Raspberry Pi announces a new higher resolution Camera Module 3 with autofocus and HDR
The Raspberry Pi Foundation has released a number of cameras over the years for its credit card-sized single-board computer, the Raspberry Pi (and it’s variants). The first iteration was a relatively mediocre 5-megapixels. The Pi Camera 2 brought this up to 8.1-megapixels. Now, the new Camera Module 3 bumps this up to a little more useful 11.9-megapixels. It’s also the first Raspberry Pi camera with phase detect autofocus.
Sure, it’s not the 60+ megapixels of high-end mirrorless cameras, but this is a Raspberry Pi we’re talking about. It’s not designed for shooting high-resolution landscapes and fine art photography. It’s largely for smaller-scale applications like basic live streaming, monitoring and AI. The increased resolution, though, along with the addition of autofocus, opens up more potential options.
The Raspberry Pi Camera Module 3 isn’t the first camera module for the Raspberry Pi that supports autofocus. Nor is it the highest resolution. In fact, it’s not even the highest resolution camera the Raspberry Pi Foundation makes. That’s the HQ camera, released in 2020. Also, the folks at ArduCam released a 64-megapixel autofocus camera module that provides autofocus functionality last year. But this is the first official camera module from Raspberry Pi themselves that offers autofocus capabilities. And as well as offering autofocus, it also features HDR support, thanks to its Sony IMX708 Quad Bayer sensor.
I expect that the benefits of the new HDR mode and autofocus will primarily be of use to AI vision systems. It will allow them to survey scenes in all kinds of difficult and contrasty lighting conditions, as well as adjust their focus once it detects a subject in order to be able to figure out what it’s seeing. But it also offers potential benefits for DIY cameras – and we’ve seen plenty of those here on DIYP – whether they be handheld devices or more purpose-built units, like DIY wildlife camera traps and long-term timelapse cameras.
It also means that you won’t be range limited. The smaller fixed-focus Raspberry Pi cameras of the past have generally led to their use case often being quite limited unless you want to physically hack the module to swap out lenses or add extra bits to help with close focus. However, you were still pretty much locked into a set focus distance unless you wanted to rehack it and make more changes. The new autofocus capabilities should be very useful for those DIY wildlife camera traps I mentioned above.
It can also record 1080p video at up to 50 frames per second, with higher frame rates available at lower resolutions. Video also supports both HDR mode as well as autofocus capability for those of you planning to either record video or live stream using the Camera Module 3. In fact, the video above was actually shot using the Camera Module 3. The Raspberry Pi Open Source Camera System powered by libcamera also offers you precise control over image settings and processing.
There are several variants of the Raspberry Pi Camera Module 3. You’ve got one that offers a “standard” field of view and one which gives an ultra-wide-angle field of view. There are also infrared-sensitive versions of both of those lens options for four total modules. Prices start at $25 for the standard version and $35 for the ultra-wide-angle version. You can find out more and where to buy one on the Raspberry Pi website.
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.