Late this summer, hummingbirds finally began visiting the feeder we'd put up on our back porch. I wanted to try and get some digital shots of them, but couldn't stand there with a camera "in range"--they'd never come.
I needed a remote cable release so I could set the camera up on a tripod, aim it at the hummingbird feeder, and release the shutter from a distance away. Problem is, my camera, like most digital snapshooters, isn't equipped for remote shutter release.
Although an earlier instructible had a great hack for opening up the camera and tapping into its electronics, I didn't want to permanently modify my camera, and wasn't sure I would be able to do the surgery without damaging something.
So after some thought, I designed this simple fixture using low-tech parts readily available for $10 or less that allows you to leave your camera intact, but still allows you to "sneak" up on wildlife, have camera on elevated position, and other remote-shutter release situations.
Step 1: Design the Frame
The Hummingbird Shooter is basically a wooden frame that closely fits the camera body, that allows the piston of an "old fashioned" bulb release to be positioned over the shutter button of the camera.
I originally planned to have some sharp-pointed screws driven in toward the camera, which I planned to lightly tighten to hold the frame in place, but while building the device, thought of a better way. (more about that later)
My camera, a Canon Powershot A75, has no provision for remote releases, only the finger button in the center foreground of the photo below.
The first step was to measure how high and wide the camera was at the end where the shutter button was. Because of the "sculpted" shape of the camera body, there were a lot of humps curves, and other non-linear dimensions to contend with, so I just cut the wood pieces --1 inch wide pieces of 1/2 inch plywood to rough dimensions to start.
I also had to make note of where the various controls, sensors, etc. were located to be sure my frame would not interfere with them.
Step 2: Carve out wood pieces to fit the camera humps, bumps, etc.
Using an electric drill with various size paddle bits, a utility knife, and a chisel, I carefully cut and fit, by trial and error, the 3 wooden pieces to fit the camera closely, so it would "hug" the frame, but still clear the raised areas around the shutter button, zoom lever (that's the slot at the top left inside the frame).
I also made a larger hole, exactly centered over the shutter release button, where the air piston would go.
Step 3: Back of the Frame, showing clearance drilled for rear controls of the camera
Once the top piece of the frame was carved out so it fit the body snugly, without interfering with controls, I could determine how long the front and back pieces needed to be, and cut them to exact length.
This view shows the cutout I made to clear the controls on the back of the camera.
When all 3 pieces are carved for good fit, glue them together with carpenter's wood glue.
Step 4: The Heart of the Release
The heart of this project is called a remote bulb release, or an air release. Most 35mm SLR's and more "serious" film cameras' shutter release buttons were drilled and tapped for cable release mechanisms, which could be screwed into the hole, and used to trip the shutter.
The mechanism shown here, uses that feature--it consists of simply a rubber bulb, about 20 feet of air-tight rubber hose, and a piston assembly on the other end. The piston mechanism is fitted with the same threads and release pin that cable releases were, so that when the bulb is squeezed, the pin extends from the piston housing, triggering the shutter. (In this photo, the bulb is squeezed, and the pin is extended from the piston housing--a little hard to see, though)
These are common on e-bay for around $5 plus shipping.
Although most digital cameras don't have the drilled and tapped hole, I reasoned that the piston exerts enough force to press the release button, if the piston/pin could be mounted directly over the shutter button, and that's how this project works.
Next step is to fabricate a mechanism to align the piston/pin directly over the shutter button.
Step 5: Fabricate the Piston Mounting Plate
I could have just drilled a hole through the wood frame extending down to the shutter release, but realized if I didn't drill exactly right, the piston pin might not be exactly centered on the rounded top of the camera's release button, and might not trigger it.
So I drilled a larger hole in the wood with a paddle bit ( one-half inch), and mounted a small sheet metal plate, with the piston assembly mounted to it, over the hole. This allowed me to position the metal plate so the pin was exactly centered over the hole. As a side benefit, I realized that the axis of the button is not straight up and down, but is angled slightly forward--using the sheet metal allowed me to slightly bend the plate so the axis of the piston and pin exactly matches the axis of the shutter button.
The plate is simply a piece of galvanized sheet metal (flashing or HVAC material), acout 1 inch square, with 4 small mounting holes drilled in each corner for mounting screws, and the center drilled and tapped for the piston assembly's threaded end.
Step 6: Drill the Piston Mounting Plate
Note that the piston assembly's thread is a tapered thread. Carefully select a drill bit that is approximately the same diameter as half way up the tapered section.
