Spotting Camera

Dougnutz

Online Training Member
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Feb 24, 2019
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Western Washington
I recently assembled a fairly cheap spotting camera. After looking at a few options online for $350-$600 I decided these things are really simple. I could build it myself.
The camera is an 1080p (HD) camera with remote pan and tilt. It also has a built in card slot for recording, if you so choose. The antenna is a directional wifi hotspot. I run it from an old plastic ammo can with a small inverter built in. I Actually run it off of a cordless drill battery I already had. Lots of things would work here, but a single drill battery lasts about 4 hours. So far it performs great at 600 yards with the transmitter set to half power. I just open a browser or app and start shooting. There is no receiver end. Though if used at really long range it could also be configured for point to point transmission with a receiver at the shooter end for better reception. Pan and tilt really are not that useful. If I where doing this again I would probably just get a fixed direction camera. They are a little cheaper. You could also eliminate the stand and just put everything on the ammo can. Mounting the antenna on the and camera directly to the can. My goal was to have something to reach 600 yards that was pretty easy to setup and clear. This meets those goals easily and would go much farther. With the wifi access point set to half power I still have 4 out of 4 bars on my laptop at $600 yards. The specs and reviews on the access point suggest it should work at more than a mile. I believe it would too. It is very directional though if you get more than about 5 degrees from center on the antenna the signal strength drops drastically. But it's pretty easy to point it at your shooting stand.

The camera can be a little sluggish to pan and tilt at distances beyond 200 yards but it's workable. The shot video is generally 1-3 second or so behind.

About $176 in parts if you had to buy it all. Some parts I already had.
Camera ~$60 https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01FEEKB7I/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o03_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
wifi ~$80 https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00HXT8K4O/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o03_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
Inverter ~14 https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07549VYJC/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o03_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
Camera stand ~12 https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00AVRX1MG/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o03_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
Ammo Can ~10 https://www.amazon.com/Plano-131250-1312-Ammo-Box/dp/B005IURN5M/ref=sr_1_5?keywords=ammo+can&qid=1559852730&s=gateway&sr=8-5

I hope other find this useful. I could provide more detail and even share the wifi config if needed. It's pretty easy to do if you can set up a home router you can do it.

7090558
 

ken4570tc in WY

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Aug 30, 2018
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Great job! A while back, someone posted a list and plans for a more robust more expensive DIY setup. A link to instructions and setup would be appreciated.
 

Dougnutz

Online Training Member
Online Training Access
Minuteman
Feb 24, 2019
23
7
6
Western Washington
Here is a little more detail. First things first. The assembly is pretty simple. Maybe not the most robust, but it's light and it's simple.

The AmCrest camera I picked has a 1/4 20 thread on the bottom, the same as nearly all camera out there and many spotting scopes. It's a simple matter of attaching it.
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In my case the thread needed a washer or spacer. I just took a rubber o-ring. It gives it a little extra space, Washers, small spacers of any sort would work.


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The cleanest choice would be a POE camera, one that takes power over Ethernet, it would only require the one wire. In my case I picked one that had a power wire and Ethernet connection. You could use a wireless IP camera but it would complicate the setup a little. I just twisted the power and Ethernet wires together. (Somewhere a network engineer is squirming) It's only 5v dv so big deal.

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The heart of the system is the Ubiquitie NanoStation. This is a professional grade access point. You could probably make this work with about any home router especially if you only need to go 100 yards or maybe if you can swap out the antenna for a directional one. But I am fond of this brand, It totally rocks. Super strong super stable transmission. Probably overkill. But if you wanted to set up a camera for your 2mile shot you could do point to point with a pair of these and have no problem. You can even buy them preconfigured. Anyway it's pole mount so a pair of zip ties (included) will mount it to the camera stand. I mounted mine partially above the leg pivots. This makes it fold easy and boosts the height of the transmitter a little.

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So this bit is important. We are going to set this access point (AP) up to be a router as well. So we can get a self contained system without dealing with static ips etc. It just works. The Blue cable goes to the antenna and must be plugged into the secondary slot. If you know networking lingo this is the lan port, with the way we are going to configure this. If not, no worries just plug it in :)

The Gray wire goes to the power supply for the AP (access point). This piece is POE so no separate power wire. If the camera where also POE (of the same voltage) it would not need a separate power connector, it would be passed through.

