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R/C Digital Camera Controller

Aiptek PenCam SD Camera is perfect for CamMan!

This project shows how to install the CamMan R/C camera controller chip into the popular Aiptek PenCam SD 1.3M digital camera.

The CamMan family of camera projects is used to turn an ordinary digital camera into an R/C controlled wonder. With CamMan installed, nearly anyone can take beautiful aerial photos from a small R/C (radio controlled) model airplane.

CamMan was originally introduced with the CamMan-Aiptek Mini PenCam camera project. But this time the host camera is the nifty Aiptek PenCam SD 1.3M. If you are not using the SD camera then check out the other CamMan projects to see what camera models are supported.

The basic modifications center around a small circuit that uses a microcontroller to decode the R/C servo signal, as well as manage the camera interface. In the case of the Aiptek modification, only three parts are needed; an 8-Pin IC, capacitor, and resistor.

But as simple as that sounds, this is NOT a project for an inexperienced electronic tech. Advanced soldering skills are needed due to the fine pitched soldering that is required inside the camera (digital cameras are tiny!). If you are not comfortable with precision soldering then please consider the old standby solution -- glue an R/C servo to the camera and have it push the shutter button. This old trick has been used for decades and works well.

CamMan-SD offers these features:

  • Snapshots can use the model's throttle channel or a switched R/C Auxiliary channel.
  • Arming feature prevents accidental snapshots before model launch.
  • Supports reversed servo channels and reduced ATV.
  • The camera uses the R/C receiver for power. Consumes about the same current as a servo.
  • Disables the camera's 60 second shut off. No more lost photos!
  • Very Low cost. All parts can be obtained from Digi-Key for just a few dollars.

PIC Chip: A Camera Man's Best Friend

CamMan is based on a tiny 8-Pin chip. It is actually a MicroChip Technologies PIC12C508 microcontroller that uses custom firmware that you can download at no-charge. The PIC decodes the R/C signal for shutter activation and (optionally) manages the power up state of the camera.

Even though a microcontroller is used, cost is very low. You can build the CamMan circuit for about $10. Total parts count is very low the assembled circuit weighs just a few grams.

PIC12C508 PinoutThere are eight pins on the CamMan PIC chip. They exist as one of three kinds of signals: Power, Digital Input, or Digital Output.

The digital inputs are level sensitive and are said to be logic High when the voltage is > 2.0VDC and logic Low when they are less than 0.5V. Typical designs will use the VCC voltage (pin 1) for a logic highs and GND voltage (pin 8) for lows. The output sink current is 20mA (plenty for our application).

Let's take a quick tour of the various signals on the PIC chip:






Min 3.0 VDC, Max 6.5 VDC. Power should be obtained from the camera's regulated power supply.



This output signal is not used on this project. Do not connect anything to it.



This open collector output activates the camera shutter. It momentarily goes Low upon a snapshot request.



Servo Pulse input. Connects to the R/C receiver's servo channel. Should be protected with a series resistor.



This input must be jumpered to PIC pin 1.



When unconnected, full (100%) transmitter stick throws are expected. When grounded, limited stick throws can be used. Most applications will leave this pin unconnected.



When unconnected, normal transmitter stick direction is expected. When grounded, transmitter stick direction is reversed. Most applications will leave this pin unconnected.


(Power return)

0 VDC. Ground.

Your exact PIC choices have some flexibility. You can use a PIC12C508, PIC12C508A, PIC12C509, and PIC12C509A. Project Update: You can also use the easier to find PIC12F508 or PIC12F509 instead.

The PIC12C50x is not a "Flash" part, so you will need a traditional PIC chip programmer to "burn" the hex file's object code into the microcontroller. Be sure to select the configuration fuses during chip burning as follows (these are optional settings within your chip programmer's menus):
      WDT: Disabled
MCLR: Disabled
Oscillator: IntRC
Memory: Code Protected

The PIC's Hex file is designed to automatically instruct the programming hardware to chose these values. However, it is always a good idea to check them for accuracy. By the way, after you program the PIC your programmer will report a failure if you attempt to verify the PIC again. Do not be alarmed -- everything is OK. Just ignore the "failure." Whatever you do, do NOT program the chip twice!

If you have trouble burning the PIC, then please check your programmer. Whatever the fault, it is not a RC-CAM hex file issue. The most common problem is that the user has forgotten to burn the PIC's four configuration fuses, as mentioned above. More programming information can be found starting here.

Dead Bugs

The PIC's circuitry is so simple that a circuit board is not needed. All the parts are mounted on the bottom of the PIC chip, using "Dead Bug" construction (just picture a dead bug lying on its back). For this project I recommend a 40 watt or less soldering iron with a temperature controlled tip.

PIC shown after cutting legs. Click for larger photo.You can use an IC socket if your camera has enough room to accommodate one. However, there isn't enough space inside the Aiptek camera to allow it. My instructions will assume that the socket is not used.

Start by trimming the PIC's DIP leads to about half their normal length. The skinny through-hole portion is simply clipped off. The photo on the left shows the details.

Cap and resistor mounted. Click for larger photo.Next, solder C1 and R1 directly to the PIC. The other end of R1 will be connected to your servo cable in the next section.

Add a jumper wire from pin 5 to pin 1.

