Philo Farnsworth, RCA, and the Battle for Television

The parenthood of any invention of consequence is almost never cut and dried. The natural tendency to want a simple story that’s easy to tell — Edison invented the light bulb, Bell invented the telephone — often belies the more complex tale: that most inventions have uncertain origins, and their back stories are often far more interesting as a result.

Inventing is a rough business. It is said that a patent is just a license to get sued, and it’s true that the determination of priority of invention often falls to the courts. Such battles often pit the little guy against a corporate behemoth, the latter with buckets of money to spend in making the former’s life miserable for months or years. The odds are rarely in the favor of the little guy, but in few cases was the deck so stacked against someone as it was for a young man barely out of high school, Philo Farnsworth, when he went up against one of the largest companies in the United States to settle a simple but critical question: who invented television?

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Simple Camera Slider Adds a Dimension or Two to Your Shots

Camera sliders are a popular build, and properly executed they can make for impressive shots for both time-lapse sequences or real-time action. But they seem best suited for long shots, as dollying a camera in a straight line just moves subjects close to the camera through the frame.

This slider with both pan and tilt axes can make moving close-ups a lot easier. With his extremely detailed build log, [Dejan Nedalkovski] shows how he went about building his with only the simplest of materials and tools. The linear rail is simply a couple of pieces of copper pipe supported by an MDF frame. The camera trolley rides the rails on common skateboard bearings and is driven by a NEMA-17 stepper, as are the pan and tilt axes. [Dejan] also provided a barn-door style pivot to tilt the camera relative to the rails, allowing the camera to slide up and down an inclined plane for really interesting shots. The controller uses an Arduino and a joystick to drive the camera manually, or the rig can be programmed to move smoothly between preset points.

This is a step beyond a simple slider and feels a little more like full-blown motion control. We’ve got a feeling some pretty dramatic shots would be possible with such a rig, and the fact that it’s a simple build is just icing on the cake.

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Impossibly Huge Depth of Focus in Microscope Photographs

Sometimes, less is more. Sometimes, more is more. There is a type of person who believes that if enough photos of the same subject are taken, one of them will shine above the rest as a gleaming example of what is possible with a phone camera and a steady hand. Other people know how to frame a picture before hitting the shutter button. In some cases, the best method may be snapping a handful of photos to get one good one, not by chance, but by design.

[The Thought Emporium]’s video, also below the break, is about getting crisp pictures from a DSLR camera and a microscope using focus stacking, sometimes called image stacking. The premise is to take a series of photos that each have a different part of the subject in focus. In a microscope, this range will be microscopic but in a park, that could be several meters. When the images are combined, he uses Adobe products, the areas in focus are saved while the out-of-focus areas are discarded and the result is a single photo with an impossible depth of focus. We can’t help but remember those light-field cameras which didn’t rely on moving lenses to focus but took many photos, each at a different focal range.

[The Thought Emporium] has shown us his photography passion before, as well as his affinity for taking the cells out of plants and unusual cuts from the butcher and even taking a noble stab at beating lactose intolerance.

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Shutter Bug Goes Extreme with Scratch-Built Film Camera

Should a camera build start with a sand mold and molten aluminum? That’s the route [CroppedCamera] took with this thoroughly impressive camera project.

When we think of cameras these days, chances are we picture the ones that live inside the phones in our pockets. They’re the go-to image capture devices for most of us, but even for the more photographically advanced among us, when a more capable camera is called for, it’s usually an off-the-shelf DSLR from Canon, Nikon, or the like. Where do hand-built cameras fall in today’s photography world? They’re a great way to add a film option to your camera collection.

[CroppedCamera] previously built a completely custom large-format view camera, but for this build he decided that something a bit more portable might do. The body of the camera is scratch-built from aluminum, acting as the lightproof box to hold the roll film and mount the leaf-shutter lens. There’s an impressive amount of metalwork here — sand casting, bending, TIG welding, and machining all came into play, and most of them new skills to [CroppedCamera]. We were especially impressed with the shrink-fit of the lens cone to the body. It’s unconventional looking for sure, but not without its charm, and it’s sure to make a statement dangling around his neck.

