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Saturday, September 23 2017 @ 02:24 AM CDT

Camera Housings

Previous: Camera Specifics - Next: Sound and Microphones

Unless you're planning on standing over your camera with an umbrella in the wet or defending it from puppy slobber with well-placed hand movements, you're going to need some sort of housing for your camera.

The type of housing you use will be entirely dependent on where the camera is going and what the weather is like there.

Indoors in a home is easy – just put the camera in anything (or nothing) that will hold it in place with no vibration and no fear of being knocked over by subjects or the local pets/kids.

Outdoors and around wildlife - weather, camouflage, heat and ventilation, all are considerations.


Inside Looking Out

If you have to shoot out through a window you probably want to build a “blind” such as the one I built for our Heron camera install in the apartment that overlooked the heron rookery. This stops internal light from reflecting into the lens of the camera, lowering the contrast of the image. It also stops that internally reflected light from showing the people in the same room with the camera, especially at night – this can be embarrassing as for example the camera we used had auto-focus on, and it would focus on the internal scene reflected in the window glass. In that case the blind also hid the fact of the camera from those looking in the window from outside as it was in complete darkness, even during the day.

In lieu of a blind, you can tape a piece of dark or black felt to the window above the camera lens and simply drape it over the camera. Ensure the felt is thick enough to block most/all of the light from the room, especially if you are trying to see things at night and the room is normally lit.

Around the Yard

If you’re going to be moving your camera around in the yard like I do sometimes, you might consider simply getting a helmet-camera. These are already weather proof and they’re small and light enough that you can mount them in various ways.

If you’re going to create a camera housing from scratch, you can make it out of almost anything but the main things to note are: ensure the lens of the camera is as close to the front window as possible to avoid internal reflections that lower the contrast of the image and introduce distortions If there is a power supply or other item in the housing with a LED light on it, mask the light so it can’t be seen.

We have had several people call and email us about the lights from the power supplies on a couple of our nest cameras in years gone past. “The light will bother the birds!!!!” Except of course it would not as it could not be seen by the birds. The light was inside the housing and was reflecting off the glass into the lens of the camera. Only at night could it be seen. This goes along with the previous point about getting the camera as close to the front window as possible. If it had been right up against the window the internal LED would not have been seen.

Use glass for the front window only if you know it is shatter-resistant or damage won’t be an issue. Otherwise use clear acrylic and take care of it so it does not get scratched.

I have a motorcycle with an acrylic windshield. The best cleaner is called “Plexus” and I recommend it for all clear acrylics – available at a motorcycle dealership near you.

All cameras give off heat to some extent. Ensure your enclosure can “breath” or is large enough or otherwise self-cooling enough to allow the camera to cool itself easily. Test it!

Make the box so the bottom opens, not the top. That way moisture has to climb into the housing, not fall in.
For cameras to be mounted on a pole or tripod, mount it on a “ball” head so it can tilt/swivel. You can purchase these separately from some camera stores, or look on the net.

Camouflage your camera box.

At least dull any shiny surfaces and paint it dark colors.

Cover any openings with tight-mesh screen. I’ve used things like the screen from faucet aerators and such and in a pinch you can use something like the aluminum covered in plastic mesh (Scotchbrite) “scrubbing” pads found in kitchens. Anything to keep insects and spiders out but let air pass.

If you create a sealed box, put a package of silica gel in it. These are the little bags of crystals that say “don’t eat me” that you get packed in with most consumer electronic components. You can restore their ability to absorb water by heating them above 300 F. degrees (150 C) – then put them into your box to keep the humidity down in it. Keeps the window from fogging up in low temperatures.
Otherwise, visit your local security camera store and purchase a weatherproof housing. I’ve seen these for as little as $20 – flip-top lids and mounting slides inside that will hold many camera types. They have weather-proof through-hole grommets to keep water from coming in with the cables. The only thing is – they’re ugly and fairly hard to camouflage. The good thing is they’ll keep the rain off your family’s best video camera.

Nest Boxes Outdoors

If you purpose-build nest boxes you can also wire them up with cameras. You need to ensure the camera will close-focus and will have a fairly wide field of view. You can wire in microphones and lights too (infrared for before the eggs hatch with white lights available for after they hatch in some instances, species dependent.)

If you have several boxes but don’t know which will be inhabited, you might consider wiring them all up and only connecting the one(s) with tenants in them to the net. Don’t try to install cameras, etc. after the birds have selected – this may drive them away.
Install a camera either by mounting it inside, close to the wall (a corner gives great coverage – the corner above the entrance is best - aim away from the entrance so as not to be blinded by the light coming in) or by drilling through from the outside a hole large enough for the lens to stick through

Likewise you can drill in individual LEDs for light, or install a whole panel inside. See the section on lights for details on wiring.
Ensure all wires are tight if they are inside the box and covered on the outside so they don’t tangle or entrap the critters. Waterproof with silicone sealer and pieces of rubber matting as necessary to keep the nest box tight. Bring the ends of the wires to a place far enough from the nest box that your being there won’t disturb the tenants, so you can connect and monitor if you’re not sure which box to highlight on the net.

