NEW !! - A better set of instructions can be found here Complete Kit Instructions
Ever since digital cameras took decent video I stopped carrying around my DV video camera and instead use my point and shoot digital camera to take a few minutes of MOV or MPG video here and there. The only problem is my digicam is not equipped with a light to brighten up the videos I take indoors. So a while ago I searched for an LED light to use with my digital camera and I found one company camerabright.com that makes one that you screw into the tripod mount standard on all cameras. It costs about $30 to $40 bucks, has 4 white LEDs and takes 6 CR2032 coin cell batteries. I thought the price was ok, but there were some things I didn’t like about it and other people have also commented on.
So I decided to make my own and show you how.
First here is a comparison of the ProdMod DIY camera light vs. Camerabright.
- SIX Coin cell batteries – not fun to buy in a pinch, expensive, not rechargeable.
- Considering the slim battery choice the total package size is pretty big and bulky at
2.7 x 2.5 x 1. Correction: according to Camerabright Customer Service the dimensions are more like “1.5 inches wide, 2.5 inches long, and about a half a
- The light is narrowly focused and produces a sharp spotlight effect surrounded by darkness.
- Continuous run time is only 4 hours.
- Weight: 2 oz with batteries
- Cost $30.00
ProdMod DIY LED Camera Light Features:
- Three AAA rechargeable batteries that you probably already own anyway
ThinnerSimilar body as the Camerabright at only 2.44″x 1.89 “x 0.55″
- Wide angle bright illumination, no spotlight effect.
- Continuous run time 16 hrs – **by calculation with 1000mAh battery **See actual test results here with 900mAh battery!
- Weight: 2.3 oz with the batteries. 0.8 oz without.
- Parts Cost $2.00
- Bonus: If you want you can choose different color LEDs, or mix them together for your own unique effect.
- Bonus 2: Remove the mounting screw and you have a slim but powerful flashlight.
With this version of the DIY you will not be able to mount it to a tripod and camera at the same time. But if you are using it for macro shots you’d be better off with a ring light anyway. The Prodmod Ringlight is currently in development and should be ready sometime in Feb 2008. If you have particular requests you can contact me or vote on this poll.
One 4xAAA battery holder with switch:
$1.29 now $1.39 2008 price increase!
Three 5mm 60 degree high brightness white LEDs. = $0.12×3=$0.36
(the kit now includes 50deg LEDs)
One ¼ watt
7 ohm 10 ohm = 5 cents *you can also try 15 ohms if you wish to limit the LED current to 20mA in worst case.
One screw ¼-20 x 3/4 inch :
(hex head is used here because its cheap) =
20 cents 8 cents at a local hardware store like www.homedepot.com
—->A cap screw is probably a better approximation to a thumb screw that we are trying to mock up. You can find these in packages of 2 for 88 cents. So it’s more expensive but creates a more comfortable thumb screw.
You can buy all of these materials separately but you’ll be paying shipping costs for each vendor. Shipping costs alone add up to be more than $20!! So I have put together a kit of all the parts for you to buy and save you the money and hassle by only charging $9.99+$5 Shipping.
Power Drill – I actually just use a 6V battery powered screwdriver shown below. It’s rotational speed is slower than a power drill which is actually a good thing when drilling into plastic. So I recommend it. See it here
5mm drill Bit or
13/64” inch drill bit For the LED holes
** Try a 3/16 bit first (more common) its about .010″ under 5mm.
The 13/64 can be too big for the LED and require gluing.
A #9 bit seems to work as well.
¼” Drill bit – for your mount screw
Soldering gun – 30W worked fine
Small flat head screwdriver (jewelers size works best) try these
Measuring device (calipers are recommended) like these
This battery holder is great because it has a cover and comes with a switch. This is going to house your batteries and LEDs. This holder has chambers for 4 AAA batteries but you only need 3 to run these lights. The other chamber is going to give you room for your LEDs and your mounting screw. So go ahead and remove the last spring contact opposite to the switch. You can use a small screwdriver to do this. Insert it through the spring and lift straight up.
If you are going to mount this to your camera you’ll want to drill a hole in the top so a screw can pass through it. If you just want to make a cool flashlight skip to step three.
In my first prototype I had the screw head hidden inside the housing to give it a clean look and flat bottom surface. I have a tutorial to show you how to do it yourself. When it’s done it will look like this.
But for now I recommend to just pass the bolt through the entire body of the light. So you will be making a hole through the battery door as well. So it’s going to look like this.
