Sunday, December 23, 2012

Turning an arm lamp into a camera mount

I want to dabble with making some videos of some of my projects, but I don't have much in the way of video equipment.  I do have a decent point-and-shoot camera which can take video, but I don't have a tripod or anything decent to hold the camera.

Since I don't want to invest much money in this endeavor at first, I started thinking about things I could use that I already had that might work.  I have a really old arm lamp from my college days that was in sad shape but still had a decent arm.  The lamp part of it was messed up; I replaced a broken switch on the top of the lamp with a slide switch and tried to insulate it with electrical tape.  Eventually the electrical tape came off and I shocked myself many times while trying to turn on the lamp in the dark.  Here's how I turned it into a camera arm.
An old arm lamp.  Note the sketchy soldered on switch on the top of the lamp shade.

The first step was to remove the lamp.  The lamp shade was attached to the arm via two rivets.  I drilled through those easily enough and the lamp came free.  Next, the lamp cord was threaded through the hollow parts of the arm so I pulled the cord out.  That left me with just the bare arm itself.

The arm lamp minus the lamp parts.

The next problem was that the mounting plate that had previously been riveted to the lamp shade was curved and I needed it to be flat to allow mounting a camera platform.  I used a large C clamp to squeeze the plate into shape.  This worked surprisingly well and only took a few minutes.

Flattening the mounting plate.

I knew there was usually a screw hole in the bottom of most cameras and after a bit of googling it looks like most of the screw holes are 1/4"-20.  I had several bolts available of the right size and ended up choosing one that was about 1.5 inches in length and with thumb knurls so I could grip it without tools. My next worry was that I didn't want to damage the camera  by bottoming out the bolt in the screw hole by screwing it in too far.  To address this I got a wing nut to use to tighten the bolt to the bottom of the camera mount.

To mount a camera you put the camera on the top of the mount plate and screw the bolt in a few turns through the mounting hole.  Next tighten the wing nut up to the bottom of the camera mount plate until the camera is secure.  You can see how this looks in the picture below.

The first camera mount plate.

The final camera mount with bubble level attached.  Note that the wing nut in this photo is mounted on the other side of the mount plate when there is a camera attached.

The camera mount plate is pretty simple.  I went through two iterations before I got it the way I wanted.  It consists of a block of scrap wood with a few pilot holes drilled for the arm mount plate, and a larger hole for the bolt to pass through.

I thought it would be nice to put a bubble level on the camera platform to aid in leveling the camera.  I found a bubble level at Lowe's like these for a few bucks.  The ones I got had plastic hooks on each end so that they could hang from a string.  I cut off the excess plastic from the level and hot glued it to the side of the camera mount platform, taking care to make sure it was parallel with the surface that the camera would rest on.

The arm mounted on a stool with a camera attached.

The whole project took less than an hour and about $2 for the bubble level.  I already had the lamp on hand but if I hadn't I probably would have gotten this one from IKEA for another $9.  I'll be running the camera arm through its paces in the coming weeks, and if things go well you may start seeing project videos on this blog.

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