Explore The Cosmos With This DIY Digital Telescope

Getting a closer look at the Moon isn’t particularly difficult; even an absolute beginner can point a cheap telescope towards our nearest celestial neighbor and get some impressive views. But if you’re looking to explore a bit farther, and especially if you want to photograph what you find out there amongst the black, things can get complicated (and expensive) pretty quick.

While building this 3D printed automated telescope designed [Greg Holloway] isn’t necessarily cheap, especially once you factor in what your time is worth, the final product certainly looks to be considerably streamlined compared to most of what’s available in the commercial space. Rather than having to lug around a separate telescope, tripod, motorized tracker, and camera, you just need this relatively compact all-in-one unit.

It’s taken [Greg] six months to develop his miniature observatory, and it shows. The CAD work is phenomenal, as is the documentation in general. Even if you’re not interested in peering into the heavens, perusing the Instructables page for this project is well worth your time. From his tips on designing for 3D printing to information about selecting the appropriate lens and getting it mated to the Raspberry Pi HQ Camera, there’s a little something for everyone.

Of course if you are looking to build your own motorized “GOTO” telescope, then this is must-read stuff. [Greg] has really done his homework, and the project is a fantastic source of information about motor controllers, wiring, hand controllers, and the open source firmware you need to tie it all together. Many of the ideas he’s outlined here could be applicable to other telescope projects, or really, anything that needs to be accurately pointed to the sky. If you’d like to get started with night sky photography and aren’t picky about what kind of things you capture, we’ve seen a number of projects that simply point a camera towards the stars and wait for something to happen.

[Thanks to Eugene for the tip.]

A Retro Camcorder Upgraded As A Raspberry Pi HQ Camera

In 2020 when we carry an all-purpose computer and data terminal able to store our every thought and deed on a global computer network, it’s easy to forget that once upon a time we were excited by the simpler things. Take the camcorder for example, back in the 1990s the idea of a complete video recording solution that captured moving images on tape cartridges and fit in the palm of your hand was a very big deal indeed, and camcorders as we called them in those innocent times were a prized posession. Now they’re a $0.50 find a Goodwill, which is how [Dustin] picked up the RCA camcoder he’s converting into something altogether more modern. He’s gutted it and upgraded it by removing the analogue innards and retaining only the case and lens assembly to put around a Raspberry Pi and associated HQ camera module.

Opening the camcorder up reveals a ton of miniaturised analogue circuitry, but once the original assemblies are removed it’s relatively straightforward to put the Pi camera on the rear of the lens unit. There’s plenty of space for the Pi in the box, and he’s putting a touchscreen on the outside.

Sadly the camcorder’s original tiny CRT is no longer working, else that would have been the ultimate retro viewfinder. Still we hope to see some tinkering on that part of the project since those little CRTS make for delightful hacks. The project is very much a work in progress, but should serve that these once ubiquitous devices are now in the realm of the throwaway.

This isn’t the first such conversion we’ve seen with a Raspberry Pi, the original camera module is a handy fit to an 8mm movie camera.

Bullet Time On A Budget With The Raspberry Pi

Bullet time became the hottest new cinema effect after it burst on the scene in The Matrix (1999). Back then, the cutting edge special effects required serious hardware and serious processing power to do the job. These days, of course, things have moved along somewhat. [Eric Paré] is no stranger to a high-end setup, but wanted to see what could be done at the lower end of the market. (Video, embedded below.)

Rather then relying on a bank of expensive DSLRs, [Eric] decided to try building a bullet-time camera rig out of 15 Raspberry Pis, and the standard Raspberry Pi Camera. Whereas just one camera in one of his professional setups may cost well over $1000, this entire rig was likely built for less than that in its entirety.

Initial results were jerky and unappealing, but [Eric] persevered. One of the biggest problems was inaccuracy in the camera assemblies, as they were stuck on with thermal paste. With some custom mods and tweaks, [Eric] was eventually able to get things to a passable state. It also has the benefit, compared to a DSLR rig, that the cameras can be mounted much more closely together due to their small size.

Work is already underway to upgrade the rig to the new Raspberry Pi HQ Camera, which we’ve discussed before.

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Bringing The Pi Camera Into Focus With LEGO

Ever since the high-quality camera for the Raspberry Pi was released a few months back it has been the center of attention for many hacks. In this quick build [Martin Mander] shows us how to make a servo-powered focusing mechanism entirely from LEGO.

