Weekly Project: a Handheld 3-D Camera: Without Using a Camera




In Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography (The MIT Press, 1999; ISBN 0-262-52259-4), author Geoffrey Batchen explores the passions of early photographers to record latent images. The initial work of Nicephore Niepce, Louis Daguerre, and William Henry Fox Talbot are each examined in a discussion that is bounded by the philosophical and scientific definitions surrounding the discovery of photography.

Along with this conception of a new form of visualization, the art community was challenged with the birth of a new definition--what exactly is photography?

Fast forward to today. The art community now has another challenge. Just like the declaration attributed to Paul Delaroche upon learning about photography ("From today, painting is dead") so too has photography been read its epitaph with the advent of digital imaging. One thing that Batchen points out very clearly, however, is that such dogma is anathema to artists.

Photographers have long embraced digital technology as a medium for expression. Even oddball offshoots like scanner photography have been appreciated by the artist as photographer.

Andrew Davidhazy, Mike Golembewski, Kurt Novak, and Lieve Prins have each used the scanner as a creative platform. The handheld 3D camera explores a similar tack; in this case, using a scanner to create high resolution 3D images.

Following some careful scanner dissection and software calibration, the handheld 3D camera can be used for printing detailed images of any object that you can touch--an effect that could leave you burning with desire.

Step 1: Make a Handheld 3D Camera

Time: 3 hours
Cost: $49.76
Difficulty: Moderate

Parts List

  • Canon CanoScan LiDE 25 Color Image Scanner (#0307B001; $49.76; Amazon.com)
  • Scanner Access Now Easy (SANE) (FREE; SANE Project)
  • Notebook computer equipped with USB port
  • Small flat-blade screwdriver

Step 2: Install the Software

The software shipped with the Canon scanner will not work with the handheld 3D camera.

Before you attach the scanner to your computer, you must download and install the Scanner Access Now Easy (SANE) software. This software enables you to operate a scanner "outside the box." Although SANE is first-and-foremost a Linux project, there are ports for other operating systems. In fact, there are some creative options for using SANE as a TWAIN driver within applications like Adobe Photoshop.

Once you've installed this scanner software, operate the scanner with SANE several times before beginning Step 2. Observe the startup sequence for the scanner. Record how many times the scan head drive motor starts and stops. You will need this information in Step 3.

Step 3: Gut the Scanner

Carefully, remove the scan head from inside the CanoScan LiDE 25 scanner. Begin by removing the lid from the scanner's body. Next lift the glass out from the taped plastic guides along each side. Retain the top paper size guide for calibrating the scanner during startup. This piece has a black/white calibration strip along its underside.

Disconnect the scan head from the reinforced movement cable. There is a set of five metal clips that hold the USB ribbon cable to the inside edge of the scanner. Slip these clips/cable out of the scanner's plastic edge. These clips are very poor quality metal and can be easily broken. Finally, remove the USB port from the rear of the scanner.

You now have a handheld 3D camera that can be tethered to the USB port of your notebook computer.

NOTE: Careful disassembly of the scanner will enable you to "recover" conventional operation of the CanoScan LiDE 25 when you are done making 3D art.

Step 4: Make Some Art?

Connect the handheld 3D camera to your computer's USB port and start the SANE interface (e.g., command line, stand-alone GUI, or TWAIN driver). When SANE detects the handheld 3D camera (formerly a Canon LiDE 25 scanner), the scan head motor will start up. Quickly insert the blade of a small screwdriver tip into the photo sensor switch on the scanner's main circuit board (i.e., located next to the three tactile switches; diode Q18). This will stop the motor.

When you are ready to scan/photograph an object, place the paper size guide/calibration piece saved from Step 2 on top of the LED/sensor bar of the scan head. The scanner needs to "read" this guide prior to beginning a scan; otherwise the LED will shut down.

Now, click the scan button on the SANE interface. As the scanner reads the black/white calibration strip, the scan head motor will start up. Each time this motor starts, insert the small screwdriver tip into the Q18 photo sensor switch. This screwdriver insertion will stop the motor. On the final motor startup (as recorded in Step 1), don't insert the screwdriver tip, rather scan your 3D object.

