DIY Digital Stereo Camera

When I first saw the Dakota disposable cameras at a locals camera store I knew I’d be buying a few so I could make a camera that only exists in my dreams, a digital stereo camera.

After seeing the Use the (PureDigital) Dakota Digital Camera with your PC, I ran out and bought a few of these $11 dollar gems and set to work hacking them up. I figured I’d write up how I did it in case anyone else wants to try it themselves. It’s a pretty easy hack all things told, but still darn cool.



Two $11(US) digital cameras. The idea is to add a USB port to each of them so I can build a cheap and dirty digital stereo camera…



This is the normal interface port. The pin layout is available on the ‘net. I’ll be soldering some wires to four of these pads:

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



Some serial to USB converters [ oops, PS/2 to USB converters – John] . I salvaged these from some mice. Note the knife. This is an important part of every cool project, a knife…



Remove the green plastic and expose the port. Clean up and wires etc…



 The USB jacks. Male A type. Two. I should have used the other gender then I could have used any old USB cable, but I would have had to buy the jacks. This way costs less.



Remember to keep your small parts in a safe place. I use a soy sauce dish. Yum… Soy sauce…



 This is the mounting location. Carve a bit of plastic off the top and bottom of the case. Check for the correct fit.



This post needed to be cut down a tad, like totally removed.



You can see how the wires go under the battery case.



The USB jack installed with a hunk of sticky foam tape. Still need to carve a bit more off the back case.



Finished jack mod.



Lego parts are used as a quick mount. Hot glue was used to attach them.






Cross-eye image taken with the $22(US) digital stereo camera! The photos were taken by me hitting the shutters at the same time. Worked well. No moving objects help a lot here. I joined them in Photoshop. If the cameras had digital displays it would make life so much better, the lenses are not ‘true’ to the bodies to each one has a different center. Makes it a pain to crop and rotate them. Also, the cameras lenese are farther apart than a humans eyes are so the stereo effect is more pronounced in the images. I like it, gives you a giants eye view of things.



Photos with a flash must be done with care. If the shutters are activated too closely together one camera will pick up the others flash and over expose the top part of the photos. Took me a second to realize what was going on. I think the shutter speed is a fixed 1/60, but I’m not sure. The flash duration must be quite long. but what can you expect for dirt cheap cameras?

My final results from this experiment were promising but a little frustrating. I need to hack a little electronic shutter button to fire off both cameras at the same time. As each camera takes its own sweet time figuring out the exposures the times aren’t exactly the same. With an electronic control I might be able to take better photos with it. 

I think that at this point there are some big improvements to make on the design but the idea is sound. And its cheap. That’s important as heck if you ask me. Hardly anything is cooler than building a practical project for next to nothing.

Things for future revisions:

  • Use an adjustable arm. This will let me adjust the amount of seperation so I can take stereo images of big things like buildings.
  • Electronic shutter sync.
  • Better cameras. Yeah, I know that violates the entire cheap idea but what the heck.
  • A spirit level. Good for keeping the horizon lined up.
  • Tripod mount
  • One flash. Bigger problem than the weird overexposure thing with the miss timed shutters. This will involve opto isolators for sure…

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46 thoughts on “DIY Digital Stereo Camera”

  1. Try turning one of the cameras upside down, then they can be mounted closer still using the lego for quick distance adjustment.

    Very cheap, another couple of bits of lego and some hot glue ;-}>

  2. Very nicely done, although one bit of clarification – your USB/Serial connector is actually a USB/PS2 connector. But all in all, a very inspiring project.
    [You are correct! I’ll correct that ASAP. Thanks!

  3. Hey, cool hack. If you want to make a big impression for people who don’t know what is cool about stereo images, make a 2-frame animated gif flipping between the stereo pair… it will just jump off the screen. Try it!

  4. please post results for the shutter sync. i’d like to try some matrix-like rotation effects with many of these cameras. also, have you looked into creating 3d images? you setup might be perfect for that.
    [I thought of that but never wanted to spend the bucks on 20+ cameras. -John]

  5. Hmm–on your bottom sample picture, I tried my usual method of viewing stereo pics (letting my eyes drift until the images are superimposed)… and the stereo effect is reversed, meaning the items at the front of the shelves seem to be further away to the viewer!

