Monday, 2 April 2012

Build a camera trap for under $10

Last Spring, I found some footprints next to the shed and realised that a bandicoot had been visiting. I wanted to set up a camera trap (night vision camera with motion detection) to get a photo, but was too cheap to buy a commercial trap. Here's the cheap solution.

You will need:

  • A PC or laptop, and somewhere safe, dry, and preferably powered, to place it, e.g. the shed. I haven't included this in the cost, because I already had a netbook and most people have some sort of PC.
  • Motion capture software. There are a few free options, but I chose Dorgem because it was easy to set up and worked really well.
  • A webcam with infra red LEDs (some "night vision" webcams have visible LEDs). I got one for $1.49 + $4.69 postage from eBay seller 24hrseclub 
  • A clean jar with flat sides, large enough to put the webcam in. A square Golden Syrup jar is ideal.
  • Padding to hold the webcam steady in the jar, e.g. bubble wrap, a bit of foam or a chopped up stress ball.
  • A knife to cut a hole in the lid, and some waterproof tape to tape up the hole.
  • You might also need a USB extension cable. These are a few dollars on eBay, but I already had a couple that came with thumb drives.

What you do:
  1. Install the software on the laptop, and test the camera to make sure it works.
  2. Put the laptop somewhere safe & dry, near the place you'll be placing the camera.
  3. Cut a hole in the container's lid, just large enough to push a USB cable through.
  4. Push the USB cable through the hole from the underside so the plug will be on the outside.
  5. Put the webcam into the container. Push in enough padding to hold the camera's lens against the wall of the jar. This is important to prevent the LEDs from reflecting off the plastic and ruining the image.
  6. Screw the lid on, and place the jar where you want to film. You might need to place some rocks or bricks on/around it (not on the lens side, of course) to hold it in place & stop it moving.
  7. Run the cable (with extension if necessary) to the laptop and plug it in.
  8. Test the camera to make sure the position is correct, and that there's no close leaves or anything else that might blow around & trigger the camera.
  9. Tape over the hold in the top of the jar, and any USB cable joins, with the waterproof tape.
  10. Just before it gets dark, start the motion capture software and leave it running overnight.
  11. In the morning, stop the software and check the photos to see what you've got. There might be a lot of photos to look through - but that's part of the fun!!
 

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