Introduction: Weekly Project: Build Your Own X-Ray Vision Camera

Picture of Weekly Project: Build Your Own X-Ray Vision Camera

You've seen them in the back of magazines--heck, probably Popular Science--all your life: the crazy swirling paper X-ray specs, with the campy '50s pervert looking at the bloomers of a shocked gal. While we don't support such nefarious uses, you can make your own working X-ray camera, just by modifying a CVS Disposable. It won't give you Superman vision, but you should be able to see through one or two layers of paper and fabric (again, behave!) in the right light. Here's the catch: The key is in a hard-to-find X-ray conversion material called a beryllium window. PopSci got its sample from NASA during a visit to the Goddard Space Flight Center a few years ago, as it is sometimes used in satellites to block out cosmic X rays that might distort digital communications. The filter converts X rays into visible light by using an optical down conversion process to lower the energy of the photons. This will prevent your digital "film" from being overexposed by too many different wavelengths. And though it's technically not illegal, you can't buy the material from any reputable store. (We also wouldn't recommend bringing the stuff with you on your next trip to North Korea.) If you do manage to track down a small piece, here's how to mod your camera and give it superpowers.

Step 1: Building the X-Ray Vision Camera

Picture of Building the X-Ray Vision Camera

Time: A Couple of Afternoons
Cost: Over $18
Difficulty: Hard

Parts List

  • CVS Disposable Digital Camera (CVS Pharmacy; $18.00)
  • X-Ray Beryllium Material (Google It)
  • Wire, solder, glue, diffraction pattern sample (i.e., your hand)

Step 2: Rip It a New One; Disassemble the Camera

Picture of Rip It a New One; Disassemble the Camera

Remove the case back panel from the CVS disposable digital camera. Locate the batteries and take them out of the camera. Carefully lift the camera's circuit board out, exposing the lens/shutter assembly. Remove this assembly for gaining access to the CMOS sensor.

NOTE: Do not touch the flash capacitor. This component can maintain a strong and painful charge for extended periods of time. Use extreme caution when opening this camera and use protective gear, including rubber gloves, rubber-soled shoes and rubber-handled tools.

Step 3: Scalpel; Cut Your Filter

Picture of Scalpel; Cut Your Filter

Use a very sharp razor blade for cutting a 3mm-square piece of the Beryllium material and be careful only to touch the edges--it smudges easily.

Step 4: Dress It Up; Cover the Sensor

Picture of Dress It Up; Cover the Sensor

Place the filter over the CMOS sensor, use a tiny drop of glue in two of the corners to hold it in place, reinstall the batteries, and reseal the camera.

Step 5: Oh, Behave; Look Around

Picture of Oh, Behave; Look Around

Turn on the camera, point it at your hand, and fire away. Because the filter is only over the sensor, you won't see the effect looking through the viewfinder, but you will see "something" when you download your pictures. Get ready to amaze your friends. Go to Camera hacking forum featuring John Maushammer for instructions on modding your disposable camera for re-use.


ElvenChild (author)2013-03-17

Maybe It's just my inexplicable talent and ability to unintentionally hurt myself, but step 3 looked like it said "Step 3: Scalpel; Cut Your Finger".

houseoftheunusual (author)2013-01-27

Here is a cheaper way to get true X-Ray:
Buy the real X-ray glasses! They will do the job at a very low price...
use code# ind77 it will give you future discounts.

比酷猫 (author)2011-04-04

这个是假的 只是伪彩图像而已
This is fake it is pseudo-color image

Light_Lab (author)2011-03-19

Some consideration must be given to the fact that this Instructable was released to coincide with April the 1st. I am sure Popsci was just making a joke.
(1) Beryllium is used as an X-ray window material as it passes X-rays but not visible light. It is readily available from X-Ray equipment suppliers. Without a special phosphor layer it could not act as a down converter.
(2) You also need a strong source of X-Rays; Solar X-rays aren't enough. Think about if X-Rays of any strength were coming from the sun it would make any form of photography virtually impossible.
(3) The lenses of a digital camera cannot focus X-rays. In fact X-rays are usually made as contact prints to avoid the problems of focus.
(4) The image is obviously faked, the bones are in the wrong places, the ring on the finger would appear black in an X-ray. I believe he deliberately wore it as a clue for the joke.
A good joke, have a chuckle and move on.
BTW The technique that ELF is referring too is using infra red or near infra red. This is an excellent area to experiment in with a converted digital camera. Despite all the rumors only a certain range of synthetic fabrics are completely transparent to IR. Nevertheless many food colorings eg cola drinks, soy sauce etc are transparent to IR as are many plastic coloring agents. It is also excellent for penetrating smoke and other aerosols.

