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Make Your Own End Zone Camera System for $800

Mike Johnson is the d-line coach and video coordinator at Lakeville North High School in Lakeville, MN. He’s been sharing these step-by-step instructions to coaches around the country who have some DIY skills and are looking for an affordable, top-notch end zone camera system. The plans are free - all he asks for in return is pictures of your final product and tips on how to make the plans even better. We love it!

I know many of you are in the same situation we were in at Lakeville North - we understood that an end zone view of our games would be a huge benefit for the team, but getting that angle of video was no trivial task (especially on the road). The challenges:

  • Working with pressbox video only makes it tough to give athletes the feedback they need (especially our linemen)
  • Buying a “professional” end zone camera system was too expensive ($3,000-$6,000)
  • Using a scissor lift is expensive, cumbersome, and not possible at away games
  • Installing scaffolding is a pain, can be an eyesore, and only helps at home

The answer for us was building our own system that was affordable, reliable, portable, and easy enough I could do it without a mechanical engineering degree and with parts I could order or pick up easily. I want to thank all of the coaches that I have worked with on this design. My current design is a mixture of my ideas along with suggestions from the other 40+ coaches that built their end zone camera with these tips. Read on to check out, in detail, how it’s done.

This design consists of two main components:

  1. Tripod to hold the camera above field level
  2. Remotely controlled camcorder

Step 1: The Tripod

To build the tripod I used 1-5/8” galvanized chain link fence rail. I purchased the pipe at a local lumber store. It is available at most Lowe’s or Home Depots. Local fencing companies can help also.

Build Camera Tripod I cut the pipe into 5 pieces. The legs are 7’, the lower support is 4’ and the top support is a fill length 10’ piece. The pieces that I bought had a “swaged” tapered end that allows one piece to slip inside the other.

Our school metal shop class welded lugs onto the pipe to attach the legs. I have worked with some coaches that had a local booster that had welding equipment to do this work.

Build Camera Tripod

An alternative to welding these parts is to use connectors that bolt on. These do not look as good but they will work and require no welding. One supplier of these fittings is www.simplifiedbuilding.com. You will need a total of 9 of these connecters at $17.41 each.

On the top of the leg I used a plastic connector to connect the leg to the lower vertical support. These can be ordered from Simplified Building - female single swivel socket member ($8.85 each - you will need 3).

If you go the no-welding route you will need three of the connectors - single swivel socket ($17.41 each).

The leg braces are half-inch conduit that I cut to fit between the bottom lugs and the lugs on the legs. The length will vary based on where the lugs or connectors are placed on your pipe. Mine are about 42” long. I flattened the ends of the conduit with a sledge hammer and vise. I drilled the flattened end to accept a 5/16” bolt and used stainless steel nuts and bolts. I have the bolts permanently bolted to the lugs. I used wing nuts to secure the braces to the bolts on the lugs.

The next part to make is the upper vertical support. I used the same fencing pipe. The pipe I used had one end that was “swaged” tapered to fit inside the lower support. I was originally worried that simply putting the upper pipe into the lower would not be secure enough. We have never had an issue with the upper and lower pipe being too loose.

In my early designs I simply ran the cords down the outside of the pipe and secured them with Velcro. Last year I modified the vertical pipe to hold the three cables inside. I cut slots in the pipe using a Dremel tool. Your metal shop class can do this for you. I ran the cords through the pipe and then attached electrical boxe to the pipe. I also cut matching slots in the back of these. Having the cords internal makes setup and teardown a few minutes quicker - I think it looks nicer also.

Build Camera Tripod

The tripod design is very sturdy. We fold the tripod up after each game and throw it in the back of the bus on the floor. At the beginning of each season I spray on a new coat of paint. Next year I am hoping to find a local auto body shop that will spray the tripod with the pickup truck bed-liner material. That stuff would make the finish almost bullet proof.

Build Camera Tripod

At the very top of the vertical upright you need to weld a plate on or insert a plug into the end of the pipe. This will allow you to screw on the electronics. One option is to attach a fitting to the pipe. Here is an example that could work well - rail flange with toeboard adapter. You would need one of these at $37.22. I had our metal shop turn a metal plug that they hammered into the end of the pipe.

Build Camera $800

Whatever you use on the end of your pipe you need to add a 1/4”x20 treaded rod. This is the same thread as used on the tripod mounts for the camcorders you now probably use for your press box video. Our metal shop tapped the plug they added for the 1/4”-20 threads and added a short piece of a 1/4”-20 bolt that they cut the head off of.

At this point you should have a tripod that will get your camcorder 15’ to 16’ off of the ground. Here are some samples of the video we take from this height:

Camera Capture Football

Update - 11/9/2010 - Sam Wedner at Simplified Building produst has built a prototype endzone camera “Quad Pod” using fittings his company sells and fence pipe purchased at a local Home Depot. The nice thing is that his fitting means no welding or custom metal fabrication. His filltings would also work with the telescoping flagpoles that other coaches are recommending in the comments. His fitting should make this project a simple project for someone with an allen wrench and a hack saw. Here is the link to Sam’ photos http://www.simplifiedbuilding.com/projects/diy-endzone-camera-tripod-support/ - Great work Sam and thanks for your support on this project!