Nest Boxes Indoors

Nest boxes and sites that are indoors present less of a waterproofing challenge but are otherwise similar to the outdoor ones. We’re doing a number of owl nests at the moment and the toss up is between installing cameras in the existing boxes or building new ones with the cameras and lights already in them. I expect we’ll do some of each, depending on the condition of the current nest boxes and how hard it will be to retro-fit them with cameras and lights.

In one situation we have 2 nest boxes at opposite ends of the same barn. The two pairs don’t know about each other since they enter/exit in different places, but the inside of the barn is completely open to us so we can easily retro-fit them. All the equipment for encoding and power will be in the barn, warm and dry.

In a Tree

The closer to the nest you can get a camera the better, as close as about 1 foot or so away. Same with a microphone. Camouflage the camera and ensure wires are not loose and flopping in the wind. If you have to use a long-lens and be farther away then you might try some judicious branch trimming – kind of like bonsai – you have to predict where the tree will grow new branches and leaves before it happens.

One thing – a “poop-shot” can cover the lens if the camera is too close. In such situations it may be wise to either have a second camera or to have the camera a bit higher than “eye level”. We currently have one situation where the watchers are praying for a heavy rainstorm.

Underwater

We use a couple of different housings for our underwater cameras. The one that is used at the Chehalis fish hatchery is simply a Sony underwater plastic housing with an industrial camera mounted close to the front. These are typically fine for depths of a few feet to maybe 30 feet or so. Light is what will determine if you can go deeper – our most successful underwater cameras are near the surface. I’ll note here that when we pulled this camera out for service this year it had about a liter of water in it. The fine silt in the river worked its way past the rubber seals and over the course of the two years it was in the water, let in some water that resulted in the camera failing. These cases are really not designed for long-term use.

The big things with underwater are getting the power in and the signal out without letting water in. 

Connector_steel is an example of the connector type we use. In this case there are 3 conductors – ground, power, video.

If you need to bring out an Ethernet you can take a look at this one but I have not tested it yet:

www.greatboatgear.com

Our other underwater housing is a custom-turned aluminum tube with threaded and o-ring protected front plate. This one has been tested down to 100 feet.

Both our underwater housings are typically mounted on a cement block to hold them on the bottom of the river/ocean where they sit. The blocks were created with re-bar handles on either end so we can hook rope to them to hoist them, or pick them up as handles, and weigh in at about 50 lbs.

There are many commercial housings and camera systems that will go deeper and of course cost a lot more.

Dome Cameras

Axis 6032 dome PTZ camera at Hancock Ranch“Dome” cameras can mean one of two things:

The camera is fixed-focus but mounted inside a darkened plastic dome on a swivel that can be pointed in any direction manually.

The camera is a PTZ (Pan/Tilt/Zoom) camera that can be remotely aimed – typically the dome is clear bit it too may be darkened.

In all references I take the second one. The first is just a way to mask what direction the camera is pointed in by putting it inside a dark plastic dome that is typically not weather proof at all.

The real weatherproof domes are not cheap. We’ve paid hundreds for some of ours – and then had to modify them anyway, mostly to get rid of heat or deal with wider than normal temperature ranges.

You can purchase a camera already mounted in a weatherproof dome, or you can purchase the dome and add the camera.

The one major flaw with cameras already mounted in domes I’ve noted recently is that the manufacturers are not bringing the microphone (or speaker) leads outside the dome or are not even providing for audio. As an example, the latest Axis 6032 dome camera has only an Ethernet connector as it runs Power-over-Ethernet to get its power in and the signal out. The camera inside does not even have a microphone jack. Axis has a similar camera that is "indoors only" and comes with microphone capability. We're exploring the potential for re-packaging this camera in a different dome with weatherproofing.

As noted, the only other modifications we’ve had to do has been to deal with temperature problems. The typical dome purchased alone may have both a fan and heater built in, however we found the fan on one such dome only stirred the air internally, it didn’t move it out of the enclosure at all – and the only breathing space was down the neck of the mounting bracket which was crammed with wires. We ended up installing fans in the outer case (the dome had both inner and outer shields, both of aluminum) and a small thermostat to turn them off/on at reasonable internal temperatures.

Many of the newer cameras such as the above mentioned Axis Q6032E come in domes that are designed for anything from Arctic to tropical – and guaranteed by the manufacturer – but then you pay for this, both in dollars and in power.

Again, with PTZ dome cameras you may want to blind specific viewing angles so that it is obvious from the outside of the dome that the inside camera can’t view in a direction that might cause privacy concerns. The plastic domes can be damaged easily by things like tape (or at least trying to get the residual gum off after the tape has been removed) so the best way to do this is to attach the blind material to the metal dome part. Ensure whatever you use is proof against UV radiation or it will deteriorate over time. We’ve found that flexible plastic sheeting (covers of 3-ring binders purchased at the local dollar store and cut up for the job) works best.

Tag: camera enclosure blind curtain dome ptz camouflage

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