Scott Hanselman

DIY: Making a Very Wide Angle Webcam on the Cheap

February 17, 2010 Comment on this post [23] Posted in Remote Work | Reviews
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imageAfter I made my Webcam Cart and blogged about it a package I'd forgotten about arrived. It was a cheap "Zeikos ZE-WA37S 37mm 0.45X Wide Angle Lens." Only $10. I've looked all over for wide-angle webcams and they just don't exist. Over the counter webcams have a very narrow field of view.

I started with my favorite webcam, an amazing value, the Lifecam Cinema HD. I've got 4 of these. Now, the wide angle lens has a large opening, about an inch and a half, while the Lifecam is maybe an inch in diameter. I needed something to build up the diameter in such a way that it'd hold the wide angle lens in position while avoiding ruining the camera itself.

How? Electrical tape. Lots of it. I wrapped it around and around until it could offer enough outward tension to keep the lens on tightly.

Zeikos ZE-WA37S 37mm 0.45X Wide Angle Lens Lifecam with Wide Angle Zeikos Lens

Here's a still shot taken with the Lifecam Cinema HD with the lens it came with.

Lifecam HD Sample Photo

Here's a still shot taken with the same Lifecam Cinema HD with the cheap Zeikos Wide-Angle lens attached. Note the blurriness in the periphery and the slight fish-eye warping in the shelves.

Lifecam HD with Zeikos Wide-Angle Lens attached

The Lifecam is ideal for this kind of hack because it has a built in AutoFocus that REALLY works hard to keep things focused. I'll be using this for meetings and "getting a sense of the room" since I can't afford a $3000 "Roundtable" camera. I haven't measured it, but I fell I'm getting at least 100 degrees or more of field of view (my gut) so I think it's a good tradeoff of visual acuity for seeing a LOT more of the room for only $10.


About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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February 17, 2010 11:58
Scott. You need to smile more :)
February 17, 2010 12:09
This is cool! Can I ask you for a favor? Can you please take a picture of you sitting at the edge of the view field of the camera to see if there are significant distortions?
By the way, cool idea to have a clock behind you. This way your callers can see the local time and know if they are intruding :). I will be working from home from March and I would love to read a post of yours with tips and tricks about the subject of working remotely. Here is one of mine:
February 17, 2010 12:32
Great post! From the clock in the background, looks like it only took you 8 minutes to roll on all that electrical tape. :D
February 17, 2010 13:01
So you're trading good image quality for a bit more angle and a warped, blurry image.

Not the best decision if you ask me.
February 17, 2010 13:08
'DIY: Making a Very Wide Angle Webcam on the Cheap' -> 'DIY: Making a Very Wide Angle Webcam on the Cheap and look thinner'.

No reflection on your athletic frame.

February 17, 2010 13:36
David, remember that this card has TWO cameras on it. One that is clear that I can pan and tilt and look at whiteboards. The other, this one, is the "context" camera. A clear picture isn't useful for remote telepresense if I can't see the people in the room. Webcams are setup to show 1, maybe 2 people in the frame. I need to see a half-dozen or more. Does that make sense?
February 17, 2010 13:39
Maybe you should have a chat with the guys over at Microsoft ICE. They might be able to come up with a way to stitch the output of 2 or 3 webcams together in real time to give a super wide angle! (Or even 360 degrees)

February 17, 2010 14:25
Why not two cameras? I'm sure you could write a program to stitch the images together.
February 17, 2010 15:06
You got 4 of them? :-P I'd really like to know the measures of the camera (that kind of filter holder/light shade diameter) and even better... How many cameras do you think you could use together? I mean saving /grabbing 3 videos in 720p simultaneously, is a possibility?
:-P this is the reason...
this was done with 3 D700, but I'm planning a baby-video version...
I'm quite confident I can hack them to stitch together the right way. Close objects will always be tricky, but...
... who knows!!
Ciao from Venice/ Italy.
February 17, 2010 16:04
I also think you need an electroshock thing in case people around you fall asleep or say bad things. Very mild electroshock of course ;-)
February 17, 2010 16:36
Scott... I'd just assume that you, of all people, would have a small metal lathe lying around! Something like A small Sherline that would let you turn a nice adapter out of aluminum in just a few minutes!

And you call yourself a geek with a lot of hobbies... jeesh! :)
February 17, 2010 16:41
Hehe. Next up. Grab one of those USB "Aimable Office nerf dart desk cannons" from Frys, hook it up, and stick a couple taser probes in it. Presto. Everyone in the room becomes very alert!

Nice Idea with the wide angle.

I like your comments about "being there". Remote work is particularly tough when everyone else is "in the office" and you're not. I highly prefer when everyone is in the same boat (remote). It usually works out much better.
February 17, 2010 17:51

Would something like this work? It's a variable-diameter lens adapter to couple two optics in the 12mm - 41mm range.

The LifeCam Cinema looks like it has a 20mm lens from the product details page.
February 17, 2010 18:49
where did you get the wide angle lens? Also, have you looked to see if you could remove the lens from the camera, and replace with something else?
February 17, 2010 19:11
It's a pitty there doesn't seem to be a webcam with a proper lens mount. Although as I understand it camera makers are as bad at standardization if not worse as the computer industry so each manufacturer has a different one :-).
February 17, 2010 19:46
Have you noticed any driver weirdness with the Lifecam? I used 2 of them on a project and Win7 x64 wanted to install a new driver. On the machine I let that happen on, the name of the camera in Device manager changed from Microsoft® LifeCam Cinema(TM) to Microsoft LifeCam Cinema, and then the 16:9 modes stopped working in every API I tried, (i.e. AForge.NET Framework). Not sure what the deal is there. Worked perfectly in the Lifecam app either way.

Also the Lifecam Cinema says it's 720p 30fps, but the 720p res can only do 10fps. What's up with that?
February 17, 2010 19:57
Wow, got to get myself one of those for my Skype chats with family in Russia. :) My wife has so much family there, so they have to take turns to see their grand- and grand- grand- daughter.
February 17, 2010 21:45
Looks like it took you eight minutes to build the wide angle camera. :)
February 18, 2010 0:06
+1. Image quality isn't that critical for what you're trying to do. Ditto for resolution.
February 26, 2010 1:55

Your forehead looks big in both photos - how come?

June 25, 2010 20:31
awesome use with the wide angle lens!!
August 14, 2010 14:57
Wow, thanks a lot man! I have the same webcam so I will be ordering that ASAP!
October 24, 2010 17:21
Thanks Scott. I 'built' my own wide-angle webcam as per your instructions - except that I used insulation foam tape (like this one instead of electrical tape. This had 2 benefits:

1. It's a lot quicker because of the extra thickness
2. It gives a little 'springyness' to the attachment, so you can sort of squeeze the wide angle lens on in such away that (I'm guessing) it'll stay on a little more reliably without any additional persuasion.

Oh, and I'm surprised at how little the image distorts, and how good the auto-focus remains.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.