Step 2: The Electronics

The electronics are all battery powered, so no fear of electrocution from using 110v powered units in wet weather.

1 - Pan and Tilt Control

The left/right panning and up/down tilting of the camcorder is handled by the following components:

  1. Pan/Tilt Controller - Bescor MP-101 Motorized Pan Head and Remote - $119.95
  2. Pan/Tilt Extension Cable - Bescor RE-20 20’ Extension Cord - $14.95
  3. Rechargeable AA batteries - You can find these anywhere - I bought Sanyo ones with a rapid charger - $29.95

Camera Parts

Your camcorder will screw into the top of the Bescor Pan/Tilt Head. The camcorder may be the hardest piece to find. My solution uses a feature that Sony used to have standard on most of their camcorders. As they have cut costs, Sony has not included this feature. The feature is called a LANC Remote. It is still available on the Sony DCR-HC52 - $219.99. This is a MiniDv recorder and includes Firewire and A/V outputs. Looks like it is discontinued on retail sites, so you’ll have to search a bit.

I have also used older Sony DCR-HC32 MiniDV camcorders that I purchased on E-Bay. These LANC compatible camcorders are in demand. If you are lucky you can get one of these for less than $120. If you go the e-bay route make sure that you get all of the accessories.

Alt text

The older Sony DCR-HC32 has a dedicated LANC input port. If your camcorder has this you do not need anything else. Many of the newer Sony’s and some other brands have a new multi-function port typically labeled “A/V”. The D-shaped 10 pin port is both the LANC and Audio/Video port. If your camcorder only has this port you will need an adapter cable to be able to use the remote - Sony 10-Pin Adapter Cable (STP-01) - $49.95. Any camera that has a Lanc port or the 10-pin D-shaped “A/V” port should work. If you go with a hard-drive camcorder you will be able to reap the benefits of loading your video into a video editing system like Hudl in only 3 or 4 minutes as opposed to having to do it in real-time (30-40 minutes) off of a MiniDV camera.

Adapter Cable Sony

2 - The Remote

We now need to control the camcorder zoom, on/off, and start/stop record. For this you will need:

  1. A LANC remote - Sony RM-VD1 Control - $34.95
  2. A 15’ 2.5mm extension cable - Lanc Extension Cable EXT-05) - $9.95

LANC

3 - The Video

The next piece is the video. Unless you’re good with stilts you will need some way to see what you are actually recording which means you need to feed the video down to a monitor at eye level. To connect the video output of the camcorder, I use the A/V RCA style cable to go from the camcorder to an old portable DVD player. Any video display will work as long as it has an RCA style input. I had a parent donate an old portable DVD player that no longer played DVDs but the display worked. That was all I needed. I build a box to hold my DVD player to protect it from the rain.

You will need the following to connect the camcorder to the video display:

  1. Video extension cable - 12 foot Shielded RCA to RCA Cable - $6.49
  2. RCA female/female connectors - Rite A/V RCA Female-to-Female Coupler - $0.29 (you need 2 of these)

Another option to the video problem is to use a laptop and “live capture” the video. Software like Hudl will allow you to run a Firewire cable from the camcorder to the laptop. You would then capture the game video directly to the laptop using the camcorder’s record button to tell the software when to start and stop the capture of each play. If you choose to go this route you will need a long Firewire cable. You can purchase one from http://www.newegg.com for around $20 - some examples.

The last piece is optional. We live in an area where rain and snow are common. To protect my camcorder and pan/tilt head, I use a rain cover. I also added a stepup ring to the front of my camcorder to give the rain cover something to snug around:

  1. Rain Cover - Kata KARC17 CRC-17 Compact Rain Cover - $35
  2. Step-up Ring for Camcorder Lens (to fit your camcorder) - General Brand 30mm-37mm Step-Up Ring - $6.95

camera rain cover

You’re Ready to Rock!

You should now have a functioning end zone camera. The parts to build this can be bought for less than $800 including the camera. It may not be as pretty as the commercially available models but it works as well.

If you decide to go ahead and build your own end zone camera, feel free to be creative. I would love to see your completed designs. One coach in WI built his tripod from a retractable flag pole. He also gave me the suggestion for the KATA rain cover above. It is 22’ tall fully extended and uses a portable TV for their display. This coach uses sandbags to steady his camera. I have not found the need for additional weight to be added to stabilize ours. Here is how his camera looks:

Flagpole Camera

Homemade Football Camera

Here is a quick video of me putting our camera up and tearing it down.

Good luck and feel free to comment on this post, call, or email if you have any questions:

Mike Johnson

  • Defensive Line and Technology Coordinator
  • Lakeville North High School
  • Lakeville, MN
  • 612-840-7303
  • Mike.johnson@caldrea.com
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