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Failure Spawns Success

A lot has changed since posting the RC-CAM Project pages back in 2009. But to capture the history of FPV (first person view) wireless video these pages have remained as-is. Remember, this is VERY old information and a LOT has changed over the years.

I would like to discuss my first camera system attempt so that you don't repeat my mistakes. In fact, I will present several generations of systems so that you can learn from my experiences. To prevent camera system confusion I call the first generation "RC-CAM1." It was soon followed by a better system that I call "RC-CAM2." Later came "RC-CAM3" and then finally "RC-CAM4."

RC-CAM1 was composed of two inexpensive parts: A monochrome camera and a 434 Mhz video transmitter. Total cost for the two catalog items was about $200 USD.

The camera is one that I bought some time ago for about $60. It is a very common CCD B/W (charge coupled display, black & white) camera that has about 420 lines resolution and exceptional performance in low light conditions. When connected directly to a television monitor the video quality is better than live TV broadcast. But unfortunately it is not in color and the experience is kind of like watching re-runs of "I Love Lucy."

The camera weighs less than one ounce and is about 1.5" x 1.5" square. It had some built-in Infrared LEDs for night time use, but I disabled them to reduce battery drain. The camera's lens is glass, not the narrow field-of-view pin hole type.

The 434Mhz video transmitter is also micro-sized. It weighs about 1/2 ounce and is even smaller than the video camera. The transmitter was purchased from an online supplier for about $140 USD. This device does not transmit sound so I had to dub the audio manually after filming. The photo on the right shows the complete transmitter subsystem with 9 volt battery power source.

This micro-sized transmitter broadcasts the video using TV cable channel 59 (434 Mhz). But in order to use the 434 MHz transmitter frequency in the USA you must hold a valid Ham Radio License. This limits its use to amateur radio operators and presents a rather unpleasant situation if you are not one. But since I found that this transmitter did not perform well in my airborne application you should not consider using it in your model.

RC-CAM1 SystemI mounted the video camera and the transmitter in a small cardboard box that I dressed up with model airplane fuel proof paint. It had a total gross weight of six ounces including the two nine-volt alkaline batteries.

By the way, the current draw of the camera (150 milliamps @ 9V) and the transmitter (125 milliamps @ 9V) allowed only a few minutes of video using low cost alkaline batteries. This nasty issue has been nicely addressed in RC-CAM2.

The antenna was configured as a vertical whip by threading the stock flexible antenna wire inside some nylon tubing. The camera box was mounted on the outside of the helicopter's right landing skid using rubber bands and 1/4" wood dowels.

The video equipment's weight (about 8 ounces) did affect the heli's flying characteristics, but not enough to prevent some decent hovering in my backyard. Yes, all of my hover-only flight practice was on my huge backyard lawn. For forward flight a model club site would have been needed. But, the backyard video experiments were convenient during this trial phase.

The results of RC-CAM1 were very disappointing but I was not surprised. My initial ground range tests had shown that I would have some reception trouble. But I had hoped that getting up in the air would help improve the signal but this dream was not realized.

I was using my roof top TV antenna and set my living room's VCR to cable channel 59. While flying the reception was marginal and the video often dropped out. In some backyard locations I could get 150 feet of line-of-site range but any movement of the transmitter usually caused complete signal loss. The video performance was so bad that I immediately knew I needed a better system (hence RC-CAM2).

But I had video! Even in its primitive B/W form, it was quite interesting. To share the video with some friends I converted the VCR taped broadcast to an AVI video file using an ATI All-in-Wonder PC Video capture card on my Pentium powered desktop computer.

If you would like to see the original film clip then click on the link shown below. Be forewarned -- it is very poor quality but for a first attempt it shows that my project had promise. Click the graphic to view the video.
click for RC-CAM1 movie file

Click to play RC-CAM1 R/C model heli movie

I will not offer any specific assembly instructions or sources to the RC-CAM1 system since it is now in retirement. For the details to the much improved and lower cost replacement, please click on the RC-CAM2 link. Enjoy!


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