Install a Camera on your Raspberry Pi: The Ultimate Guide


A camera is a must-have for any Raspberry Pi owner, as it allows you to try dozens of interesting new projects. But I remember being puzzled with my first camera, having no idea how to plug it and configure it on my Raspberry Pi. If you are now in the same situation, this article will answer all your questions.

Here are the main steps required to use a camera module on a Raspberry Pi:

  • Plug the module to the camera port of the Raspberry Pi.
  • Enable the camera port in the Raspberry Pi configuration tool (Interfaces tab).
  • Check that the camera is working with: raspistill -o test.jpg.

In this guide, I’ll also show you how to choose the camera. I will then explain every step of the installation and give you a few tips you need to know to enjoy your new device right away.

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Hardware prerequisites

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Introduction

If you already have a camera, perfect, you’re ready to go. But for those who are here to learn how a camera works on Raspberry Pi before buying it, I will give you a few tips before placing the order.

In this part, I’ll show you a few camera models I recommend and how to make your choice. We’ll also have a quick look at other useful accessories to enjoy your camera.

Camera models

Unlike USB cameras on a computer, the number of available products for Raspberry Pi is quite limited.

Official Raspberry Pi Camera Module

The first official camera from the Raspberry Pi Foundation : Camera Module (source: Raspberry Pi)

The Raspberry Pi Foundation offers two camera models, and I’ll show you both. This one was the first available, and has been updated in 2016 (for v2).

It’s now a high-quality camera with an 8 megapixel sensor that allows you to get HD pictures (3280 × 2464 pixels) and videos (1080p max). This model is compatible with any Raspberry Pi model and easy to install on Raspberry Pi OS (we’ll see that later).

It’s available on Amazon.com (check the current price here) and the official website.

Raspberry Pi NoIR Camera Module

The other version of the Raspberry Pi Foundation camera module : NoIR (source: Raspberry Pi)

This one is almost the same, so I’ll be quick.
The NoIR version has the same capabilities (8MP, 1080p, …).

The only difference is the ability to take infrared photographs.
The price is also a bit higher, but if you have a few extra dollars available, take this one. It’s often used for security cameras or to take photos in a low light environment. Even if you’re not sure to use this feature regularly, it doesn’t matter, it’s worth it (click here to check the updated price).

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Also, the Raspberry Pi Foundation recently released a new high-quality camera model. It’s like a tiny reflex camera, and you can put additional lenses on it. It looks like this (Amazon), if you want to check it out.

It’s more expensive, and you don’t really need it for most projects, but if you want something more professional, you can look at these options.

Other models?

If you are looking for an affordable solution, there is not really a better model than these. If you just want to have one for educational purposes, you can absolutely find a cheaper camera.
For example, this one was my first camera, it’s perfect to learn how to use a camera on Raspberry Pi, but the quality is lower. It’s half the price, but if you have to buy another one a few months later, it’s not worth it.

Other things to consider

A camera is an external device and will often stay outside the case, so depending on what your projects are, you may need other accessories.

I will just give you a few extra links to look at, so you can do your research easily:

  • Some cases are compatible with the camera, to include the main board and the camera inside. For example, the “Argon Neo” model seems perfect as there is a built-in support for the camera on the case (check the picture on Amazon). I have a complete review about this case that you can find here.
  • Another thing you may have to consider is to keep your current case for the Raspberry Pi and use a simple holder to keep the camera vertical.
    raspberry pi camera holder
    There are many similar products, you can check this one for example.
    Along with the benefit of keeping your current case, it’s also easier to use the camera if you can just put it on a table (for example), instead of trying to keep it in the right place and orientation.
  • The last thing you may need is another camera cable.
    The included cable is 15 cm long, that’s fine for a basic usage, but you may need to have a shorter or longer cable to fit your needs.
    In this pack on Amazon, you have a few cable lengths you can use and change for each project (from 30 cm to 1 m).

Steps to Install a Camera on a Raspberry Pi

Now that you have everything you need, we can start the serious part of this tutorial 🙂

Install Raspberry Pi OS

Raspberry Pi OS (ex Raspbian) is the recommended operating system to install and use a camera on Raspberry Pi. Everything is included and especially if you choose the official model, you’ll have absolutely no issue with it. I don’t know exactly which systems are compatible, you may want to try them later, but start with Raspberry Pi OS for now.

I already wrote a guide on how to install Raspberry Pi OS on Raspberry Pi, feel free to check it if you’re not confident with the installation.
You can use the Desktop or Lite version, both are working fine with any compatible camera, so choose the one you prefer for your project.
The only advantage of the Desktop version is that you can check the picture directly on Raspberry Pi OS if you have a screen in your setup.
For remote access only, keep the Lite version.

