Raspberry Pi camera after several years outside

It doesn’t pay to put a Raspberry Pi camera out directly facing the great British outdoors for more than a season even if you can keep the water out of it. I had a RPi Model B and camera doing just that and groused about the lens crazing problem where there seems to be some sort of microbial attack on the lens after a season outdoors.

damaged Raspberry Pi lens
you can just about see the grungy effect on this damaged Raspberry Pi lens which was outdoors for a season. The mechanical marks around the outside is because you have to break the glue to get the lens out. I did not mechanically damage the lens.

That didn’t respond to pretty aggressive scrubbing with isopropyl alcohol (IPA), and the Pi lenses are proprietary.

the lens on its own
the lens on its own

The back side of the lens not facing the elements looks fine

Sensor side of the lens
Sensor side of the lens

They are not standard M12 CCTV lenses1, so I got to buy another camera board, and used Sugru and a cut down glass microscope slide to try and keep it intact. I can buy aftermarket RPi compatible cameras using M12 CCTV lenses now, but then it wouldn’t fit in the PICE case.

Pi camera behind glass
The Pi camera is still bright-eyed after three years in the outside, behind a glass microscope slide

I left this camera out in the open on the farm for a while, and then watching my sparrows on the feeder. It looks like the glass slide technique has been a win, it’s been around three full years and the camera lens is still OK. The slide can be cleaned with IPA and comes good as new. Angling it down slightly reduces reflections and flare, but yes, it is uncoated so flare will happen. I built the Sugru up a but round the top to make a lens hood to minimse the amount of open sky that falls on the glass. Maybe the original Pi camera lens is plastic and gets eaten, although I know to my cost that optical coatings on glass can get hit by fungus too in damp conditions 🙁

The Raspberry Pi hardware and ecosystem has lasted

I’m surprised at the longevity of both the Raspberry Pi hardware and the ecosystem. The software still works2 with these obsolescent boards. I have to run antiquated Pi Model Bs because that’s the only shape that fits into the PICE waterproof cases I bought from the Kickstarter project. PICE are sadly no more since they went bust when Raspberry changed the mounting holes of the Pi with the A+ and B+ making the PICE and the cost of the tooling obsolescent overnight, which is a shame since I haven’t found anything that matches their quality for outdoor Pi projects since. Looks like they have a reputation – there’s one on Amazon for £140

How much?
You want HOW MUCH? FairPrices by name, not by nature…

the PICE was good, but not that good!

2012 Raspberry Pi Model B
This 2012 Raspberry Pi Model B is still going, the only Model B I ever bought new, in the first PICE case I bought on Kickstarter

I’m surprised that these old boards are still OK as hardware, particularly my own ones that were left out in black cases in the Suffolk midsummer sun all the way through to freezing winters. I favoured Model As for those pigcams, because although the old Pis were seriously power-hungry the Model As were less bad, and I was using Wifi, so the single USB port was fine.

Now I have the luxury of power and Ethernet I favour Model Bs using wired power and network, which means I have to buy old Pi Model Bs from Ebay to get a Pi that fits the old PICE cases – these are cheap enough, I got one with SD card and plastic case for a fiver. When you have mains power the extra power drain is not so bad as it heats the box keeping moisture from condensing out, the downside is you need to seal the rubber gasket to the cables else spiders want to get in there for the warmth.

In five years of messing with Raspberry Pis I’ve never managed to break one yet, despite mucking around with the GPIOs on occasion and leaving them outside for ages. And I’m chuffed that these are still serviceable with the latest Raspbian distribution, without faff and fiddling. Burn image, gas up, config ssl and camera stuff and off I go. Not bad for obsolete computing gear, and they still make perfectly good remote cameras and timelapse cams. They even stream pretty well using RPI Cam Web Interface – the stream didn’t crack up even while updating the software at the same time.

I am tempted by one of these cheap Chinese POE adapters, but the output cables are too short, so I would end up having to butcher the cables to be able to solder them to the Pi. Maybe I’ll use the passive approach on 12V and a 12V to 5V converter brick at the Pi end, which would save animalizing the  connectors. I don’t anticipate going the sort of distances 12V would droop too much.

  1. the post on here seems to indicate you can use a M12 adapter with the Pi camera. When I tried an M12 mount and standard CCTV lens I was unable to focus across the entire field of view, it was sharp-ish in the centre but soft at the edges or vice versa. I assumed the stock lens was aspheric, but now I am wondering if I was unlucky in my choice of lens, or particularly clumsy that day, I will try again on my crazed lens Pi cam. Not that it helps use the PICE outdoors without the glass, the PICE is designed for the stock Pi camera. 
  2. That, of course, presumes that the Raspberry Pi Foundation doesn’t go titsup. It’s been there longer than the average IoT platform and other cloud nastiness, and at least a working Pi would stay a working Pi albeit an increasing security liability if the Pi Foundation went down. That’s a step up from the longevity hazard that is any sort of SaaS or Cloud whatever, even from big companies

One thought on “Raspberry Pi camera after several years outside”

  1. They don’t teach you about environmental factors at university, it’s something you have to find out the hard way. Then, after your lovely electronics have been baked and frozen to destruction in the test chamber, you find that it’s not quite as easy as you thought!

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