Intro: Hands-Free Shooting With DSLR Foot Pedals
Two foot pedals which operate your DSLR remotely:
One to Auto-Focus // One to Shoot.
Take pictures of both your hands - with your feet!
I make various instructional guides of how to make stuff, and often want to have both hands in shot. I have tried using a remote trigger, but this means I have have to try and poke a small button with my big toe (not very reliable), or chewing down on the button (which gets messy and tiring).
Lately, I have also been experimenting with basic stop-motion animation, where I found I might easily knock the camera and mess-up a sequence, if having to press buttons. So took apart my hand-held remote, figured out the circuitry, and set about making a foot pedal - for autofocus and shooting modes, in two pedals.
To be honest, I just sort of dived-into this short of mini-project, finding typists USB foot pedals on Amazon for £5.00 each, and some cable for £1.50, and had a couple mirco-switches lying around... I was just pleased with the result, but having shown this to a few photography-buffs, I was asked to do an Instructable...so here it is!
After starting this, I found that the pedals helped me in the process of working on a solution to help a young man who had lost the use of his hands, take pictures again on his DSLR. The project was called Zocus and was featured in a BBC Documentary. The final project is here, but this was a valuable interim step in the design process, so I realised I should get round to finishing it off and publishing it!
Please give this a vote if you liked it, or post a picture if you make one (or have any other tips),
Will it destroy my camera?
Clearly, I'm offering no guarantees here, (you do this at your own risk), but having examined the circuitry, I'm pretty confident that the worst you can do is accidentally make the camera take lots of pictures. The Remote Switch operates by connecting 2-of-3 terminals to auto-focus, and all 3 to shoot a picture. I have a Canon 600D, and it seems to have worked fine for some time now, but read on, if you want to understand why this *seems* safe enough to do and make your own call...
Later, out of curiosity, I searched Instructables more thoroughly (than I did Amazon to buy a foot-operated DSLR remote) - and did find a great (and in all honestly, simpler) guide by randofo. However, from what I can see, aside from his pedal being a bit more pro/expensive than the ones I used, I wonder if the 'mono-signal' wiring will allow both auto-focus//shoot to be entirely separate - which the 'stereo-signal' cable I use does. Does it matter, perhaps not, but you have 2 choices now - so have at it!
Step 1: Stuff You'll Need
Stuff you probably need to buy:
- 2.5mm Audio Cable* (must have at least 1 male plug on one end of the cable).
I suggest 3m or more in length.
- 2x USB Foot Pedals**
- 2x Micro-Switches
Stuff you may well have already (or is a google away):
- Soldering Iron & Solder
- Multi-Meter (optional)***
- Screwdrivers (+ and -),
- Craft/X-Acto Knife
- Wire-strippers (or your teeth, if you are Chuck Norris)
- Super Glue
- Safety Goggles (when Super Glue / Soldering)
* I suggest typing "2.5mm audio cable extension -3.5" in Amazon, as this gets rid of the size you don't want.
** I originally got these bad-boys for £0.50 each! Since then, I may have inadvertently created a tidal-wave of foot-pedal-hackers, so there have gone up a little bit, but if you are serious about your photography, you'll probably spend a few bucks/quid without too much distress.
*** I used this because I have it, but you can use anything that creates a circuit to indicate that electricity is flowing - a battery and a LED will also work just fine. I assure you, you will not regret buying one of these things though.
Step 2: A Quick Lesson in the Circuitry of Your Remote
I have the remote shown from Amazon. It does the job nicely. Before I saw it, I'd assumed that it might have some complex proprietary circuitry inside (like Apple products) to stop you messing around, but luckily not. It really is no more complex than a 2.5mm (note, NOT 3.5mm) audio cable.
Taking it apart, one can quickly discover what each of the terminals do:
- The 'first' part is the 'ground' (negative).
- The 'second' part, when connected to 'ground' Auto-Focuses the camera.
- The 'third' part, when connected to the 'ground' and/or the 'second' part Auto-Focuses the camera - andthen takes a picture.
You can see from looking at the opened parts of the remote, that the metal 'strips'/contacts simply press together at various intervals to trigger the two functions of the camera. There really is nothing much that can do wrong - the device is in itself a 'short circuit' for the camera. So I'm 99% certain this project is no more risky than the remote is itself. But your risk should you wish to do it.
Step 3: Prepare the USB Foot Pedals
- Remove screw from base
- Carefully pry open the side of the top of the pedal
(I later found that the screw allows the rod to be pushed out, but this is often harder than just prying open - whatever works).
- Unscrew the USB circuit boards*
- Pull the cable to where the thinner cables can be slid to one side to remove easily
- [optional] you might want to tack the springs in with some super glue
- Hold in place until dry
- Illustration to show how the micro switch will later be fitted...
*This is a pretty cool circuit when you think about it, it allows you to control stuff on your computer by putting an 'obstruction' between the light gate of the sensors. Who knows what you might use this for...
