GoPro's suck at night. There I said it. They're made for adventure, great outdoors and DAYTIME use, so the light they capture at night is grainy and lack lustre. The solution? A ring light (or UFO light). Sure there are other solutions, like say a torch with a camera strapped to the side but a ring light gives you more options for what you can shoot. You can buy them for a bit of money, but naturally, you get a cheaper and better item by making it yourself :)
There is more to say on why they're effective, so go here if you want more info.
I should add that this isn't exclusively made for GoPro's, it can attach to any lens with a 55mm thread and can be adapted to fit other sizes.
Let's get started...
Step 1: Things You Need...
- T10 24-LED White Light Car Angel Eye (90mm Diameter) - $4.60 from DealExtreme
- T10 39-LED White Light Car Angel Eye (120mm Diameter) - $7.14 from DealExtreme
- 3.5 mm headphone jack (male and female)
- *3000mAh DC 12V Super Rechargeable Lithium-ion Battery - $15.85 from eBay
- **55mm lens adapter - $40 from Snake Rive Prototyping (only required if making for a GoPro)
- 55mm to 77mm step up ring - $4 from eBay
- Rigid material to cut into donut shape (I used a street sign)
- White spray paint
- 7 x 5 gram packet of Sugru
- Plastic CD divider
* There are many other power solutions, some cheaper that $16. I chose this battery because it's rechargeable and has an on/off switch.
** This little (albeit expensive) piece of plastic clips on the front of the GoPro Hero 3 housing, enabling you to attach 55mm lenses and filters to your camera. The ring light screws on and off so you can still use the adapter with other lenses/filters. Also made for GoPro HERO 2 housing.
Step 2: Prepare the Step Up Ring
- a 55mm to 77mm step up ring
- table grinder/file
Use a grinder or a file to remove the lip on the step up ring to create a flat surface on the front face. To get a really even surface, remove material gradually by rotating the ring while grinding, rather than grinding one section flat and moving on. When you have very little material left to remove you'll have to be more sensitive with how much force you apply to the grinder.
NOTE - If you want to make this for a camera with a lens other than 55mm, simply purchase a step up ring of the appropriate size.
Step 3: Make a Donut
- A rigid material that can be cut into a donut shape (I 'found' a street sign)
- large flat file
- small round file
The basic idea is to create a donut shape with an outer diameter of 125mm (just a little bigger than the 120mm led ring) with a 60mm hole in the middle (just a little bigger than the hole in the step up ring). It pays to be precise with this part.
Start by marking out these sizes on your metal sheet with a compass and a sharpened nail. This creates a really nice fine line, which is really easy to follow with a jigsaw.
You want to cut out the smaller hole first, to do this, drill a hole wide enough to comfortable fit a jigsaw blade, drop the blade in and carefully follow the inside of the smaller circle. You could clamp the sheet down when using the jigsaw, however, you have to rotate it many times in order to cut the circle out, so if you're comfortable around a power tool, I wouldn't bother.
Next up you want to clean up the edges. Clamp it into a vice between wood blocks to protect the metal then use a rounded file to remove what you left with the jigsaw. Short strokes will help you remove irregular bumps, while smooth long strokes will get the curves nice and even. Alternatively you could use a rotary tool or something similar...
I should add that when I was marking the circle into the metal, I initially drew the larger circle with a diameter 2mm smaller than desired. This turned out to be a really helpful guide line when filing the outside of the donut because the proper line became harder to see as I got close with the file. I regret nothing.
Filing out the inside of the donut was a little more complicated than the outside. It's not quite as easy to apply an even force to a jagged, concave edge, so take your time here. Once again clamp it, but this time be mindful that before you hit it with long even stokes, you'll first have to give some extra attention to sections where you left more material. That probably sounds like common sense, but if you try to smooth out the inside before it's close to round, you end up filing an irregular shape into a bigger irregular shape.
Step 4: Assemble the Ring
- step up ring
- rivets/rivet gun
- spray paint
Secure the two parts together using Blutac, but be light with how much you use because you want the parts to be as flush as possible.