ELF (author)2007-04-17

Hah! That's a normal IR block filter, replace it with a piece of (over-)exposed color film, and you got a camera that can see through some things like thin fabrics, like bathing suits (Making you a creep if you tried it) but also through coke (the brown liquid stuff you know :P) some cheap sunglasses, skin to some extend (your bloodveins will "pop out" more viewed through the camera), and will also block the light from LCD monitors, because they don't emit any IR light, so it will look like it's turned off... Anyway, try that instead :)

techno guy (author)ELF2011-03-17

Where do you get an overexposed piece of color film.

ELF (author)techno guy2011-03-17

Any smaller photo store where they develop film.
It's usually a wasteproduct from the start and end of a roll of film.

Kaiven (author)ELF2007-12-17

over exposed... like what? a diposable camera's film left in the sun?

tubbychick3n (author)Kaiven2008-08-04

just go find some old film negatives, usually before the roll of pictures, there's about four sections of all black.

usb key (author)tubbychick3n2009-05-15

if i used a camera and i got the negatives i can use those? could i just look through them or would it have to be a camera

tubbychick3n (author)usb key2009-05-15

It has to be in a camera. If only it were that easy. I wouldn't ruin a good camera if i were you. I put it into an old eyetoy (ps2 webcam-type thing) that i use as a webcam for my computer and it worked great. It's actually quite fun to mess around.

usb key (author)tubbychick3n2009-05-23

but that would still be a web cam. can i get a disposable camera and use that or does it have to be night vision (i saw some youtube videos)?

tubbychick3n (author)usb key2009-05-26

I guess there might be some digital disposable cameras that you could use, but i don't think the disposable film ones will work like you're thinking.

usb key (author)tubbychick3n2009-05-15

do the negatives need to be on a camera lens? and can i just take pictures, develop negatives, and use those?

tubbychick3n (author)usb key2009-05-15

Yep. The next time you go to develop pictures, just take the darkest part of the film (negative) and find the sections where no pictures were( it should be extremely dark in that area) and use that. That's what i did for my eyetoy.

Kaiven (author)tubbychick3n2008-08-05

ORLY?! someone finally tells me what i wannt to know! xD Thank you

tubbychick3n (author)Kaiven2008-08-06

no problem. i have already done this with one of my eyetoy cameras and it works great.

ELF (author)Kaiven2007-12-18

Yea, for like, a second or something :P Till it's "black", won't more than a second or two :)

Kaiven (author)ELF2007-12-18

oh...okay thanks

ELF (author)Kaiven2007-12-18

You're welcome :) Remember, these films are very photosensitive. On a sunny day you might only expose it for like 1/125 to 1/500 of a second.. ;)

AnarchistAsian (author)ELF2008-08-04

ummm... is this dangerous? or is it just x-rays already present in the enviornment that you are viewing with?

RetroPlayer (author)Kaiven2008-04-08

Actually, I believe it is supposed to be UNEXPOSED, but DEVELOPED color SLIDE film. And two pieces are recommended.

Lebanite (author)RetroPlayer2008-08-03

much rather use that... speaking that berillium can be harmful to your health
See Link

ELF (author)RetroPlayer2008-04-09

No, I'm pretty sure that it's suppose to be exposed, and normal negative film... Maybe they yield the same results :)

electricalman123 (author)ELF2009-01-03

Could I try just looking through the exposed/over-exposed film, instead of taking apart the camera and then replacing the filter?

