Archive for Photography

Camera Axe Motor Sensor Contest

With this competition I’m focusing community attention on getting better motor controller support into the Camera Axe 5 sooner, while rewarding the winner with some free hardware. I now have a working Camera Axe motor sensor prototype and I’m looking for help making it more useful for photographers. Why would you want to connect one or two motors to the Camera Axe? Well, this would let you control a pan/tilt head and automate taking very high resolution panoramas, or you could put your camera on a rail and take very cool time-lapse photos. Those are just two ideas out of a very very flexible tool.

The person who gives what I judge to be the most help contribution related to the Camera Axe motor sensor will win two motor sensors with motors from the Camera Axe store when they are released, or $100 credit to buy whatever you want on the store.

Here are some examples of what I’d consider a helpful contribution:

  • Mechanical designs for pan/tilt head to be controlled by motors or a rail system
  • Help finding individuals or companies willing to make these mechanical systems for our store
  • Ideas for new uses of the motor sensor
  • Help writing the Camera Axe software or laying out motor sensor menus

Those are just a few ideas to get you thinking so don’t let that limit your thinking. One limitation is the current design only allows one motor per sensor port on the Camera Axe so at most you can have 2 motors.

To register your idea for a chance to win put it (or link if you want to host the contribution on a different site) on one of these four places (there is no advantage to posting to more than one so please don’t):

Here is a link to the eagle files for the Motor Sensor and here is the Camera Axe software with the code I used test the motor sensor.

The end of this competition is September 15th 2011.

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Camera Axe 5 Shield

This is the first Camera Axe shield, but it leverages the lessons learned from the previous four generations of Camera Axe hardware. The word “shield” describes a board that plugs into the Arduino board. Arduino is an popular and easy to use open-source electronics prototyping platform used by artists, designers, and hobbyists.

The standard Camera Axe 5, which will be released in the next few months, will have a lot of difficult to solder surface mount components. Because making a kit of the standard Camera Axe 5 wouldn’t be possible I started looking for different ways of doing a kit version. I decided to go with this Arduino shield idea. Some of the reasons are:

  • There are hundreds of thousands of people who have Arduino boards. In fact many people who got earlier versions of the Camera Axe mentioned that they already owned an Arduino board. Expanding the functionality of hardware people already own is something that appeals to me.
  • Since the very first version of the Camera Axe I’ve been using the open source Arduino software. I’m pretty sure this shield will cause a few more Arduino boards to be sold and I’m happy to send the Arduino people that buisness. It is true people can use the various Arduino clones out there and that’s cool too.
  • This design makes the Camera Axe shield less expensive and easier to assemble.

The both versions of the Camera Axe 5 will use 100% the same software and will both have the same capabilities. Because this design is focused at the DIY and maker communities I decided to not include a fancy case that previous iterations have had. I think this is fine for most of these people since many of them are mostly concerned about functionality and cost.

Here are some improvements this design has over the Camera Axe 4:

  • Lower cost than the Camera Axe 4 kit.
  • Sensor ports can now have two data lines per port. This will be required by some future sensor designs. This was done while keeping backwards compatibility with all the existing Camera Axe sensors.
  • Adding input/output protection on the sensor ports.
  • Easier to load programs since you can use a standard USB cable to reprogram the Arduino boards.
  • The trigger LEDs are now multi-color LEDs so you can see the difference between triggering the shutter, focus, or both.
  • New timing crystal give much more accurate and precise timing.

Useful links:

As always here are the schematics and Eagle PCB files. The bill of materials can be found in the build guide link to above.

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Motor Sensor

I’m working on a new stepper motor controller sensor for the Camera Axe. As you cans see I’ve decided to go for a really full featured stepper controller and put controls for 3 stepper motors and a microcontroller on the sensor. The camera axe will talk to this board via the IC2 protocol. This was the best way I could figure out to control more than 2 stepper motors with the camera axe, and even if you only need two stepper motors (three is really nice for some uses cases) this design has advantages. Some of those are being able to power off the stepper motors to save power, and using less program space/cpu cycles in the Camera Axe’s main controller. The only disadvantage is a slightly more expensive sensor board.

There are a lot of use cases such as:

  • Panoramic and/or rail timelapse
  • Gigapixel images
  • Interfacing with a microscope to do focus stacking and micro-gigapixel type images
  • Focus stacking and gigapixel type images for macro images
  • Lots more

The biggest unknown I have about this board is if I really need a separate 5V power source instead of taking it from the batteries powering the motors. I have some experience of this sort of setup (same power source) working fine, but I have read that sometimes it can lead to flakiness. I wonder if that’s true or if people didn’t put enough filter caps in their design.

If anyone wants to help with the mechanical designs for some of these use cases let me know.

Comments are about the design or the use cases are always welcome.

