Archive for May 13th, 2009

Camera LCD Sunshade & Magnifier: Part 1

Viewer attached to camera

Viewer attached to camera

Mary take her gardening pictures with our Sony DSC-F505V camera, which has one compelling advantage for the job: the lens and body pivot, so you can take pix at odd angles without groveling in the dirt or hovering over the camera staring downward. Alas, it lacks an optical viewfinder, which means she does a lot of outdoor close-up photography peering into a washed-out LCD panel in full sun. Worse, she’s far-sighted and can’t see fine details without her reading glasses or bifocals, so it’s really hard to get proper focus.

Something must be done!

The general notion is to put an opaque shield around the LCD with a lens that magnifies the viewfinder. If you happen to have perfect near vision, the lens is optional and you can probably use one of the commercial sunshades that attach with hook-and-loop strips. That isn’t going to work for us.

With inspiration from that project, I retired to the Basement Laboratory. [Update: a somewhat less intricate do-it-yourself project starting with a slide viewer. I suspect it works better for normal-looking cameras, not this one.]

Raw material: rectangular lens and opaque bottle

Raw material: rectangular lens and opaque bottle

Rummaging in the Bottle Supply turned up a dark brown plastic bottle made from PETE, the same stuff that makes soda bottles, with a black plastic snap-cap lid. PETE has a glass transition temperature around 75C, which means you can reshape it with a heat gun (not, alas, a hair dryer). Actually, I found two bottles, so I have a backup.

A bit of soaking in water, followed by a generous application of xylene, got rid of the label & adhesive residue. You can get xylene in small quantities as Goof-Off adhesive remover or just buy a quart at your local big-box home-repair store. Do the xylene part outdoors and don’t toss the rags in the trash until they’re dry.

Further rummaging in the Lens Supply turned up a 34.4×22.1 mm plano-convex rectangular lens with perhaps a 100 mm focal length. Haven’t a clue where it came from, but perhaps from the Surplus Shed optical supply shop. Pretty nearly any lens with those general specs will work, so use what you have. You do have a box of lenses, don’t you?

Putting the flat side of the lens close to my (distance-corrected, I’m nearsighted) eyeball and looking through it at the LCD from about 75-125 mmm produces a very nicely enlarged, distortion-free image. This will work!

Bottle cutting and forming

Bottle cutting and forming

The bottle is much thicker than a soda bottle, but easily cut with a razor knife and a bit of care. I removed the bottom and measured the ID as 68 mm. The circumference is, obviously, 214 mm, which is a key dimension: it must fit around the LCD’s perimeter with a bit to spare.

I made a wood mould block that’s sized and shaped roughly like the back of the camera around the LCD: Mr Block, meet Mr Belt Sander. This avoids the prospect of melting the camera with the heat gun, as it’s largely plastic, too.

The block is 52×57 mm, for a perimeter of 218 mm, and a totally non-critical 38 mm tall (it came from a 2×4″ chunk of lumber). The pyramidal section acts as a forcing cone to persuade the bottle to stretch around the slightly larger block and become nicely rectangular as it does.

Wood forming block

Wood forming block

Position the bottle over the block, apply the heat gun all around, and ram the bottle downward as it softens. Eventually the bottle will eat the block, even though it’s not completely happy about doing so, at which point you can concentrate on heating each side separately. The bottle will settle down and stretch neatly around the block, giving it a rectangular base with a smooth transition from the round top. The cut edge tends to curl outward in the middle of each flat side, so don’t overheat it.

Cut the corners back so there’s about one focal length from the cap to the cut, then heat the side flaps (the shape is rectangular: get this right!) and bend them back. I flattened them against the bench to remove the curve. The top and bottom flaps will fit over the top and bottom of the camera and hold the whole affair in place.

Trim the side flaps to a few mm, as they’ll just form a light shield, and shape them to clear the controls as needed. Form the top & bottom flaps to fit snugly around the camera and trim to fit; they cover up the buttons just under the camera’s LCD, but those aren’t used in normal operation.

I used plain old electrical tape to hold the bottle in place, as anything thicker will interfere with the lens rotation. If you have a box-shaped camera, hook-and-loop may be your friend.

That was enough for one day. Tomorrow: a bit of CNC work on the lid