How to Make Your Own Waterproof Camera Enclosure

click any picture to see a big hi-rez version


You need a waterproof enclosure to get close to the action without killing your camera. Here's how to make one. This design will work with almost any camera, digital camera, or camcorder. It gives you access to all the camcorder's features. You can either look throught the bag into the viewfinder or use the lcd, although most lcds aren't any good in sunlight. I wanted mine for kitesurfing, but it'll work underwater too. If it leaks you'll be able to see water in the bottom of the bag or bubbles escaping and return to the surface before your camera is harmed.


Make the Bag:
Fold over a piece of clear flexible urethane or pvc and weld the edge with a hot iron. Put a piece of kapton or tinfoil over and under the plastic to keep it from sticking to the iron. Experiment with scrap material til you get the iron to the right temperature and get the knack of it. Rub the kapton on your nose to make it greasy and keep it from sticking. 12 mil urethane sheet from API inc. is being welded here. Your grandma's couch cover, a kite bladder, storm window vinyl from a hardware store, or a clear shower curtain will also work. Urethane is better than vinyl because it's more flexible and maybe less toxic to the planet. Polyethylene is too stiff, cloudy, and prone to fatigue. Don't use it.
Make the Internal Camera Bracket:
Cut out a piece of 1/2" thick plastic, clamp it like this, and soften the "neck" with a hotair gun as shown. This plastic is polypropylene scrap cut from a big sink discarded by a darkroom. Polyethylene from a plastic cutting board or any thick thermoplastic will also work. A hair dryer might work instead of an official heat gun if it's a mean one or if you choke the air intake in an unsafe way.
Bend it over using a board to keep it straight and so you don't burn your fingers. Hold it til it cools and gets hard again. If you get impatient pour cold water over it or dunk it in cold water.

Finish shaping the outside of the bracket using a saw, rasp, beltsander and sandpaper.

Mark the center of the piece using a spring-loaded center punch. Firemen, paramedics, and vandals use this tool to shatter car windows. Scribe a cross at the center. The centerpunch will naturally slide down one groove and drop into the center of the cross. You'll be able to punch the center of the cross without even looking. Then the drill bit will seek the center of the punched dent with equal accuracy. This is how old guys with beards do accurate work without machine tools.
This is a circle cutting tool tool used with a drill press. It's really dangerous. If you're lucky it won't cut your fingers off and fling the sharp fragments into your eyes.
Clamp the piece securely and don't put your hands anywhere near it. The tool is invisible when it's spinning. It must be used in a drill press. In a hand drill it'll just dig in and cause mayhem.
Handheld deburring tool with swivelling cutter.
Use it to bevel the inside edge.
Make the Outside Bezel:
Cut a ring out of thick plastic.
I cut most of the way through with the circle cutter and finished cutting with a knife to keep it from getting ripped up. Bevel the inside edge with the deburring tool as shown above.
Cut a big groove in on the outside edge. This is where the bag will be lashed on. Use lathe cutter, rat-tail rasp, and sandpaper. Smooth any sharp edges. Take the key out of the chuck before turning the lathe on. It makes an unpleasant sound when it hits you in the face. And just once doesn't seem to be enough for anyone.
Make the window: This sheet of glass came from a junk flatbed scanner. Score it with a carbide scribe.
Score it across tangent to the circle, hang it over the edge of a table, push on it a bit and tap by the end of the scribed line with something hard. Visit a glass shop to see how it's done.
It's not done like this. I beat on it with increasingly large hammers until it shattered. This tempered glass doesn't crack at a scribed line like regular glass. So I gave up on that and got some lexan sheet and cut the round window out of that instead. Lexan is softer than glass and more likely to get scratched so I cut a couple of spares. I used a fine-tooth saw and some sandpaper on the edges. Lexan is a lot tougher than lucite, but that would work too. If you really want a tempered glass window, you could probably cut it with abrasives or a diamond tile saw.
Cut a gasket out of thick rubber sheet. The gasket is the black thing.
Shown here with the other major parts.
This is a center finder. Rest the 'V' arms against the outside of the disk and draw a line across. Rotate the disk and repeat. The center of the disk is where the lines cross.
Stack up the components. Lay out, drill and countersink some evenly spaced holes for stainless flathead screws. The gizmo on the drill is a quickchange chuck. It's got a drill and countersink on one end and a screwdriver bit on the other.
Drill a 1/4" mounting hole for the camera, bolt it on, and make sure it fits the way you want. Three views of the finished assembly.


Pull the bag over the end of the bezel and lash it on with nylon monofilament fishing line. You could also make the bag differently, cut a round hole as big as the porthole, and sandwich it next to the gasket. I'll probably make the next one that way. The method shown can leave a pinhole leak where the seam in the clear tube makes a bump. If you're careful or use a dab of silicone sealant that won't happen.

The finished enclosure.
Turn the bag inside out so the camera bracket is inside. To close the bag roll up the end like a toothpaste tube, fold the two ends of the roll inward, wrap it with a strip of rubber and tuck the end under. It's a lot quicker than it sounds and makes an excellent seal. If the bag is loose enough and clear enough you'll be able to look throught the bag into the viewfinder and use all the camera controls without much trouble. If condensation is a problem put some desiccant pouches in the bag. Get desiccant from a shoe store, McMaster-Carr (mcmastercarr.com) or save it from your vitamins. To prevent water droplets on the outside of the window use hair conditioner or cobra spit. If you find something you like please let me know.

Now go shoot that extreeeem footage!


Date: Tue, 20 Jun 2006 12:13:02 -0700
From: Nick Papadakis <nick[at, you know the thing]MIT[dot]EDU>
To: robot[at]mit[dot]edu
Subject: Put alka-seltzer in your water camera bag

        When I made a hacked underwater camera housing to take video of the stingrays in the Caymans, I
put two alka-seltzer in the bag with a weight and the camera.  In case of a leak, the seltzer foams,
blowing up the bag and making it more positively buoyant (probably also tends to expel the water).  It
worked too!  You certainly notice when you get a leak ...
--
        Cheers,                - nick



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