Assembly of the basic PIC circuit is now complete. All that remains is to add it to your camera. As it turns out, the tough work is about to begin.

Micro Surgery: Wiring the Camera

Let's get down to the business of wiring the Aiptek Camera to the CamMan PIC. All of the camera connections use 30 AWG Kynar (wire wrap) or enamel insulated magnet wire. If you use heavier wire then you will probably have trouble reinstalling the camera case.

Bottom Screw Location.

The camera has two screws that you must remove. They are shown in the photo on the left.

Battery Chamber Screws.

While the covers are removed do NOT change the focus position on the camera lense or external adjust ring. If you do, then you will need to deal with focus problems later on (so just leave it alone).

With the camera case apart, remove the two screws that hold the battery chamber in place.

The chart below shows the basic wire connections. The "Photo ID" refers to the wire references shown in the photos found a couple paragraphs down. Be sure to review the schematics to verify you are wiring things correctly.






Shutter / S2 Switch (right side)




Camera Power / C28 + (Top side)




Camera Gnd / C28- (bottom side)

Use 30AWG wire to connect the PIC IC to the camera's circuit board. After the PIC is soldered to the camera it will be insulated with heatshrink or tape and placed in the empty space near the view finder and battery holder.

As shown on the photo to the right, PIC Pin-3 goes to the camera's shutter switch.

Power Connections shown here.

The photo on the right shows the PIC's Pin-1 and Pin-8 power connections.

The three wires of the "servo cable" go in next. Details are shown in the chart and photo below:






Left Side Pin, per photo.




USB Shell (Gnd), per photo




{To 4.7K, resistor R1}

USB/Servo Power Connections The servo cable's BAT+ lead goes to the USB connector as shown (first pin on 4-pin USB connector). The servo lead's ground wire goes to the metal shell of the USB connector (camera ground).

The R/C signal wire of the servo cable goes to the 4.7K resistor on PIC pin-4 (not shown).

File a thin grove in the bottom of the plastic case to allow the servo cable to pass through. Add a dab of adhesive to strain relieve it.

Double check your work. Simple mistakes can destroy the camera, R/C gear, and may generally ruin your day.

Insulate the PIC with heatshrink or tape and place it in the empty space near the viewfinder and battery holder. Reinstall the various camera pieces and covers. You are done!

Set Up and Operation:

I will assume that you will be sharing your throttle channel with CamMan. Connect the camera to the R/C receiver's throttle channel and to the servo or ESC (electronic speed control).

Turn on the R/C transmitter and apply receiver power. Even with no batteries in the camera, you should hear the camera beep when the R/C receiver is turned on.

First you must "Arm" the system. Move the throttle stick to full low stick then give it full up stick (do not cheat -- use FULL deflection on both extremes). CamMan is now armed.

The arming procedure only needs to be done anytime you apply power to the camera.

You are now ready to shoot photos! If you reduce throttle to below 1/4 stick you should hear the camera beep as it stores a photo. To take another photo you must go above 3/4 stick, then back down again. Practice a bit -- you will quickly see how it works.

If the camera does not take photos then you may have a wiring problem, your stick's trim lever is too offset, or an insufficient ATV mix setting in your R/C transmitter. First you should check your wiring. If it looks good, and the stick's trim lever is centered, then you will need to increase your ATV mix settings (if available) so that they are at 100% or higher. If you are using another channel besides throttle, be sure that its Dual Rates mix is disabled.

If you find that the stick throw is reversed then strap PIC pin 7 (REV) to pin 8 (GND) to enable the Servo Reverse feature.

If you are using a spare R/C channel (the gear channel works well) then the operation is nearly the same. To perform the initial system arming just flick the channel's toggle switch down then up. From then on you have switch controlled access to shooting photos. If the switch operation is backwards then either use your transmitter's channel reversing feature or ground PIC pin 7 (CamMan Reverse option).

Design Documents:

The technical details are available as file downloads. There is no charge for the information when used in a personal (hobby) project. Commercial users must obtain written approval before use.

Please be aware that the information is copyright protected, so you are not authorized to republish it, distribute it, or sell it, in any form. If you wish to share it, please do so only by providing a link to the RC-CAM site. You are granted permission to post links to the web site's main page ( Please respect this simple request.

Schematic Files Schematic Files: PDF file of the CamMan-SD circuitry. The components are from Revision: Rev A, dated 09-14-2004.
PIC Object Code Files PIC Object Code: Hex file of the compiled CamMan firmware. This data file is the same as is used on the CamMan-Aiptek project. You should occasionally check for updates.
Revision: V1.2, dated 03-03-2004.

The Small Print:

If you need a part then please consult the sources shown in the project (see schematics download). I do not work for, nor represent, ANY supplier of the parts used in CamMan. Any reference to a vendor is for your convenience and I do not endorse or profit from any purchase that you make. You are free to use any parts source that you wish.

All information is provided as-is. I do not offer any warranty on its suitability. That means that if you build and use this device, you will do so at your own risk. If you find software bugs then please report them to me. I can only make corrections if I can replicate the bugs, so please give me enough details to allow me to witness the trouble.


I would enjoy hearing from anyone that uses the CamMan system. Please send me an email if you build it.

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