It’s tough to find non-digital DIY camera builds around here — best we could do were these laser-cut plywood modular cameras. Then again, you can’t beat this wearable camera for functional style.

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Improving Controls For A Camera Slider Kit

We’ve all gone through it. You buy a kit or even an assembled consumer item, and it’s either not quite right or it’s only a part of what you need. Either you do a fix, or you add to it. In [Jeremy S. Cook’s] case, he’d been working for a while with a camera slider kit which came with just the slider. He’d added a motor and limit switches but turning it on/off and reversing direction were still done by manipulating alligator clips. Now he’s put together some far better, and more professional-looking controls.

He started by replacing the DC motor with a servo motor modified for continuous rotation. Then he built a circuit around an Arduino Nano for controlling the motor and put it all in a carefully made box which he bolted to the side of the slider. A switch built into the box turns it on and off, and a potentiometer sets the direction of the slider. While not necessarily new, we do like when we see different approaches being taken, and in this case, he’s using magnets to not only hold the case’s cover on for easy access, but also a couple of them to hold the 9-volt battery in place. Check out his construction process and the new slider in action in the video below.

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Shoot-And-Forget Digital Photo Frame

Digital photo frames these days require you to manage the photos stored on it or the cloud-based service tied to the frame’s manufacturer. [Henric Andersson] realized that he and his wife take a lot of photos but find little time to go through them — like photo albums of days past — and add them to any photo frame-like appliance or service. Since Google photos can do a lot of the sorting for them, he decided to incorporate that into a digital photo frame.

Using his wife’s old Viewsonic 24” 1080p monitor, he cracked it open and incorporated the screen into a 24×16 distressed wood frame — reinforcing it to account for the bulky, built-in power supply with pieces of HDF and a lot of glue. The brains behind this digital photo frame is a Raspberry Pi 3 he received from a friend. To turn the whole on/off, he built a small circuit but it turned out it wasn’t strictly necessary since everything started just fine without it.

While functionally complete, it needed one more addition. A little thing called ‘color temperature calibration’ — aka white balance.

Finding the TCS34725 RGB color sensor by Adafruit — and readily available code for easy integration — [Andersson] puzzled over how to add it to the frame. To disguise it while retaining its effectiveness, he had to glue it to the rear of the frame after drilling a hole in the top piece and sticking a plastic stick through the hole to let light through to the sensor.

To get the photos to display, [Henric Andersson] says all he did was add a few queries to Google Photos and it will display all your relevant photos that have been synced to the service. For a breakdown of that side of this hack, check out his other post with the details.

While Google Photos deftly displays photos of various orientations, sizes, and aspect ratios, we’ve featured a digital photo frame that handles the task a little differently.

PipeCam: Shallow-Water Exploration with Raspberry Pi

In what began as a personal challenge he issued to himself, [Fred] is in the process of building an underwater camera that’s capable of long-term photography in shallow waters. He’d like it to last about five hours on a charge while taking a photo every five minutes. Ideally, it will be as cheap as possible and constructed from readily available parts. Solving the cheap/available equation would theoretically make the camera easily to replicate, which is the third major requirement.

[Fred] has recently made great strides, both in the circuitry and the capsule design. The latest version uses a Raspberry Pi 3 with a V2 camera module and runs on a 12 V, 2.4 Ah rechargeable lead-acid battery. Everything is mounted on a piece of hardboard that slides into a 110mm piece of PVC. At one end, the camera looks out through a 10mm  acrylic lens fixed into a heavy-duty PVC fitting, and a DS1307 RTC provides a handy clock for shooting time lapses. With a friend’s help, he pressure-tested the housing and found that it can withstand 4 bar without leaking. He is still doing dry tests and trying hard to resist the urge to throw it in the water.

PipeCam is a work in progress, and [Fred] has many ideas for improvements. He’d like to add an Arduino to govern the battery use and provide its vital signs back to the Pi, and add an LDR to decide whether there’s enough light to warrant turning the Pi on to take pictures.

PVC is great for custom capsule building. But if you want to get started with underwater photography a little faster and want to build something instead of just buying a GoPro, try sealing your camera in something that’s already watertight.