Introduction: Electronic Viewfinder for Compact Digital Cameras

This Instructable is specific to making an electronic viewfinder for the Canon S95, but assuming your digital camera has video-out capability, and you can find the correct connector and pin-out, you can adapt for your specific needs.  This viewfinder is USB has rechargeable batteries and can be recharged via a microUSB connection.

This is the Mark 1 version, with a Black & White LCD video module scavenged from a Wild Planet Video Spy Car.  This viewfinder is larger than I wanted it to be, and is not color.  The next version will use parts scavenged from a Vuzix/Icuiti Video Eyewear/Glasses unit.

The other components are avialble online and make this project fairly easy with only minor soldering required.

Why would you want a viewfinder for a digital camera when you have that nice LCD display on the back?  It might be easier to shoot in the sun for one reason, but who really cares why...  if you want one, here is a way to make one.

Step 1: Get Some Parts

I bought the following from sparkfun.com:

1 - Lithium Polymer Charger
2 - 3.7V 110mAH Lithium Polymer Batteries

I scavenged a small switch from a previous project to have a power off/on for the viewfinder.

I had a small plastic box from some old Polaroid Kids Instamatic camera film that fit almost perfectly.

I also ordered a mini HDMI adapter to hack and use to physically stabilize the attachement to the camera.  The Canon S95 has a mini HDMI port just above the Extended USB port.  I used this mini HDMI port to give the viewfinder a more solid physical connection to the camera.  There are no electrical connections to the mini HDMI connector you see in this Instructable.



Step 2: Find a Small LCD Video Module With Lens

I bought a Wild Planet Spy Video Car replacement Headset on ebay.  This was the easiest to hack in my opinion, but is Black & White.  Another option that I will be using for the next version which will be both smaller and color, is components from the cheapest version of the Vuzix/Icuiti video glasses I found on ebay.

Step 3: Cut the Cord

Take your cameras AV cable and snip it!  Try to keep track of which one of the wires is for video, but usually the internal wires are color coded in case you mix it up.  The video cable should be yellow.  This is the one you will connect to the LCD video module.

Step 4: Convert to NTSC If PAL Is Not Required

The video standard most used in the USA is NTSC, and my camera was NTSC.  If you bought your camera in another country, check the manual to see if yours outputs PAL or NTSC video.  This step is purely for the Wild Planet Spy Video Car Headset.  Note the exploded view in red for the resistor locations.  Move the resitor to the empty pads for NTSC.  In this picture you can also see where I glued the mini HDMI connector to the circuit board to strengthen the physical attachment to the camera.  The picture quality is poor and I apologize, but I could not retake it, since by the time I decided to do the Instructable, I had already glued the connectors to the circuit board and now the components are hidden.  Since the box I put it in later worked nicely, I should have waited and glued the connectors to the box instead, but I was also testing the assembly outside of the box.

Step 5: Solder Video Cable to LCD Video Module

Solder the video cable you snipped to the LCD Video Module. The center of the video cable is the positive (+) signal connection, "VIDEO-IN" on the circuit board.  The other wire is the ground (-) connection, "VSS" on the circuit board.

Step 6: Solder the Lithium Polymer Battery Charger to the LCD Video Module

I trimmed the Lithium Polymer Battery charger board by breaking off the end that has the battery connector on it.  This was to allow me to fit it into the space I needed.  I soldered the charger to the LCD video module with a switch in between to allow me to turn off the power when not in use and when charging.  VCC is positive.  VSS is negative.  The picture here is before I removed the connector and added a switch, but you can see where I attach the power supply to the main board.  Also shown is the video connection in a wider view than the previous step.

Step 7: Solder the Batteries to the Charger

Snip the leads to the batteries to the appropriate length for your project and solder the red leads to the (+) terminal on the charger and the black leads to the (-) terminal on the charger.  Currently I have 2 batteries, but may add more depending on how much usage they give me.  Since I made the device USB charge-able, the unit can also be recharged with most of the USB Cell Phone Boosters and other power modules that use a microUSB connector.

Step 8: Arrange, Glue, and Tape!

Arrange the components for your container and get it prepared to stuff into a container of some sort.  For my version, I had to rotate the LCD Video Module's Eyepiece/LCD 90 degrees.  This was so the LCD Module Board could be mounted vertically.  Since the white LED the module used for a backlight for the LCD was centered on the back of the board, it worked out well.  I just made sure the connecting tape cable reached the connector when it was rotated, then glued it to the board in the position I liked.

