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Friday, August 29, 2008

Hack Turns iPhone into Macro Camera

Hi there, many of you may have seen my Flickr posts referenced on TUAW, MacMod, and elsewhere, so here’s a quick little writeup about how to focus your iPhone 3G (and iPhone, if you choose to use normal iPhone disassembly instructions to replace my steps 1-3 instead).

First, make sure your phone is on (yes, it’s odd, but will be explained later), and in the camera application. Now lock the phone.

Next, you should make sure to have the proper tools handy before you continue. You will need:

  • iPhone (or really for that matter, a number of other similar camera phones)
  • An understanding that this may void your warranty, AppleCare, and may not work at all or damage your phone if done improperly
  • Jeweler’s philips screwdriver
  • Needlenose pliers
  • iPhone/Pod case cracking tool:
    Official type
    Black stick
    Old Credit Card
    Flatblade screwdriver (not recommended as can damage case)

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s look at picture 1. Here, you see the case being opened. The digitizer won’t simply fall out after the screws are removed due to a rubber gasket around the edge of the screen that holds it into the case. Gently pry into the case between the digitizer edge and the Chrome border, and it should come loose. Gently tilt the screen up so that the underside can be accessed.

Now that we have a nice convenient access to the inside of the phone, you will notice that Apple, in making up for their annoyingly hard to work on first-generation phones was kind enough to not only number every connector, but also make them easy to remove. Connectors 1 (LCD), 2 (Digitizer), and 3 (Power?) need to be disconnected. Be careful with 3 as it should first have its locking tab released, then slide the flat ribbon cable tip out of its connector.

You should now see a nice empty work area as image 3 shows. This is ideal, for it lets us evaluate the situation and work on removing the glue that much easier than fighting with the screen flopping around in our way. You will first need to remove the screw holding the corner of the camera down. As a sidenote, on reassembly, you will want to make sure this is straight or your camera may be rotated and no longer take level pictures. Once the screw is removed, you should be able to flip the camera back on its flat ribbon cable. If you are working on a first-generation iPhone, you will have to remove the assembly and pull off the rubber gasket around it, as the cable isn’t secured solidly enough to flip it back and forth without accidentally disconnecting it. On the 3G iPhone, the cable will not disconenct without completely disassembling the phone, just be gentle.

At this point you should have access to the front of the camera and the lens should be pointing up as in the 4th. image. First-gen owners note, the camera looks a little different, but is constructed the same. The first, and hardest task of this whole mod is the removal of the glue Apple, or the manufacturer of the camera module, has slapped between the inner lens assembly (disk looking thing with a lens in the middle) and the outer body (thin ring around the edge of the camera). This glue was applied at the two indented points on opposite sides of the camera as indicated, but is rather rubbery. I found that slicing lightly along the division and then scraping with the backside of the blade, I could remove almost all visible glue (it may leave light marks, but as long as some “crumbs” of the rubber glue come out, you should be fine. Now, you may be able to rotate the inner assembly by hand if none seeped in further, but if it still won’t budge, try grasping the raised area with protruding “grip” sections with the pliers and rotate clockwise gently. It should break free, and now be turnable by finger. Rotating counterclockwise makes closer objects in focus, while rotating clockwise goes back out.

On both the first-gen and 3G, you can use the camera app to give a live preview.

  • On the first-gen, as all you must remove is the back, just wake the phone up and go to camera application of your choice.
  • On the 3G, live adjusting is a little more complicated. You will need to plug the digitizer assembly (all 3 cables you disconnected earlier to remove it) back in, and while applying pressure to cables 1 and 2, move the assembly down, below the camera, such that it can be flipped back and forth during adjustment without moving the screen. The stiffness on cable 1 should keep the screen in place during testing. You will also notice that the home (square) button will no longer function like this. This is why we entered the camera application prior to locking the phone in the first step.

Once you’re happy with your focus, reassemble, and enjoy your close-focus iPhone!