tricks

3 min read

Back in the day, hands-on photography required you to be closeted away in a darkened room, where you dunked sheets of paper into solutions of smelly chemicals. Now we manipulate photographs with software, a much less messy and oppressive process. But wouldn't it be great to have more control still—even before the photo is taken? Many cameras allow you to adjust their exposure settings manually, but that's about it. What if you could have full command of your camera's hardware?

Such thoughts motivated an anonymous programmer going by the online name VitalyB to reverse engineer the firmware for Canon's PowerShot series of digital point-and-shoot cameras. With hacker-level control, he could do things the engineers at Canon had never thought of. In 2007, he made public the fruits of his labor: the Canon Hack Development Kit, or CHDK, which Andrei Gratchev, a programmer working for eASIC Corp., of Santa Clara, Calif., and other developers have since broadened. Now you can find a version for just about any one of the Canon PowerShot series.

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From WinZips to Cat GIFs, Jacob Ziv’s Algorithms Have Powered Decades of Compression

The lossless-compression pioneer received the 2021 IEEE Medal of Honor

11 min read
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Photo of Jacob Ziv
Photo: Rami Shlush
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Lossless data compression seems a bit like a magic trick. Its cousin, lossy compression, is easier to comprehend. Lossy algorithms are used to get music into the popular MP3 format and turn a digital image into a standard JPEG file. They do this by selectively removing bits, taking what scientists know about the way we see and hear to determine which bits we'd least miss. But no one can make the case that the resulting file is a perfect replica of the original.

Not so with lossless data compression. Bits do disappear, making the data file dramatically smaller and thus easier to store and transmit. The important difference is that the bits reappear on command. It's as if the bits are rabbits in a magician's act, disappearing and then reappearing from inside a hat at the wave of a wand.

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