Image Credit: Mark Parrish
Click here to download a cutting template for this project
This project is a simple mount that enables you to aim up to four DSLR cameras towards the sky, and is particularly good for capturing meteor showers.
How many cameras you choose to use, and their orientation, will depend on what you have available.
The principle is to cover as much sky and take as many images as you can in the hope of a bright trail appearing in one of the cameras’ fields of view at just the right moment.
Tools – Handsaw or equivalent, drill with bits to suit woodscrews, clamps or a vice, small hammer, screwdriver
Materials – 2.4m length 70x18mm softwood, four 70mm T-hinges with small screws
Sundries – Four 60mm woodscrews, four 20mm ¼x20 bolts, M6 washers, 30mm panel pins, PVA wood glue, sandpaper, washing up sponge, gloss paint or varnish
The DSLRs are mounted on hinged brackets pointing upwards towards the night sky.
The hinges allow for individual cameras to be pivoted downwards during the imaging session in order to check the recorded images on their review screens, alter focus and exposure, and change batteries and memory cards.
We call this a ‘bird table’ mount because it occurred to us that many gardens already have a bird table with a suitable tall post with a sturdy base, and if the birds aren’t using it at night we may as well remove the top for a few hours for our meteor hunt.
But if you don’t have a bird table, don’t worry.
This mount can also be put on a table top or screwed onto a fence post, so it is quite versatile.
There are lots of cheap, second-hand DSLR cameras on the market making this a financially viable project to contemplate.
A secondhand Canon EOS 300S is a suitable candidate and with its modest-sized sensor and lens at 18mm it will cover approximately 45×60° of sky.
Full frame cameras are more expensive but give coverage closer to 60×90° for the same lens so four could just manage a full 360° view.
Don’t be put off if you don’t have four cameras; even two will double your chances of capturing that elusive image.
There are many considerations when determining the best direction in which to point your cameras, but the radiant (the point from which the meteors appear to emanate) will be approximately 45° above the horizon at midnight, so this is the altitude we chose.
We suggest one camera pointing towards the radiant (e.g. Perseus for the Perseid meteor shower), with any additional cameras increasing your chances of a capture elsewhere.
If you wish to avoid sky gaps between cameras you could experiment by turning the supports, which is why we decided not to glue them.
An intervalometer (remote timing/shutter control device) is also valuable, as this will enable you to set each camera to take regular exposures through the night.
Connecting it all requires some crafty cabling
Start with a female to female audio jack that fits your intervalometer, and connect them.
Attach a 3.5mm splitter cable to the other end of the audio jack and connect a splitter plug to each ‘head’ of the splitter cable.
This gives you four sockets through which you connect four cameras to a single intervalometer.
All cameras have a standard threaded insert for attaching to a tripod.
The thread size is 1/4×20 threads per inch and small bolts of this size can be bought online if you want to avoid an expensive version from a camera shop.
We used a rubber washer below the camera and a few M6 metal washers in between each bolt and hinge to allow it to be tightened properly.
If the camera vibrates a bit when the mount is knocked you can wedge some foam (cut up a clean, dry washing up sponge) between the camera body and wooden support, which dampens any movement.
Use the dimensions on the printable plan available at the link at the top of this article to mark out the timber to size.
Your timber merchant may be able cut the softwood into suitable lengths for you.
All you then need to do is cut the 45° angles on each support section.
Use a saw to accurately cut the sections to shape.
Power tools can help here, but a handsaw or tenon saw works fine. It helps to hold the wood in a vice, or clamp it to the bench.
You may also wish to clamp some scrap wood to the bench to protect its surface.
The main sections can now be glued together to form a two-layered cross.
Use PVA wood glue for a strong fix; reinforcing the joints with panel pins will help hold them together while the glue sets.
Drill and countersink a 5mm hole 80mm from the end of each arm.
Each sloping hinge support needs a 3mm pilot hole for the screw.
Ascertain each hole’s position by testing with a hinge before drilling.
The hinge should lie flat against the support and top of the cross.
Fix each support from below with a screw (but no glue).
Drill out the outer hinge screwhole to 6.5mm diameter for the camera screw.
Each hinge needs to be bent to 90°.
Bend 35mm from the end by clamping between the bench and some scrap wood.
Make sure you bend it the way shown in the image above.
After applying a nice varnish or paint finish, use small screws with pilot holes to attach the hinges.
Test fit a camera to make sure it sits nicely.
Adjust the bend of the hinge or introduce a bit of sponge padding to achieve a good fit.
Mark Parrish is a consummate craftsman who loves making astro accessories