To be written. If you're here, you probably already know what these cameras are and where to get them. Picture quality is a bit lacking, but acceptable for Web images and the like, and certainly not bad for $11.

Note that there is a similar PureDigital single-use camera available from participating Walgreens stores. This camera may be identical, similar, or even completely different internally from the Dakota camera available from Ritz/Wolf Camera. We have not yet tested these, and thus do not know if any of these files or information are applicable to the Walgreens camera.

Hardware Setup

The Dakota camera features a USB interface to download picture data. This interface is accessible via the camera's 10-pin edge connector located under a sticker which warns you not to remove it. The pinout is as follows:

Pin 10: Ground (Black)
Pin 9: Data - (White)
Pin 8: Data + (Green)
Pin 6: +5V (Red)

The colors listed are the standard color-codings of the appropriate USB cable wires. The pins are numbered by the "1" and "10" on either side of the edge connector. You can either solder the wires of a USB cable directly to these edge pins, (better) solder your own connector into the camera and a matching connector on the end of your USB cable, or (best) find a connector that already fits the edge connector with no soldering required. I have not found such a connector, but have heard that a Palm hotsync cable will fit with minor modifications. I have tried what I think is a Palm-to-serial cable (found it somewhere), but it did not work.

NB: Don't get ripped off buying a USB cable (only to cut one end off of it) at well-known computer and appliance outlets such as my fictional store, BestCircuitDepotUSA. (Particularly avoid any place that also sells USB printers and scanners; these will artificially inflate the price of the cable to make up for slim margins on the printers, which are intentionally sold cable-less.) You will spend substantially more for the cable (avg. cost $20) than you did for the camera. Try (avg. cost $2) instead.


Software has been written for Windows, Mac, and Unix/Linux that can download pictures from these cameras. Due to an incredibly stupid American intellectual property law known as the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), everyone (myself included) have been hesitant to release their software until now. While I (a non-lawyer) reading the text of the law find no reason that this software should violate it, this law has been "creatively" applied against the makers of a variety of seemingly non-infringing hardware and software. For a more in-depth look at the DMCA and how it could possibly apply to a device (and pictures) you LEGALLY OWN, check out John Maushammer's DMCA page.

Macintosh: Maushammer has written a Mac program to download pictures from the cam. This program allows you to download pictures, clear the camera's memory so you can use it again and again, and supports advanced developer/hardware hacker features such as raw memory and register dumps.

Windows: I have written a Windows program (source) based on John's Mac software that allows you to download pictures, clear the camera's memory so that you can use it again and again, and perform memory and register dumps.

Unix/Linux: gPhoto, a Linux program supporting over 400 makes of digital camera, is expected to soon have full support for the Dakota camera. Until the new code is merged, you can grab updated copies of the relavent gPhoto files from John's site.

Image quality information

A bit of advanced warning, the image quality obtained from these cameras is nothing to write home about--you will obtain better images from even today's low-end ($99) digitals. But for $11, it's really not that bad. The lens is inexpensive (similar to traditional single-use cameras) and adjusted at the factory to a minimum focal length of about 3 feet. Anything closer will appear out of focus. Lens-adjustment quality may be inconsistent--while the cameras we've been playing with show no obvious problems, some sample images found here show severe misalignment of the lens; the righthand side of every picture is out of focus. It is unclear whether this is a fluke, result of mishandling or rough treatment, or an indication of many more badly-adjusted cameras out there.

Despite claims heard that the camera is 2 megapixels, it is actually 1.3MP, and produces images with a size of 1280x960 pixels and average file size of about 400kb (although this varies greatly depending on the subject matter). Like many digital cameras, the pictures are somewhat darker than one would expect, and often can benefit from some lightening or gamma-correction tweaks from your preferred photo editing software.

Don't expect a lot of detail or clarity from your pictures (a paraphrase that comes to mind is "Unclear at any distance"); do expect a minor JPEG mess as the cam tries to guarantee that 25 pictures will fit into 16MB (or slightly less) of flash memory.

Click here to see some sample images from the camera.

