How to make a cheap submersible webcam
the feature in Bright magazine:
pics from Make Fest and the poster/billboard Make made (on which this project is mentioned as well as other/older projects)
It’s even mentioned in this weekend’s Make Podcast so it’s about time the whole wide world get’s a chance to see (and make) it! :-)
what you need
Well, what do you need for this cheap, almost disposable underwater-webcam? (I don’t suggest you throw it away, the idea being more or less that with a cheap device like this, you can experiment a little more and don’t risk losing hundreds of dollars worth of equipment, that’s all)
- a cheap webcam
- a USB-extension cable (up to 5 meter / 15ft.)
- a CD-cover
- a hairwax-container
- some glue
- some sandpaper
- a soldering iron and some solder
For the camera I used a Logitech Quickcam Chat, but you could shop for even cheaper camera’s. I wanted this to be a project which can be done from parts available almost elsewhere and these brandless camera’s can be different. This Logitech should be the same and available all over the world I guess.
The actual How to
The Logitech-cam is a simple one-screw-design (just like their mice), which means when you unscrew this one screw, the whole thing comes apart. That’s how we like it!
For opening up the bottom of the hairwax-container I used my Dremel. It’s a little rough, but you can adjust that later on with sandpaper.
The fact that we use a transparant CD-cover is ideal for fitting purposes. Lay it on top of the bottom of the hairwax-container and draw the circle you want…
I also Dremeled the piece of ‘glass’ out of the CD-cover. So now we have two rough edges which need some sanding.
Just sand it and try to fit it every now and then and all should be fine.
Here you see the less than perfect end-result. But this is easily made and we have a fairly large contactarea for our glue.
I used polyurethan glue which is extremely strong.
Once applied you can use some pressure to make sure it fits well together.
To make really sure the glue dried in the best possible way, I applied pressure during the drying-process by putting a full bottle of something on top…
Time to cut a little hole in the
that looks neat
You can cut off the extension-USB-thingy from the extension-cable. That’s a part we won’t need. You can also cut off the USB-cable from the camera-print. The colour-coding of the USB-extensioncable and the camera is even the same! (yay for industry standards!)
Make sure the cable fits rather tight into the just-made hole. That way the glue is only complimentary for making this thing watertight.
I decided I’d also use some Polyester repairkit I still had. So after the polyurethan glue I redid all the edges where water could enter our enclosure with this repairkit.
So, this is how far we are now. An enclosure, some sort of spacer for the camera-lens (which is actually extremely handy in this project) and a cameraprint with some USB-wires coming from it.
Because we have this separate ‘spacer’ for the cameralens, I decided to glue it inside the enclosure, this way the camera gets to be mounted exactly the same way each time and we still can get it loose quite simple to adjust focus or such.
Here I glued the spacer against the plastic of the CD-cover aka our ‘glass’.
Time to get the soldering-iron!
You can screw off the lens+focus part quite simple from the camera-print, so you get to see the CMOS in all it’s beauty…
It seemed that I couldn’t close the enclosure really well with the original wiring in place on the camera-print. It could be that, when you try this project yourself, you can skip this step, but in my case I decided to resolder all the wires to the other side of the PCB so the enclosure would fit really well…
Actually, this took me quite some time and you can see the soldering is rather ugly… This has been my call for getting a better soldering iron, until now I did all of my projects with these cheap $5 soldering irons but I guess I hit a roof of something here…
Once soldered (and I used copper-wires from a UTP-cable) and the wires ‘folded’ around the print, I used duct-tape to secure it all a little bit more…
The next step being, connecting the just soldered wires to the ones inside the enclosure. When I would’ve known this upfront I wouldn’t have glued the wire in place in the enclosure and solder it straight onto the print. But well, this works too.
Everything in place! time to test it!
The first test…
Will it hold???
The first ‘under water’ shot from our just made cam!!! I actually held it there for a night and it still worked, so time to move on!
To make sure the cam gets submerged and won’t float around, I decided to add some weight… (I thought I could secure the ‘watertightness’ a little bit more by strapping around some rubber along the edge of the hairwax-container, but the piece of plastic I got from my local hardware-store fits to tight around the camera to put it in between. So even though it’s on the picture, I didn’t use it)
The end-result! It looks like… like what actually? Time to find an aquarium. Luckily I got a friend (Asim) who has this awesome aquarium in his livingroom, so after a call I could drop by with my geek-gear to test this cam even further…
My laptop, the cam and an aquarium. Time to get to work!
The camera just plunged in the aquarium (btw, you can also see another wire run to the camera. I added a piece of thread so not all the stress of plunging and lifting the cam get’s to be on the USB-cable. The entry-point of the cable into the enclosure probably is the weakest point…)
Here you can see it’s still the original hairwax-container… *^_^*
First of all, how do we get footage? Well, when you connect this cam to a Windows PC/laptop (as it’s intended by the manufacturer, there’s no Mac-drivers from Logitech…) you should be set with the CD that comes with the cam… But… I’ve got an iBook and I wanted to use this cam. In the end it seemed that with a driver from webcam-osx.sourceforge.net I was all set in minutes, that’s how we like it! Taking pics and shooting video’s is extremely easy with this software, so hats off to the guys who wrote it!
After I was finished at Asim’s house, I noticed the focus wasn’t exactly perfect. I tested it upfront and I thought the seeing distance would be only a couple of inches, so I adjusted the focus very near by. In this first real-life test it shows you can easily focus a little further away (and luckily we can still adjust the focus on our cam)...
Any way, the under water shots with actual fish!
Well, there’s a lot of possibilities for a cam like this I guess. Now I put it online, I can really go out and stress-test it to see how deep it actually goes. If there are people out there who build a similar cam or one inspired by this one, please leave a comment. Good luck on capturing some fish with it! *^_^*As mentioned in the Message from Mark's family this site has been made static. This means that it will be no longer possible to comment on his ideas and projects, but that we all can continue to cherish his creativity.
you can find all of my projects overhere