After the installation, make sure you made these steps:

  • Raspberry Pi OS installed with anything you need (applications, network, …)
  • Raspberry Pi OS configured with all your favorites settings (keyboard layout and language for example)
  • System updated with the latest version of all packages
    sudo apt update
    sudo apt upgrade
  • SSH enabled to allow remote access for the first tests
    sudo service ssh start
  • If you choose the Desktop version, you can also install a remote desktop app to do everything from your computer.

Once everything is OK, you can shut down the Raspberry Pi to install the camera
sudo shutdown -h now

A bit lost in the Linux command line? Check this article first, which will give you the most important commands to remember, and a free downloadable cheat sheet so you can have the commands at your fingertips.

Connect the camera to the Raspberry Pi

The camera installation on the Raspberry Pi is straightforward once you find the port location:

  • Take the Raspberry Pi out of its box
  • Find the camera port on the Raspberry Pi (between the HDMI and jack port)
    You’ll find it easily because it’s the only one that fit the cable width, and it may be written “CAMERA” on the main board.
  • Before plugging the cable, you may need to remove the plastic film and lightly pull the black plastic
  • Plug the cable and push the black plastic to hold the cable inside
  • Make sure to align both connectors on the same side (cable connectors on the HDMI port side)
    camera cable raspberry pi
  • Then I recommend starting with a rapid test before holding everything in the case and/or in the holder, just to be sure that it’s working 🙂

Plug all cables back (power, HDMI, network, USB …) and start the Raspberry Pi.

If you have any doubt, you can watch the first minute of this video to see how to plug your camera:

Enable the camera port on Raspberry Pi OS

Before using the camera on your Raspberry Pi, you need to enable it in your system. The camera port is disabled by default.

  • Connect using SSH (you can find useful tips here to connect via SSH from your computer).
    If you prefer, you can use a terminal on the Raspberry Pi OS desktop, or even use the Lite version.
  • Start the raspi-config tool
    sudo raspi-config
  • Go to “Interface options” > “Camera”
  • “Would you like the camera interface to be enabled?”
    Yes!
  • Exit raspi-config and accept the reboot

That’s all you need to do.
After the reboot, the camera is ready to use.

Note: If you are new to this and use the Desktop version, you don’t need to type any command. Just open the Raspberry Pi configuration tool (under Preferences in the main menu). Click on the “Interfaces” tab and enable the camera.

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If you experience any issue with the camera installation, or for any reason it doesn’t work as expected, please check this troubleshooting guide for the Raspberry Pi camera module.

Commands you can use on Raspberry Pi OS to manage the camera

I will now introduce two useful commands to record and see what happen on your camera.

Take a photo

The first thing you can try is to simply take a picture of the image seen by the camera.
“raspistill” is the corresponding command on Raspberry Pi OS.
It’s already installed on your system.

To use it, the basic command line is:
raspistill -o image.jpg

With -o you define the target file name (where the pictures will be saved)
It’s possible to use a file name including the path, for example:
raspistill -o ~/Pictures/mypicture.jpg

By using raspistill without a parameter, you’ll get the command help with all possible options. You can also check this page on the Raspberry Pi website for other basic options.

Record a video

To record a video, the command is almost the same.
“raspivid” is the corresponding command name.

So like for pictures, to record a video use:
raspivid -o video.h264
Use the CTRL+C shortcut to stop the recording.
.h264 files are compatibles with VLC.
On Raspberry Pi OS Desktop:
sudo apt install vlc

Same thing to see all the parameters available, use raspivid without anything else to get all options with a short description. Useful options are :

  • t : to choose the video duration in ms (ex: 6000 for a 6s video). This way you don’t need to use CTRL+C and can schedule the video capture with a script or cron
  • -w and -h: video size (width and height)

Get files on your computer (Raspberry Pi OS Lite)

You may be asking how to download pictures on your computer after this.

The easiest way is to use software like FileZilla or WinSCP :

  • FileZilla is a free tool available on Windows, Linux and macOS.
    It’s mostly used to connect to FTP servers, but there is an option to use it for SCP transfers.
    You can download the setup files here.
  • SCP is a secured protocol to copy files on the network over SSH.
    So, you don’t need anything else on the Raspberry Pi.
  • Open FileZilla
  • To try it quickly, you can use the quick connect option under the menu:

    But there is also a “Site manager” to store all your servers and connect without entering anything.
  • Fill the host with the Raspberry Pi IP address.
    Then the username (probably “pi”) and the pi password
  • Click “Quickconnect” when ready
  • On the left side, this is your computer, browse to the path where you want to download files to (C:\Users\username\Pictures for example)
  • On the right side, it’s the Raspberry Pi, browse to the location where you saved the pictures or video
  • Double-click on a file to download it.
    Or select multiple files, right-click and “Download files”

Control the camera with Python

The last interesting thing I want to show you is to use an advanced programming language (Python), to go further with your camera and include it in bigger projects.

