Frequently Asked Questions Link
Questions?User-to-User ForumVideo files

RC-CAM Topics
Author Background
Concept 30 R/C Heli
Project Cost
First Flight
Site Sponsor
Legal Notice

RC-CAM Links
Special Projects
Movie Catalog
FPV Videos

R/C Digital Camera Controller

Those fun entry-level HobbyZone R/C model airplanes can be used for Aerial Photography. Here we show you how to build a special camera controller that will help get your eye up in the sky!

The CamManXP board is dwarfed by the HobbyZone R/C controller.

This project marks the fifth variant of the CamMan family of camera control chips. In this release we introduce a special PIC microcontroller that is used to interface nearly any lightweight digital camera to the HobbyZone brand radio control (R/C) model airplanes.

It is important to note that this release is specifically designed for the HobbyZone R/C systems that has their special X-Port™ connector. It is not compatible with standard R/C radio gear (the other published versions of CamMan handles those applications just fine).

Here are the main features of the CamMan-XP camera control board:

  • World's first purpose-designed X-Port interface for digital cameras.
  • Will control the shutter on nearly any digital camera.
  • Shutter activation by servo or electronic switching.
  • Prevents lost photos due to camera's auto shut-off feature.
  • Onboard 5-Volt regulator can be used for camera power.
  • Optional Lost Model Alarm helps locate downed models.
  • Optional remote on/off for model accessory control feature.
  • Stand-Alone mode does not require an R/C system for aerial photos.
  • Low cost. All parts can be obtained from Digi-Key for just a few dollars.

Aerobird Xtreme from HobbyZoneFirst, a little background. HobbyZone sells several different R/C model airplanes that are ready-to-fly. The larger models, that are suitable for R/C aerial photography, are the Firebird Commander, Fighterbird, Aerobird Challenger, Aerobird Xtreme. But, they all use proprietary radio control equipment that does not allow us to plug in standard R/C accessories.

But CamMan-XP changes all of that. It connects to the HobbyZone X-Port connector. This port is a 4-pin connector found on the bottom of the fuselage. It is normally used for their combat and bomb drop module, but we are going to use it to take photos from a digital camera. The camera's shutter will be activated from the stock HobbyZone R/C transmitter.

The basic modifications center around a simple circuit that uses a microcontroller to decode the X-Port signal to activate the camera's shutter. In its most basic configuration, only eleven parts are needed. But as simple as it all sounds, this isn't a project for an entry level electronic tech. Do NOT attempt this project unless you are familiar with reading schematics and have soldering experience.

What Digital Camera Can I Use?

Aiptek Mini PenCam 1.3Choosing a digital camera is really up to you. It just needs to be lightweight so that the HobbyZone model airplane can safely fly with it attached. I suggest you keep the camera weight well under four ounces.

I really like the Aiptek Mini PenCam 1.3 and the Mustek G-Smart Mini-3. Both weigh a couple of ounces and have good resolution for A/P (aerial photography) use. In fact, our original CamMan project supported these cameras and they performed very well.

A unique feature of CamMan-XP is that it can snap photos using two totally different methods. It provides an electronic shutter switch AND a mechanical shutter method that uses a standard micro sized R/C servo. The electronic connection method is preferred and involves opening up the camera and soldering two wires across the shutter switch. However, if you are not interested in voiding the camera warranty, then just mount a servo on the camera's housing and have it act as the finger press. A good servo choice is the tiny 6-gram Hitec 50.

But unlike the other CamMan Projects, we will not get into how to hack the camera. We've covered the basics in the other projects and some of the R/C hobby forums have had discussions about hacking cameras too. So, there is really no need to repeat that information here. But, if you need advice, just post your questions on the RC-CAM forum and someone will help out.

Tricks for Kicks

There are other clever features built into the CamMan-XP control board. Some are useful even if you don't want to take aerial photos.

Lost Model Finders are very handy!How would like to add a Lost Model Finder? Or, how about an on/off control output that can be used to remotely turn on some night flying LED's on your model? Well, CamMan-XP has you covered. These features are handy enough that you may want to build the project just to use them all on their own.