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Power injector (for the POE) this is included with the AP if you user the link I shared above. If you purchase the AP separately pay attention to whether or not the power injector is included. One downside to Unifi/ Ubiquiti is some of their stuff doesn't use the standard power injectors. So if you get a POE camera make sure it's the same voltage.

Anyway connect Main on the AP to POE on the injector.
Next you want to connect LAN from the POE to your home network. It is possible to configure the AP without this step. It tends to be trickier. There are online guides to do it.

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To tidy things up a little I just continued to twist the camera power wire with the others all the way to the end of the POE injector plug. I tied up the extra with a zip tie. Now I have my AP power adapter plug nd usb power plug for my camera next to each other.
IMG_20190606_142147.jpg

To break things up a little I will show the last step of plugging things together into my inverter here.7090653
 

Dougnutz

Online Training Member
Online Training Access
Minuteman
Feb 24, 2019
23
7
6
Western Washington
The battery pack is the most random component in this thread kit. So many ways to build it.

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Initially I tested this with a go cart battery and the inverter linked above. The nice thing about this inverter is it's small and draws very little standby power. About .1 amp. For an inverter that's not too bad. And it has 5v (USB) plugs for my camera power. No it's probably not a pure sine wave inverter. I don't think it matters here since it's all being turned back to dc anyway (now some electrical engineer is squirming). On the one hand it's not efficient to go from a 12v battery to 120v ac just to go back to dc. It would be better to go straight to dc. And I started to do that. But this inverter has a 5v dc and 120v ac outputs. So with this setup I can use this as a camping battery and charge small devices of just about any type from my tool batteries (which I already had). If building a dedicated setup I would have done a dc to dc converter. Anyway here is a closer look at the power box.
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If you look closely you will see one component I haven't mentioned yet next to the inverter. I have a small dc to dc converter. I used this because my tool batteries are 18v and this cheap-o inverter didn't like 18v so I had to step it down a little. If you are using 12v batteries this isn't needed. But if you find yourself with the same kind of inverter and using higher voltage batteries you will need something like this. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B06XRN7NFQ/ref=ox_sc_act_title_1?smid=AFW951J7877QL&psc=1

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These have really simple connections dc in and dc out. plus a pot to adjust the output voltage. In my case I soldered the battery connector right to the input side of the DC converter. The output side I had pigtails with connectors. As I mentioned earlier I tested with a go cart batter that had simple blade terminals. I cut the cigarette lighter connector off of the inverter and put on terminal connectors. Note you want to keep track of the positive wire carefully if they are both black. Hint: usually the positive wire has a rough side or ribs on it and negative is smooth. I put red tape on mine to mark it.

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I have a small plastic ammo can which I cut a hole in with a Dremel. I traced the outline of my inverter on the side of the can. Then drew a smaller outline about 1/8 in all the way around. This allowed the hole to be slightly smaller than the inverter. I took the inverter end cover off and aligned it with my new hole. The screw holes for the inverter should be visible inside each corner but the hole needs to be smaller. That way you can sandwich the case between the inverter and the cover. I recommend a plastic case for this reason :) I also added some hot glue under the inverter once in position to help stabilize it.
(apologies for the poor picture. It looked better on my phone)
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Next is the battery end. I have a bunch of 18v tools around. One of the old flashlights in the kit didn't work anymore so I cut off the battery adapter and attached the wires directly to it. It makes it a little easier to change batteries. They just snap in. I added hot glue again behind the battery adapter and ran some screws into it from the bottom for extra support.

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Ignore the crooked screws :)

IMG_20190606_160533.jpg

Just click in the battery and we are good to go. I can fit at least two batteries inside the box. Or one larger go cart battery.

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One nice improvement would be a switch to turn it on and off. You could pick one up from the auto parts store. If you don't have quick disconnects for the battery a switch would be a good option. Since the inverter has some draw all the time it would eventually kill the battery.

With this setup and a 3 ah 18 v battery I get a good 6 hours. I have a smaller 1 ah battery that runs the camera and hotspot for 3 hours.
 