Next draw a 5 point star on paper and centre the ring over it, then mark five little scratches on the donut as if you are extending the lines of the star.
Turn the ring over and measure the distance from the inside of the step up ring to the outside of the step up ring. Turn the assembly over again and use this measurement to scratch a little mark where the edge of the step up ring would be underneath. You only need to do this once. Measure the distance from the inside of the donut to this new mark and divide it by 2 (I got 5mm), then use this measurement to scratch a cross onto the 5 lines you marked earlier. This is where you want to drill the holes. (see picture 4 for details)
Make the the holes just a little larger than the head of the rivet (see picture), not too big, otherwise they could pull through. Small drill bits tend to dance around when drilling metal, so to make it behave, get a hammer and a hard sharp object (nail/screw) and tap a little guide hole onto each of the 5 crosses you marked out.
Once you've drilled out the holes, you can remove the parts from each other. Remove the blutac and clean up any bad edges that might have been created by the drilling to make it ready for a coat of paint.
I chose not to paint the step up ring, mainly because I didn't want to get paint on the thread and I just didn't think it was necessary. 2 and a half coats of white spray paint was enough to give me a nice even coat. I chose white for the best results regarding brightness, however it might be interesting to use other colours? The LED might be a little bright for it to make much difference though...someone should try this.
Once the paint is dry, you can secure the two rings together. Be sure to line up the holes as they were drilled because unless you're crazy accurate, the 5 holes you drilled probably aren't PERFECTLY spaced, and it would really suck if you pulled a rivet through only to have all the other holes misaligned. Begin by poking a rivet through both parts so that the head sticks out the back. Then place a small washer on the head, spread the arms of the rivet gun, insert the long thin end of the rivet into your rivet gun as far as you can and squeeze the handle. If the rivet doesn't pull the whole way through, open the arms of the rivet gun again, push the remainder of the rivet into the gun and squeeze again.
Repeat for the remaining 4 holes and the ring assembly is done. Yes.
Step 5: Power/Wiring
- the assembly so far
- male/female 3.5 mm headphone jack
- 12 V battery
- 5 gram packet of Sugru
- 2 x LED ring lights
- soldering iron/solder
NOTE - The ring lights that I bought are for angel eye style car headlights, so they run on 12 volts. I found a nice little rechargeable 12 V lithium battery online for a reasonable price which comes with DC male and female connecters for output and recharging respectively. I replaced the output connector on the battery with a 3.5 mm headphone jack.
Using the lens adapter, attach the ring to your GoPro or other camera, then place the power supply wherever in the same position you would have it in when you're using it (in my case that's velcro'd to the back of the GoPro). Considering the length of the chord, work out where you want to attach the female headphone jack to the back of the ring (see picture). Once you're happy, Sugru the jack to the back of the ring, making sure you attach it at a slightly raised angle to make removing the chord easier.
After the Sugru has dried (leave it for 12 hours), mark out where you want to drill holes for the wires from the LED rings to come through from the front face, which is about 2 cms from the headphone jack. You should drill the hole directly underneath the LED rings so that the wires are hidden when viewed from the front.
Next step is to attach the lights to the front of the ring. To start, place your lights on the front face of the ring and trace a faint outline around each light. Remove the lights and model 4 perfect rabbit poops out of Sugru, then evenly space them out in the middle of the outline. For each light, push both wires through the hole to the back and rest the light, centred* on the blobs of Sugru and press down evenly. It helps to turn the assembly over on a smooth surface and press from the back.
*NOTE - Due to the GoPro's wide angle picture, it's important to pay special attention to placing the lights as centred as you can. The diffuser (next step) fits on very precisely, so you'll be saving yourself a headache if you take your time getting things right here.
Once the Sugru is dry, trim and solder the wires to the headphone jack. You can solder the lights in series, so you just have to combine the positive wires from the lights and solder them to the appropriate connection, then do the same with the negative ends.
