Arduino Camera Trigger: day 1

01.03.2014

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The real inspiration for this project was the Arduino itself. For anyone not familiar with the Arduino, it’s a popular microcontroller that allows you to interface with a wide range of electronics & robotics through code. It’s relatively simple to learn if you have a bit of electronics and/or programming experience. My last experience with resistors, transistors, soldering irons and breadboards was many years ago, so I know that will be the biggest challenge for me. The code shouldn’t pose any serious problems, since I do that kind of thing every day for a living.  If you’re looking for a good Arduino starter kit that includes some great tutorials, check out this one on Adafruit.

There really are very few limits to what you can accomplish with an Arduino, so the hard part was deciding on a project. I wanted to build something that I could (and would) actually use, unlike many of the projects I came across online. At the same time, it had to be something feasible to accomplish in a week. Eventually I settled on an Arduino-powered camera trigger, for taking high-speed photographs.  If all goes well, I’ll have a completed project and some pretty cool photographs by the end of the week.

The concept of this project is this – commercial high speed cameras are extremely expensive, but the same effect can be simulated with an Arduino, a standard DSLR camera, an external flash, and some simple sensors. Many digital cameras allow for remote triggering (wirelessly or wired), but the trigger latency is typically far too slow to capture imagery such as drops of water or breaking glass. So instead we set up a camera to use a long shutter speed (10 seconds) in a dimly-lit room, and trigger an external flash at the moment the sensor is tripped. This will give the same result – the photograph will only display what was exposed during the flash burst and not the rest of the shutter time.

I scoured the internet for a variety of approaches to high-speed photography setups similar to this, and ultimately opted to go with a similar setup to the one used by Maurice Ribble at glacialwanderer.com. He has a very clear & concise explanation of his circuits, which should be a big benefit. I’ve decided to make some minor changes here and there, such as using a piezo element instead of the microphone / guitar amp setup he used for sound detection, but all of the main concepts remain the same. The main articles I referenced are here and here.

Today, day 1 of the project, I spent gathering my equipment, planning the project, and getting started with the triggers.  Aside from the Arduino and associated electronic components, I was able to pick up most of the equipment at Fry’s.  I didn’t have an external flash, so I ordered one on Amazon (you can get a decent one for as little as $40).  I also needed to order a hotshoe adaptor that I could use to trigger the flash via the Arduino.  Luckily, we have cats, so of course I have a laser pointer laying around.

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We’ll see how it goes!



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