    It’s a cool effect, but a little funky. Any chance you have the left/right pictures reversed? Could be just me, but I stared at it a while, and it’s definitely odd.
    [Yeah, I tend to make my stereo images for cross eyed viewing. I’ll see if I can find the originals and reverse them.

  6. Stereo Photo Maker is a free (as in beer) program that makes anaglyphs really easy. I use it for all my stereo photos. The latest version even has some nice fine adjustment features (rotate, size, etc).

    [I know about that program ( I did a short review of it not to long ago). Works very well, but when I was doing the photos from the digital stereo camera I hadn’t started using it yet. Thanks for pointing it out though, hopefuly other people will give it a go.

  7. John,
    I built something similar to this with an old pair of JamCams (no longer made) but i mounted them in a frame with a mechanical release — a beam attached to the mount with a hinge with a couple of 6-32 bolts to make the shutters click at the same time. A picture of the camera, as well as several pictures in anaglyph format is at

    The synchronization you are talking about seems to be solved by some of the Stereo Hackers. The trick is to electrically tie the “power” buttons together as well as the “shutter” buttons. It seems as though the delay time is pretty closely tied with how long the camera has been on. By getting the on time in sync, it seems as though the shutters are as well.

    great article… and seeing as how i dropped my homemade stereo camera, i think i need to get some of the CVS cameras.

    Thank you for a great article.

    Also, a plug for some software i use a LOT. Its called Pokescope; it costs 99 dollars, and it makes the alignment and processing of your pictures a snap. ( ihave no commercial interest in this program except that i bought a copy.)


    [Cool, I’ll have to give that a try. I figured something like that would work but I got too busy with other stuff to try doing it. I might take a look at Pokescope, but its going to be tough to match Stereo Photo Maker for features and price.
    -John ]

  8. got one problem…..where do i actually hook up the wires for the usb port in the camera to work?
    [ Please have a look at, it tells exactly where to solder what wires to the card connector in the camera. The edge connector is numbered 1-10 and these correspond to the black (gnd), white (-), green (data+), and red (+) wires of the USB port.

  9. You might also try running both cameras from a single power supply as differences in the batteries between the two cameras might cause different shutter speeds.


  10. I just took apart a dakota camera and got some usb mini-b connectors after reading runkin’s article…

    I’m having problems understanding how to attach/solder wires directly to the mini-b connector… Or do I have this wrong?

    The pins are very close together. Do I need to get a sleeve for each pin and then solder the sleeve onto a wire. THen do I solder the other part of the wire to the camera?

    Also, I couldn’t figure out why it was so hard taking apart the camera…

    Nobody suggested about removing the direction sticker on the back. Once you do this, there are 3 screws to undo…

    The camera still is taking pictures, so I hope I haven’t trashed it.

    If possible, could someone answer my question and even better, show a close up picture of how to fasten the wires to the usb.

    [(The page Alexander is talking about is here: Dakota Single Use Camera )
    I didn’t bother to heat shrink the wires on my USB connector but then again I was using a much larger port. I might give the mini-b a try on my next mod. The above link has him using ribbon cable, the wire size should keep the wires from touching once soldered. Keep the plastic covering as close to the USB connector just to be sure.
    Sorry about the sticker, I forget that some people aren’t used to dealing with covered screws. I suggest that anyone trying to open anything with a sticker run their finger over it to see if they can detect any indentations. Those are usually where a screw is hidden.
    -John ]

  11. Great project!

    Sp`ange suggests angling the cameras in. This is a common misconception about stereoscopic vision and a bad idea. (It caused a great deal of eye strain in early 3D movies.)

    Offset projection (with both cameras aimed parallel) is the correct approach.

    Don’t think of the cameras as being proxies for your eyes — they aren’t. The pictures they create act more like windows that your eyes look through onto the scene. If you plan to place those images parallel to each other (like on a table or computer monitor), then you want to place the cameras’ “film planes” parallel to each other as well.

