Pictures from Raspberry Pi's new camera add-on

Rory Cellan-Jones films himself with the Raspberry Pi Camera

At first sight, it must be just about the most useless camera you can possibly imagine. To take a picture you have to somehow hold it in one hand while typing a line of code with another and pressing return.

The device in question is an accessory for the Raspberry Pi, the cheap barebones computer aimed at getting children coding. And, on reflection, the sheer nightmarish complexity of making it work may be exactly the point.

The camera, which I've been testing for a couple of days, is all of a piece with the Raspberry Pi aesthetic - a tiny lens on a chip smaller than a postage stamp. The accessory, released today, is like the Pi itself in that it makes few concessions to modern expectations of consumer products that you plug 'n' play.

You connect it to a port on the Pi and start working out what to do next because it's not as if there's a button on it to press to take a picture, or even a pre-installed programme on the Pi desktop to operate the camera.

Rory and his son Dads can be so embarrassing

In my case, I emailed a few people in the Raspberry Pi community and got a list of instructions. You need to connect your mini computer to a monitor, start it up, then open a terminal window and type in this command: /opt/vc/bin/raspicam -o mypicture.jpg

A window opens on the monitor showing what the camera is seeing and, after what seems a random number of seconds, a picture is taken. Next, you have to work out where that picture - or video because another command allows you to record moving pictures - is stored. Then you have to work out how to get these files off the Raspberry Pi to somewhere you can edit or distribute them.

After a certain amount of cursing - and further consultation with a friendly Raspberry Pi guru - I managed to achieve this, saving a few pictures of myself, the dog and a somewhat reluctant 14-year-old son.

Start Quote

After what seems a random number of seconds, a picture is taken”

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None of my Raspberry Pi photos were up to much and I won't be entering the Pi photography competition that has been launched to celebrate the arrival of the camera. (By the way, once you have got to grips with the various commands, you can do all sorts of clever things with the camera, from an "old master" effect, to black and white or negative shots.)

But I still found the whole lengthy process rather satisfying. Instead of turning a camera on and pressing a button, I'd been forced to think about the software behind digital photography and muddle my way through.

And that is why Raspberry Pi is such an interesting and challenging idea. It forces you to explore how computers work and in that process learn some useful skills.

As someone who is anything but a digital native, I find this stuff hard. Hopefully it will be a lot easier for those at whom this is aimed.

Rory tickling his dog Cute... but not likely to win any photography awards

In my view, the packaging and presentation of the Pi have been just a little too challenging so far for many of the target audience: children, their parents and teachers. Once they've assembled the necessary peripherals - a monitor, a mouse, a keyboard, cables - and got the thing booted, it is probably unclear to many what on earth they are supposed to do next.

But this is why the camera is such a useful addition to the project. It may be difficult to get your head around at first but you end up with an output that everyone can understand - photos or videos.

A couple of months ago, I helped judge a competition for schools finding imaginative uses for the Raspberry Pi. There was a lot of ingenuity on display and, now that there's a camera for them to play with, I'm expecting to see a lot more clever Raspberry-flavoured ideas emerging from Britain's classrooms.

Rory Cellan-Jones, Technology correspondent Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    84. mr teapot - poor quality indeed, however, are you confusing raspberry pi with an os? I can't see the advantage or disadvantage of using the pi for basic, getting to grips learning over any other platform? Except the fact (could be wrong here too tired to google) it only costs £35 which is affordable for individuals and schools, my pc is worth £2k, nobody would pay that to learn how to code.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    useless device.. want to learn programming use your regular pc

    oh another note this is a very poor quality article

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Cracking piece of tech, simply awful article.

    I'm not asking for some twerp to ramble on about resistors and capacitors, but a few facts and figures wouldn't go amiss.

    BBC, please can we have a proper technology correspondent?

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    "Pi is limited when considering what else is available out there"
    Only in performance, but this also means it can be battery powered.

    "It's all based on Scratch, just use a PC."
    Totally wrong, Scratch is one, GUI-based application that comes with the most common OS used on the Pi. Most people I know don't even use a GUI on the Pi.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Raspberry Pi seems great except for kids in elementary school it is far too complicated to learn than very late 70s early 80s systems. Pet/VIC20/C64, TRS-80, Apple II, BBC Micro, OSI Challenger, Superboard, Atari 400/800 et al, are easy to wrap your brain around.