I chose to make a hole in the main body first and away from the switch and wires. The hole shown here is in a good position because we don’t have to try too hard to squeeze the 3 LEDs in place. In fact you can probably make yours a bit closer to the end. I made this hole first, then I closed the battery cover and used this first hole to guide the location of the second hole you make in the battery door.
Here is the same light with a cap screw
Go ahead and try mounting it to your camera to see how it looks.
My lumix camera’s tripod mount is all the way over on one end. So I chose to push the screw through the door side first. This caused the switch to be on the top surface which is actually handy.
Here is the light in the same orientation mounted on a Nikon. The mount hole is near the middle. In this orientation the light is a bit too close to my right hand and difficult to hold.
So here is the nikon with the light flipped. You can see the switch is now on the bottom.
Now you are going to do some re-wiring to convert the 4xAAA holder into a 3xAAA holder with space for the LEDs. You have already removed the negative spring contact, but now you have to move the positive contact and red wire to the other end for your third battery. Take a thin flat head screw driver and pry under the positive contact until it loosens. You may have to also insert the screw driver vertically between the contact and the plastic housing wall to loosen it up the locking tab.
Then pull the contact and wire out of the case.
Now you will insert this contact and red wire to the other end of the case to complete the circuit.
Now you’ll need to run the red wire to the corners like shown to make room for the battery. A small screw driver or thin blunt object helps. Be careful not to cut the wire or break the insulation.
While the wires are off to one side prepare to drill holes for the LEDs. Since the LEDs are 5mm you want to measure 2.5mm from the lip of the case as an easy way to keep things centered. Mark that with a knife or pen. See photo for details.
Then use a marker to decide where the three LEDs should go. I started with one closest to the wires and then spaced my other two about 10-12mm apart.
Drilling Tip! Use a smaller drill bit at first to create a pilot hole because it’s easier to keep steady and more precise. This smaller hole will also help keep the larger drill bit from “walking” which means your hole might not end up where you thought it would.
Try to keep your drill perpendicular to the surface so the LEDs will stick straight out from the body and not at different angles. (For wider illumination coverage you can purposely angle the left and right LEDs toward the outer edges but it makes assembly a bit trickier.) You also don’t want your LED too close to your mounting screw.
YES you can fit 4 LEDs in the same battery holder if you keep the holes closer. But you must recalculate the resistor in the next step.
Your LEDs will be soldered together in a parallel circuit. So it might be a good idea to do a dry run to make sure the LEDs are working and they fit properly. See the diagram for reference.
LED TIP! Remember the longer leg of the LED is positive (anode). Connect the longer leg to your resistor and the resistor to the red wire.
I used a web based calculator to find the proper resistor. http://ledcalc.com/#calc
Be sure to select parallel circuit before entering the variables. The LED voltage is 3.3V and the desired current is 20mA per LED. The supply voltage is ideally 3.6V but in reality can start higher (**See warning below). Number of LED = 3. (If you try to squeeze a 4th LED into the case just be sure to recalculate the proper resistor value.)
WARNING! This is an unregulated circuit. The voltage of batteries that are newly recharged are higher than 1.2V per battery. The total battery pack value can be as much as 4V for 3 NimH AAA cells. To limit current to the LEDs a more realistic calculation can be used where the power supply is set to 4.1V instead of 3.6V. Or you should perform tests as shown below.
About this parallel circuit: It was chosen because it uses the least number of components and is simple to construct. Our calculation assumes each LED has the same forward voltage but in reality they can differ by as much as 0.4V. A better parallel circuit would be one where each LED has its own resistor based on that LED’s forward voltage. But for the purposes of this inexpensive and easy project a single resistor design is adequate.
For testing I found it easier to just insert the LEDs backwards for now as shown. Don’t forget to use your resistor between the positive power wire and the positive terminals (longer leg) of the LEDs. You must make sure ALL LED legs are connected to the proper positive and negative wires otherwise you will send too much current to the lit LEDs and reduce their life or blow them out. I used alligator clips to keep the LEDs attached and touch the resistor to the red wire while its connected to the positive LED legs.
