Building a weather proof housing for your DSLR camera trap
Visitor statistics for my site reveal there are a large number of people interested in camera trapping. While there are increasing numbers of commercially available options for triggers and wireless connections, camera housings are largely bespoke. Commercially available housings vary from metal security boxes, which are not weather sealed, to insanely expensive underwater housings. Your alternative and probably most realistic option is to build your own case.
On this page I'll document how I've built my own weather proof case, which is essential to keep your equipment safe from water ingress, insect infestation and secure from casual theft. Unlike the first case I built, this one is intended to be wireless only, which is much more straight forward. It's also intended to be adaptable to different camera bodies and lenses - within sensible limits of course.
While there are lots of DIY designs I like the concept of a snorkel that offers some protection to the optical filter that seals the lens aperture from rain and mud. It's amazing how dirty the filter can get if it rains, and it certainly ruins your images of soggy animals.
Part 1 - Basic components
The majority of the components were sourced from amazon or ebay in the UK. Product details and sources are provided when you click on an image. The components listed in this build work for a canon 7d mkII with a 17-40 mm. None of these components were designed to be assembled together so some bodging is required, typically through the use of spacers. I've tried to be creative and recycle materials found in the garage etc.
Other stuff you'll need. Some M2x12 mm machine screws, Long Shaft Steel Flat Head D-ring 1/4" Mounting Screw, black roof & gutter sealant, hole-saw and drill, can of matt black spray paint, camouflage gorilla tape .
This first step will depend a lot on the exact components you've purchased and involves establishing the fit of the filter into the snorkel (sewer pipe). Clearly these items were never designed to fit, so some modification is likely to be required. In my first case build, the sewer pipe coupling had a sloped interior between the two diameter sections which required turning to create a lip to seat the filter. If you buy the components above you'll find the sewer pipe has a pronounced lip (see picture below) but the filter is slightly too small to rest on it. My solution is to create a filter holder of sufficient diameter to rest on the lip. I used the lid of a plastic box of "Quality Street" chocolates. The plastic is strong enough for the job, but flexible enough to cut with scissors and not crack. With a little bit of careful trimming its possible to get a very secure and tight seal around the filter. Ultimately, you'll glue the filter holder to the lip of the lens snorkel and seal it, but hold off that for now.
Part 2 - Assemble camera mount and find centre point of camera aperture
Next you need to assemble the quick release plates that will create your adjustable seating for your camera. With these assembled* and the camera and lens attached, you need to position the assembly in the case and mark the centre point of the lens (draw around the lens). This will allow you to determine the centre of the aperture that you must cut in the case. Take your time. Be sure to try out the various camera lens combinations that you might wish to use. Better to know in advance which combos will fit, this is especially important if you're considering using a large body camera such as a Canon 1D. In the latter situation you will have to build the case to fit the largest camera body and check that your other DSLR body plus a battery grip will also fit.
* if you use the exact same components as listed here you'll need to add the rubber spacer between the two plates to enable free movement. The camera mounting point position is now finely adjustable, well it will be once fixed to the case.
Part 3 - Cut the aperture and attach the snorkel
Now you've marked the centre point of the lens, grab your hole saw and drill/cut a hole with a diameter just smaller than the snorkel. To fix the snorkel to the case, you need about six 2 mm machine screws and a 2 mm drill bit. Drill six holes into the end of the snorkel. Take care as the walls of the snorkel are thin, it's pretty hard to drill exactly parallel to the wall. Next you'll need to drill matching holes in the case. Use some paper to make a pattern of the pre-drilled holes that you can transfer to the case. Tape the pattern in position and drill the holes with a 2 mm drill bit. It's VERY tricky aligning the screws between the respective holes. To make this easier/possible, enlarge the holes in the case slightly using the drill bit held between your fingers. It only needs a slight weak to get the screw to align with the holes in the snorkel. Take your time and have a little patience.
Part 4 - Seal the snorkel and fix the quick release assembly to the case.
Now you have the snorkel tightly attached to the case it needs to be weather sealed. Take a tube of black outside silicon sealant and squeeze a bead around the join between case and snorkel. Drag your finger around around the join to push the silicon into the joint and flatten the bead. Leave to cure.
Now install the quick release assembly. Place your mounted camera body and lens into the case and move the position around so that you maximise the range of camera positions possible. Carefully slide the attached camera out of the base plate and mark the location of the screw hole. To make this easier, place some gaffer tape on the case before you start so that you can mark it easily. Drill a whole to take the D-ring 1/4" mounting screw. The screw will probably be too long, so you'll need a spacer. I drilled out a small disk from the circle of plastic cut out of the case when I cut out the lens aperture earlier. This proved to be ideal for making a tight fit between mounting plate and 1/4" screw.
Part 5 - Attach Ram Mount, create sled and install optical filter in snorkel
We're in the home straight now. To fix the case to the Ram Mount' screw a thick piece of wood to the base of the case. I used a piece of left over decking board. Spray the wooden block a neutral colour, the camouflage spray paint colours sold by Halfords are great. Now attach one end of the Ram Mount. Now build the sled or stand. Again use some spare wood to create a base at least the width of the case, to which you need to attach the cross pieces. Spray it a neutral or camouflage colour and attach the other half of the Ram Mount. You should now have a stable base. If needed you can screw the Ram Mount to a tree or fence for a specific setup, but I find the sled is ideal for most of the mammals I encounter in the UK.
Now glue the optical filter into the snorkel with super-glue and seal it with the black exterior silicon sealant. The case is now weather tight. The final task is to camouflage the case with either spray paint or in this case camouflage Gorilla tape. Ultimately, I'll probably use it in conjunction with scrim netting and vegetation, yet the foxes still seem to know it's there. As the case is intended to be wireless with the PIR trigger and flashes, there will be a couple of Camtraption receiver/transmitter units inside. These could either be left loose or you could pimp the box with a couple of cold-shoe mounts allowing the wireless units to be secured out of the way. I'll update this page if I get around to doing this.
OK, that's it. I hope this was helpful. This particular housing is larger than I'd originally hoped but that's somewhat inevitable as it needs to be more flexible to take different equipment. It will be possible to make a more compact case that fits your equipment if you are careful with your planning, but keep in mind that for a Canon at least the remote shutter release cable adds a cm to the width required inside the case and it's always good to have a little more space. Anyway, good luck.