Camera Nerdiness

Since Jennifer and I are relatively new to hunting, we’ve gotten a lot of help from DanielS at Among the Leaves, who has been hunting for pretty much his entire life. He drove up to our property on several occasions to advise and help us reclaim the lost art that both of our families enjoyed only a couple generations ago. Daniel even loaned us one of his game cameras that he wasn’t using, a Moultrie I40. It has been in pretty constant use on the family farm in a location where the deer like to hang out.

The last time I changed out the card, the display was blank. I figured the batteries were depleted and took the camera home with me. When we checked the card, it was pretty clear that it had stopped taking pictures a few weeks earlier. Toward the end of the run of pics, there were blank files interspersed with the pictures, as if it tried to take pictures but the files didn’t save to the card properly. It seemed pretty obvious that it was batteries. I put six fresh batteries into the camera and found that the display screen was still not displaying. I could hear the camera click as if it was functioning though. Upon closer inspection, I found that it was not capturing images at all. The photo folder in the SD card was empty.

We’ve had some nasty storms lately, and I guess it was damaged in one of them. A little internet research showed that the screen is a pretty common problem with this model, which Moultrie will fix for about $40. Failure to capture images is a separate problem. Crap. Since I can get a brand new Moultrie camera delivered to my door for well under $100, this one is probably not worth fixing. Daniel was quite understanding.

Jennifer and I had recently discussed that we would like to add more cameras, but I guess we now need to work our way back up to a pair of them. In shopping the interwebtron for trail cameras, I kept seeing people referring to ‘homebrews’. My dad has spent much time on the back porch, homebrewing beer, but I didn’t have any idea what that had to do with hunting. A quick Google search dumped me into quite the rabbit hole. I have an insatiable desire to buy some $20 camera on ebay and hack it into a game camera.

Most game animal activity occurs in the dark. I have gotten a few daylight pics of deer, but nothing like the after dark activity! It seems like most of the homebrew camera guys rig theirs with factory or add on flash units, and just light up the deer when they least expect it. I can see how this would be effective, but it won’t work in my application. Since there are trespassers on the property from time to time, if they had a flash go off at them, I’m likely to have a camera stolen. Scaring the living crap out of some unsuspecting deer notwithstanding, my cameras have to be discreet because of two-legged critters. The commercial cameras take color photos during the day and infrared pictures at night with the aid of an IR LED array. I wondered how they did that.

Many trail cameras are put together in such a way that there is an articulated light filter over the sensor inside the camera. When the light sensor detects that it is bright out, the filter covers the sensor with a hot mirror that blocks out all but the visible light spectrum. When it’s dark out, the filter switches over to an infrared filter and lights up its array. What a marvel that they can use such an impressive instrument in a device that they can sell for so cheap! Well, as it turns out, all digital cameras have a sensor capable of recording light outside of our range of sight.

You see, the light spectrum that is detectable to our eyes runs from around 400 to 700 nanometers. Below 400 nm we get into Ultraviolet range before it give way to X-rays, and above 700 nm is infrared range. The sensor in your typical digital camera can detect light waves from around 200 to 1,000, but it has a hot mirror filter to block out the light waves at the top and bottom of the range.

In fact, the trick thing to do among some of the photography geeks is to have a camera shop rip out the hot mirror from your old DSLR and replace it with an IR filter when you upgrade your camera so you have a dedicated IR camera. In fact, there are some folks out there that have done similar hacks at home to cheaper cameras.

Of course, I wondered whether the sensor needed a filter at all. What would be the harm in letting it record visible light simultaneously with infrared and ultraviolet? A little more digging revealed that this is called “full spectrum” and is also practiced among photographers. It appears that when you go full-spectrum with a digital camera colors can get funky. I can live with this. If I built an unfiltered trail cam that ran an IR array at night, I’d get my day pics and my night pics, and not have an obvious flash that will scare the crap out of animals and direct meth heads to smash or steal my camera. This is a good thing even if some of the pics are a little trippy. I’ll just pretend the deer have been dropping acid.

This all brings up another good point. There are things that IR and UV are useful beyond what I’ve mentioned yet. And regardless of utility, it would just be fun to have a full-spectrum camera to tote around. I sourced some very affordable IR and UV LEDs and have conspired with my brother to make a light accessory. I believe that I’m going to build myself a full-spectrum game camera and also a full-spectrum point-and-shoot from one of the cameras we have laying around the Evyl Robot Empyre. If this is as much fun as I suspect, I’ll have updates for you later!

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