Zeus: trigger your camera with lightning using pic microcontoller




Introduction

I have always been fascinated by photographs about lightnings. While it is relatively easily to put a lightning strike in any photograph using image editing techniques 🙂 I still prefer the real thing. Since photography is a hobby of mine, I wanted to be able to photograph lightnings. However, when I tried to do it without any specialized equipment, I didn’t have much success.
Zeus trigger your camera with lightningReading a bit about the subject on the internet I found there are many designs/solutions available, to get around the problem. Since the price of the commercially available ones are too high for my budget (and let’s face it, it’s not much fun buying something ready made when you can also make it yourself), I decided to make one for myself for less.

I found many similar designs on different web sites and finally I came up with my own, which is – admittedly – very similar to one particular one I found on this photography site (only in Hungarian). I kept most of the design, but replaced the relays with opto couplers and put the whole thing in a plastic box to make it easy to drag around.

If you are interested to make one like this, please e-mail me. I can provide you with customized kits that contain as many or as few components as you need/like (from just a programmed microcontroller to a fully built and tested PCB) to suit your experience/skills. Please note, I do NOT provide the enclosure as it is very time consuming for me to make. The code for the PIC is also available on request.

Hardware

The circuit is based on a 16F628A PIC microcontroller. This is one of my favourite PIC micros and I have used it in several previous projects.

The light sensing part (OPT101) is a monolithic photodiode and single-supply transimpedance amplifier in a single 8DIP package allowing a smaller final product size. When designing the PCB care must be taken to position this part in a place where it can “see” the ambient light and lightning bolts.
The connection with the camera is provided by two opto couplers. This allows the camera’s circuitry to be completely decoupled from my circuit so that any problem in my circuit will not damage the camera.
 Zeus trigger your camera with lightningThe cable that attaches to the camera is recycled from an old, cheap camera remote release cable – I just removed the original buttons from it. These remote release cables (for any camera that supports it) can be easily sourced through eBay for a couple of euros. My latest one for Nikon cameras cost around €1,50. The advantage of this is that you don’t have to prepare your own special cable/connector combo for a specific camera, which can be tricky.
The PCB was designed to use mostly SMT parts to save on PCB manufacturing costs and make the device as compact as possible.

 
 




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