Might have been the afterglow of my first trip to Chimineas with the Camera Trap Codger that caused the bit to flip - or because I'm a total gadget geek - but I think it was actually a heaping of both, dashed with a dose of dissatisfaction with the poor photo quality of the off-the-shelf trail cameras I've been using - the Reconyx and Moultrie.
With no true optics, a fixed focus, high ISOs, and only 3-6 mega-pixels - they're pretty crappy cameras. It's one in a thousand that you get a truly solid brag shot. But they're simple, can be very fast, and have great battery life - the Reconyx can wake & take a pic per second and be out for months - making them great for surveys and sets where you don't need quality, but surety. Such as when tracking the comings and goings of deer for hunting (I'm told).
So, to fill the quality hole and scratch my hobby-hacker itch, I followed the Codger into the world of "homebrew" camera traps. And I can already say that I'm a happy homebrewmaster for it.
Homebrews are home-built camera traps centered around 3 key ingredients:
- an off-the-shelf point-and-shoot (p&s) pocket camera
- a control card with passive infrared (IR) sensor and microcontroller
- a case, seals, mounts, lenses, battery holders & wires to allow you to make it into a cohesive, working unit
For my first homebrews I decided to try YetiCam. They've got a good rep and their new Pentax-centered kits looked right for my needs. Here's the key features I used for decisioning:
Pentax Optio e50 camera:
- 8.1 mega pixel
- can hack for non-visible ("IR") flash
- AA batteries
- SD card - cheap, tough
- can set and save ISO, EV, zoom, etc. between on/offs
- good camera choices
- good options on controller settings
- small case
- good instructions
- Codger has found them reliable, easy to use
To hack the camera and put together the kit I used:
- a soldering iron with a fine tip
- small screwdrivers, needle nose pliers, wire strippers, x-acto knife...
- a well lit work area
- ability to do fine work with small tools
- time - can take hours per cam trap but gets much easier after first one
- patience - you'll mess things up and wanna redo them
I won't explain the build-out since that's covered in various kit docs, but here's the nutshell:
- carefully take p&s camera apart, solder wires to the on/off and shutter switches, put camera back together with the wires exposed
- assemble case, glue in lenses and seals, mount controller card and battery holder
- wire camera and battery to controller card, put camera in case, turn on and start testing
The fully assembled camera trap:
Ready for the field:
Next up: some results!