Step 9: Put It in the Box

Cut the necessary holes in the container of your choice and put the components inside.

Step 10: Make Sure Video-out Is Enabled, and Use It!

Whether I use it much or not, I made this for fun and to see if it could be done cheaply.  The cheapest I could do it is around $50.  If you have to buy the whole Spy Video Car kit or the Vuzix/Icuiti goggles are too much, then your cost will be higher.

This version works, but the low resolution, black & white, and size of the module make it less than perfect, even for a DIY project.  My next version will be less than 1/3rd the size using the components from the Vuzix glasses.

I was still fun and cool to make :-)

Comments

author
thejanis (author)2014-07-11

I tried this for my Fuji Ax200. I used small digital photo viewer, which had 1.0 inch full color LCD (like in a photo). Resolution is 96x64 pixels only, but works great.

sku_5921_3.jpg
author
luuanhquyen (author)thejanis2016-04-20

is there any detail for the job?

author
symarino (author)2014-11-07

I have been searching for an evf solution similar to this for months!!! This is nearly what I'm trying to recreate for my BMPCC. However, it is a video camera and video is output only through a micro HDMI. Other evf solutions are too bulky and defeat the purpose of a pocket sized camera. I have no clue how to accomplish this, but it would be awesome if you could create instructions for this same project with a micro HDMI connection instead. I would mount mine to a shoe mount and use a color lcd, but otherwise, instructions just like this one would completely be generous of you.

author
jellmeister (author)2012-09-24

Great hack!
Have you sussed how to communicate with the Vuzix/Icuiti glasses yet? I have a pair that were supposed to plug into old iPods. They aren't compatible with newer iDevices as they use composite video. Great I thought, easy hack with TVout from arduino... but there are a bewilderingly large number of connections.

I can't make head nor tail of it and cant seem to find a pinout anywhere. Everyone seems to focus on how to connect to the iPod rather than to a composite accessory. Im guessing one of the lines needs an "activate" signal or resistance pull, but it might be talking serial. I'm totally lost anyway so let me know if you fair better:)

author
Gorgus (author)2011-07-06

Very nice instructable, thanks.
I have to try building something like this for my DSLR.

Good work!

author
Like A Boss (author)Gorgus2011-07-23

What would be the point in that LOL, ROFL, LMAO, ROFLMAO ect... Cough Cough! (LIke a Boss)

author
Gorgus (author)Like A Boss2011-07-24

Main reason is that when filming with the DSLR one can't use the optical viewfinder, only the LCD and in sun-/daylight it is quite unusable. Therefore an eyepiece would be nice so that one actually can see what one's filming. :-)

author
Like A Boss (author)Gorgus2011-07-31

Ok. So you want to use this for video. I see what you did there. :—— )
Big nose (Like a Boss)

author
Like A Boss (author)2011-07-07

Nice project ( Like a Boss), but what kind of battery life do you get out of this?

author
rkalmar (author)Like A Boss2011-07-08

I am using 2 of this battery from SparkFun: Polymer Lithium Ion Battery - 110mAh
sku: PRT-00731. I put my camera on Slideshow so that the LCD was constantly showing something. The backlight is a simple white LED for this LCD Video Module. I thought the battery life would not be very good, but that it would not matter too much, as I could switch off the EVF when not in use. I also thought I could add a light-touch on/off button that would be placed nicely so that instead of the switch, the button would just be pressed whenever I held the camera/viewfinder for shooting. In any case, with the 2 110mAh batteries fully charged, and my camera on slide-show playing something constantly, the viewfinder was displaying for over 3 hours continuously before I forgot about checking it. I was surprised and will do another test trying not to forget about it this time. That seems like it would cover a lot of casual shooting!

author
Like A Boss (author)rkalmar2011-07-23

That kind of battery life is great for this kind of project. (Like a Boss).

author
qqqqqq582 (author)2011-07-05

Now why exactly would you do this instead of buying a camera with one in the first place or using the screen instead of spending many many hours making this? I don't mean to sound mean, but really.

author
Avatar_I_Am (author)qqqqqq5822011-07-18

First, because "It Can Be Made"...
Second, because those cameras with swivel viewfinders- if they are made at all- are fairly expensive...
Third, because you already have an older model PnS camera that is still working, and that is enough reason NOT to buy a newer model which may not give you better quality pictures, anyway...
Fourth, because "It Can Be Made", which is the most important thing here.  That's what Insturctables is all about.
'Why on earth did you make that?'
"Because I thunk I could!'
NICE project, Dude!