I also checked the current of the circuit to make sure it was only
about 60mA. So each LED draws only 20mA****
CORRECTION! The batteries were not fully charged when this test was performed and the circuit in this photo used a 7 ohm resistor. Since this system is not regulated the battery supply voltage would be much higher if the batteries were freshly charged. The batteries were recharged fully and the test was repeated. The closed circuit voltage of the battery pack was 4.18V. The total current draw at that voltage with 7 ohm resistor was 96mA or 32mA per LED. Although the battery voltage will reduce over the next hour or so this initial current drain on the LED is higher than I prefer so I switched to a 10 ohm resistor and repeated the test. Now the total current draw is 77mA or 25mA per LED. This is satisfactory to me, but you may choose to be more conservative and prevent the LED from ever drawing more than 20mA. For that you would use a 15 ohm resistor. You must acknowledge however that allowing the LED to draw more than 20mA will damage the LED and reduce its life.
Here is my new circuit with 10 ohm resistor.
Use the holes in the casing as a makeshift fixture to hold the LEDs in place while you solder the LED legs together as shown in the photo. This helps keep the right distance between each LED while they are soldered together. Keep the LEDs in the same orientation so each positive leg is connected to the other positive legs, and each negative leg is connected to the other negative legs. You should bend the LED legs close to the LED body because you don’t have much space in the battery holder.
Insert the LEDs loosely into the battery holder and bend the LED legs into the chamber with the wires.
You may have to trim the legs a bit. Be sure to keep track of which side is positive before trimming legs!! I also cut some of the plastic to give more room for the legs but you might not have to.
Now all that is left is to connect the wires and resistor and slide the LEDs into place. I have the positive legs on the bottom so the red wire was trimmed to about 1” past the battery and soldered to the resistor which is then soldered to the positive legs of the LEDs. You should do this soldering while the LEDs are OUTSIDE of the holder. Otherwise you risk melting the plastic. After you solder the red and black wires you should have enough room to slide the LEDs back into the holder and push them through the holes. I used a small screw driver to push on the clear plastic casing. DO NOT push on the legs they will bend and you might create a short. Also make sure that your black and red wires are not touching and that the top and bottom legs never touch!
If you did want to hide the screw head in the housing you would push the hex head down into the holder and hot glue it in place. Make sure it doesn’t make contact with the LED or the LED legs. The socket of the camera is only 1/4” deep but this screw will probably project about ½”. So after you slide on the battery cover you’ll have to screw a nut on the other end and use that to tighten the light in place on you camera.. You can try using a shorter screw to avoid the nut, but
it would be very hard to tighten it and have the light aim in front of the camera at the same time you’ll have to align the screw poperly which is discussed in this article.
The the photos below show how you can use the 3/4 inch bolt and a nut.
But if you are taking a simpler approach like I opted to, you would pass the bolt through both holes and simply tighten in place. This is the method I prefer since when I take videos I would be holding the camera in my hand anyway. When you are not using the light you can just store the screw inside the housing and close the lid.
If you don’t want to have to store the screw, but would rather it remain attached to the light housing click here for options.
Now go ahead and turn on the light.
If you used the recommended 60 deg angle LED the light should fill up most of your viewing screen as seen in the first photo.
If however you used some standard white LEDs that are probably 20 deg viewing angle you would probably see a harsh spotlight affect as in the second photo. This is similar to what you would get using the Camerabright product.
Filling more of your screen with light is better for still photos as well because it allows the camera to focus faster and take a better picture then if it had to compensate for the black circle spotlight effect.
If no light is turning on you should turn it off and check for shorts. Make sure the batteries are charged and you have wired the LEDs with the right polarity.
Total cost of project = $2.00 not including batteries or any shipping charges.
Total run time (with 1000mAh batteries) is calculated to be 16 hours, which is 4x as long as the Camerabright product!
(1000mAh / 60mAh) = 16.6 hrs. *** this is not actual test time.
Even if we have 4 LEDs at 20mA each it would last about 12.5 hours.
Click here for actual test time.
Actual time may vary and the lights will dim as the voltage drops. But the NiMh batteries have good chemistry which keeps the voltage high for most of its life.
Dimensions of the case are 2.44″x 1.89 “x 0.55″ (not including screw) which is actually smaller and thinner than the commercial product which is 2.7 x 2.5 x 1″.
So if you have completed this project you have just saved yourself at least $28 and have a smaller sleeker product. You also have the ability to try other LEDs and experiment with colors.
Buy the Prodmod Kit
Retain your thumb screw
Built-in screw stud – a much cleaner compact look!
4LED- you have room for one more.
Battery Test Data – current vs. time
Vote for improvements!
New Photo Test! – how bright is it?
There are updates to projects everyweek! Why not subscribe and have the articles delivered to your reader?