  12. Used the idea of tying batteries together, and also hooked shutter buttons to single button. Mounted cameras on slide bar and systems seems to work well for hyperstereo shots with no problems with shutter sink

  13. Steve Drinkut: Cool! I did some work with tying the batteries and shutters together before I left on vacation. I had not problems with the shutters by themselves but the flashes were still off. I think I’ve tracked the problem down the poor charging caps on the flash. One takes a lot longer to charge than the other and produces a different color cast to the image when it’s fired. I’ll look into it more once I get back to the states (I’m in Thailand right now). Do you have your results posted anywhere?

  14. Hi… I just finished installing my usb connection to a dakota camera. Unplugged, the camera will continue to take pictures. When I plug it in, windows2000 says it is detecting a digital camera. I then specific the location and file name; libusb.inf. It then says it could not find a suitable driver and then disables the device.

    Is there anything I can do? Any experience along these lines in knowing what to do?

    [Go take a look at , this page has info on how the software works. I don’t support the software just my weird hack.

  15. Hi All…

    Is this web site dead?

    I really hope not… I would love to get this camera to work…

    The usb wire I am using is just a standard one, not one taken from a Palm cradle…

    Would that matter?

    [No, the wire should work. Pretty much if you can fit it in the case it will work. Just make sure the pins match up and you should be set.

  16. VPutz,
    this is because you are a parallel viewer. try crossing your eyes and superimposing the images that way instead.

  17. Hi: I have one of the Wirgin Stereo Camera, and the shutter is sticking, I was wondering where I could get it repaired. If you should know of a place that does that kind of repair, could you email me at: I would appreciate it. Thanks in advance.

    Ted Lazaris

    Off the top of my head I can’t think of any but I did a searching on the ‘net and rounded up these for you:

    Essex Camera Service in New Jersey ( )

    There are is a small number of people who work exclusively on stereo cameras who may be reached on the photo3d Yahoo! group. If nothing else, they will be able to provide personal experiences for various repairshops

    Lawrence Kaufman tells us Jess Powell has reliably worked on stereo cameras for over 25 years. His stereo camera repair/CLA service has been called second-to-none. He has all of the tools to do just about any repair/ adjustment you require, including one of the best Cleaning-Lubricating-Adjustments (CLA) in the business.

    Jess works on all stereo cameras including: Wollensak, Realist, Busch Verascope, Revere, Kodak, Colorist I, Colorist II, Kendar, Stereo Graphic, Iloca II, Realist 45, and Tower. If you’re looking for excellent workmanship, reasonable price and quick turnaround, contact Jess at 131 Bartlett Avenue, Woodland, CA 95695, (530) 666-5334.

    Jess also sells instructional videos on how to disassemble and reassemble, repairs, lubricating, etc. many of the stereo cameras you use.

    Mary Ann Rhoda, FPSA, Editor
    2511 East Funston, Wichita, KS 67211-4629
    (316) 682-7794,

    Best of luck with these.

  18. Search out a program called Anabuilder.It’s freeware/donations. Really great for editing your pix,I sent the guy 10 Euro I was so impressed.

  19. Joe: I took a look at some of your photos but none of them have depth. You need to shift one of the photos (when you take the picture) by moving the camera slightly. I will admit that the images do look more vibrant when you are looking at the same image with each eye. Not sure why but it’s not an image with depth.

  20. Some of my young students had a project working on 3D pictures. One of them solved his problem building two Instamatic cameras together, just like you did. This was in the 80’s, before digital cameras were out on the market.
    Another student solved the problem by putting a tube covering the front of the camera lens, and then gluing together two other tubes (8cm apart) in front of the first tube. Using 4 small mirrors, he could direct the picture into the camera. This solution was the taped to a SLR camera. It was not only cheap, it was elegant and for free. The two pictures came in one frame.

  21. If you attach a 45 degree mirror in front of one flash that flash can be used as a bounce flash, it will also divert the flash from direct subject so you do not get over exposure.

  22. A very good job indeed; however, I would have liked to have seen a picture with people in it. The still life photos you presented could have more easily been taken with a regular digital camera and a sliding bar attachment. I have made one out of balsa wood for my Nikon Coolpix 5700. For still life photos this is a lot cheaper, a lot easier and allows you any stereo separation you desire. Still and all, a good job.

