Raspberry Pi projects have tempted me to buy (and keep) a lot of geeky accessories before, but I’ve finally found one that might have some staying power — and promises to be way more fun than my irritatingly competent iPhone.
ArduCam’s new 64MP Hawk-eye Pi Camera brings phone-style resolution to Raspberry Pi cameras for the first time. And thanks to modern bonuses like autofocus and digital zoom, it can be a solid centerpiece for a single, home camera that takes good but not very good photos.
To be fair, I was a little too excited about Raspberry Pi projects before. During lockdown, I bought a Raspberry Pi 4 Model B with a square HyperPixel display, with the grand goal of building a Sonos album art display. Despite having countless hours at home to complete it, I was a little distracted playing Overcooked and A Way Out on PlayStation.
But this new 64MP camera once again fired my imagination, to the point where it saw me completing a Raspberry Pi project. It’s been possible to make Pi-based cameras before, but the Pi Camera Module V2 is an 8MP case with a fixed-focus lens, and the high-end Camera Module has always felt a little too involved.
The new Pi Hawk-eye camera is about the same size as previous cameras, which is convenient. This also means that image quality at full 64MP resolution (which is only available if you connect it to a Pi Model 4B or Pi Compute Module 4) can be slightly worse than previous Raspberry Pi cameras. But the ArduCam sample images look decent and the appeal is really modern features like autofocus, which should mean I won’t mess with things like focus shift.
Setting up the new 64MP camera should also be (relatively) simple, despite my newbie status, because it runs on the same ‘libcamera’ software as the Raspberry Pi’s two previous camera modules. If you have already experimented with projects with the latter, you can also use the V1/V2 Camera Module cases with this new one.
The real fun (and possibly my undoing) though, will be creating a case for this custom 64MP camera…
Rise of the anti-smartphone
Realistically, I would probably take the easy way out and get a pre-made camera case to house the Raspberry Pi, 64MP camera, and battery. ArduCam makes a ‘Pan & Tilt kit’ to go with its new autofocus camera, but there are more interesting possibilities in the Raspberry Pi store that theoretically should be compatible.
There’s the standard Raspberry Pi 4 camera case, but one that has caught my eye in the past is the weatherproof NatureBytes Wildlife camera case. It has an infrared lens to detect motion, making it a perfect wildlife camera to set up in the garden – if you buy the other parts, including an SD card and flash drive.
But the real dream, and one that is genuinely more interesting than my iPhone camera, is the custom 3D printed case. This could turn the Pi Hawk-eye Camera into a unique point-and-shoot, albeit with a few more quirks than your average smartphone.
There’s no doubt that my iPhone is the best point-and-shoot camera I’ve ever owned, but the soulless perfection of its algorithms has only increased the demand for more quirky and imperfect photo helpers. The best instant cameras have never been more popular, for example, while Lomography continues to serve up some lovely mixes.
But none of that could match the satisfaction of building my own digital camera, and that’s never been more possible thanks to the Raspberry Pi and modules like this new 64MP Pi Hawk-eye camera. Perhaps I would opt for the Raspberry Pi’s earlier high-end camera module, thanks to its built-in lens mount and the availability of rather attractive cases like the Raspberry Pi HQ Camera Case (above).
Either way, there’s no real excuse for not finally starting (and finishing) the Raspberry Pi project I’ve been thinking about – after finishing my Sonos Album Art Display, of course.