I had the opportunity to submit a video pitch for Eskapee’s “Disposable Heroes” contest. As the brief went for the project:

“The Disposable Heroes is the world’s best photography challenge ever. It’s time to get outside your comfort zone, step back to 1987 and take some risks in a land where ISO, zoom, shutter speed, aperture, chimping, spraying-and-praying, fisheyes, 2nd shooters, and software doesn’t exist. You’ll get one month with a one-time-use disposable film camera. That’s it.”

The idea I had was to take the current concept of MTB selfies which I’ve been playing around with, and applying the same craft to a disposable camera if I was selected. I had an article recently published on Eskapee which I had a few selfies in which I was pretty pleased with, so thought I could extend that to the disposable camera challenge…

Here was the pitch video I did for the original challenge which I submitted to Eskapee.

Now I didn’t make the cut for the Eskapee contest (damn, that was a nice wheelset prize!) but I am doing it anyway… Disposable Zeroes, haha.

In terms of modern MTB selfies, current DSLR cameras have a lot of different ways to do them. I’ve done a few of these including:

  • Self Timers: using the inbuilt self-timer on the camera. This has the main limitation of only being able to select 2-second or 10-second timing, which makes the timing of your shot critical. You can either just get lucky, or try counting down in your head to the point. Usefulness: Poor. Difficulty: High.
  • Intervalometer: Connect an intervalometer, such as the Canon TC-80N3 or a generic version of this, set the delay to something like around 5-10 second and then you can set it to take multiple shots at say 1-second intervals. Good for spots where your location in the frame isn’t critical, such as a landscape + rider shot. Magic Lantern and some more recent Canons can also trigger this without a separate device. Usefulness: OK. Difficulty: Medium
  • Trap Focus: This is where you prefocus on the area you want to take the shot, put the camera into Manual Focus and enable Trap Focus. This can be via Magic Lantern on canon and some other camera brands support this. Lock down the AF point to the point where you want it to take the shot, turn on trap focus and then get in the frame. Once the camera detects focus on the point you’re in, then it fires off the trigger. Works best at narrower apertures such as F4/5.6 with a clear spot of focus – I’ve found it doesn’t quite trigger fast enough with a wide aperture lens such as F1.8 /2.8. Usefulness: Limited. Difficulty: High
  • RAW Video: Using Magic Lantern on the canon I’ve been able to have it taking RAW video – it dumps out a RAW frame at video-size resolution (E.g. 1920×1080, 4K, etc) at the frame rate you specify in FPS Override. Then you can extract out RAW frames from the resulting video and process via Lightroom. As you’re only taking video size frames this can be limiting, you can’t get print size resolution e.g. 10 megapixel. Also needs to be manual focus. Takes a lot of post processing work to extract the frames and find which ones you’re actually in! Usefulness: Good. Difficulty: Medium.
  • Handlebar trigger: I opened up a rear bike LED light, removed the LED and kept the switch. I wired the switch with a length of wire into a Yongnuo 622C wireless flash trigger’s Test button. Using a 622 controller on the camera with a trigger cable connected and Shutter mode on, the Test button on the trigger fires the shutter via the controller on the camera. I mounted up the switch/LED light on my handlebars so I can trigger it when I want from the bars. Usefulness: Great. Difficulty: High


Anyway, getting back to the point of the challenge, I would go with something similar to the Handlebar Trigger or Self-Timer with the project, but I have to work out how to trigger a disposable camera. There’s no port on a disposable to trigger remotely, just a film winder, trigger button and a flash button if it has a flash. Wasn’t really sure how I’d do that but I had some idea…

Arduino to the rescue

Arduino is an ecosystem of microprocessor-based control boards that plenty of people over the years have used to write up control systems, robots, home automation and projects like this. It has the ability to write code to respond to things happening around it, time, inputs and other information and trigger outputs. Now I haven’t played much with Arduino itself but I have been a programmer by trade for many years and have previously worked on similar automation projects. So I decided to use it as there is a lot of existing solutions built for Arduino, so I am sure I would find something suitable for what I’m trying to do. For example, I could use Bluetooth, InfraRed or similar trigger system feeding into the controller and have it trigger a Solenoid to push the trigger button.

I used a basic tutorial to set up the basics of this and added the IR remotes: https://core-electronics.com.au/tutorials/solenoid-control-with-arduino.html

At the moment my setup is like this:

  • Arduino Uno (clone board) – control board
  • Arduino Uno prototyping shield + mini breadboard to make prototyping easy
  • IR Receiver shield/ photodiode for receiving IR signals
  • Generic IR remote (has a number of buttons, arrow keys etc)
  • 9V battery pack – 6x AA batteries
  • Short throw 5v solenoid (technically I’m going to put 9V on this as I found only 9 Volts gives enough of a push for the trigger) – https://core-electronics.com.au/solenoid-5v-small.html
  • C3807 NPN Power transistor for triggering the solenoid from the Arduino (as you will burn out the arduino switching the full current of a solenoid). Had a couple of these left over from something else I was working on, these handle high current and work well as a transistor switch. Datasheet
  • Basic protection diode, resistors, patch leads and other wiring stuff
  • Custom wood frame for the camera so I have something to mount the solenoid on above the trigger, plus a small hole to mount it to a tripod (turns out, disposables don’t have a tripod socket either)
  • Kodak Funsaver w/Flash 27exp ISO800 disposable camera
It ain’t pretty, but it will get the job done. I’m definitely not a woodworker!

The circuit looks something like this (the IR receiver isn’t really shown, I’ve just used a photodiode but the concept is the same):

Basic Schematic – Version 1
Closeup of the arduino prototyping board.

I have then written some Arduino code using the IRRemote library to detect the codes sent by the “1” and “2” buttons on my remote to trigger different modes – “1” lights up the LED and triggers the solenoid for 2 seconds then releases, and “2” runs a 2 second timer, where the LED flashes for 2 seconds before the solenoid activates for 2 seconds then goes back to doing nothing.

Results so far

Well… results are on the right track, here’s what works:

  • The buttons on the IR remote trigger the LED and solenoid functions just fine.
  • My code works without doing much work
  • The Arduino hasn’t melted yet.
  • My wooden frame works and lets me mount the whole thing on a tripod, pretty essential for selfies.
  • First of all, I was using a 5V battery pack, which didn’t have enough to even press the trigger down fully even when directly connected to the solenoid. Using a 9V pack this works fine if going direct, but…

Things that don’t work yet:

  • The solenoid only ends up with 6V or so which is not enough to make it have enough power for the trigger. I can see it firing but not with enough force to go all the way.
  • Turns out the NPN transistor won’t ever give enough voltage to the solenoid.

So for version 2, I am going to use a MOSFET which is like the transistor I’m using but is better suited to switching off a 9V or greater power source. Basically like this… just replacing the transistor with a MOSFET and adding a grounding resistor.

Once i get it going I can finally start worrying about the photo side of it all – dealing with the fixed focus, fixed 1/100th shutter speed, fixed ISO of the disposable camera…

Watch this space….

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