How to Take Pictures of PCBs

While we’ve covered light box builds and other DIY photography solutions, general picture-snapping tips and tricks are a bit out of the purview of what we normally write about. Nevertheless, [Alain] just put up a great tutorial for taking pictures of PCBs. This is a great skill to have — no one cares about what you’ve built unless you have a picture of it — and the same techniques can be applied to other small bits and bobs of electronic equipment.

As with all matters of photography, light is important. [Alain] built a DIY light box using two cheap outdoor square LED panels and some scrap wood. There’s really nothing to this build: just build a box that holds soft, diffused light.

A camera is a little more complicated than a box, and here [Alain] is using an entry-level DSLR with a kit lens. The takeaway here is to set the aperture to the highest number (or smallest hole) possible while still keeping a reasonable shutter speed. This increases the depth of field and produces a picture where the board and the tops of components are in focus.

There are a few more tips for getting the best PCB pics possible including shooting in RAW for Aperture or Lightroom, getting a macro lens, and using a tripod. Like all things, there’s a law of diminishing returns, and even with a smartphone camera and a DIY light box, you can produce some fantastic pics of PCBs.

DIY Illuminator for UV Fluorescence Photography

The image shown is the mineral Hackmanite, which fluoresces under ultraviolet lighting. However, not all UV is created equal, and that makes a difference if you’re into UV imaging. The image for this article is from [David Prutchi] and shows the striking results of using different wavelengths of UV. [David] goes into detail on how to make your own DIY Long, Medium, and Short-wave UV Illuminator complete with part numbers and wiring diagram. The device isn’t particularly complicated; the real work was determining the exact part numbers and models of lamp, filters, and ballasts required to get the correct results. [David] has done that work and shared it for anyone interested in serious UV fluorescence photography, along with a white paper on the process.

We’ve seen [David]’s work before. We featured his DIY short-wave UV imager in the past, and his DOLPi camera project was a 2015 Hackaday Prize finalist. It’s clear he really knows his stuff, and genuinely enjoys sharing his discoveries and work.

Two-Bit Astrophotography

The Game Boy Camera is a 128×112 pixel sensor from 1998 that was probably the first digital camera in many, many homes. There’s not much you can do with it now, besides replicate old Neil Young album covers and attempting and failing to impress anyone born after the year 1995. Nevertheless, screwing around with old digital cameras is cool, so [Alex] strapped one fo these Game Boy Cameras to an old telescope.

For any astrophotography endeavor, the choice of telescope is important. For this little experiment, [Alex] used a 6” Fraunhofer telescope built in 1838 at the Old Observatory of Leiden. The Game Boy with Camera was attached to the scope using a universal cell phone adapter. Apparently the ‘universal’ in this universal cell phone adapter is accurate – the setup was easy and [Alex] quickly got an image of a clocktower on his Game Boy.

Turning to the heavens, [Alex] took a look at the most interesting objects you can see with a 6-inch telescope. Images of the moon turned out rather well, with beautiful 2-bit dithering along the terminator. Jupiter was a bright white spot in a sea of noise, but [Alex] could see four slightly brighter pixels orbiting where Stellarium predicted the Galilean moons would be.

Was this experiment a success? Between cloudy nights and a relatively small telescope, we’re saying yes. These are pretty impressive results for such a terrible digital camera.

Go Go Camera Slider

Are your arms getting tired from pushing your camera back and forth across your camera slider? That must be the case with [Max Maker], which led him to convert his manual slider into a motorized one.

The electronics are minimal — an Arduino Micro, a few toggle switches, A4988 Stepper Driver, 12V battery pack, and the ever popular NEMA 17 stepper motor. If you’re wondering why we said ‘switches’ instead of ‘switch’, it’s because 4 of the switches are used to select a time frame. The time frame being how long it takes for the slider to move from one end to the other.

Fabrication shown off in the video below will net you a few new tricks. Our favorite is how he makes a template for the NEMA motor using masking tape. After completely covering the face of the motor with tape, he clearly marks the mounting holes and colors in the shape of the motor plate as if he were doing frottage. Then just pull the tape off as one and stick it onto the slider rack.

