Capacitor Safety for Cameras

Capacitors are fairly common components when it comes to modifying/breaking electrical components.  However, they can be quite dangerous.  According to “repairfaq.org“,

“While accidental contact with capacitors on a 3.3 V logic board isn’t going to result in a shocking experience, this is not true of many common types of equipment including TVs, computer and other monitors, microwave ovens; the switchmode power supplies in some VCRs, laptop computers, camcorder battery chargers; electronic flash and other xenon strobes; laser power supplies, and many other consumer and industrial devices.”

camera partially disassmebled

Disassembled ==> Could be bad...

Most people familiar with electronics should know to be careful around TVs, but what many people wouldn’t think about is the smaller things, especially electronic flash devices.  Quite a bit of power is required to use a flash, and as such, quite a bit is stored in a camera’s capacitor.

I did an article about triggering your camera with an air freshener, which should be relatively safe.  However, upon reading this, someone might think, “well why not just take my camera apart and jumper the trigger with some sort of microcontroller or timer?”  I imagine this could be done, however, to safely do this you would have to use some precautions against charging (and unsafely discharging) your main capacitor.

Be aware that this capacitor can arc through uncovered circuits as shown above even if you don’t directly touch the leads.  Also, a camera’s capacitor can stay charged for a long time (a day is not nearly enough to discharge from ambient dissipation) so that’s another thing to take into account.  To rapidly discharge a capacitor, one might try shorting the leads together.  This is not a good idea either, as things may arc quite violently, and even after shorted one time, a capacitor can still have some charge left.

camera assembled

Mechanical trigger ==> Good

So, if you’re not a trained electrical technician, my advice would be to leave your camera’s cover on and use a mechanical method of triggering it.  Just as hacking devices can be enjoyable most of the time, it’s good to know when not to hack something.

Or just buy one that has the features you’re looking for.  There is no shame in this, and you’ll probably get better results anyway.  Here’s a Cannon Powershot870is that Google turned up.  Unfortunately, I have not found a cheap camera for doing time-lapse photography, but feel free to let me know of one in the comments.
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