    Power up, pop into machine language and look up the memory map. Then start writing Space Invaders. RPi is a good 2nd system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    78 pbreathing

    You sound like my erstwhile computing teacher. :-)

    "How can we encourage children to code?" is pretty complex. If the answer were simple, you'd have found it by now. Yes, you can program on a PC, or a an Android device, or an old BBC Micro ...or the Pi. It's not the whole solution and it's not going to suit everyone but it seems to be inspiring at least a few young people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    OK, get a £20 PC and we'll see which device is more limited.

    The point of the Pi is that it's a very cheap, very basic platform to program on. It's price and size make it great for all sorts of projects where a PC would be unsuitable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    @ 56 Miss Ingoff

    Great exercise in semantics. Use your common sense, please.

    Pi is limited when considering what else is available out there, and accessible to children. It's all based on Scratch, just use a PC.

    And the "question", if you must have one phrased, could be something like "How can we encourage children to code?".

    Want to be deliberately obtuse again, or defend the device?

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    From what I hear, and please correct me if I'm wrong, Rory is not a Technology Correspondent. So why are the BBC using him? My guess is that he is reliable (meets deadlines), has a good command of English, and can write an interesting story. As an English Technology Consultant in America, I see quite enough of this dumbing down of technology for children in schools. Not required, stop it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    It is not a "mini" computer, they are rather large (think PDP-11). It is a Microcomputer or a Personal Computer (the original generic term).

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    "..the packaging and presentation of the Pi have been just a little too challenging so far for many of the target audience: children, their parents...."

    Actually, it's all quite straightforward for anybody with the tiniest smattering of know-how.

    This is what what happens when your favourite tech allows you to only "press a button".

    How confused will RCJ be when we get the piPhone?

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    The command Rory typed:

    /opt/vc/bin/raspicam -o mypicture.jpg

    This breaks into three parts:


    the place on the filesystem (/opt/vc/bin/) and name (raspicam) of the program.

    '-o' a 'switch' to tell the raspicam program what to call the photo.

    'mypicture.jpg' the name of the photo and the type of the file (JPEG).

    Not too hard?

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    This article seems to be about a man reviewing technology he doesn't understand and then speculating about whether its any good or not. Nice work if you can get it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    People in general have little understanding of cancer. If you were diagnosed with it would you rather be told about it by someone qualified in finance or by a doctor?
    Yes, I'd want to hear from a doctor but also from someone like me who had been through the experience I was about to undergo so that I could get a personal as well as a professional point of view.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.


    Sorry but your comparison is not related and is silly at best. The BBC covers health stories but the correspondents aren't all doctors & nurses are they! So why should RCJ be a technical expert?

    There are plenty of tech sites written by techies that are more detailed so why waste time reading RCJ columns and then moan about them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    68 Brian

    I think it's not so much being born into a world where computers exist as being born into one where computers are ubiquitous. I was born in the mid-70's and wouldn't class myself as a digital native because, while home computers became popular over the next decade, they hadn't reached the point of being commonplace.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    Actually only 5 years younger than me, according to Wikipedia, but my point stands. Presumably an arts graduate type who only discovered computers in the late 90s when the internet kicked in among the general public? There are plenty of hardcore technical greybeards and pink heads around...

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    I will be 61 this year. Back in the mid-70s, in my 20's I was a university computer programmer. The first home computers were starting to appear. I bought a board that had been copied by Practical Electronics, the Ohio Superboard. (Compukit in the UK). Shortly after, came the Spectrum, BBC Micro etc. Rory is about 10-15 years younger than me. Why is that too old to be a "digital native"?

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    @23. IanKemmish
    This is a true comment about 'open source' in general... and even an old grey beard like me has no idea who is talking from their mouth and who is using something else

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    As a hard core geek who has followed Rory's writing for a number of years I must leap to his defence. His job is not to write for people like me, but to make technology trends and news accesible to as wide and audience as possible. He does it far better than more geeks could, notwithstanding the occasional error -- given constraints of time and pace of change it could be a lot worse!


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