CHECK THE CONNECTIONS BEFORE SOLDERING, FOO'
Step 6: Diffuser
You will need;
- blank plastic CD divider (or 1 mm thick white/clear plastic)
- hacksaw blade
- sharp knife
- small round file
- medium grit sandpaper
- 4 x 5 gram packets of Sugru
Sand both sides of the CD in circular 'buffing' fashion. The idea is to scratch the surface to diffuse light as it travels through, so give it an even finish.
Next, draw a circle on cardboard with a diameter of AT LEAST 77mm.
Place the CD in a clamp and secure it just above the line you just drew, then with a hacksaw blade, cut from the hole in the middle until you almost reach the line. Repeat this step so that you have a small triangle shape (see third picture). Retighten the CD in the clamp so that the end of both cuts sit level with the top of the clamp. You should then be able to snap the plastic piece off by bending it back and forth. With a number of strategic cuts, you can remove a fair bit of material with this technique, but it's a it of a hack job, so the best advice I can give is to take your time. Once you have most of it gone, you can get to work with the knife...or a rotary tool.
I rotary tool makes a quick job of getting a smooth, not much explanation required there. If however, you don't have one, here's how to do it with a knife and a file. Basically you want to shave the plastic down in little pieces. The 4th picture illustrates how to do that better than I can explain so check that out. Remove as much material as you can and make it as round as you can before starting with the file, because filing takes ages. Once again be patient with the file, it's worth doing a good job. Remove little chunks at a time before going in a trying to make the hole thing smooth.
Next, you can attach the diffuser to the body. Mix together two 5 gram packets of Sugru and then roll it out so that it creates a worm that spans the circumference of the CD. Place the CD on to the ring light assembly and then lay the worm (either in one go or in pieces) on the space between the ring and the CD. Then, with your finger, evenly spread the Sugru to fill in the gap. If, like me, you didn't roll your Sugru perfectly consistent, you'll have to pick up some material and move it to areas that need more. Don't worry about it looking patchy, you can rub out any cracks and gaps as it dries. Repeat for the inside using 1 1/4 packets of Sugru (3/4 of a yellow packet + 1/4 a blue packet (60% Y + 40% B)). Be sure to bring the Sugru up to the surface of the diffuser, you don't want any light escaping ACROSS the lens. Having light saturating the lens would make this whole exercise useless!
There was a tiny bit of Sugru left over, so I made a little sliding ring to keep the cords from the battery under control. Note the glad wrap (cling film/plastic wrap/whatever you call it) which stops the Sugru from sticking to the cords.
Step 7: Fix the Battery to the Camera
- small piece of velcro
- 2 x 5 gram packets of Sugru
- GoPro case
Begin by cutting a small rectangle of velcro, enough to cover a good section of the back of the GoPro enclosure. Take a 5 gram packet of Sugru and take enough to make a 2mm wide snake which runs the perimeter of the velcro, place this aside. Press the rest of the Sugru into the BACK of the velcro to make a thin layer (you may have a little bit of Sugru left over). I found the best way to do this was to apply it in small balls and 'smear' them into the fibres of the material. Continue until the Sugru almost reaches the edges.
Cut the long thing piece of Sugru that you set aside earlier into 4 pieces, 1 for each side of the velcro. Lay these around the edges of the BACK of the velcro, letting them hang over the edges a little bit. Place the velcro (Sugru side down) onto the GoPro/battery and spent time to really press the whole piece of velcro onto the surface. Some Sugru will come out from under the edges when you press on them, guide this back ON TOP of the edge so that you can enough Sugru ON AND UNDER the edges of the velcro. As it dries, you can use your finger to lightly rub your finger prints off the Sugru and get a nice smooth finish.
NOTE - I fixed the furry side to the GoPro and the hooked side to the battery. You might want to do it the other way around so that you can stick your GoPro to jumpers and other furry things. I didn't.
You're done! Just put it all together. Wait the full 24 hours of Sugru drying time before using the velcro though, It's actually under a fair bit of stress when pulling the battery off. Also, to alleviate stress on the power cord, I like to attach the battery and the light to the GoPro before connecting them together.
NEXT TIME - The velcro holds the battery on just fine, however it is cumbersome. If I did this again, I would try to integrate a smaller battery into the ring itself.