Since I have noticed substantial motion blurs in some of my pictures, I figured I would measure the exposure length experimentally. The camera's "shutter speed" appears to be about 70-75 ms, or about 1/13 of a second both in medium light and extreme darkness; lighting level does not seem to have an effect. (These pictures are of a 'scope at 0.02sec/div; to my surprise, this actually turned out to be an acceptable speed indicator, relatively unaffected by residual phosphor glow.)

For reference, many professional photographers will insist on the use of a tripod at speeds slower than 1/60 sec. To avoid introducing more blur than usual, make sure the camera is held as still as possible.

Lens adjustment

One thing already mentioned is this camera's apparent lack of clarity. After a bit of playing with the lens focus, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could take pictures that did not suck! The problem appears to be that only a narrow range of distances is truly "in focus", anything closer or further will be blurred to varying degrees (it is unlikely that everything in your shot will be within this "sweet spot"). In particular, as manufactured, anything closer than several feet will be a big ball of fuzz.

Yes folks, this is human hair The lens of the Dakota/Walgreens cameras is adjusted at the factory, then secured in place with a blob of clear glue. A metal spring between the lens and what it screws into also helps hold it in adjustment. It is probably adjusted for 'infinity' or near enough to it, but if you cut/dig/chip away the glue, you can rotate the lens to adjust the camera's focal length. Turn clockwise to focus far, and counterclockwise to focus near--up to within an inch or so of the lens! Note that if you turn the lens counterclockwise (unscrew it) far enough, it will come off in your hand and you'll have to screw it back in. With the lens completely removed like this, you get a nifty view of the CMOS image sensor, but will not be able to take any discernible pictures.

By performing this adjustment, it is possible to take crystal-clear pictures at a wide range of distances. However, you will then be limited to taking pictures only at that distance without adjusting the lens again, as the sweet spot is very narrow. What I have done is pick up two Dakota cameras, leave one focused as-is (infinity), and adjust the other to about 10 inches for close-up work.

Picture FLASH memory stuff

The camera has been found to use the FAT12 filesystem to store picture data in its internal memory. This is a common Windows filesystem used for floppy disks and even CompactFlash cards. (Essentially, the memory chip in the camera IS a CompactFlash card.)

Check out John's flash-storage-format page for an in-depth look at the organization of memory and files. This steps through a by-hand recovery of files, and even an attempt at recovering a previously deleted file. While that was being written, I was also hard at work on some quicker n dirtier documentation of FAT12 and how to read files from it.

While the filesystem is standard enough, the physical locations of data on the chip are all over the place. Luckily, this is also standard; this randomish placement of data (known as wear-leveling) ensures that each block of memory on the chip has data written to it an equal number of times (or as equal as possible, anyway). This is because Flash memory bits can only be written a finite number of times--although each bit is rated to be reliably written over a million times, it makes no sense to use the same bits over and over, wearing them out, while others sit relatively unused. John's site also covers remapping the wear-leveled data.

To do list

Some things I would like to try with the camera:


What you see here is the result of hard work by a number of interested hardware hackers around the world. Besides the obvious appeal of being able to pick up a fully digital camera for $11 and not have to worry about using it in hazardous or high-risk situations, this was done simply to see if it could be done; a project for a rainy day (or a lot of them :-)

I apologize if I have forgotten anyone here - quite a few people and sites have been involved, and/or contributed in some way to the success of this project; almost too many to keep track of.

BSEE/CE For Sale Or Rent

I am a recently-graduated electrical engineer looking for work. If you know of any openings for an entry-level EE/CE, drop me a line or feel free to peruse/send my resume.


Before the method of enabling bulk transfers was discovered, we were extracting picture data 1 byte at a time by reading out the entire contents of the 16MB FLASH chip, a 10-hour process. John wrote a program called flashdump2iso.c which unscrambled the wear-leveled memory contents to an ISO filesystem image that could then be mounted on Macs as-is, or on Linux (after removing the blank space the cam leaves at the beginning). I then wrote a program called chewfat.cpp (Windows binary here) that extracts the pictures files from the ISO, for those who don't want to (or can't) mount ISOs as drives on their OS.

Contents © 2003 T. R. Gipson, dakota "at" cexx dot org. Reproduction in whole or in part permitted for personal use.