DIY motorized panorama head

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    My makeshift automated panorama rig. Mostly made from spare parts and junk.

    [updated 2012.07.24] It seems this made it on hackaday: hackaday.com/2012/07/24/motorized-camera-rig-makes-panora... Greetings! I'll try to get some documentation together and post the code somewhere in the coming weeks.

    Movement is handled by two servos at the top, mounted to some scrap wood using screws and wood glue. That mounts to the tripod via a 1/4-20 clawed T-bolt. The camera secures to a set of overpriced plastic servo pan/tilt plates.

    The servos are controlled via an Arduino Nano (Atmel AVR 328p) powered by a 9v battery for the microcontroller(μc), and 4xAA batteries for the servos. The clear housing was saved from the trash, and holes for the wires and switch were cut by using a heat gun on an exacto knife. The case secures to the tripod using velcro and elastic. An IR receiver, mounted on top of the case, takes input from a small generic remote control(not pictured).

    Several quick programs are accessible with only 2 key presses for the most commonly used angles. Manual angle input and adjustment are also available, as are startup delays and repeating functions. It can also be re-configured in the field, via the remote, and allows the changing of camera specs, such as horizontal and vertical field of view, h/v overlaps, servo speed and end stops. The μc is programed to, on it's own, determine the number of shots, and the best angles to shoot, in order to capture the requested area. There's also some rudimentary duplicate avoidance written in, which skips photographing areas that would significantly overlap with previous photos, such as in the polar regions.

    There are plenty of problems with the version as shown. For starters, it doesn't center its rotation around the shutter, which causes parallax errors. The current servos aren't strong enough for anything heavier than a compact point-and-shoot. There's no shutter control yet. A third servo lead is tucked in back, and the code written, but at the moment, it's just synced with the camera's internal 10 second repeat auto timer. The code was quick and sloppy, but it does the job. I should probably clean it up and open source it at some point. So far, though, it has performed far better than I expected. Most issues could be resolved without much work, but at the moment, I'm just going to enjoy using it.

    Except for the Marigot Bay panorama and the Marblehead harbor fireworks panorama(which were done by hand) most of the panoramas and stereographic "little planets" in this photostream were taken using this rig with a casio ex-g1 point-and-shoot.

    You can check out some of the interactive and immersive 360º images it has produced using the viewer at fieldofview here , or just check out the rest of the photostream here.

    anandamid3 and l.priv added this photo to their favorites.

    1. anandamid3 21 months ago | reply

      This is quite ingenious. I still take most of my spherical panoramas hand held. I get all these funny looks from people, who I guess think I'm trying to impress them or be 'fancy' or something. This thing seems like it would be quite the icebreaker instead.

      I think this rig plus a CHDK hacked point and shoot could really be the way to go. I'm quite positive you could figure out some way to connect this to the camera through that. There's quite a few older models that work to choose from too if you don't want to spend too much money experimenting.

      I actually want to get another point and shoot pretty badly just to get the CHDK firmware hack stuff back into my life. I'm getting tired of devices I can't reprogram, I almost don't want to buy new tech if I can't edit the software it runs on. It really actually makes the choice between a micro 4/3 and a point and shoot an issue for me when looking for a smaller camera.

    2. FantomFotographer 21 months ago | reply

      Thank you! I know exactly what you mean about the funny looks. And yes, it can be quite the icebreaker. The reactions tend to be divided between mostly curious people, where it starts a conversation about electronics and photography, and a few cautious people, who see lots of haphazard wiring and then go out of their way to keep their distance.

      CHDK does look awesome. Since you pointed me to it, I've been scanning ebay from time to time, but haven't quite decided what I want to do yet. Having a camera to open up and wire directly to the shutter button would be far easier than what I was trying to do with a 3rd servo, but it also would limit use to modified cameras.

      I agree completely. Hackability tends to play a big role in my purchases. It's all about having more options, more usefulness, and more fun.

    3. anandamid3 21 months ago | reply

      Yeah I'm really interested in a completely open source camera format. As in software that is customizable, public domain 3d printable parts etc. I've got some really good ideas for how to improve camera's specifically in regards to panoramas. For instance, and here's just a simple one.... when you exposure bracket, instead of opening the shutter multiple separate times, why not just open the shutter once. For example, saving the data from the first half of the open shutter time, then the entire shutter time for a two exposure bracketing. Way less time and no bump from multiple shutter snaps. (I think it would work...)

      Hopefully 'Dynamic Perception' ends up being something like this. I'd really like to get behind a project like that (open source cameras/software/dollies etc) and I hope that's where the future is going. It seems like the 'Timescapes' people are behind it, hopefully that's enough. They even have a Arduino section in their forums dynamicperception.com/forums/diy/arduino-software-develop... which might interest you.

      This rig has me seriously impressed. It's like you took 'trash' and made it sync up like voltron with some clever teck-telekinesis, it's positively Doc Brown. :) Keep up the good work. I look forward to seeing your progress.

