Insect Camera Rig

A DSLR camera rig built on the cheap

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An insect camera rig inspired by projects featured on Hackaday and commercial systems. Many of its components are salvaged from other electronic devices.

I plan on making an insect camera rig. It is inspired by the couple that have been posted to Hackaday and a few other commercial ones. To save money I am also going to make my own speed light flashes which will be permanently attached to the frame.

System Design Documentation:

There are three main aspects to this project. They are the frame, the triggering system, and the flash units.

The camera rig will be built with an aluminum frame. I want to try and keep it nice and light so it will be easy to carry around on hikes. Basic adjustments will be done in the field. One simple one is multiple mounting holes for attaching the camera. This lets me easily change my distance to what I wish to photograph without having to realign the laser and its sensor.

The triggering system will be composed of a photodiode, laser, and a microcontroller. The photodiode will sense the light reflected off the insect from the laser. The laser will be pulsed to help cut down on interference from sunlight, shadows, etc. A lens will focus the reflected light onto the photodiode. The microcontroller will serve a couple purposes in this setup. It will pulse the laser and also record measurements from the photodiode. By comparing voltage from when the laser is off to when it is on it will be able to tell if the light is coming from the laser and not just some bright reflection in the background.

The flash units will be composed of a charge circuit, capacitor bank, trigger coil, xenon tube, IGBT, and a microcontroller. The microcontroller will turn the IGBT on and off to trigger the flash and control its duration.

  • 1 × Aluminum square tubing
  • 1 × laser
  • 1 × lens Was part of a lens assembly that was used in a fluoroscopy x-ray machine
  • 1 × photodiode
  • 1 × xenon flash tubes

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  • Frame Construction

    Tecratal08/21/2014 at 00:53 0 comments

    I have the basic frame of the insect rig partially done. It is made with aluminum square tubing. This makes it nice and sturdy while still being light. I've drilled some extra holes in it to let me play around with mounting positions to see which works best. I need to make up some better right angle brackets though--the ones I have are slightly raised around where the screw goes in, which causes it to not be square. 

    I decided I wanted to mount the laser above the camera's image sensor. By doing this the laser will be pointed at a downward angle to be in the center of the image. I believe this is a good idea so the laser won't be shined up in the air towards people's faces. The laser is low power and will not cause any harm, but I could easily see people getting upset (and rightfully so) if that happened.

  • Flash unit

    Tecratal08/21/2014 at 00:44 0 comments

    I've begun working on a speedlight flash unit that will be attached to the frame. My main reasons for wanting to make a couple flashes for it is convenience and cost. It will save me from having to readjust them every time I wish to use the insect rig and save me some money. I removed a bunch of capacitors from disposable cameras to make a capacitor bank for the flash. The tube I am using is from Electronics Goldmine and is about 10". I am also using a trigger coil from them. The flash works well manually triggering it. My next step is to add an IGBT to control the flash duration. This will also short the trigger coil to a capacitor to initiate the flash. This allows me to control the flash duration with 1 pin on a micro controller.

  • Sensor Construction Complete

    Tecratal08/06/2014 at 21:02 0 comments

    The sensor module is complete. I found a CPVC fitting that was close in size to the diameter of the lens. I had to slightly enlarge the inner diameter so the lens press fits inside. I glued the photo diode to a piece of plastic that fits inside the fitting. I also slotted the edge of the fitting and put a hose clamp around it. This allows me to focus the lens by moving the fitting in and out from the photodiode. I also found a piece of plastic that fits around the outside of the fitting to act as a shade to prevent sunlight from triggering it.

  • Getting stuff together

    Tecratal08/05/2014 at 19:54 0 comments

    I've obtained most of the materials I'll need. I started making the frame. I still need to come up with a good way of mounting the laser and sensor that allows me to adjust it accurately.

    I originally was going to make the flash units out of disposable cameras. I can get plenty of used ones for free. The only issue I was running into was the time it takes for it to charge. It uses a very small transformer so it has a pretty low limit. My solution to this is to use the circuit out of a handheld bug zapper. I can get them for free from Harbor Freight so the price is right. I burnt up the transistor on one of the boards powering it with a lithium-ion battery. Using the C batteries it came with did work quite well though.

    The strobe that will handle lighting up the background will be based on a 10" Xenon tube from Electronics Goldmine powered by capacitors from disposable cameras and the bug zapper charge circuit.

    Both of the strobes will be controlled with a IGBT to allow me to have a very short flash duration.

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