Which Raspberry Pi Camera Module Should You Buy?

We help you pick the right camera module for your projects

Raspberry Pi
Brian Stubbs / Getty Images

The camera module is a fantastic way to make really exciting projects with your Raspberry Pi.

Whilst the GPIO pins can control LEDs, buzzers, sensors and more, adding a visual element alongside these opens up a whole new set of project opportunities.

Enthusiasts have used the module to create impressive Pi robots with live video streams, wildlife night monitors, homemade cameras and much more - all made with a Raspberry Pi at the core.

There are now 4 versions of the official Raspberry Pi Camera module, alongside an array of aftermarket options. That can be a little confusing for new Raspberry Pi users, so let's have a look at what's available.

Official Camera Module Version 1 - Standard

Camera Module Version 1 Standard Model
The original Camera Module released May 2013. RasPi.TV

On May 14, 2013, ​Eben Upton (Raspberry Pi Founder), just over a year since the Pi's initial launch, announced the release of the original camera module board.

The original board came with a 5-megapixel OmniVision OV5647 sensor with a resolution of 2592 x 1944 pixels, designed for daytime use.

In terms of video, 1080p is possible, alongside slow-motion modes, albeit at a lower resolution.

If you can find one still for sale, and it's cheaper than the new version, and you're not that fussed about resolution or night photography, this is a good option.

You'll be 3-megapixels behind the new version and unable to shoot at night, but for a lot of projects that isn't totally necessary.

Official Camera Module Version 1 - 'Pi NoIR' Infrared

NoIR Camera Module version 1
The 'NoIR' Camera module for night photography. RasPi.TV

In October the same year, the Raspberry Pi Foundation released a new infrared version of the Camera Module board, called the 'NoIR' module.

The new black version was much more than just a new stylish color, this particular model is designed for night photography and other IR experiments such as viewing plant photosynthesis.

Simply flood your subject with IR light and have night vision at your fingertips! You'll get a very purple image during the ​day, however, so these are best reserved for night projects.

Like the original module, these may be hard to find now that they've been superseded by the new versions.

However, if you can find a new example going cheap, and aren't fussed about the lower resolution, it could be an affordable entry to night photography.

Official Camera Module Version 2 - Standard Version

Camera Module Version 2 - Standard Model
The second version of the standard Camera module. RasPi.TV

Fast-forward three years and the next version of the Camera Module is released.

In April 2016 the Raspberry Pi Foundation released version 2 of the popular standard Camera Module, bumping up the board to 8-megapixels.

As the OmniVision OV5647 sensors were no longer being produced, the Foundation switched to hardware based on Sony's IMX219 model.

Everything else appeared to stay as-is - same size, same hole layout, and the same code commands to use them.

As stock of the original version 1 boards slowly depletes, this will soon be the only official daytime camera available. The increase in megapixels will be enough to tempt most buyers over the other aftermarket options on sale.

Official Camera Module Version 2 - 'NoIR' Version

NoIR Camera Module Version 2
NoIR Camera Module Version 2. RasPi.TV

The second version of the NoIR camera module was released on the same day as the new standard version.

It featured the same changes, same history, same size, and same price.

As it gets more difficult to source the original boards, this will soon be go-to official night camera module.

Waveshare Camera Module

Generic Chinese Raspberry Pi Camera Module
The 'Chinese' aftermarket Camera Module. Waveshare

It wasn't long before aftermarket versions of the Camera Module started to appear online.

This example is from Waveshare and is almost a replica of the original 5-megapixel standard board, and appears to have the same OV5647 sensor used in the official modules.

The extended lens section looks interesting, but it may interrupt compatibility with cases and other products focussed around the camera module.

This is not a good option unless you're curious what that lens section offers. It's only 5-megapixels, compared with the current official modules' 8-megapixels, and doesn't appear to cost much less at all. 

Waveshare Zooming Camera Module with IR LEDs

Waveshare Zooming Camera Module
A different, useful IR design from Waveshare. Waveshare

This is a more exciting aftermarket camera module as it actually offers something new and interesting!

This model is also from Waveshare and features both a zooming lens and attachable IR LEDs, that combines to make a single tidy night vision unit.

The IR boards also come with a photoresistor which will detect ambient light and adjust the IR intensity accordingly, as well as a built-in resistor for adjusting further.

If you're planning on some night photography and don't want the hassle of arranging or building your own IR lighting - this is perfect for you.

The quality of these aftermarket cameras and sensors can be inconsistent, so just consider your requirements before making a purchase.

Waveshare Fish-Eye Lens Camera Module

Waveshare Fish-eye Camera Module
The 'fish-eye' Camera Module from Waveshare. Waveshare

Another offering from Waveshare, who seem to be the only other big player in the Camera Module market other than the Foundation themselves.

This time it's a fish-eye variant of their camera, which gives a wide panoramic view - 222 degrees to be exact.

It's available in normal and IR versions, making night-vision possible.

If you need to capture more in your shots, for a project such as Pi CCTV or similar, this fish-eye lens could be just the job.

However, remember that the edges of your shots will lose focus and you may have a ring around your output images.