The inspiration for this project came to him while he was working on his 1979 Merlin Pi Camera and found that setting the focus just right is vital in order to get good quality pictures. So he set himself the goal to build a mechanism that allows him to focus the camera precisely and remotely.

It is the plethora of LEGO-compatible parts that are available off-the-shelf that make such a project possible without the use of any 3D printed components. He not only found a LEGO-compatible continuous rotating servo but also a LEGO-compatible case for the Pi, and a LEGO cogwheel which almost fits exactly onto the camera lens. He also added a tripod mount to the case that allows him to set up the camera anywhere. The camera and focussing mechanism are controlled with a custom GUI based on guizero Python 3 library and the camera can be accessed remotely via VNCViewer.

If you prefer 3D printing over LEGO there are also other stylish Raspi HQ camera builds.

Video after the break.

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A Stylish Raspberry Pi Camera

The Raspberry Pi HQ camera module is an exciting product that for the first time puts something close to a decent quality interchangeable lens camera into the hands of hardware hackers. It’s already attracted the attention of those who have a wish to explore the boundaries of camera form factors. Our latest entrant in this field comes courtesy of [BBまどーし], who has opted for a very good 3D-printed analog of a conventional compact camera.

On the front as you might expect is the module, concealed behind a smart plastic ring. Behind that is a battery compartment, concealing not the brace of 18650s or the bare LiPo pouch that you might expect, but a 10,400 mAH USB power bank. Behind that is something approaching a conventional Raspberry Pi case, designed to take a Hyperpixel screen. The battery might seem an unadventurous choice, but it serves to highlight just how much bang for your buck can now be found in compact power banks. It may not have a hacker aesthetic, but you can’t argue with its cost and simplicity.

The details are the interesting part of this design, for instance it has a standard accessory shoe printed into its top. There is also a shutter button, but they admit to not being a software wizard enough to get it working. Perhaps a quick look at this Pi Camera in a 1970s Merlin game would be in order.

Merlin Pi Camera Is A Photographic Wizard

[Mister M] was quite excited to mess around with the new high-quality Raspberry Pi camera and build a project around it. Unfortunately, lockdown forced him to rummage through old tech on hand rather than hunting down a fresh eye-catching enclosure out in the wild. We spent many hours playing with one of these Merlin toys whenever six AA batteries could be spared to feed the matrix of hungry 1970s LEDs, so we would argue that [Mister M] should explore his personal stores more often.

Before we forget — it’s cool; this one was already broken. The Merlin Pi camera’s wizardry works on two levels — [Mister M] can take still pictures and record video through the GUI he built for the touchscreen, or go retro and use the little push buttons nestled in the Merlin control panel. [Mister M] worked a Dropbox uploader into the GUI, so he doesn’t have to worry about filling up the SD card with backyard bird movies in the middle of filming them.

[Mister M] says he accidentally warped the Merlin’s battery cover while trying to soak away the sticker and had to use a piece of acrylic. Although it’s unfortunate, we think it may have been for the better given the huge hole necessitated by the camera lens. Check out the build video after the break.

If you hadn’t heard about this beefy new camera module until now, our own [Jenny List] brought it into focus a couple months back and more recently had a go at hacking with it herself.

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Why Are Digital Cameras Still Boring?

In the matter of technological advancement, we are as a species, mostly insatiable. The latest toy, the fastest silicon, the largest storage, the list goes on. Take digital cameras as an example, what was your first one? Mine was a Casio QV200 in about 1997, I still have it somewhere though I can’t immediately lay my hands on it, and it could hold a what was for its time a whopping 64 VGA-resolution pictures in its 4Mb of onboard memory.

The QV200 showing off its VGA capabilities. It's March 1998, and this is a brand-new PlayStation that I'm about to install a mod chip inside.
The QV200 showing off its VGA photography capabilities. It’s March 1998, and this is a brand-new PlayStation that I’m about to install a mod chip inside.

It’s a shock to realise that nearly a quarter century has passed since then, and its fixed-focus 640×480 camera module with a UV-sensitive CMOS sensor that gave everything a slight blue tint would not even grace the cheapest of feature phones in 2020. Every aspect of a digital camera has improved beyond measure since the first models in the 1980s and early 1990s that started to resemble what we’d know today as a standalone digital camera, they have near-limitless storage, excellent lenses, huge and faithfully-reproducing sensors, and broadcast-quality video capability.

But how playful have camera manufacturers been with the form factor? We see reporters in sci-fi movies toting cameras that look nothing like their film-based ancestors. What do our real-life digital cameras have on offer as far as creative body design goes?

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