I recently volunteered to teach an Electronics merit badge class for Boy Scouts in my area. I tried to anticipate challenges that might arise when describing small components like resistors and capacitors to a large group, or demonstrating how to use a soldering iron.
That made me think of a 37″ LCD TV that a friend gave me a few months ago when I was scrounging for “used electronic devices”.
They said that it tended to go haywire in the middle of movies, etc. Without even testing it, I had left it out on my (covered) deck where it acquired a nice coat of dust … but now I wondered if it might work well enough to serve as a poor man’s projection screen.
I brought the TV in the house and plugged it in. It turned on, and when I fed it a signal from a digital camera the image looked fine. Encouraged, I started thinking about the best video recording device for the type of demonstrations I intended to do. I looked into USB microscopes (very small field-of-view, finicky to adjust) and almost invested in a Ziggi HD document camera before rebooting my thought process.
I own a couple of consumer-level digital cameras that can take high-quality video, but they will only generate a TV-digestible signal in “Review” mode … not in their still photo or video “Record” modes. (Grrr!) My 10-year-old Panasonic Mini DV (tape-based) camcorder does generate a TV signal when not recording, but I was disappointed by the image quality. So, I ordered a used/refurbished Panasonic HC-V500K camcorder … it’s SD card-based, shoots full HD, blah blah blah:
Meanwhile, I still needed a way to suspend the camcorder above a flat work surface. I realized that I already had a versatile mounting system down in my shop: a “magnetic base” (Harbor Freight item #5645) for holding the tip of a dial indicator against the surface of a tool or workpiece to measure runout, etc:
Unfortunately, the adjustable arm was too short and didn’t include a mounting system that made sense for a camera:
Fair enough – I can work with that! Over time, I made several changes to the system:
- Replaced the adjustable arm with a longer section of 3/8″ plated steel rod (from Ace Hardware):
I cut a 14-inch piece from the 3-foot rod with a cutoff wheel in an angle grinder, then used a grinding wheel and a disc sander to round the ends.
- Fashioned a shim from a piece of soda can to take up the slack introduced by the 3/8″ rod, which was not quite as thick as the original arm:
- Added some 1/4″ x 20tpi threaded rod to attach the head to, with nuts and washers: I also added a spacer to allow the existing clamp to close tightly on the threaded rod. I ground down one end of the spacer (the final hardware arrangement makes this step unnecessary) and cut a slit along its length with a Dremel tool:
After making the changes, here is how the original magnetic base unit compared to the completed Camera Stand:
The next challenge was to come up with a versatile and useful way of mounting the camera stand. I attached a 1/8″ steel plate (cut from a packing frame) to some particle board, along with a power strip to run the camcorder, the TV and a laptop, with an extra outlet just in case:
Both the steel plate and the power strip can be moved to different positions on the board. (The photo above shows Configuration #3.) To keep the board from sliding around in use, I glued some many-years-old strips of leftover Sport Court underlayment to the bottom:
The inherent adjustability of the magnetic base, in combination with the mini ball head, provides plenty of positioning options for the imaging device. With the camcorder, compromises are sometimes necessary to get an unobstructed view of the camera screen.
The cool thing about the setup is that the TV has 2 HDMI inputs, so I can connect the camcorder AND a laptop to the TV at the same time. The TV came to me without a remote, but I programmed a universal remote to work just fine with it. On each occasion that I have used this setup so far, members of the audience have been eager to take control of the remote and switch between the HDMI inputs on a signal from me.
At my next gig (in about a week) I’ll ask for a volunteer to take some photos of the setup in use, with TV and camcorder and laptop working together.
PS – A few days after completing my setup, I searched YouTube for “DIY Camera Stand” and found a video (by that very name!) describing a similar solution – based on the same magnetic base from Harbor Freight. (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhCNWmkcjbs) But I promise … I really did come up with this on my own!
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UPDATE (1 Apr 2014)
Here are a few pics of the camera stand in use at the second session of the merit badge class (click on an image to see a larger version):