How-To: Dual USB/serial cable for Nikon Coolpix cameras

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How-To:   Dual USB/serial cable for Nikon Coolpix cameras
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I recently got it in my head that I wanted to take some time-lapse photos showing the oxidation of various bright-polished metals over the course of a week or so. Investigating the possibility of setting up an intervalometer for my elderly Coolpix 4300 quickly became frustrating, however, as I realized that I was facing a nightmare of proprietary connectors, unpublished protocols, and exotic cables. Nikon manufactured a time-lapse controller compatible with my camera (the MC-EU1), but all the reviews I’ve seen are unfavorable, and I can’t find one for sale for less than $85.

To make matters worse, it turns out the proprietary 8-pin connector used on the 4300 and other older Coolpix cameras is dual-function: Four of the pins provide for normal USB connectivity, while the other four provide the serial interface used, for instance, by the MC-EU1 to remotely control the camera. My camera was supplied with a cable to access the USB half of the connector, but of course getting to the serial pins requires the purchase of a completely different cable (the SC-EW3), which can’t be had for less than $30 plus shipping.

Fortunately, I then stumbled across this excellent tutorial by David Holmes about how to convert the connector on the bundled USB cable into a dual-use USB/serial cable that lets you swap out the proprietary end with two different harnesses that access the USB or the serial pins as needed. Thanks, David!

P.S. I’ve found a promising piece of freeware called Snappixx that claims to control the Coolpix cameras through the serial interface. I can’t vouch for it yet, however, other than to report that it downloads, installs, and starts up without any apparent hitches.

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and makezine.com. My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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