NOTE: None of these example images has been manipulated in Photoshop. Each image original is a 300dpi scan.

Some operating tips:

  • keep the LED/sensor of the scan head in close contact with your subject
  • set the dimensions for your "scanning" to the maximum size (i.e., called "Geometry" in SANE) that will allow you to cover the entire surface of your 3D object
  • move your "camera" while the scan head motor is running; try moving in all directions--around, over, and under your object

Above all else, however, be creative.



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    25 Discussions


    8 years ago on Introduction

    For 360 degree flattened images ( like taking a cans label and flattening it out ).I just place the objects on the scanner and rotate them as the light goes by ! Even did most of my head ! ;-) And my images were pretty hi resolution . Up to about 1200 x 1200 . For straight forward images simply place the object on the scanner like you would a document, with the lid open ! I've even done small melons ! Here's some old images http://entertainment.webshots.com/album/562675198AQuMNr

    squash acorn orange scan.jpgkiwi falling slices.jpg
    5 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks ! ;-) A similar image of mine from my flatbed scanner work got 25,000 hits in one week on webshots.com when they posted it front page . Funny my 15 minutes of fame was a broke open squash ;-/


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Kewl! You know you made something awesome when you get that much interest! Congrats!


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks , I think it had a lot to do with being faddish, an out of the ordinary method ;-) I found out recently there is a flatbed photography group on redbubble.com . Never thought there were enough of us to make a group ;-/ Found a few on google+ also . Some of them are amazingly good and creative .


    9 years ago on Introduction

    its a turntable panorama. nothing 3D. you would need two lenses at the same time looking straight forward. at www.roundshot.ch check roundshot super 220vr-manual. if you like to see real 3dpanorama go to www.3dreal.ch 3dstereoaeropanorama/marspanoramas. more to come in the next weeks. check also www.europanorama.tk all the same but unique. freeviewing. yes, the 3dstereo-aeropanorama is made by me.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    That scanner type has a CIS chip (opposed to a CCD) which generally just means the lens is right on the chip.... This means the DOF (Depth of Field, distance from the nearest to the furthest point in focus) is extremely narrow, hence the name (CIS stands for Contact Image Sensor). A CCD-based scanner would be better, and you could even tinker with the lenses to shift the focus further away from the scanner head, which would also increase DOF (DOF depends on aperture/iris size, focus distance, and focal length, and DAMN I love these parentheses :P ) To get anything out of the improved image quality, you'd also have to mount the head or subject to an arm or base, driven by a stepper- or servo- based motor... Which should then be connected to the scanner's circuits to sync with the scanning process... :S

    1 reply

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    And... CCD scanners were more common in the "old days" so should be easy to find old ones. They often don't interface with newer systems (SCSI and such) or don't have any drivers for newer OS's though :(... And buying a new one is a bit more expensive than buying a CIS one :(


    i'm guessing that you could use this to make 3d height maps if you illuminated the objects in only one color. reminds me of that face mapping tutorial.


    11 years ago on Step 4

    hi, it's very creative method for using a scanner. what situation would this method be applied to? when would you use a 3d camera? it doesn't seem like any 3-dimensional data is 'scanned' and formed into 3d-objects.. somewhat confused...

    1 reply

    12 years ago on Introduction

    Interesting idea - results are less impressive than I expected though. Might be better to build some kind of suspended cylyndrical area and rotate the scanner head around that via its own stepper motor. Focussing would be an issue but a strip of bendy fresnel lens at some fixed distance between object and scanner might help. I suspect it may still look rubbish in the end though - most scanners have too narrow a focussing distance. Older scanners may be better - you could take a picture of your face easily on one of those with not much distortion.

    7 replies

    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    I was just going to suggest this. It's a lot easier than hacking a scanner, isn't it? :)


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    its a different approach... a scanner could do cool things too, but i think you need to add a objectiv to it... but then its not very different to a camera where you only process one pixel row... like i did... as i said... just a different approach...