Step 4: Prepare Extension Cables
- Cut the 'female plug' end off. (I suggest leaving a bit of cable attached - you never know when this might be useful...
- Cut a second piece, around 200mm/8" long
- Gently roll the knife over the cable, rotating as you go
- The black sheathing should pull away (take care not to cut through the wires underneath)
- Twist the copper strand together into one strand
- Strip the white and red cables
(do this for all cables, as shown)
- Tie knots in the cables as shown, this will stop them being pulled loose
Step 5: FYI: You Can Have Two Pedals or One, If You Like...
I personally think operating things with your feet is a bit clunky, so having two pedals allows me to 'stomp' on the one I want, at the right moment. However, if you wanted to have this 'all-in'one', similar to the hand-held remote, this can be done by putting the micro-switches in the same pedal, but with different switch positions...
...To create the different 'switch positions', you can do this by bending the micr-switch level back a bit, so that when you press, one click before the other.
To ensure they stay in position, I suggest pushing a cocktail-stick through the screw-holes (perfect fit) to put them side-by-side. I think this is pretty cool, but am still going ahead with two pedals.
Step 6: Wiring Up Your Remote Circuit
- Familiarise yourself again with the wiring of the cables, plugs and functions
- Also check when your micro-switch is on/off (suggest using a multi-meter)
- Connect the cables, as shown:
Left Switch: Twist all pairs of colours together. Keep the Red pair out of the way. Connect Ground and White to the 'on' terminals of the switch. (this will be your AF pedal)
Right Switch: Connect Ground and Red to the 'on' terminals. Keep the White out of the way. (this will be your AF/Shoot pedal)
- Plug 2.5mm jack into your camera's remote socket
- Test AF
- Test Shoot
- Rubbish shaky video, shot one-handed, but it shows the point. Anyway, if all's good, proceed...
- Solder the wires to the terminals
- [Suggested] Wrap the loose wires with some insulation/sticky tape (I'd usually be more pro and use heat-shrink, but there really is no need for this given the risk of the circuit's failure)
- Using a screwdriver to press the cable into the 'groove' of the foot pedal (keep the knot inside!).
Step 7: Text the Position of Your Micro-switches
- Position the micro-switches as shown. Add a TINY dot of super glue, just enough to hold it in place. DO NOT get any in the terminals or the lever-part of the switch
- Close-up the pedal assembly
- Press to hear a *click* of the switch - ideally not so low you have to really press the pedal all the way down.
Step 8: Re-setting the Micro-switch the Right Height
- If your micro-switch *clicks* too low down, there is a simple fix...
- simply bend the switch-level back with your finger/fingernail to kink it
- this 'kink' will engage the switch sooner
- press down
- the *click* should now engage sooner (it's your preference really)
- re-open the pedals, apply significantly more glue to fix in place
- close the pedals up finally
Optional - Secure your electronics with Sugru
Just to be clear, I did work for Sugru as Head of R&D, and had loads of this stuff to hand - so naturally, I used a blob of this 'hand mouldable glue' to fix the micro-switches in place even more securely, as when adding loads of super glue, one cannot always control where it runs (or 'wicks'), so arguably it's a good way to really lock the switch in place, and to cope with the stomping during operation of the foot pedal.
This is not inteded to be a big 'plug' for Sugru, but I do think that aside from fixing stuff in place, it is also non-conductive (at low voltages) so is fine for applications like this and fixing cables which have become worn out, which is not uncommon in photography! Hope it's useful :o)
Step 9: Identify Your Pedals
- Peel any stickers off
- I used a Dymo Labelling Machine, but anything will do - Tip-Ex Correction Fluid might work on black?
Step 10: Say "Hands Freeeee!!"
So, your remote foot pedals should be working great now! (Here's Alex, who also used to work at Sugru, shooting some double-handed stop-motion work with a Canon 7D, using these foot pedals. Nice).
Please do share this with any photography friends you know, and post any images that this project might have helped create... Thanks for voting, if you liked it (the Joby gear would certainly come in very handy!)
Step 11: Encoré: You Camera Does Not Use the 2.5mm Jack Shown?
Having been asked about other cameras which do not have a 2.5mm jack remote, such as the Canon 7D, it seems that from looking for this remote on Amazon, that what starts out as an exotic "RS-80 N3" connector, seems virtually identical, to the 2.5mm 'audio' jack remote that I originally inspected when doing this for my 600D...
...So I got a remote for a 7D (RS-80 N3 Connector) and took it apart: It had identical wiring, with the exception that it had a small LED circuit to show when you were pressing the button. I then took the Female 2.5mm jack (which was surplus to the 600D pedals I made) and spliced that together. I was then able to plug the two cables together and have the 7D working nicely with the foot pedals!
Please be aware that the manufacturer might have changed the wiring convention from one remote to another, so do check with a multimeter, but it seems to work for both entry and high-end Canons it seems!