Hillbilly Lego Focus Puller

There’s almost nothing you can’t build with the right set of Lego parts. [Rigjob] built up a Lego-based wireless remote follow-focus system that’ll give professional systems a run for their money.

Now [Rigjob] self-identifies as a hillbilly, but he’s not just a redneck with a camera. He’s set up the Lego controller to remember minimum and maximum focus positions as well as mark points along the way. The controller simply won’t turn the lens outside of the focus range, and an interactive graph shows you where you are within the range. For a focus wheel, he uses (drum-roll please!) a Lego off-road wheel. It looks really comfortable, usable, and actually quite professional.

There’s a lot of tech in the Lego controller and motors that make this “simple” hack simple. Under the hood, there’s a Bluetooth connection, a geared stepper motor with a position sensor, a communication protocol, and a whole ton of programming in the Lego controller that makes it all drag-and-drop programmable. But to a long-bearded hillbilly cameraman, it all looks like child’s play. And that’s the hallmark of good design. Kudos, Lego.

If you can’t get enough Lego camera tech, check out this DIY slit-scan stargate rig, or (what else?) a Lego 3D chocolate printer.

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Mostly Wood Motorized Camera Slider

Camera slides can make for interesting dolly shots in your videos, or can spice up an otherwise drab time-lapse sequence. When it came time for one of his own, [Bob] did what any hacker would do and rolled his own motorized camera slide in the wood shop.

We always like to see work based on a hacker’s own prior art, and [Bob] managed to leverage parts and techniques from his impromptu claw machine build for this slider. The rollers in this project use the same 3/4″ angle aluminum and skateboard bearings as the previous build. The bearings roll on a plywood strip capped with the same angle stock for durability and low friction. The stepper motor bracket and pillow blocks are 3D printed, as are the timing pulleys. [Bob] admits that the whole rig is a little noisy and blames it on the rough quality of the pulley prints. He has plans to replace them with commercially available pulleys, which should help; one further suggestion we have is to code a soft-start algorithm into the ATtiny85 to eliminate that jerkiness you see when he demos the slider in the video below.

There are plenty of ways to move a camera along a single axis, and a surprising number of them use parts from the roller sports. We’ve covered quite a few of them before, like this slide that uses skateboard trucks, or this non-motorized rig built from fence posts and inline skate wheels.

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Four Seasons In One Photo

What an interesting way to show a year: Norwegian hacker [Erikso] created a condensed timelapse that shows a year in a single photo. He had taken a timelapse of the view from his living room window in the frozen north every day during 2010, using a camera that was locked in place taking an image every 30 minutes. Then, with the help of some hacker friends, he came up with a script that slices these images up and combines them so that each day is represented by a vertical slice. The result is a gorgeous image that gives a wonderful sense of the seasons, and how that affects the trees. You can see the leaves grow and fall, and the snow on the ground come, go and come again.

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Nikon Resurrection: Repairing a Broken Lens

Modern DSLR cameras are amazing devices. Mechanics, electronics, and optics, all rolled up in a single package. All that technology is great, but it can make for a frustrating experience when attempting any sort of repair. Lenses can be especially difficult to work on. One misalignment of a lens group or element can lead to a fuzzy image.

[Kratz] knew all this, but it didn’t stop him from looking for a cheap lens deal over on eBay. He found a broken Nikon DSLR 55-200mm 1:4-5.6 AF-S VR camera lens for $30. This particular lens is relatively cheap – you can pick up a new one for around $150 online. Spending $30 to save $120 is a bit of a gamble, but [Kratz] went for it.

The lens he bought mostly worked – the auto-focus and vibration reduction system seemed to be fine. The aperture blades however, were stuck closed. Aperture blades form the iris of a lens. With the blades closed down, the lens was severely limited to brightly lit situations. All was not lost though, as the aperture is a relatively simple mechanical system, which hopefully would be easy to repair.

pinNikonKeeping screws and various parts in order is key when taking apart a lens. [Kratz] used a tip he learned right here on Hackaday: He drew a diagram of the screw positions on a thick piece of paper. He then stuck each screw right into the paper in its proper position.

Carefully removing each part, [Kratz] found a pin had slipped out of the rod that connects the lens’ internal parts with the external aperture control arm. Fixing the pin was simple. Getting the lens back together was quite a bit harder. Several parts have to be aligned blindly. [Kratz] persevered and eventually everything slipped into alignment. The finished lens works fine, albeit for a slightly noisy auto-focus.

It’s worth noting that there are service and repair manuals for many cameras and lenses out there in the dark corners of the internet, including [Kratz]’s 55-200 lens. Reading the repair procedures Nikon techs use shows just how many tools, fixtures, and custom bits of software go into making one of these lenses work.

Build Your Own Thermal Camera

We have featured thermal camera projects by [Max Ritter] before, but [Max] has just taken the next step: he is offering the latest version as a build-it-yourself kit. The DIY Thermocam improves on his previous designs by capturing 60 by 80 pixel thermal images, which can be combined with visible light images from an accompanying  640 by 480 pixel camera to produce the final image. It is built around the FLIR Lepton module that has been used in many of the recent commercial thermal cameras that we have seen. Max has also added a battery and display, making the whole thing a standalone camera.

The firmware that runs all this is open-source and written in C++ for easy modification, so users can build their own thermal camera.”The approach is to offer people the self-assembly kit so that they can use it as a development platform to do whatever they want to achieve with thermal imaging”[Max] told us. The kit runs €429 (about $468), with free shipping worldwide.

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Seeing Around Corners with Frickin’ Lasers

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University have created a sensor that can see around corners using lasers, high speed cameras, and some intense data processing. They can essentially turn a laser light source into a virtual mirror to look through.

Led by [Genevieve Gariepy], the team has been able to prove their research in a lab setting, and are now trying to refine it to work in the real world. While the animated image above makes the system seem rather simple, the tech behind it makes our heads hurt.

The timing measurement alone for the laser light to bounce off the hidden object and be reflected to where the camera can see it needs to be accurate down to the 500 billionth of a second (500 nanoseconds). Five hundred billionths.

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Keeping the LiPo Smoke Where It Belongs

Nothing brings joy to a hacker’s heart like taking a cheap gizmo and making it useful. Over at Hackaday.io [AndyHull] popped open some cheap LiPo battery power packs to see if he could power a Canon Powershot camera. The entire shebang would be left in the wilderness for photography so keeping it inexpensive was a big goal since it might be destroyed or lost.

The power packs [Andy] looked at have a TP4221 controlling the charge cycle for up to four 18650 LiPo cells connected in parallel. The controller also boosts the voltage to 5 volts for one or two USB ports while providing automatic shutdown if the LiPo cell voltage drops below 3.2v. Below that voltage the cells can be damaged and might possibly cause a fire.

The packs [Andy] used also had a torch output to drive an LED almost directly from the cells. That output is a nominally 3.8 V at 100 mA which is just what he needed to power the Canon Powershot. It could be used to power small micros or other low power devices.

The LED was removed and replaced by a connection to outside the pack. The torch output is triggered by two quick presses on a switch that was also replaced with a connector to allow remote control.

If you’re looking for powerful battery options, give LiPo a try and have a look at [Andy]’s LiPo battery safety issues post, also on Hackaday.io. For a broader LiPo overview, see this obsessive rundown of various batteries.