Not including the cost of the slider itself, the parts list came out to be around $75. Even if you don’t yet own a slider, this a great first adventure into building a CNC machine. It is one degree of freedom and the hard parts have already been taken care of by the manufacturer of the slider. Get used to using belts and programming for stepper motors and you’ll be whipping up your own 3D printer with a fancy belt scheme for the Z-axis.

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Chilling a Hot Camera

[Eric]’s camera has a problem. It overheats. While this wouldn’t be an issue if [Eric] was taking one picture at a time, this camera also has a video mode, which is supposed to take several pictures in a row, one right after the other. While a camera that overheats when it’s used is probably evidence of poor thermal engineering, the solution is extremely simple: strap a gigantic heat sink to the back. That’s exactly what [Eric] did, and the finished product looks great.

The heatsink chosen for this application is a gigantic cube of aluminum, most likely taken from an old Pentium 4 CPU cooler. Of course, there’s almost no way [Eric] would have found a sufficiently large heat sink that would precisely fit the back of his camera, which meant he had to mill down the sides of this gigantic heat sink. [Eric] actually did this in his drill press using a cross slide vice and an endmill. This is surely not the correct, sane, or safe way of doing things, but we’ll let the peanut gallery weigh in on that below.

The heatsink is held on by a technique we don’t see much around here — wire bending. [Eric] used 0.055″ (1.3 mm) piano wire, and carefully bent it to wrap around both the heatsink and the camera body. Does the heatsink cool the camera? Yes, and the little flip-up screen of the camera makes this camera a very convenient video recording device. You can check out the video of this build below.

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Open Source Digital Cinema

Years in the making, Apertus has released 25 beta developer kits for AXIOM–their open source digital cinema camera. This isn’t your point-and-shoot digital camera. The original proof of concept from 2013 had a Zynq processor (a Zedboard), a super 35 4K image sensor, and a Nikon F-Mount.

The device today is modular with several options. For example, there is an HDMI output module, but  DisplayPort, 4K HDMI, and USB 3.0 options are in development. You can see several sample videos taken with the device, below.

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Giving a Camera Mount a Little (Magnetic) Attractiveness

It’s probably safe to say that most hackers and makers don’t really want to fuss around with the details of making video documentation of their work. They would rather spend their time and energy on the actual project at hand…you know — the fun stuff.

[Daniel Reetz] has been wanting more mounting options for his camera mount to make it easier and quicker to set up.  One end of his existing camera mount is a clamp. This has been working for [Daniel] so far, but he wanted more options. Realizing that he has plenty of ferrous metal surfaces around his shop, he had an idea — make a magnetic base add-on for his camera mount.

In the video, [Daniel] walks us through the process of creating this magnetic camera mount add-on, starting with the actual base. It is called a switchable magnetic base (or mag-base as he calls it) and looks like a handy little device. This was surely the most expensive part of the build, but looks like it should last a very long time. Basically, it’s a metal box with magnets on the inside and a rotating switch on the outside. When the switch is in one position, the box’s bottom is magnetic. Rotate the switch to the other position, and the bottom is no longer magnetic. These switchable magnetic bases come with a stud on top for attaching other things to it, which it looks like [Daniel] has already done. From there on out though, he explains and shows the rest of the build.

Some mild steel rod was cut and modified to slip into the pipe. The rod is held in place by a set screw which allows for easy adjustment of the mount’s height. Then he welds the rod to a washer which is, in turn, welded to a tube. After the welding, he takes the whole thing to a deburring wheel to clean it up. After that, the final touches are made with some spray paint and a custom 3D printed cap.

Sprinkled throughout the video are some useful tips, one of them being how he strips the zinc off of the washer with acid prior to welding. The reason for this is that you don’t want to weld over zinc because it produces neurotoxins.

Now [Daniel] can attach his camera mount quickly just about anywhere in his shop with the help of his new magnetic base.

There’s no shortage of camera mount hacks that we’ve covered. Here’s another one involving a magnet, but also has an automatic panning feature. Do you need a sliding camera mount? How about a motorized sliding camera mount — enjoy.

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