Building a Camera Trap for wildlife photography.
October 18, 2010 8:34 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking about building a home made camera trap, to photograph the wildlife around my house. I've got a couple old cameras lying around, the newest being a Canon Powershot, and rather than spend a huge amount of money for a prebuilt camera trap, I'd like to convert one of these. Does anyone have any information on doing this? Am I better off just buying something pre-made, or can I construct something myself?
posted by Stagger Lee to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Some models of Canon PowerShot support the CHDK custom firmware, which lets you add a ton of new features to the supported cameras with a software update. Looks like someone's already written a script for camera traps. That page lists what models of PowerShot are supported.

If your PowerShot doesn't support CHDK, you may still be able to make it work with some external hardware. Googling "DIY Camera Trap" got me a ton of results. I've never tackled this particular problem, but it doesn't seem too challenging a build if you're willing to pick up some basic electronics and soldering skills. If the idea of soldering and rewiring things doesn't appeal to you, just go buy a camera trap. Otherwise, get ready for some fun! :)

You'll need a method of tripping the shutter release on your camera — either an IR remote or a cable, most likely. I don't know much about PowerShot cameras, but I bet there's an IR remote sensor you could trigger by way of a microcontroller (like an Arduino) and an IR LED. You'll need a sensor to detect animals entering the frame — probably a passive IR (PIR) sensor like this one from SparkFun. You'll need to connect the PIR sensor to the shutter release. You'll need to power the whole deal, too. If you're close to a power outlet, you could just use a 5v wall wart. Otherwise, you'll need to do a bit of power usage vs. battery capacity calculations. If you're interested in a full-on DIY solution, reply with a bit more info about your skill level and I and a bunch of other mefites can probably give you specific advice.
posted by Alterscape at 8:48 AM on October 18, 2010

Have you checked out Make Magazine?
posted by bondcliff at 8:49 AM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Alterscape's answer is excellent, except that onl a few Powershots have IR. However when you run CHDK on your camera, you can trigger it using batteries hooked up to the USB port. Any 5v pulse will cause the camera to trigger, so you can hook it up to a variety of sensors.

Please report back wiith whatever you build.
posted by fake at 8:57 AM on October 18, 2010

Well, I've never done anything like this before, but I'm learning fast.
What I'm working with is a Canon Powershot a590. That means that both the firmware hack and the script work with it. (Or claim to anyway.)

The script says that it's using "luminance variation," which I assume means that it's checking light levels? I'm new to this! Now if I'm understanding that correctly, it's a far cry from IR, and I'd imagine I'll have the following problems:

-No good in the dark.
-Requires an open lens and full power.

Does that sound about right?

It's a great place to start though, and I'll give it a shot and see what happens. If it doesn't work or I'm not satisfied with the results, I can look at controllers and IR sensors from there. Thanks for all the help so far!

Some background: I'm not afraid of tinkering with technology, but it's been a long time since I did coding, so anything more complex than scripts will get scary. Basic soldering I can handle, more complex soldering will probably lead to swearing.

posted by Stagger Lee at 1:22 PM on October 18, 2010

Yes, the A590 works just fine with CHDK. (I have one, and I use it for time-lapse etc.) The 590 is the best CHDK platform out there -- too bad Canon stopped making it.

The "motion detector" scripts trigger on a change in brighness. If it's totally dark, you can't use that. But as fake pointed out, you can trigger it with 5V to the USB port. If you can do basic soldering you can easily hack up a little circuit to do it.

(If it's dark it also means the camera can't auto-focus, so you have to pre-focus it.)

I've done all of this, feel free to memail me.
posted by phliar at 4:11 PM on October 18, 2010

I installed the firmware updates, and the script, leaving all parameters set to default for now. I fumbled through the menu and triggered the script, and confirmed that it worked with some quick hand waving in front of the lens!

So far, this is great! I'll do some trial runs, tweak the settings, and come back here if I'm not happy with the results.

Thanks for all the help! That was almost too easy. I'm a little bit concerned about power consumption, but I was thinking that I could use (something) as an external power source via the USB when I set it up. I just have to figure out what that something is.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:16 AM on October 19, 2010

I don't know what I was thinking. Obviously I can't charge it through the USB. (Wish I could.)
I guess it's a ton of rechargeable batteries.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:50 AM on October 19, 2010

No need for rechargeables! The A590 has a "DC in" socket and takes 3V.
posted by phliar at 7:51 PM on October 19, 2010

Yeah, phliar has it. You can just hook up a bunch of rechargeable AAs in series. The power connector for the A590 is the EIAJ-01. See this post from my forum for an order link and more info from users who do external power with these cameras.
posted by fake at 8:08 PM on October 28, 2010

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