ELF (author)electricalman1232009-01-05

Your eye can't see IR (or at least not very much) so the effect would be minimal at best

electricalman123 (author)ELF2009-01-06

So that means I do have to take apart the camera and replace the filter?

ELF (author)electricalman1232009-01-08

Yes, unless you do it with a cam with "night vision" (which is the exact same function, with a small IR LED on the front of the camera). That is also the reason why I only did it to a cheap webcam :)

NozeDive (author)ELF2007-11-10

It's true. I used the exposed film method on a digital camera that I removed the IR blocking glass from. It works pretty well. P.S., it may be a CCD (Charge Coupled Device) sensor. They're used frequently, as well as CMOS (Complimentary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) P.P.S. About those capacitors... I made a pretty painful Taser style stun gun out of a disposable camera back in 2002. They hurt, but other than that, capacitors are okay to deal with. They taste great.

Derin (author)NozeDive2008-07-07

a ccd is $130

NozeDive (author)Derin2008-07-09

You can get new, in the box, web-cam style cameras that use CCDs from eBay for about five dollars a piece. I bought three, so I could use two normally, and modify the third one. I also got a used digital camera (also CCD) with an LCD screen for about $30. That way, once I modify that one, I can have night vision on the go. »Tøny

Derin (author)NozeDive2008-07-09

I was saying the CCD unit for a sony handycam costs $130(atleast thats what the repair guy told me)

NozeDive (author)Derin2008-07-10

That's expensive. I didn't know that those components cost so much separately. But, then again, Sony has some pretty impressive night vision cameras. Thanks for the info! :-)

Coffee bean (author)NozeDive2009-01-04

the night feature on sony camera really is just something that they use to jack up the price.

Derin (author)NozeDive2008-07-10

I think so,it is more than half the price of the camera itself!Yea,Sony makes a couple good camcorders but mine has TWO FAILS.both the cassette head AND the CCD unit is damaged

maker12 (author)NozeDive2007-12-06

the photoflash is not good to "tatse" and the other ones doint "taste"good SO BE QUIET!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

fostersfriend (author)2011-01-20

This is real although the avaibality of berryillium is minute

migel (author)2010-07-22

um, isn't beryllium deadly poison? Like die on contact type stuff?

w00tness (author)2010-05-26

now i have a question, how does it pick up x rays when there is no rays going through the berillium and wouldnt you need protective gear like at any other xray at the doctor?

cyberpageman (author)2009-01-22

This "April Fools" scam should be removed.

junits15 (author)cyberpageman2009-02-27

what u dont believe it?!?!?!?!?!

cyberpageman (author)junits152009-02-27


junits15 (author)cyberpageman2009-03-01

why not its by popsci?

cyberpageman (author)junits152009-03-01

Someone may actually waste their time and money to try and build it--beryllium windows are expensive. It won't work first because you need a source of x-rays and second because the detection system won't work. I teach physics and do research.

junits15 (author)cyberpageman2009-03-02


impulsegordon (author)junits152010-05-20

im sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo confused

 Don't blame you for being confused, impulsegordon.  The author, PopSci, was spoofing.  Others went along with the spoof, making clever comments--quite humorous, actually.  The only reason I'm against this particular spoof is someone might mess up a digital camera or buy beryllium foil to try it.

Beryllium is used in x-ray machine windows because thin sheets are strong, yet transparent to x-rays.  Beryllium foil does NOT convert x-rays to visible light as PopSci says, so cannot be used to form an image on the CCD or CMOS of a digital camera. 

ah ok that helps i know im not the brightest light on the tree but that just didnt make sense lol thanks for clearing that up for me.

Brames (author)cyberpageman2010-01-16

 I believe your mistaken cyber, the corona of the sun is a huge emitter of x-rays.  As a physics teacher and researcher I would think you should know this?

cyberpageman (author)Brames2010-01-17

 The x-rays don't much reach the surface of the Earth, otherwise photographic film would fog up in a short while.

About This Instructable




More by PopSci:Weekly Project: Hottie Hoodie--Be a Walking a Weather StationWeekly Project: Voltoids; or, How to Make 5V from 1.5VWeekly Project: Build Your Own X-Ray Vision Camera
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