Monday, May 30, 2011

Do It Yourself Document Camera

A couple of weeks ago I wanted to share information with my class from a textbook that we don't use. I didn't want to photocopy and I thought why not try to use a document camera. Our school only has one document camera and given my organizational strategy, it was the night before I needed it. I hoped that the teachers who normally used the camera were not using it the next day but I started thinking about a plan B just in case. I thought if the document camera were in use I could set up a webcam and point it at the book and have the image appear on the screen. It turns out that the document camera was not in use so I didn't need to worry about plan B.

I still wanted to pursue plan B in case I ever needed a document camera again. So a week ago I took a webcam and an old lamp and put them together to form an inexpensive document camera.

Here's a rundown of how I did it.

I started with a lamp that was adjustable so that positioning could be flexible.

From there remove the nut holding in the guts of the light so that you can remove them, as shown in the picture below.  You'll have to detach the socket from the wire. This can be done by loosening the two screws holding the wires in place.

 Trim the wires. I didn't remove the wire entirely since I wanted to use it to tie the camera in place.

Now that the wires are loose you need to ensure that the lamp can't be plugged in, otherwise you could be in for a bit of a shock. You can either cut the wire somewhere, or snip off the prongs. I was unsure as to how long to make the wire so I cut off the prongs. Failure to prevent the lamp from being plugged in could result in serious harm or death. Consider the safety of those around you.

Use a rotary tool to cut out a hole large enough to fit the webcam cable through. Put on some safety goggles while doing this. It's not worth losing an eye over a webcam. You may want to file off any rough edges since the cable for the webcam will be passing through here.

Pass the cable for the webcam through the hole and use the lamp wires to tie the camera on. Pull everything nice and tight so that it doesn't move around. I found that the wire for my lamp held everything in place. You may have to tie the wire to the stand if the camera moves around too much.  I thought about finding a way to permanently attach the camera into the lamp, but I'm not finding it necessary. Perhaps there's some way to glue plastic to metal? If you have any good ideas feel free to share them.

Once the camera was setup it was a question of finding software that would allow me to display the video. The software that comes with the webcam can work but it often won't allow you to show the video full screen. So here are a couple of options. On a Mac try the QuickTime Player (File->New Movie Recoding then make it full screen). I tried iChat first but soon realized that iChat always gives a mirror image. Not so good for text. For Windows try FSCamView. It's a very simple program that takes the input from your camera and displays it using the entire screen. The quality of your video may very depending on the quality of your camera. An HD webcam may be worth the extra expense ($50 vs. $25).

Lighting may also be an issue. If so you may wish to consider an LED light. You can get some that plug into the USB port of your computer like this one or this one, or battery operated units, or even a solar powered light.

As I was searching for software solutions I came across a post where someone used an overhead projector (OHP) as the stand. I'll have to dig around the school for an old OHP that doesn't work and try it out. On second thought, I bet nobody would notice if I used the OHP that collects dust in my room.

I really enjoyed this little DIY project. The most exciting part for me was saving a ton of money by doing a little bit of work. It may finally be time to build the wiimote interactive white board.


  1. "There's no school like old school". Check out this mod of an oldie but a goodie ~ ~ It converts an analog rotary phone into a VOIP handset. S-O-L-I-D.

  2. Thanks for the documentation Dave. Simple. Easy. I like that. :)

  3. I think you should explore the articles on your website, You should also cover different different categories for articles as you writes awesome. Thanks for sharing this great article on Ceiling Document Camera.