No matter what software you choose, you’ve got to be able to control your camera and get the photos it takes into a computer. That means your camera has to be capable of working in a tethered mode, where information gets passed back and forth by means of a USB cable. Wireless communication modes just don’t work fast enough and aren’t reliable enough in the rough-and-tumble real world of commercial work.
There are lots of great cameras that would be perfect photo booth cameras if only they offered a tethered mode – but for some reason the camera manufacturers don’t do this.
Mirrorless cameras such as the Canon EOS-M or the Sony NEX series spring to mind. Forget it – they don’t have tethered mode capability built in. The manufacturers have never released a Software Developers Kit (SDK), which would allow the designers of photo booth software to bring those cameras into the fold.
So if you want to build or modify a photo booth you’re pretty much limited to 4 families of cameras:
Web cams. The easiest to connect, the cheapest to buy. All you need is one USB cable from camera to computer, you don’t need a flash cable and you don’t need a power supply cable. The biggest limitation is that you can’t use electronic flash with any of them, so you need to have a bright continuous light source.
Canon Powershot point and shoot digital cameras – but not the current models. Several have hot shoes for external flash units and all are capable of making images that are perfectly fine for photo booth use, but you have to buy used ones. Because they don’t have a moving mirror and shutter mechanism, they are very long-lived if you treat them carefully. On the down side, you’ve got to buy used and they’re difficult to get serviced.
Canon DSLR cameras such as the Rebel T3. So far as I know, every model which features live view capability can be operated in a tethered mode and is supported by Breeze DSLR Remote Pro and Darkroom Photo Booth software.
Some Nikon DSLR cameras. Only models which have live view and support tethered mode operation, and Nikon left those features out of many models.
I’ve listed links to the most popular software producers but can’t vouch for the accuracy of their listings. In every case, download the trial version of the software and try it with the camera of your choice. But if you’ve buying a camera specifically for photo booth use, stick with the models above.
For an up-to-date list of compatible camera models check with the software manufacturers.
Breeze Systems had a list of compatible cameras for each version of their software: www.breezesys.com
Darkroom Photobooth has one software package for all categories of supported camera: http://www.darkroomsoftware.com/products/booth/supported-hardware/
Sparkbooth (Canon DSLR only at this time) http://sparkbooth.com/dslr-photobooth/
Chris Lydle runs a camera store in South Carolina and has been operating South Carolina Photo Booths for more than 5 years. He’s the author of The Photo Booth Book, a guide for do-it-yourself photo boothers.