author
dchorley (author)Avatar_I_Am2011-07-21

Cameras like the Sony NEX-5 would be so much better with a swivel viewfinder... will it work with them?

author
rkalmar (author)dchorley2011-07-22

This could easily be adapted for any camera with composite video out capability, so if it can output composite video, then yes. The S95 has the ExtUSB type connector. The easiest way to connect to that was to chop the cable that came with it. I also purchased a breakout board from SparkFun, but during construction I opted not to use it. I am not sure if it will work, but it would require modification to try it, as the connector on it is not shaped exactly the same though the pins are in the same locations (it has one of the corners "filled in").

author
Broom (author)qqqqqq5822011-07-16

How about:
1. His favorite camera might not have this feature, but everything else he wants.
2. This provides a flex-screen (that can be rotated to any angle), which is not incredibly common on cameras.
3. The viewing screen can actually be placed a short distance from the camera, allowing even more discreet photo-taking, or better viewing while taking odd-angle shots (like nature shots of mushrooms on wet ground).
4. It's DIY. If you have to ask, you won't get it.

author
Like A Boss (author)qqqqqq5822011-07-07

Name one good new model point and shoot that has a viewfinder and you have somewhat of a point. Like a boss.

author
rkalmar (author)qqqqqq5822011-07-05

Why would I? Well, I really like everything about the Canon S95 (more than the other available cameras), so I bought it. While browsing for accessories, I read several reviews about people using the S95 as their pocketable alternative to their SLR. It is compact and has a wide aperture, manual controls, and does take nice pictures. Many of those reviews mentioned how they wished it had either an optical or electronic viewfinder. I figured I might want one too. I could not find a 3rd party attachment and Canon did not make one for this camera. It would help if shooting when the sun was shining directly on the LCD. It could also be adapted and used with CHDK to provide a remote viewfinder for shooting hummingbirds or similarly difficult subjects by simply adding some video transmitter/receiver to the system. There are many reasons why someone else might want such a device, so I decided to build it in case it could help others too. I like to fidget and make things, so I did. I do not anticipate using it much, but if I EVER want it... I have it now. Others may suggest reasons they might want one too. (I really want the Leica M9, but that cost too much).

author
oddstray (author)qqqqqq5822011-07-05

Very few point-n-shoot cameras, even the more capable ones, come with any kind of viewfinder. They all claim their LCD display is "usable in bright sunlight".

author
zack247 (author)oddstray2011-07-05

yes, that is definitely true, they always claim theyre good for sunlight, but without a transflective screen LCD's are never gonna be good for outside.

author
rkalmar (author)2011-07-19

I gathered parts for the next version, 640x480 Color, but it has some larger pieces that I am trying to further eliminate/shrink. The 320x240 Color version made from Icuiti IP230 Glasses would be significantly smaller, but I am going to skip that and focus on the 640x480 Color version. I am proceeding with hacking/designing tonight and will update this thread or make another Instructable depending on how it goes over the next several days.

author
Broom (author)2011-07-16

Been looking to see if anyone had done one of these.

Thank you so much.

author
Death31313 (author)2011-07-11

Nice instructable, I've been looking in to making one of these as a head mounted computer display, and your project (with a little modification ) could probably be used for that. great work!

author
wobbler (author)2011-07-11

Or go low tech. You can use a hand-held slide viewer, take the end off it and make a bracket to clip fit the camera then clip it over the actual viewfinder for use in sunlight.

author
CoopPen (author)2011-07-10

this is pure genius! Too bad my cheap camera doesn't have video out.....I guess i'll have to by a new one so i have an excuse to make this

author
keithisit (author)2011-07-10

As a guy that sells digital cameras for a living I get a lot of people lamenting the lack of viewfinders on point-n-shoots so now I might carry a copy of this link in my pocket for those shoppers who really really really want camera x BUT just can't live without a viewfinder :-)

author
The Wapusk (author)2011-07-10

Very nice Instuctable.
And valuable too... In addition to all the reasons stated toward qqqqqq582's question there is also the fact that my digital camera has parallax error created by the offset of the optical viewfinder. Additionally, when using the digital zoom feature of my camera the optical viewfinder is rendered pointless. Being able to shoot in daylight without resorting to the the screen but still able to get the true composition of shot will come in very handy.

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