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RAW Support (and more) For Your Canon Camera With CHDK

No Risk, How To Install

  • June 23, 2010
  • By Akkana Peck

Canon's digital cameras, like all digital cameras, are really little computers. Certain features are enabled or disabled to justify different price points. It's all done in software, so the wizards of CHDK have created firmware to add new features (such as RAW support), and to do it safely without bricking your camera. Akkana Peck tells how in part one of this series.

Pocket digital cameras are great, but they can be frustrating too. They don't give you a lot of control, and sometimes the decisions they make are just, well, wrong.

<em>CHDK in action</em>
CHDK in action

But if your camera is made by Canon, there's an open source project that can help: CHDK, the Canon Hack Development Kit.

The wizards of the CHDK project have figured out a way to load new firmware onto most Canon cameras, ranging from pocket point-and-shoot cameras all the way up to the fancy digital SLRs. The CHDK firmware lets you fix things that Canon didn't do quite right, add new features Canon didn't think to include, and it even lets you write useful scripts so you can automate some functions of your camera.

To get started, head over to the CHDK wiki and take a look. There's a list of supported cameras on the right side of the page. If your camera isn't supported yet, don't give up hope -- the project is active and new cameras are being added all the time.

If your camera is supported, you're ready to download CHDK.

Wait, is this risky?

Install new firmware? You're probably wondering, "Can that hurt my fancy camera?"

Happily, CHDK isn't very risky. It doesn't actually replace the firmware on your camera; what it does is put some additional programs on your SD card which the camera will load on top of the existing firmware. Erase the SD card or switch to a different card and your camera is back to normal.

A couple of the FAQ entries discuss warranties and risk to the camera. It's theoretically possible to do damage, but only if you do something elaborate and silly that you're not likely to do. And no one has ever reported damage. It sounds pretty safe to me!

What do I download?

The CHDK download page is a bit confusing. Figuring out what to download and how to install it can be the hardest part of using CHDK.

When you click on the Download link from the main CHDK site, you'll be taken to the CHDK autobuild server. Scroll down to find your camera model. You'll have two choices. Small is all you really need, but Complete includes helpful files like sample scripts in addition to the basic CHDK files.

Either way, you'll download a ZIP file, so you'll need to install unzip if you don't already have it. Unzip the whole thing to your local disk.

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