  1. The Lost Model Finder uses a loud buzzer that turns on when the R/C transmitter is turned off or is out of range. So, if your HobbyZone model airplane is hiding in a tree, just shut off the transmitter. CamMan-XP will scream like a baby and you will easily find your missing HobbyZone model airplane.
  2. Another handy feature is the Remote On/Off control. It is ideal for controlling your special model accessory. It's a toggle function: Send the X-Port command to turn it on. Send it again and it turns off. What you control is up to you. Just keep in mind that the camera shutter will be triggered with each toggle command. The on/off signal is good for a couple hundred milliamps, which is perfect for about a dozen high brightness LED lamps. Some great LED tips are discussed on the RC-CAM LED Calculator page. Night-Flying, anyone?
  3. In the Stand-Alone Operation mode, you can setup the camera to snap photos at timed intervals (from ten seconds to ten minutes). You don't even need a HobbyZone R/C system to trigger the camera. You can just fly around and have the CamMan-XP take photos for you. This method works with any R/C airplane large enough to carry a camera. Or, hide the camera in your house and you can even use it to take timed surveillance photos. Note: do not install the optional buzzer if you will be using the stand-alone mode.

PIC Chip: The little 8-Pin Miracle

CamMan-XP is based on a tiny 8-Pin chip. It is a MicroChip Technologies PIC12F629 microcontroller that uses custom firmware that you can download for personal use at no-charge. Even though a microcontroller is used, cost is very low. You can build the entire CamMan-XP interface circuit for under $20. Total parts count is minimal and the assembled circuit weighs just a few grams.

PIC12F629 Pinout There are eight pins on the CamMan-XP PIC chip. They exist as one of three kinds of signals: Power, Digital Input, or Digital Output.

The digital inputs are said to be logic High when the voltage is greater than 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 outputs can provide up to 20mA of current, which is fine for our needs.

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






3.5VDC minimum, 5.5 VDC maximum. Note: Raw battery power is taken from the X-Port connector and is safely reduced with a 5.0 VDC voltage regulator.



This output activates the camera shutter. It goes high for 1.5 seconds (minimum) when a snapshot is requested.



This output provides a legacy servo signal {for controlling a standard R/C servo} to mechanically activate the camera shutter. Nominally it sends a standard 1mS R/C pulse (shutter finger up). Upon X-Port command, it momentarily sends a 2mS R/C pulse (shutter finger down).



This input is used for configuring the programmable features. It is also used to manually snap a photo.



X-Port Pulse input. Connects to the model's X-Port Connector. Should be protected with a series resistor.



This output is used during programming to operate a status LED. Optionally, It can also be used as a Lost Model Alarm to turn on a sonalert annunciator when the transmitter is turned off.



This output will toggle logic states upon each use of the X-Port command for debug/test use. Optionally, it can be used to control LED lamps (for night flying) or other on/off controlled functions.


(Power return)

0 VDC. Ground.

The PIC12F629 PIC is a "Flash" part, so it can be re-programmed hundreds of times. This allows for cheap software upgrades since the same part can be used.

Be sure to properly select the PIC's configuration fuses before chip flashing. They should be automatically set by the hex file, but it is always a good idea to verify them. These fuses are managed by special settings within your chip programmer's menus.

Example of hobby type flash programmer screenshot. Click to see larger view For example, the screen shot on the right (click for larger view) shows how they may appear in your hobby grade flash tool. The required fuse settings are summarized below:
Oscillator (OSC): IntOSC GP4
Watch Dog (WDT): Disabled
Power Timer (PWRT): Enabled
MCLR (Master Clear): Disabled
Brown Out (BODEN): Disabled
Code Protect (CP): Disabled
Code Protect Data (CPD): Disabled

Warning: If your chip programmer asks if you wish to use the OSC CAL value from the hex file, then be sure to click the response that leaves the value alone. If you use the data from the file it will over-write the factory stored CAL data and the PIC will be rendered useless! You should also read this: OSC cal data corruption work-around.

The required firmware (hex file) that is needed to flash-program the PIC is provided at no charge for their own personal/hobby use. This means that a R/C hobbyist can install the firmware into their PIC, license-free. You are NOT granted permission to do this task for others and you cannot sell the project. In other words, you cannot offer a pre-programmed PIC or a finished product (exceptions require written permission from us). Sorry, but the text based source code is NOT available.

X-Port Connector X-Posed

X-Port Connector X-PosedThe HobbyZone X-Port is a four pin connection. It is a proprietary design that is NOT compatible with standard R/C equipment. This is too bad since it really limits what the average fellow can connect to the model.

The basic X-Port signal is PRM (pulse rate modulated), whereas a standard R/C servos is PWM (pulse width modulated). The PIC's job is to decode the variable pulse rate and use it to determine when the pilot has commanded the X-Port feature.

The CamMan-XP design includes a 5.0VDC VReg (voltage regulator) because the X-Port's native voltage (7.2VDC) is too high for direct use by the PIC. The VReg is also a handy source for camera power, assuming your camera is compatible with 5.0VDC. The chosen VReg is a LM2940 low drop out type; a common LM7805 will NOT work well in this battery powered application.

