DIY Friday: Camcorders

If the thought of taking home-movies on a low-quality, cheap video recorder makes you squeamish or, better yet, embarrasing your family with a clunky, odd-ball camera makes you smile, try building your own camcorder.

The Chaos Blog took-on the project and left us with some pretty good instructions.

1) Capturing
The core of the project is a standard CCD surveillance camera.

These goodies comes in all shapes and sizes. I recommend a monochrome with 480 tv-lines or more. Colour cameras are quite expensive especially if you’d want 3CCD, and it’s very hard to control the colours of your recordings, if you don’t know what you’re doing. You should never choose a higher value than 0.5 lux when it comes to light sensitivity. If you stick to this you’ll always be able to shoot video indoor with just a few lamps turned on.

2) The optics
The Chaos blogger recommends standard SLR optics from your 35mm camera. They are cheaper than camcorder optics and you probably already own a few different focal lengths. Purchase a C-mount lens adapter (specific to your SLR lens brand) or build the adapter yourself.

3) Storage/Recording

For storage/recording I have used a SONY Digital8 recorder. They are easy to come by and relatively cheap on e-bay. The really cool thing about these recorders is that you can record both from an analogue video source or digital (firewire) video source. So if your standards get higher you can always buy a security camera with a Firewire output. And the quality of these recorders are superb though they are aren’t that young. No doubt this is a pro video tool and with lots and lots of option settings.

A number of readers also recommended using a cheap Aiptek MPVR. A more expensive Archos AV500 Mobile DVR would also do the trick.

4) Microphone & Pre-Amp
Any compact microphone with a built-in pre-amp should work.

5) Viewfinder

Since decent viewfinders that you can actually use for this project are very hard and expencive to come by, I’ve chosen to use a LCD-screen instead. Luckily, I already had one that was as “made for the job” all ready with a hotshoe build on, so it would be easy to mount.

6) Batteries

Since both the recorder and viewfinder-screen carry their own battery pack, the only thing I had to supply with power was the security-camera (12v dc) done with 8 1,5v AA batteries. A lot of security cameras can even take aprox. +-3, but for the safety of your camera it may be a good idea to put a “current controller” between the camera and the battery pack.

7) Mount
This is where you have to be very creative. Unless you have a perfect contraption laying around (the Chaos blogger used “an old Velbon monopod and other bits”), you will need to sort through your garbage stack and hardware store. I’d even consider using wood, which would make your DIY-camcorder even more ridiculous looking (and, thus, better).

Still not satisfied? Try building these:

Underwater Camera

Nightvision Camera

Excellent instructions on building a nightvision camera from a disposable CVS video camera are available here.