Updated: March 23, 2004

After seeing this post on Slashdot, I was introduced to the Ritz "one time use" digital Camera. Unlike the Kodak Plus Digital disposable cameras, these cameras are trully digital; it uses NO film. The idea is that the customer would buy the camera for $10.99, shoot 25 pictures, then return the camera to the store, pay another 11 dollars, and he'll get back 25 prints, and a CD with his pictures on it. Then the camera store will send the spent camera back to the manufacturer for refurbishing, and they sell it back to the camera store, and the cycle begins again.

Where this gets interesting is that the camera's are only supposed to be readable using proprietary machines at the camera store. But what if you could download the pictures off the camera yourself, at your own PC? Then this "one time use" camera suddenly gains a whole new life, namely that of a bonafied digital camera. Well some geniuses on the internet have joined forces to successfully hack the camera so that it is indeed possible to save the pictures onto your own PC.

Focus Adjustment:

In that last link, T.R. Gipson describes how the lens of the camera can be adjusted to change the point of focus. To facilitate this, and allow adjustment while actually having a non-exposed usable camera, I decided to make an adjustment wheel that attaches to the the lens. I was limited to using just a semi circle instead of a full circle due to the light sensor placement just to the left of the lens. The full circle would intersect the sensor. But as it is now, the sensor serves as end stops for the wheel, so it works out well. Though a full circle would allow for a much larger range of focus adjust, the half circle allows me to adjust the focus from about 1 foot to about 6-7 feet (which is about where the factory set the focus).

See that white semicircular thing around the lens? That's my focus adjust wheel. It's made of 1/16in (I think) Styrene plastic sheeting. It *just* fits around the lens assembly and is held in place with a few drops of Super Glue. I can turn the wheel from outside the camera via a slit I cut in the side of the camera case. I cut the slit with a Dremel and a cutoff wheel. Dremels make VERY short work of thin plastic like this, so I suggest you take care if you take a Dremel to your case.

Here you can see where I trimmed down parts of the camera to allow the focus wheel to fit. I just snipped off plastic with some little cutters. Or you can use an Xacto knife and do it slow.

The connector and cable I used on the camera came from a broken Logitech USB Optical mouse. I used 4 out of the 5 pins on the connector and it is soldered right onto the exposed pins/traces of the camera connection slot. I used pins 6 7 8 9 on the camera side, which are Red, Black, Green, and white respectively on a standard colored USB cable. I had to cut and splice the mouse USB cable to match the pins And I filled in the empty space in the camera connector slot with bits of rubber.

Sample Pics:

All the pics of the camera were taken with a Kodak DC215 1 Megapixel camera that cost a few hundred dollars back in the day. The two sample pics are from my focus-adjustable 10dollarcam. Can you tell the difference? The Skull and Jack Ball pics were taken from about a foot away. Overall, I'm very impressed by the quality of pictures from this camera. And I am even more impressed by the guys I linked to above who did all the dirty work so some wannabees like me can have some cheap fun. Thanks guys!

If you're looking to get one of these cameras, I have personally verified that the Wolf Camera on 16th and Potrero in San Francisco carries them. It's a good idea to just call and ask your local Ritz/wolf Camera, and see if they carry them or if they know which other stores do.

Update: March 23, 2004
So on TR Gipson's site, he posted his new version 0.04 SUCR software. And in it, there's a feature that lets you take low quality webcam-style pics while the cam is connected to the USB port. Go to the Advanced menu and select "Take Pictures Now". He mentioned that creative use of this feature would allow you to take more than the 25 picture limit that's built into the cam. I set the SUCR software to take 26 pictures. Then I unplugged the cam from the USB cable, and the camera's LCD reports 35 pictures remaining. Great! So I snap off 35 more random pictures (in normal quality), and then the LCD reports 99 pictures remaining. WOW! So I just keep snapping pictures until the LCD stays at 51 remaining pictures. The cam seems like it keeps taking pics, but the LCD counter doesn't change. So in total, I was able to fit 110 pictures in this little camera. Sweet!

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Buttery Ritz...