Mark the center of the plate, center punch it to keep the bit from "wandering" and drill the hole in the center of the plate.
CAUTION ! Whenever drilling sheet metal, there is a tendency for the bit to "grab" the sheet metal from your grasp, making a wicked rotary knife that can slice you up pretty good. Use pliers or a vice to grasp the sheet metal whenever drilling.
Step 7: Tep the Piston Mounting Plate and drill corner mounting holes
Although the piston assembly's threads are tapered, I found a 6-32 threading tap worked fine in the sheet metal. This may be different for other pistons, I don't know. Also, you may not need to tap the hole, the tapered threads may be "self-tapping" enough to hold themselves in place. If your camera needs more force to press the shutter buttons, however, the piston may rip loose from the threads if they're not tapped. If this happens, you can buy cheap imported taps very inexpensively, and they'll be fine for light projects like this.
Select a drill bit that's a little large in diameter than the mounting screws you'll be using. ( I used # 4 or #6 screws, 1/4 inch long). Using pliers or a vice to hold the plate, drill the corner mounting holes.
Carefully file and sand the edges of the metal plate when finished to avoid sharp edges or burrs that can cut or scratch you.
Step 8: Mount the Piston Plate to the Frame
Position the camera in the frame, with the shutter release hole centered over the camera's shutter release button. Carefully position the plate with the piston mounted, exactly over the center of the hole, so the piston will be centered over the shutter release button. Mark the plate's four corner mounting holes in the wood, drill pilot holes, and screw the plate in position.
It should look like this photo when complete.
Step 9: The Bottom Mounting Plate
As I said, my original idea was to use a totally wood frame with wood screws poking through it to secure the frame to the camera. I never liked the idea very much, and was pleased to come up with this idea instead.
Because the camera would always be on a tripod when being used with the Hummingbird Shooter, I realized I could use a sheet metal plate for the bottom of the frame, sandwiched between the camera and the tripod's mounting platform. When the tripod screw is tightened, this secures the camera, Hummingbird Shooter, and tripod into one solid, secure unit !
Lay out the T-shaped bottom plate by setting the wooden frame over the camera, carefully positioned so the piston is in its proper location. Use a Sharpie or other marker to mark around the frame and the camera, and use tin snips to cut the rough shape out to fit the frame and camera as shown. File and sand the sharp edges of the sheet metal.
Locate and drill the holes in the plate for mounting to the wood frame. Be careful to locate the screws so they won't interfere with your tripod's mounting platform. Locate and drill the mounting holes in the wood frame and screw the plate to the frame.
I used a combination of marks on masking tape stuck to the sides of my camera, and measurements to try and locate the bottom hole. As you can see from the photo, I didn't get it exactly right, and had to enlarge the hole. Fortunately, the location of the hole isn't exactly critical, although it would be nice to be spot-on, it is the pressure of being sandwiched between the tripod and camera that holds the plate in place. The important thing is, of course, that the frame of the Hummingbird Shooter can be fine-tuned just before the tripod knob is fully tightened, so that the piston is positioned exactly right.
Again, use pliers or a vice to grasp the sheet metal for your safety.
Step 10: Mount the Camera, Hummingbird Shooter to the Tripod
At this point, your'e basically finished. The camera mounts to the tripod exactly in the same manner as before, except the thin sheet metal plate is now sandwiched between the bottom of the camera and the tripod.
Step 11: Adjusting the Controls
Although the frame does not interfere with any controls, it does block easy access to some of them, so be sure to pre-adjust any settings that are obscured by the frame. In the case of my camera, the small zoom lever is immediately below the shutter release button, and I had to carve a groove into the frame to clear it. I've found that a large straightened paper clip can be pushed into the groove to adjust the zoom.
Step 12: Completed Project
Here's another view of the rig, complete. It attaches and detaches easily, and has no permanent effect on the camera.
Step 13: Yes, It does Work
I completed this project just as hummingbird season was ending in my area, so I was only able to snap a few preliminary shots. Next year, I'm looking forward to experimenting with different zoom settings, flash vs. no flash, maybe some higher-speed flash, and so forth.
One camera setting I'll need to look into is the battery-saving feature my camera defaults to, which shuts down the camera after a period of inactivity. I missed a couple of good shots because the camera had gone to sleep without me realizing it. I can over ride this feature, it will just take a little digging in the manual to figure out how to do it.
Step 14: One Last Hummingbird Shot