I'm wanting to create a basic digital camera, I have most of it figured out... except for the image sensor itself. Looking in the normal places (digikey, mouser), I'm finding some very basic, low resolution, poor performance sensors from Omnivision. Realistically, I'd like the camera to be able to take somewhat decent photos, and I don't have much experience with optics, so I'm looking more for an integrated solution, much like a camera module from a smartphone.

Am I going to be able to order small quantities for prototypes from companies like Sony (who to my knowledge have done the past iPhone cameras)?

Does anyone know where I would get started reverse engineering the iPhone 5s's camera module? It's relatively inexpensive (40 dollars or so from iFixit), I'm just not sure how I could even go about starting to understand how to talk to it, seeing as I wouldn't be able to get a datasheet. Would it be possible to find a cable with the correct connector to bridge the connection between a dummy iPhone and the camera module probe the communication (are the tiny connectors available, or are they proprietary?).

Lastly, is this the right direction to go with this anyway? If I develop something useful and would like to sell/mass produce it in the future, am I going to be able to ask sony for a camera module that's compatible with the work I've done?

Thanks guys! I couldn't find much information in this space, other than what Mike Harrison (from mikeselectricstuff) has done with the iPod nano camera. Thanks for your help.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Nick, nowhere in my question did I ask where to literally purchase an image sensor, I'm interested in the process of actually being able to buy one in the first place, and where I wokld get started reverse engineering modules I know how to get. I don't know where to find these answers. I did my homework, and not many people that I can find are working on hobbyist projects with high quality sensors. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Egan
    Dec 10, 2014 at 6:12

1 Answer 1


Even at volume Sony is not always interested in playing along :) The higher you go in resolution/performance with image sensors the harder they will be to get. The good stuff will all require an NDA, which will mean they want to look at your business to see if they even want to engage.

I would recommend you start with modules like you say. I don't know the iphone camera but I'd wager it's either a SLVDS but more likely a MIPI interface which you can read about online.

Interfacing to a raw image sensor takes more than just connecting to the camera the hard part is the image processing of the raw data, the adjustment of the 100s of registers in the sensor (often per frame), and the tuning to make a video that looks decent :)

Have you considered the Rasberry PI and it's camera for your project? That might be a good beginner way to go.

Last piece of advice, build your project so that it's useful to people using parts you can get. Don't worry about mass production worry about getting 1 customer, or 10 customers that's even harder than scaling...


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