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. How much power does the camera require?

The camera requires 250mA when running. Note that simply creating a PiCamera object means the camera is running (due to the hidden preview that is started to allow the auto-exposure algorithm to run). If you are running your Pi from batteries, you should close() (or destroy) the instance when the camera is not required in order to conserve power. For example, the following code captures 60 images over an hour, but leaves the camera running all the time:

import picamera
import time

with picamera.PiCamera() as camera:
    camera.resolution = (1280, 720)
    time.sleep(1) # Camera warm-up time
    for i, filename in enumerate(camera.capture_continuous('image{counter:02d}.jpg')):
        print('Captured %s' % filename)
        # Capture one image a minute
        if i == 59:

By contrast, this code closes the camera between shots (but can’t use the convenient capture_continuous() method as a result):

import picamera
import time

for i in range(60):
    with picamera.PiCamera() as camera:
        camera.resolution = (1280, 720)
        time.sleep(1) # Camera warm-up time
        filename = 'image%02d.jpg' % i
        print('Captured %s' % filename)
    # Capture one image a minute


Please note the timings in the scripts above are approximate. A more precise example of timing is given in Capturing timelapse sequences.

If you are experiencing lockups or reboots when the camera is active, your power supply may be insufficient. A practical minimum is 1A for running a Pi with an active camera module; more may be required if additional peripherals are attached.

6.4. “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.

6.5. How can I take two consecutive pictures with equivalent settings?

A common request is to “lock down” the camera’s settings so that sequences of images appear as similar as possible (a typical use-case for this is reconstruction of video from captured images, e.g. from a cinefilm). The two most important things for this purpose are auto white balance (AWB) and shutter speed. Firstly, disable auto white balance and set specific red/blue gains with the awb_mode and awb_gains attributes. Secondly, set an exposure mode (other than 'auto') and specify a shutter speed with the exposure_mode and shutter_speed attributes (bearing in mind that you cannot set a shutter speed slower than the current framerate would allow). You should also set a non-zero ISO value. For example:

import picamera

with picamera.PiCamera() as camera:
    camera.resolution = (1280, 720)
    camera.framerate = 1
    camera.awb_mode = 'off'
    camera.awb_gains = (1.8, 1.2)
    camera.exposure_mode = 'night'
    camera.shutter_speed = 100000
    camera.ISO = 400

Needless to say, you should not vary other properties (like brightness and exposure_compensation) while shooting.

You can determine reasonable auto white balance gains, and shutter speeds by querying the awb_gains and exposure_speed attributes while the camera is in the default “automatic” mode. Bear in mind that the algorithms that determine these values require several frames of input, so you may need to insert pauses in your code before sampling these attributes.

6.6. Can I use picamera with a USB webcam?

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

6.7. 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.