Keychain spy camera mod
Background story: I needed a small camera to record my adventures on my motorcycle and on the ski track. I needed something small enough to mount almost anywhere without limiting my movements. A helmet cam would be ideal, but not really an option because of the cost.
A little bit of ebay search and I found what I was looking for. Turns out China has a solution for every problem.
It’s a tiny camera in the form of a car alarm fob. Even close inspection won’t give it away that this thing is a camera.
The specifications on most of the ebay sellers are all lies. Some state that the video is 720×480 and some 1280×1024 HD. The reality is that the camera shoots at 640×480 and upscales it to 720×480 pixels.
The quality is a bit on the “meh” side but I don’t care much. The footage looks clear enough for me.
They sell for about £5 with free postage worldwide! that’s about 6.1 euros, or 7.7 dollars! Cheap as dirt!
Just use the keywords “keychain camera” if you want to buy one.
I first tried to mount it on my helmet with some velcro so that I can attach it and detach it easily. That didn’t work very well for 2 reasons: I hadn’t thought much about the viewing angle and all I was recording was my speedometer and the tarmac in front of the bike. Small problem.
You can watch that first attempt here:
The second problem and most important was recording time. The tiny internal battery was just 180mah and went flat after about 20 minutes of recording. Not enough for long roadtrips, and also hard to find a PC up in the mountains to recharge. Supposedly it should record up to 1 hour when fully charged, but mine didn’t. Maybe it was a faulty battery.
So the obvious mod was to replace the internal tiny battery with a bigger capacity external one.
Cell phone batteries are good for that purpose because they carry the same voltage, (3.7v) and more than enough capacity. I already had a surplus nokia battery laying around but if you don’t you can buy a new one from ebay for just £1.39. Plus it boasts a whooping 900mah that should last a lot.
The battery I had was the Nokia BP-5M. It’s not the easiest battery to mod as the positive and ground terminals are awkwardly hidden inside a plastic tab.
I had to remove that, and solder directly on the battery’s circuit board or IC-Chip or whatever that thingy is.
The second mod I attempted was to change the mounting “system”. Instead of velcro, this time I used powerful neodymium magnet, the same way I mounted my MIO GPS on a generic GPS holder a few months back.Only this time, instead of hot glue, I used super-strong fast-dry epoxy. When it bonds, it becomes firm plastic.
I also attached a metal plate on top of the brake-fluid box on my bike and I was golden. The Point Of View is amazing. Plus it’s more stable than my head.
Everything was going well until after a couple of months use, the camera wouldn’t power-up anymore. It was a soldering failure. It was time to replace the battery again.
This time I ordered the Nokia BL-5B for £1.39 from ebay. It’s an easier to mod battery as it has flat and accessible terminals.The BL-5C should do as well.
Disassembled everything, soldered some fresh cable, glued the new battery with epoxy, and I was good to go again.
The final mod that I tried (For now) was to add a wide-angle fish-eye lens in front of the original lens to increase the viewing angle. I bought a wide-angle jelly lens from ebay for just £0.99 + Free postag, and glued it with epoxy. I had to hold it absolutely still for about 5 minutes until the epoxy dried, so i used the my trusty helping-hand tool.
Now my little camera does everything I want. It takes wide-angle footage, has a battery that lasts, and it’s easily mounted on any metal surface.
- Keychain camera £5
- 4GB Micro SD £3.99
- 2 neodymium magnets £0.2
- Nokia BL-5B Battery £1.39
- Wide-angle lens £0.99
Total cost of the project was £11.59
Next step will be waterproofing it.