Sunday, July 07, 2013

Raspberry Pi Ultra Cheap Camera Mount and Remote Bird Photography

So I got me a Raspberry Pi camera and have experimented a little bit with it. Now, it is somewhat inconvenient to have the camera dangling at the end of the ribbon cable all the time. For one thing, it makes it very hard to aim, never mind vibration control.

So, without doing much planning ahead, I started constructing a camera mount. The only thought I put into it from the outset was that it probably shouldn’t be made out of metal, in order to a) prevent accidentally shorting out any components and b) to prevent electro-magnetic interference in some of the high speed circuits that are undoubtedly part of the camera’s innards.

So I scoured the garage and found a strip of PVC, left over from the basement reno from a couple of years ago. This strip is 1 1/2”  by 3/16” (38mm x 5mm), available at most home improvement stores, usually 8’ (2.44 m) in length. It is lightweight, relatively strong and easy to work with.

I cut 3 pieces, a 5 1/2” (140mm), a 3 1/2” (90mm) and an 1 1/2” (38 mm) piece. The latter piece I diagonally cut in half, so I ended up with 2 little triangles. I then used PVC glue to weld these together, using the little triangles as braces. Then I mounted the camera on the short upright, predilling 2 holes in the PVC and using 2 very fine self tapping screws I had left over from disassembling an old piece of electronics some time ago. I figure more than 2 screws would be overkill.

Then I mounted the PI on the long 5 1/2” (140mm) strip, using 2 screws and nuts. To offset the PI from the PVC, I used a short strip of plastic tubing left over from what I believe was a Heathkit project back in the seventies!

The result looks something like this:


What’s the purpose of having a camera mount without a purpose? So I got to thinking, how about some bird photography? There are plenty of birds that gather around our back yard bird feeder.

Then I remembered that I had an old X10 pan and tilt in a box somewhere. I had previously modified this to see if I could mount and control my DSLR with this: FAIL!!!, way to heavy. As part of that process, I had mounted a modified construction bracket on it with a couple of screws, plus a hole which would fit a 1/4-20 UNC screw, normally used on consumer cameras for tripod mounting.

So I used one of those screws along with a nut to fasten the PVC camera mount to the construction plate below it (It is not visible in the picture as it is behind the front triangular brace.)

I even found the remote control for the pan and tilt. Since this Raspberry Pi is the model ‘A’, I couldn’t hook up an Ethernet cable to it (I need to order a dongle that allows me to do this to the USB port), so I used a wireless dongle based on the Ralink RT5370 chip set.

The bird feeder is about 75’ (25m) into the backyard, but at least 150’ (50m) from the router, which is stationed in the basement to begin with. So connecting to it from the bird feeder was a no-go, believe me, I tried. And tried. And tried.

Then I remembered I had an old router still available. I replaced it because the wireless on it had gone flaky (Dlink DIR-615). But it still worked (most of the time). So I hauled it out, hooked the Pi up to my monitor, keyboard, mouse combination using a powered hub, plugged in the dongle, powered up, powered up the old router next to it and used the Wifi Config (wpa_gui) utility in startx (LXDE) to connect to the router.

Once this was working, I mounted the pan-and-tilt on my tripod and mounted the camera with Pi on it. I placed the whole contraption near the bird feeder (about 5’ (1.5m)) away. I placed the router on the ground, right close to it. Here’s how it looked.



I started up the router first, gave it some time to stabilize, then fired up the Pi. Then I went to sit on the deck and used Remote Desktop (xrdp) to connect to the Pi using my note book. From there, I started up a console session (LXTerminal) and played around with raspistill and raspivid. I also streamed video back to my lap top using raspivid on the Pi and mplayer on the laptop. I found that I couldn’t do this for an indeterminate amount of time, as the Pi would become unreachable. I don’t believe it locked up, I think just the network dropped out, but since it was running headless, there was no way to tell.

Anyway, from my position on the deck operating the laptop I could see birds on the feeder, so I waited, patiently for an exotic bird to land. Then I fired the raspistill command, with varying output file names to capture still images.

I then downloaded these using WinSCP to my laptop and modified them in Photoshop 5 for color and contrast. Since this was my first attempt, I don’t consider it bad at all. Here’s about the best one of the lot, an American finch, trespassing in Canada:


With the remote for the pan and tilt, I can adjust where the camera looks.

Since the whole camera/Pi/pan-and-tilt combination is fairly light weight I bet it could be mounted on a mini tripod as well for use just about anywhere. Oh, to be a kid again…

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