    4. FantomFotographer 21 months ago | reply


      I like the way you think. A printed camera of open software and hardware? That would be a dream come true. (Imagine the ability to upgrade sensors!) I've seen the idea bounced around before, but it tends to go beyond what can be done at home. This project, www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=113692571, and news.stanford.edu/news/2009/august31/levoy-opensource-cam... from a few years ago looked promising, but was never heard from again.

      As for exposure bracketing, your way would make more sense. I'm surprised to see it's not done that way. Might have something to do with the way sensors output their data, but thats an uneducated wild guess.

      So far, I've avoided digging too deep into the Dynamic Perception stuff, as figuring it out yourself is half the fun. Steppers, as they use, are far better than servos, but not what I had lying around. The videos produced by their system are absolutely stunning.

      Thanks again for the compliments.

    5. anandamid3 21 months ago | reply

      Yeah, either they just haven't thought about it yet, or like you and I both speculate... maybe it has something to do with writing to sensors that is just 'above my paygrade' or whatever.... but in an era of DSLRs that shoot video it just seems like that wouldn't be an issue to me, or at least last time I was thinking about it. It just seems so much more logical to do it that way. I have a few other gems like that, but I'd rather keep them to myself until I know it's not just going to get stolen by some camera manufacture. (Instead of something that everyone would have access to like an opensource project.)

      Yeah, I'd love to design camera bodies that look slick and are easily fixable and updatable. I'm sure there are components that would have to be bought from suppliers, I doubt the glass for 3d printed lenses are an option now. (Although I don't have a 3d printer so don't quote me on that.)

      Yeah the Dynamic Perception people just seemed so right up your alley. I really hope an open source hardware/software camera happens in the future. If you see anything else relating to that in your online journeys that isn't those people, please inform me, as I would love to contribute.

      Btw, if you need to 3d print something of your own design... Say at some point you come up with 3d renders for a housing for your motorized panorama head, www.shapeways.com is great from what I hear. No upfront cost, and you can get one offs done. Just a thought. :)

    6. kyndaldk 21 months ago | reply

      i use a robot i made from the standard LEGO mindstorms NXT 1.0 robotics kit and a canon Point and shoot running CHDK Works a treat

      couple of examples.. click to pan scrooll to zoom

      Robot
      Quebec
      Arctic camp winter
      Arctic camp summer

      /Kyndal

    7. FantomFotographer 21 months ago | reply

      I've always wanted to build a 3d printer, but shapeways does look like the next best thing to having your own. I should probably design something that handles pan/tilt properly. Just not sure what direction I want to take this at the moment, build it better, or keep it dirt cheap? Anything better would probably mean abandoning the servos for steppers. Maybe I'll just dig out the legos like kyndal here, who's design does keep rotation centered around the shutter.

    8. FantomFotographer 21 months ago | reply

      Very cool! That frame is similar to what I had envisioned when I started, but the servos I have can barely support the camera alone. Do you have any more detail on your setup? I know nothing about mindstorms and I'm curious about how you're handling motion, and what you're stitching with.

    9. anandamid3 21 months ago | reply

      That looks pretty awesome. I used to make some of my panoramas into quicktimeVRs. I need to make some more. Do did you have plans you made that with, or is it an original design?

    10. kyndaldk 21 months ago | reply

      i use the feedback from the digital servos for positioning

      the camera rotates "roughly" around the non parallax or nodal point of the lens.
      or at least close enough for it not to matter much..
      i dont see any or very little parallax error when stitching

      little bit of custom hardware to bump the 3.3v logic signal from the
      NXT brick to 5.0v that the canon camera CHDK remote can pick up.
      (i put the circuit for that on the CHDK wiki a while back)

      CHDK also takes care of the "pseudo" manual exposure control

      the rig is a bit "wobbly" as it is made from LEGO's. but i use roughly 50% overlap in azimuth and elevation so its no problem

      a full sequence takes 108pic 6 elevations per 20 degrees azimuth)
      plus one straight up and manually some pics where the tripod is for full 360x180
      full resolution after stitching is roughly 240mpix

      short clip of the robot in action

      all original design LEGO construction, hardware and software + out of the box CHDK

      /Kyndal

    11. anandamid3 20 months ago | reply

      www.muktware.com/4191/raspberry-pi-running-inside-canon-b...

      Have you seen this? I'm rather impressed by this idea.

    12. FantomFotographer 20 months ago | reply

      I have. It's very cool. At first I couldn't think of many uses for it, outside of the mentioned tethering/tablet preview/remote control. I can't stand squinting at the image I just captured on a camera's tiny lcd, and the ability to immediately display images on a larger tablet screen is enough to make that project awesome. But I realized I was being short sighted. There is so much that could be done. If he could get realtime access to the same preview sent to the camera's lcd, he could pipe that into something built on opencv running on the raspi, and control the camera based on motion, facial recognition, gestures, smile detection, etc... add servos and you could do motion tracking. It's not quite an open source camera, but it opens up some room to experiment.

      Here's one for you. It's not a polished peice of hardware, but the results are similar to Timescapes, and I suspect for far less money. hackaday.com/2012/08/31/taking-moving-time-lapse-images-over-days-at-a-time/

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