6. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

6.1. Can I put the preview in a window?

No. The camera module’s preview system is quite crude: it simply tells the GPU to overlay the preview on the Pi’s video output. The preview has no knowledge (or interaction with) the X-Windows environment (incidentally, this is why the preview works quite happily from the command line, even without anyone logged in).

That said, the preview area can be resized and repositioned via the preview_window attribute. If your program can respond to window repositioning and sizing events you can “cheat” and position the preview within the borders of the target window. However, there’s currently no way to allow anything to appear on top of the preview so this is an imperfect solution at best.

6.2. Help! I started a preview and can’t see my console!

As mentioned above, the preview is simply an overlay over the Pi’s video output. If you start a preview you may therefore discover you can’t see your console anymore and there’s no obvious way of getting it back. If you’re confident in your typing skills you can try calling stop_preview() by typing “blindly” into your hidden console. However, the simplest way of getting your display back is usually to hit Ctrl+D to terminate the Python process (which should also shut down the camera).

Before starting a preview, you may want to set preview_alpha to something like 128. This should ensure that when the preview is display it is partially transparent so you can still see your console.

6.3. “Out of memory” when initializing the camera

If you see something like this when trying to create an instance of PiCamera:

>>> import picamera
>>> camera = picamera.PiCamera()
mmal: mmal_vc_component_create: failed to create component 'vc.ril.camera' (1:ENOMEM)
mmal: mmal_component_create_core: could not create component 'vc.ril.camera' (1)
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 1, in <module>
  File "/usr/lib/python2.7/dist-packages/picamera/camera.py", line 257, in __init__
  File "/usr/lib/python2.7/dist-packages/picamera/camera.py", line 288, in _init_camera
    prefix="Failed to create camera component")
  File "/usr/lib/python2.7/dist-packages/picamera/exc.py", line 112, in mmal_check
    raise PiCameraMMALError(status, prefix)
picamera.exc.PiCameraMMALError: Failed to create camera component: Out of memory

This usually means that you haven’t enabled the Pi’s camera module. Run sudo raspi-config, select the “Enable Camera” option, select “Enable”, and then “Finish”. You will need to reboot to complete the process.


Enabling the camera doesn’t affect the camera itself. Rather, it tells the operating system to load the firmware for the camera on the next boot. If you re-install your operating system for whatever reason (or switch SD cards for another operating system) you will need to re-enable the camera in this way.

6.4. Can I use picamera with a USB webcam?

No. The picamera library relies on libmmal which is specific to the Pi’s camera module.

6.5. How can I tell what version of picamera I have installed?

The picamera library relies on the setuptools package for installation services. You can use the setuptools pkg_resources API to query which version of picamera is available in your Python environment like so:

>>> from pkg_resources import require
>>> require('picamera')
[picamera 1.2 (/usr/local/lib/python2.7/dist-packages)]
>>> require('picamera')[0].version

If you have multiple versions installed (e.g. from pip and apt-get) they will not show up in the list returned by the require method. However, the first entry in the list will be the version that import picamera will import.