There's More to Soldering Than Solder

For sure, this project is not for beginners. But if you can read a schematic, and have experience building electronic circuits, then this project is perfect for you.

Everyone has their own way of building prototype circuits. So, I'm not going to offer detailed instructions on how to solder up the CamMan-XP camera controller. Instead, I will show what mine looks like and let you decide how you will attack yours. Just keep in mind that it needs to be rugged for use on a model airplane.

Perfboard construction works great.I used a 1.1" x 1.5" piece of phenolic perfboard for my project. The photo on the left shows the finished board. It does not include the Lost Model Finder or the on/off control components. But there is room for them too.

The 2-pin connector is for electronic shutter control and the 3-pin is for the alternate camera shutter servo method. The 5V VReg will need a heatsink if used to power a camera that draws more than a couple hundred milliamps. If yours runs too hot after a few minutes of use then add a heatsink!

The wiring for the X-Port connection requires three conductors: Pin 1 (Bat+), Pin 3 (X-Port Sig), and Pin 4 (Bat Gnd). Be sure to confirm the battery polarity on the model's X-Port connector. Getting it wrong will result in a smoky disaster. By the way, the materials list includes the part number to a nice 4-pin connector that fits the X-Port like a glove.

Before going further you should stop and double check your work.

  1. Check the installation of all components. Inspect for solder shorts.
  2. With the PIC IC removed from the socket, plug the board into the X-Port.
  3. Verify that you have 5VDC on PIC socket pin-1 (use PIC pin-8 for ground).
  4. Pressing S1 should cause PIC socket Pin-4 to go from 5VDC to 0VDC.
  5. J2 pin-2 should have 5VDC on it.
  6. Remove power and install the PIC. Reapply power.
  7. With the HobbyZone transmitter turned off, the LED1 Alert light should be on.
  8. Turn on the transmitter. The Alert light should go out.
  9. Pressing S1, or sending the X-Port command, should activate the shutter servo. The Alert light (and optional buzzer) will turn on during the snapshot to confirm the action.
  10. Disconnect the camera if it is installed on J4. With an ohmmeter on J4 (pos on J4-1, neg on J4-2), verify that the resistance goes from infinity to a few hundred ohms whenever S1 is pressed or the X-Port signal is commanded.

Controlling the camera shutter can utilize the servo controlled method or the electronic switch output. The latter is the best way, but requires taking the camera apart and soldering to the shutter switch contacts. It will reliably interface with an active high or active low type camera shutter design. Just use your voltmeter and identify which shutter switch contact is most negative. Connect this to J4 pin-2. The positive side of the shutter switch goes to J4 pin-1.

You can test your shutter wiring out by pressing the S1 switch. Each press will snap a photo. If it doesn't then something is wrong.

Sleep Deprivation:

If you are using a camera that goes to sleep (shuts off) when unattended, then you can program CamMan-XP to periodically take a "keep-awake" photo. The settings are stored in the PIC's E²Prom memory, but you can change them as often as you would like. Just follow these instructions:

  1. Turn on the Transmitter. Note: this is not necessary for programming, but prevents damage to the model's servos due to random radio noise.
  2. Press and hold switch S1. While pressed, apply power to the CamMan-XP board.
  3. Within a couple seconds the LED1 alert light will start to flash.
  4. Release switch S1.
  5. If you want to disable (turn off) the keep-alive photo feature, then skip to step 7.
  6. To program the interval time, press the S1 switch and release. Each press adds 10 seconds to the delay time. For example, six presses will set the interval time to sixty seconds. Maximum delay is 600 seconds (60 presses).
  7. Do nothing for five seconds. The alert LED will blink once to indicate that programming is done.

Stand-Alone Camera Feature:

You do not need to connect CamMan-XP to a HobbyZone X-Port. You can just apply 5V to 9V power to J1-1 and J1-4. Even with the X-Port signal unconnected, the camera will still take photos at whatever interval you programmed into it (see keep-awake programming section). This is a convenient (and generic) way to take photos in the air or around the home.

Design Documents:

The technical details are available as file downloads. There is no charge for the firmware hex file when used in a personal hobby project. Commercial users and resellers must obtain written approval before use (license permission). More details about this are in the readme.pdf file.

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-XP camera interface circuitry. The components are from Revision: Rev A, dated 09-08-2004
PIC Object Code Files PIC Object Code: Hex file of the compiled CamMan-XP firmware. You should occasionally check for updates.
Version: V5.1, dated 10-20-2005.

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-XP. 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-XP system.

 © 2004-2006 RC-CAM, all rights reserved.