Turn an old pair of binoculars (or a telescope) into a long range recording device with PiNoCulars. This great project adds a Raspberry Pi Camera Module to an old pair of binoculars.
The Raspberry Pi Camera Module is a great tool for digital making. With it, you can quickly add an 8-megapixel camera to the Raspberry Pi board.
It connects directly to the Raspberry Pi using the CSI camera interface, a thin cable socket on the Raspberry Pi board.
The Camera Module is fantastic for video and still photography projects, such as time-lapse cameras. OpenCV software makes it easy to add computer vision to your projects. With this, you can train a Raspberry Pi to identify objects and react accordingly.
Turn Binoculars into PiNoculars
The PiNoculars project is one of our favourite Camera Module hacks.
Created by digital maker Josh Williams, PiNoculars are a regular set of binoculars, with a Raspberry Pi Camera module fixed over one of the eyepieces.
The Raspberry Pi is connected to the top of the binoculars along with a touchscreen display. The whole assembly is powered by a Goal Zero AA battery pack.
“I was on 18-hour road trip back from Colorado to Michigan with my wife, and I was restless,” Josh tells us. “I had brought the Raspberry Pi and Pi Camera Module along to play around with time-lapse photos in the mountains.”
When Josh looked at his pair of binoculars, he had a brainwave. “Raspberry Pi and Camera Module and duct tape made for a crude prototype,” says Josh.
When he got home, Josh set about refining the build. He now has detailed instructions for two different types of PiNoculars. One follows the duct tape and foam route, while the second is a more complex build using laser cutting to create a mount for the Raspberry Pi and touchscreen.
“I used Adafruit’s [PiTFT] capacitive touchscreen,” says Josh. “Their tutorials made it incredibly easy to attach to the Pi. Josh suggests that makers read Adafruit’s DIY WiFi Raspberry Pi touchscreen camera tutorial by Phillip Burgess and the Ruiz Brothers.
- Set up the camera and touchscreen. First, attach a Camera Module to your Raspberry Pi board and set up a capacitive touchscreen display. This will enable you to control the project on the move.
- Attach the camera. Cut out a foam circle the same size as the eyepiece on your binoculars (it needs to cover the eyepiece completely). Mark an X in the centre and draw an 8×8mm square in the centre of the circle. Push the Camera Module into the foam and position it in front of the eyepiece.
- Fit it together. Use rubber bands to hold the Raspberry Pi and touchscreen display vertically on top of the binoculars, with the screen facing towards the eyepieces. Now use duct tape to secure the Raspberry Pi firmly, and a smaller piece to secure the foam-encased Camera Module. A portable power back enables you to take the PiNoculars out in the field for long-range video recording.
The most time-consuming part of the build is creating a mount that wraps around the pair of binoculars, but you can skip all this by using foam and duct tape.
Build the PiNoculars
After setting up the Raspberry Pi with the Camera Module and Adafruit touchscreen, the whole kit is mounted on top of the binoculars.
The first step is to mark up and cut out a circle of foam. This serves as a mount for the Pi camera, to hold it in front of the eyepiece.
“The camera mount should barely cover the eyepiece,” says Josh. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but try to position the camera mount as close to the centre of the eyepiece as possible.
Josh then uses rubber bands to hold the Raspberry Pi and screen unit in place on top of the binoculars, and duct tape to fix the binoculars and Raspberry Pi together. “Be careful not to crush your LCD,” he says. More duct tape is used to attach the foam mount over the PiNoculars eyepiece.
Then it’s just a case of moving everything around until it is firmly fixed, and the camera can record a well-defined circle.
If you’re a perfectionist, there’s a much more detailed method, involving precision design with Inkscape (inkscape.org) and a laser cutter. But we like a quick hack, and this is a great project for making something quick and impressive.
“There are a number of people who’ve combined the Raspberry Pi with microscopes and telescopes,” says Josh, who’s fascinated by them.
“Remember to measure twice,” he warns us, “and callipers are beautiful tools.”