Raspberry Pi as an Outdoor Camera

Custom Made 1080p Camera A True HD Security Camera Made From A Child's Toy?

The Raspberry Pi is a very small Unix computer that can be turned into a 1080p 5 Mega-Pixel 30 fps security video camera or weather video camera. Lower the resolution and it can be turned into a 60 fps or 90 fps high speed sports camera that can be used to see the action in slow motion. A 1080p 5 Mega-Pixel 30 fps security video camera can easily cost you $1800.00 or more, but you can build this camera for under $160.00.

The photo below is a single frame of a video made with my new custom made camera, it is not a snapshot, it is a frame extracted out of the video the camera produced. I REDUCED the size of this picture so make it a better fit for the webpage. The subject in this frame is a car driving past. As you can see, even though the picture is reduced in size, the license plate is readable on a MOVING car over 30 feet away from the camera.

The Pi can take video or still photos. The still shot mode makes stunningly beautiful high def pictures. The frame width on a snapshot is wider than the view you get with the video. As you can see from the picture below, the video width is excellent. The snapshot view is EVEN BETTER. The Pi also has tools that be used to convert your video to still shots and different video formats.

Because the camera i built is a low light camera, I get spot on vivid color in daylight, and I get color at night. Most of the cost was the weatherproof housing and accessories to make the Pi a camera. The Raspberry PI itself is in the $25.00 range, the camera module is in the $30.00 range and the case with heat and cooling was about $25.00. Below the pictures I placed a list of parts I used.

There is a night vision model of the camera module. There are advantages and disadvantages to Night vision. The cost of the night vision module is about the same as the low light version. Read up on night vision in the hardware section of this site.

A Child's Toy? Okay, it is not really a child's toy. But the Raspberry PI is a small, inexpensive Unix based computer used by some educational institutions to teach our young to program. It is also quickly becoming a favorite toy for hackers around the world. The Raspberry PI is small enough to fit in your pocket, and has some really neat stuff built for it. For example, there is a kit I can buy that turns a Raspberry PI into an air quality weather station. Hmmm. Maybe my next project.

Custom Made Camera Raspberry Pi Camera

There are 3 cameras pictured above. For the purpose of this discussion, we are concentrating on the Raspberry Pi camera. It is the camera furthest to the left and centered in the picture. It is in a white housing that is in a fixed position. This camera housing is heated in the winter and cooled in the summer. You will also notice that I have purchased utility boxes and mounted them on the wall behind my cameras. These utility boxes house the power supplies that each of my cameras need to operate including the 24 Volt AC power supply that is required to power the Raspberry Pi's camera housing. AC power is run from my home's fuse panel using outdoor wire and standard outdoor AC power conduit and is well grounded. I have a standard 3 prong receptacle plug mounted inside the utility boxes. The receptacles are mounted in a standard electrical box with a cover. Do it right so you dont burn the place down or hurt yourself.

You will notice a 2x4 on the wall behind the camera mount. A very strong mounting surface is required for any outdoor camera. The wind will strike your camera causing it to move slightly. If your camera mount is not on a strong mounting surface, it will fall off the wall due to the back and forth movement. After putting up your camera mount, if you can easily move the mount with your hand, the movement will cause the mounting screws to work their way out of the wall, or cause the mounting surface to crack. Do it right or you will do it again, or worse, lose your camera. This picture was taken prior to the 2x4 being stained white to match the house.

Notice the mount on the Loftek camera to the right. The Loftek is one of the first cameras I put up. I thought the mounting would hold, it seemed strong however there was some movement. Notice how the mounting surface is almost totally destroyed. It was good enough to last a couple of years, but the wind has made it a project I need to address sometime this year. Unacceptable! I wish I knew then what I know now. I would have approached the mount quite differently and saved myself a re-do.

The parts for the Raspberry Pi camera itself were all purchased on the Amazon.com website.

What Do You Need To Build This Camera?

The above lists all the parts used in my camera. You can build a really cool 1080p/30 camera for under $160.00. But that is just the camera. There are other things you need to buy and know to get this up and running as a security system. First, you must be familiar with the Unix operating system in order to get the Raspberry Pi to do what you want it to do. You will also need an Ethernet cable to run from the camera to the DVR. You will need an AC power outlet for both the Raspberry Pi's power supply and one for the 24v AC camera housing power supply. You need to keep the power supplies and power outlets protected from the weather. You also need some sort of DVR to store your video footage.

The Ethernet cable I used is a 100 ft standard cable. I got it on Amazon for about $12.00.

I ran power to the camera by installing a standard 3 prong outlet inside a utility box. The utility box also houses the two power supplies this project requires and is well grounded. If you need to run your own power, and don't know what you are doing, I suggest you hire a qualified electrician.

I built my own DVR simply by getting a 2 TB external hard drive and attaching it to my router's USB port and sharing it on the internal LAN. When the Pi boots, I modified the fstab so that the Pi automatically mounts the router's external drive. I then wrote some Unix shell scripts to record video 24/7 and to purge the drive down to 90% once it reaches 95% full. A 2 TB drive holds about a weeks worth of 24/7 1080p/30 fps video.