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Dougnutz

Online Training Member
Online Training Access
Minuteman
Feb 24, 2019
23
7
6
Western Washington
Now to get it all working. I mentioned this power injector for the hotspot above. The gray wire connects the hot spot (AP) to the injector, marked with POE. The blue wire goes from the LAN port to my home router. This is helpful for initial setup, but not required. Also once the initial setup is done you will be in the field and no local router to plug into :)

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Plug all the bits together and wait for the lights on the AP to turn green. My camera also does a little self calibration as it starts up.
Once everything is setup you will want to connect to the AP from a laptop and configure it as a router. There are lots of instructions on how to do this I will also attach a config file (Target.txt) , the admin password it letmein. :)
Save the config file and change the extension to .cfg. (this site doesn't let people upload .cfg files)

Others have done walkthroughs on how to set up these access points, they do a better job than me.
Here is a video

If you want to search for tutorials look for "configure nanostation m2 as router"

If you want to use my config file. Once you connect to the ap and log in using the tutorial or instructions that come with it, click the system tab, and upload the config. Follow the instructions to apply and you should be set. It will create an AP named "Target: with no password to connect to the network.

Now after you make it that far, you need to setup your camera. This part is best done by following the instructions from the specific manufacturer. In my case I used Amcrest.
1. Download the Amcrest app to your phone or PC (I recommend phone)
2. Connect to the "Target" network with your phone.
3. Open the app and follow the directions for setting up your camera. Probably scanning the image code (QR) on the bottom of the camera You might need to take it back off the stand :)

Note the IP of the camera if you want to view it in the browser on a tablet you open the url ie: https://192.168.1.5

After you get through these steps once. Go test it outside :) It should power up and be ready in about 15-20 seconds. Connect with your phone or browser.
Note: Your phone may complain that the network has no internet and ask you to switch. You have to say no (obviously).
For this reason I like a tablet for viewing the camera in the field. Plus the bigger screen is nice.

You can also get the amcreat app on a amazon fire. The smaller ones are cheap. Often on sale for $30. Any android tablet will do. Ipads probably work too.
 

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ken4570tc in WY

Sergeant of the Hide
Belligerents
Minuteman
Aug 30, 2018
403
176
49
64
Wheatland, Wyoming
Now to get it all working. I mentioned this power injector for the hotspot above. The gray wire connects the hot spot (AP) to the injector, marked with POE. The blue wire goes from the LAN port to my home router. This is helpful for initial setup, but not required. Also once the initial setup is done you will be in the field and no local router to plug into :)

View attachment 7090720

Plug all the bits together and wait for the lights on the AP to turn green. My camera also does a little self calibration as it starts up.
Once everything is setup you will want to connect to the AP from a laptop and configure it as a router. There are lots of instructions on how to do this I will also attach a config file (Target.txt) , the admin password it letmein. :)
Save the config file and change the extension to .cfg. (this site doesn't let people upload .cfg files)

Others have done walkthroughs on how to set up these access points, they do a better job than me.
Here is a video

If you want to search for tutorials look for "configure nanostation m2 as router"

If you want to use my config file. Once you connect to the ap and log in using the tutorial or instructions that come with it, click the system tab, and upload the config. Follow the instructions to apply and you should be set. It will create an AP named "Target: with no password to connect to the network.

Now after you make it that far, you need to setup your camera. This part is best done by following the instructions from the specific manufacturer. In my case I used Amcrest.
1. Download the Amcrest app to your phone or PC (I recommend phone)
2. Connect to the "Target" network with your phone.
3. Open the app and follow the directions for setting up your camera. Probably scanning the image code (QR) on the bottom of the camera You might need to take it back off the stand :)

Note the IP of the camera if you want to view it in the browser on a tablet you open the url ie: https://192.168.1.5

After you get through these steps once. Go test it outside :) It should power up and be ready in about 15-20 seconds. Connect with your phone or browser.
Note: Your phone may complain that the network has no internet and ask you to switch. You have to say no (obviously).
For this reason I like a tablet for viewing the camera in the field. Plus the bigger screen is nice.

You can also get the amcreat app on a amazon fire. The smaller ones are cheap. Often on sale for $30. Any android tablet will do. Ipads probably work too.
Awesome, thanks, I'll have to give it a try!