Introduction

If you are new to Python and want to do more things on Raspberry, I think you may need to learn it. Python is a central language on Raspberry Pi (if I remember well, the Pi from Raspberry Pi comes from Python). And the good news is that everything is available on a default Raspberry Pi OS to use Python directly (editors, compilers, basic libraries, …).

In this part, I will not teach you everything about Python, that’s not the goal, but just how to use your camera with it. If you want to learn more, I have a detailed guide on how to start with Python here. You can even go to this article and download my cheat sheet with the main syntax structures to remember.

First script with Python

OK, let’s start with the first script to take pictures with Python. In the following steps, I continue with Raspberry Pi OS Lite. If you are on Raspberry Pi OS Desktop, there are many editors you can use like Thonny (pre-installed) or other available with apt.

Create your first script :

  • Install the Python camera library:
    sudo apt install python-picamera
  • Create a new Python file:
    nano first_script.py
  • Paste the following sample code into the file:
import picamera
with picamera.PiCamera() as camera:
camera.start_preview()
camera.capture('/home/pi/Images/python.jpg')
camera.stop_preview()
  • Save and exit (CTRL+A, CTRL+D)
  • Create the Images folder if needed:
    mkdir /home/pi/Images
  • Run the script
    python first_script.py
  • Check the result in /home/pi/Images
    You can see the python.jpg file with the picture you just took
    (Use WinSCP, FileZilla or scp to copy the file on your computer and check the picture)

It’s only a basic script where you get the basics on how to take a picture in Python. If you already know Python, you can do everything from here
(All available functions are in the documentation here).

Improve the script

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Now, I’ll show you another example, with more advanced features.
The goal here is to give you an extra delay after starting the script, to prepare your best smile before the photo 🙂

We’ll do this in two steps, a basic one and a slightly improved one.

  • Create a new file (you can also edit the previous one as almost nothing changes for the first sample)
    nano picture_delay.py
  • Paste these lines :

import time
import picamera
with picamera.PiCamera() as camera:
camera.start_preview()
time.sleep(5)
camera.capture('/home/pi/Images/python2.jpg')
camera.stop_preview()

  • That’s almost the same script for now
    The sleep function allows you to wait a few seconds (5 in the example) before continuing
  • Save and Exit (CTRL+A, CTRL+D)
  • Try it :
    python picture_delay.py
  • Did you have the time to do your best smile?
    Probably, but you have to keep it for a few seconds without knowing if the shot was taken

We’ll improve that now, and add a sound when the script takes the picture

  • Edit the previous file (or create a new one) :
    nano picture_delay_sound.py
  • Paste these lines into the file :
import pygame 
import time
import picamera

with picamera.PiCamera() as camera:
     camera.start_preview()
     time.sleep(4)
     pygame.mixer.init()
     pygame.mixer.music.load("flash.wav")
     pygame.mixer.music.play()
     time.sleep(1)
     camera.capture('/home/pi/Images/python.jpg')
     camera.stop_preview()
  • Save and exit
  • You’ll probably need to install the pygame library :
    sudo apt install python-pygame
  • You may also need to find the flash.wav file, or use something else.
    For basic sounds, Soundbible offer direct download, for example, this one: Soundbible clicking sound.
    Many sites offer many sounds, but most of them require a free account, Soundbible allows direct download without an account.
  • Once you find it, rename the wav file or edit the script, and run the script:
    python picture_delay_sound.py
  • With an audio output on the Raspberry Pi, you’ll hear the sound one second before the shot

That’s it for my second script. You now need to code the script corresponding to your needs. This documentation might help you.

FAQ

Can I plug a camera on a Raspberry Pi Zero?

A camera module can also be used with a Raspberry Pi Zero, but a different ribbon is required. Make sure to buy a camera module where a ribbon corresponding to your Raspberry Pi model is provided (this one for example).

How do I know if the camera module is properly connected to the Raspberry Pi?

There is no detector or tool to know if a camera is correctly plugged. Just follow the installation procedure and make a test to see if it works or if you encounter any error.

Can I use a USB camera on my Raspberry Pi?

As a whole, Raspberry Pi supports most USB cameras, so it should be possible to use one instead of the camera module. Just plug it to a USB port and start a compatible application.

You can for example use it in OBS Studio, to record or stream the video.

Conclusion

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I hope you enjoyed this introduction on how to install and configure a camera on Raspberry Pi. If you make bigger projects with your camera, it would be nice to share them here with us, I’ll love it!

If you are looking for projects ideas you can do with a camera, click on the link to find my recommendations, you will see that everything is possible 🙂

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Patrick Fromaget

I'm the lead author and owner of RaspberryTips.com. My goal is to help you with your Raspberry Pi problems using detailed guides and tutorials. In real life, I'm a Linux system administrator with a web developer experience.

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