DSLR Buddy

A Raspberry Pi digital "swiss army knife" for DSLR

Luis Salha

Issue 53, December 2021

Over the last few years, we have published various projects that interface with a DSLR camera to help solve real world problems. This includes the PIR-activated Camera Trap in issue 30, Pan/Tilt Mount in Issue 35, Intervalometer in Issue 50, and Star Tracker in Issue 44, just to name a few. Submitted via our website recently was this impressive looking project built by Luis Salha. In Luis’s summary about his project, he has managed to implement the following functionalities/features, so far, into this project:

  • Network Attached Storage device Pro DSLR Wireless tethering (remote controlling a DSLR over wifi, the DSLR does not have built in WiFi)
  • RF Radio Scanner / transmitter Back-up (on click backup for SD/CF cards, useful for on field photoshoots)
  • Media Streamer Camera for audio/video recording/streaming Apple airplay
  • Dual screens one for terminal and another for the GUI Battery powered. Phew!

We caught up with Luis to find out more.

Before we discuss your project, Luis, please tell our readers a little about yourself.

My name is Luis and I'm based in Romania, have graduated Computer Science and Economics and I am currently working in Clinical Research. My passion for tech and electronics started off when I was a little toddler, did all sorts of modifications to remote controlled toy cars (adding LED headlights/tail lights, modding the electric motors and so on). As a hobby and to help me keep my mind into coding, I started to do various builds using the Raspberry Pi. My first build was a smart car dashboard to keep an eye on the various parameters from the car and do data logging.

Hacking toys and gadgets is a great way to learn how things work. Tell us about your "swiss army knife"?

The project started off more as a need. I really wanted a device that would do tethered wireless shooting using my Nikon DSLR camera. After completing this part, I wanted to add even more functionalities and added NAS features and audio wireless streaming.

It’s great that you built it in stages, and did not try to make it do everything from the start. How does it all work?

The Raspberry Pi works as a mini-server that is connected to the camera via USB. On the mobile phone, there is a client app that is connecting to the Pi wirelessly. The phone app then sends these commands to the Pi and the Pi then controls the camera. It is similar to USB tethering from a phone but done completely wirelessly. In essence, this allows you to have your camera placed at a reasonable distance and have it controlled from your phone.

For this to work seamlessly with RAW files, you need a fast and stable connection and here is where the extra WiFi adapter comes into play. Having WiFi antennas with increased gain helps with the connection speed and coverage.

As I wanted this device to also keep copies of the files (as a backup), I decided to add a board that would enable me to connect an SSD and make it shareable so I can access it on the go from my phone or laptop.

What Raspberry Pi did you use, and would it work with other dev boards?

I used the Raspberry Pi 3B+ as I found this to be the best compromise power/performance wise. I tested this in a smaller form factor using the Raspberry Pi Zero W (https://www.youtube.com/shorts/zUNfsAD3o_Y). It is not as fast but it is quite usable.

Is your project limited to just the Nikon camera?

As the code is open source and uses the libgphoto2 library, it supports most of the major camera manufacturers. There is a full list here (http://www.gphoto.org/proj/libgphoto2/support.php).

Wow! Thousands of models. What kind of prototyping process did you need to go through?

I wouldn't say it was a process, it was more trial and error. The only factor I had to always bear in mind was the power drawn / power usage. Raspberry Pi's need sufficient power so that they do not throw under-voltage errors as this can cause hectic behaviour and, in some cases, even destroy the board.

Good advice. What design challenges did you need to overcome?

The biggest challenge was with the built-in wifi of the Raspberry Pi board. As I used an all metal chassis, I did not carefully think it through. The metal chassis in my case acted as a Faraday cage and caused the wifi connection drop. This left me only one option, unfortunately, and this meant I would need to cut the case. This was a real pity since eventually, I ended up going with an external wifi adapter.

It’s all part of the maker journey with trial and error. Do you have plans to expand on the project even more?

At the moment I have my eyes set on a Raspberry Pi 4 build which would enable me to expand on this project and add even more features and functionalities. But for now, due to budget constraints, I will need to hold off for a couple of months.

If our readers wanted to build something similar, do you have details available?

I don't have an exact build log, but can help anyone build the exact same thing. All the parts are off the shelf parts (no soldering required). Software is open-source and with this, I also wanted to share my gratitude to all the people that contribute to this. Without open source, a lot of ideas and projects would get the chance to ever be built.

Link to software: https://dslrdashboard.info/

Thank you for going into detail about your build, Luis. We hope we have inspired some of our readers to start building that project they’ve been holding off on starting.

Luis Salha

Luis Salha

Computer Science & Economics graduate | Photographer