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MultiFlash device

Based on the feedback from this poll it looks like a multi-flash add on for the Camera Axe and a timelapse panoramic sensor are top on this list. The timelapse panoramic sensor is more work and I’m working on it, but the multi-flash device is easier so I’m doing that first.

My current plan is to make this run on 3 AA batteries, and have it plug into one of the Camera/Flash ports on the Camera Axe. It will control up to 4 flashes. For those who need more than 4 flashes these can be daisy chained together to support even more flashes. If anyone has ideas on how to make this better, let me know.

Here is the current circuit. I plan to finalize the design during the next few days. If anyone has suggestions on how to make it better let me know.

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Camera Axe 5 Contest

For those not familiar with the Camera Axe or what it does check out

In the past I’ve always designed a product and then released it as open source when it’s done. While this seems to be the more common model for open source hardware, it obviously isn’t ideal since the community feedback won’t have an impact until the next version. This time I’m publishing an early rough version of the new Camera Axe hardware and having this contest to see if we can improve it before I finalize the design.

I’m planning to give away one of the new Camera Axes when their done to the winner. If the winner would rather have $100 credit on my store to buy sensors today I will allow that substitution. The winner will be chosen by me based on who I think gave the most helpful information. My decision is final. This could be a fix in my board design, a suggestion on how to save costs, a better part recommendation, a new feature, or anything else that helps me. To enter the contest you can either leave a comment at the end of this post, or you can also email me (ribblem ‘at’ If an idea shows up more than once the first person to suggest it will get credit. After the contest is done I’ll contact the winner via email. If you leave a comment below as admin I can see your email you enter so make sure you use the correct email. If I can’t reach the winner in 3 days I’ll try to contact whoever I thought was the next most helpful.

Here are the alpha PCB files for this new version of the Camera Axe.

If you have questions ask them below and I’ll do my best to answer them. Have fun and lets make the best Camera Axe possible!

Here’s a list of some of the big changes in this design since the previous version of the Camera Axe. These areas of the circuit would be the areas that most likely have bugs or could be improved.

  • Started using surface mount parts. The plan is all the surface mount parts will be pre-soldered even for the kits. This will make the kits easier to assemble. I needed to do this because the board is much more complex and some parts where only available as surface mount.
  • USB port is now included and an FT232 chip so no special FTDI programming cable is required. The USB port will also power the device.
  • Reworked the battery system to use a more efficient boost converter instead of a linear regulator. This also let me reduce the batteries from 6 AA to 2 AA.
  • Various other power efficiency improvements (Mosfet, better resistor choices, …).
  • Included an ICSP programmer header.
  • Added an LCD constant current source to more efficiently power the backlight. This will reduce power usage by more than half.
  • Added some 1M resistors to ground on the sensor ports. Hopefully this will fix the floating sensor pins when no sensor is plugged into a port.
  • Filter caps moved closer to pins they are filtering to reduce noise.
  • Added IO protection to the sensor pins.
  • Reworked Sensor1/2 pins so they should be more flexible for future sensors while maintaining backwards compatibility with existing sensors. These changes should allow IC2 sensors or a stepper motor controller per sensor port.
  • Lots of other little improvements.

This contest will be open through at least February 20th, 2011. I will update this post when it is officially closed.

I’m sure people will ask when this version will be done. The answer is that I’m not sure, but I hope to have it done in four months or less.

Update 1

Here is a list of changes I’m seriously considering. Basically I have added these to my PCB files and will only remove them again if I have a good reason to do so.

  • Integrated to a new and better boost converter to create 5V.
  • Added an Lithium battery charging circuit and plan to include a rechargable battery. This will increase cost a little, but get rid of the many problems mentioned about not having a battery compartment.
  • Added dedicated buttons to trigger camera/flash ports
  • Switched to a two color LED that connects directly to the shutter/focus pins on camera ports 1/2.
  • Added a battery charging LED.
  • Reworked a lot of the part layout to get filter caps closer to the pins that need them.
  • Added an internal header on the board for an optional real-time-clock board from sparkfun. This will require lots of code changes and I’m still unsure if I’ll support yet.

Update 2

And we have a winner. Congrats PTB! I’ve contacted him and he said that his version 4 is serving him well so he’s wants to wait for version 5.

While this officially ends the competition feel free to leave other ideas you have in the comments or post them to the Camera Axe forums. Ideas are always appreciated!

I’m going to finalize the PCB design and send for a few to be made. Then based on experience I’ll need to do at least 1 respin on a board this complex. Then I need to verify the final board version and hopefully the new software will be written. Then I know to get quantities of some of the parts is 8 weeks of lead time. Basically I think best case it will be 4 months before I have everything ready for a release, and it could be significantly more time. We’ll see how close this prediction is…

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