  23. I use the two identical pictures,about 2 Inch. square,next each other,they are astronomy shots,with stars or galaxies etc,with good quality
    photos they are superb 3D shots’I would like to take star constelation shots several hours apart,to enhanced 3D.
    Kind regards Len at heathrow London.

  24. Hi,
    Can anybody tell me how identical photos can be seen in 3D,one of my eyes sees things slightly bigger than the other,but noticably so,is this the answer,try it yourself.
    Kind regards,Len.

  25. Len: “’I would like to take star constelation shots several hours apart,to enhanced 3D.”

    Because of the amazingly large distances involved with taking photos of stars your going to need a baseline as large as you can get. Your best bet would be to take a your photos exactly six months apart and with a telephoto lens. It won’t be nearly enough to give you a good stereo photo but there will be a tiny amount of separation.

    “Can anybody tell me how identical photos can be seen in 3D,one of my eyes sees things slightly bigger than the other”

    I believe your experiencing an optical illusion. What the exact name and brain function is involved I do not know but I have seen the same thing. It might be rooted in the same area that will give you pseudo 3D if you see a video of horizontal movement while one eye has a semi dark lens on it. Try it the next time you see a parade on TV. 🙂

  26. im not ganna lie, this is bye far the best stereo camera, for under 50 bucks…. you should definently try to get a set of twinky(the same) cameras with the rapid purst or video… than you could be creating 3d gifs and alsorts of things…. really cool… oh and a great program for converting your parallel pictures into anaglyphs is called anabuilder… really cool program…check it out…

  27. why did you not just press the shutters one after the other as they are STILL LIFE pics??????? its only when taking ACTION shots do you to sync the cameras exactly.  Doyle

  28. After reading this part, “I need to hack a little electronic shutter button to fire off both cameras at the same time,” I’m left wondering. So what is the point of the USB ports anyway? I thought you were putting those in so that you could sync the shutters and the flashes. Otherwise I’ve done exactly this with just ONE camera. Take a snapshot, step to the left and take another snapshot. Except that system doesn’t work with live models.

    I think the ultimate setup would be a pair of cams capable of taking movies that are properly synced.

    For the flash problem, why not just disable one altogether. Of course this will only work if the shutters are synced properly.

    Another idea is to mount a prism (or mirror) in front of the lens so that two seperate pictures are taken by a single CCD. Then you can be sure that both images (or rather both halves) share the same focus and aperture settings when the pic is ‘snapped’.

    All in all this is a great article. Cheers to you.

  29. Paul,
    The USB port is just to get the data off the cameras. I think you can use them as a web cam but you need to tether it to a PC for that.
    I did do an experiment with two video cameras at the same time, I posted the results on YouTube but I can’t remember the links right now.
    The idea of mounting a prism or a mirror in front of the lens is quite valid however with a lens and sensor this small the image quality would suffer greatly. Do a search for ‘beam splitter stereo camera’ and you should get quite a few hits. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, check back once in a while because I’m planning on doing some more projects soon.
    -John (Admin)

  30. Hello,

    A beginner queries, please feel free to have a laugh but please make sure to answer.

    1. Why do I need 2 separated lenses to capture the same image? why cant I edit the one image on photoshop and add t a green and red layers and shift them apart if needed?

    2. Did anyone bought the TL120-1 ( ) ? does it work fine? any alternative for a medium format 3D Camera? any suggestion for Digital Meduim 3D CameraA?



  31. Yaqov 1) You need two cameras (lenses) to capture two different views of the same objects at the same time. You can make do with one but you will have to move the camera slightly to one side and hope your subject will hold still. Wikipedia has a good into to the technique:
    2) I have no but I would love to have a go at that. For an ‘entry level’ medium format camera try to find a Russian ‘Sputnik 120’. They may cost a bit but it will get you where you need to go.
    As for medium format digital… I have not a clue.

  32. I bought a CVS pure digital camera. the pegs where you connect the USB cable are numbered differently on this camera. any idea what wire goes where for this one?

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