Otto is the first product to make use of the Raspberry Pi Compute Module and it is open, hackable and takes animated GIFs which are automatically uploaded to your phone.
The Raspberry Pi Compute Module was announced at the end of April and Otto makes use of it as its computational core. This is very likely to be the first of many similar innovative products that make use of the low-cost computational power provided by the Pi. Otto isn't just another digital camera, it really is a new bundle of features and could well create a new market niche for itself.
Otto is the brainchild of Next Thing Computing. It is currently on Kickstarter and at the time of writing well on its way to making its $60,000 goal. It doesn't look like a top notch semi-pro digital camera and that's by design. It looks like an old fashioned low-end film camera of the type you might give to kids. What is novel about this camera is that it may look like a cheapo plastic snapper but it can do some really interesting things.
The "film winder" on the top takes a sequence of stills as you rotate it to "advance the film" and when you "rewind the film" these are combined to create an animated GIF. Of course there might be some users who don't remember what film cameras were like and so might not get the reference to the older tech. The use of the film winder to take still sequences makes this something between a still camera and a movie camera.
To see how it works in animated GIF mode see the video:
The animated GIF mode is enough to make Otto novel, but the fact that it uses a Raspberry Pi means it can be used in other modes and can be customized.
The idea is that Otto is an image making machine that can replace lots of different cameras and imaging techniques - time lapse, photo booth, special effects and so on. You control Otto via your mobile phone and it connects using WiFi and stores images on its own internal SD card. It has a small 96x96 OLED display and a really big shutter button. The optical part of the deal is a 3-zone manual focus 35mm f/2 lense - and it has an optical viewfinder which is going to be another shock to users who have never had to look through one. The 5 megapixel sensor can work at 2592x1944 pixels and can capture HD vidoe at 20 to 90 frames per second depending on the resolution.
As this is a Raspberry Pi it is completely customizable in that you can write your own code and download it.
"Using the OTTO SDK, you can modify every bit of OTTO’s software. Recompile the kernel, load it up with additional Linux packages, or just peek under the hood and see how it all works."
There is even a very weird hardware expansion option called Flashyflashy that looks like an old flash bulb attachment. How many users are going to remember those?
It connects via the flash shoe on the top of the camera and then to a USB port on the front and it provides an Arduino-powered interface to any sensors you care to add.
So does it have any downsides?
The most obvious problem is that it just can't compete with even a low end multi-mega pixel DSLR and when it comes to lens quality, sophistication and ... well you get the idea. However as the company says:
"OTTO will never compete with a DSLR in terms of megapixels but we think OTTO has a lot more fun ;)
We think the future of photography isn't just greater fidelity, but greater flexibility. "
Perhaps the most exciting thing about Otto is that it is clearly going to be fun as soon as you take it out of the box but with some software and perhaps hardware skills you can have so much more fun with it.
I can't help but think that they might do even better with a cool futuristic design rather than something retro.