How to Make a WiFi Target Camera – DIY Android Phone Target Camera

How I made a portable WiFi target camera for free I used stuff that I already had, some of which was just sitting unused, taking up space, and created a […]
DIY wifi target camera

This camera sends the target picture to the display at the shooting bench via wifi

How I made a portable WiFi target camera for free

I used stuff that I already had, some of which was just sitting unused, taking up space, and created a portable HD WiFi target camera system that allows me to see where my shots hit the target very clearly.

*as usual, we’ve added a bunch of product links in the text below to make it easy to research or buy the items mentioned.

Did I hit the target?!

Yeah… that was the first things my daughter said after her first 50 yard shot with the .22lr rifle. I believe everyone should learn how to shoot with iron sights, but the lack of magnified optic can make it impossible to see WHERE on the target you hit, or even IF you hit the target at all.

Many folks rely on a rifle scope to see where each new hole in the target appeared, sometimes with frustrating results. Others invest in a dedicated spotting scope with higher magnification, switching between the rifle and spotting scope after each shot, then back to the rifle for the next shot. It is a hassle, but it works better than walking to physically check the target after each shot.

Technology to the rescue!

I saw a video recently of a shooting range that was cut into a mountain in Switzerland where they have a closed circuit camera system that allows the shooter to quickly and easily see an image of the target on a screen right in front of them. Heck, at SHOT Show 2016 (the shooting industry’s biggest annual trade show) I saw several vendors with target camera systems for gun ranges… most in the $10,000 + price range. That got me thinking… With the advancements in technology recently, there must be a consumer grade target camera solution to solve this problem.

DIY_target_camera - Bullseye AmmoCam Long Range Edition w/ HD CameraShortly after SHOT Show I was at the 100 yard bench at the local private range when a guy arrived at the next bench over with a black box that resembled an oversized ammo can and asked if we could go cold so he could set up his new camera. As he explained, it was the Bullseye AmmoCam Long Range Edition w/ HD Camera and this was his very first trip to the range with it. The plastic box contained a battery powered digital HD camera and wireless router. He placed the box near the target backstop berm so that the camera was aimed at the special target board. Then he set up his tablet beside him on the shooting bench and used the proprietary app to see each shot as it hit the target. It was a pretty slick system and seemed to work rather well. He told me that he felt like the hardware itself was a bit overpriced, but he had really paid for the special software that marked where each shot hit the paper. After he used the Bullseye AmmoCam he seemed happy. Then he told me the price… he paid a bit over $650.

… and I was crushed
I was pretty pumped about the Bullseye AmmoCam Long Range Edition w/ HD Camera until learning that it was well out of my personal budget. Even their less expensive Bullseye AmmoCam Sight-In Edition for $350 was out of my price range. Caldwell also offers the Caldwell Ballistic Precision LR Target Camera System If you can fit any of these in your budget, then you may want to skip this Do It Yourself project and order one from the links I provided. However, I needed a solution that didn’t cost quite that much. I found a few battery powered IP cameras with built in routers that might do the trick (here is one: Mini Wireless HD WIFI Hot IP Camera), but the WiFi range is listed as up to 30 meters, and I am looking to shoot at least 100 – 200 yards with this setup. Besides, if I’m being honest, “free” would be better.

Problem Solved!

Like many people I have a stack of old smart phones (this is a link for “used android phone” on Amazon) sitting around gathering dust. I keep them around as a back-up for when (not if) I break my current phone. I used two old smart phones with no cellular service to create a self contained wifi target camera system.

DIY wifi target camera - laptop displayHere is how:

That is it! This simple DIY WiFi target camera setup worked out to around 100 yards in my initial testing using just the 2 smartphones. I used 2 old smart phone, but easily could have used one old smart phone as the camera and my current phone as the display and hot spot. I also tested using an android tablet and laptop as the display. Both worked great.

Need a longer range WiFi target camera?
I have two easy ways to extend the range of my DIY target camera with spare stuff I already have:

  • Put the Hot Spot phone half way between the target camera phone and the shooting bench, using my current smartphone (phone #3 in this setup) as the display… and doubling the WiFi range in the process.
  • Use a purpose built WiFi router either plugged in at the range, powered by an inverter in my vehicle, or from a 12V inverter connected to a battery (like a cheap ATV battery, car battery, or jump start pack)

If I didn’t already have these I could buy an inexpensive battery powered portable WiFi router like the TP-LINK TL-MR3040 Wireless N150 Portable Router, Battery Powered. Since there should be no obstructions between the target and the display, range should be far greater than most people experience when using routers in buildings with walls and other electronic interference.

Want a bigger display?

Simply connect any WiFi enabled device like an ipadandroid tablet or laptop with a modern web browser to your hot spot. In my limited testing I have had success with both an old Blackberry tablet and a Windows 10 laptop. I’ll see what other sorts of tablets I can get my hands on for testing.

DIY wifi target camera - cameral behind steel

xSteelTargets.com AR500 steel shielding the camera

Pimp your DIY target camera

Other helpful items I pulled out of my stash to make my DIY portable target camera system more effective:

  • To make it easy to steady the camera and aim it at the target, use a mini tripod with cell phone mount like this:  Mini 360 Rotatable Stand Adjustable Aluminum Tripod Mount with Holder for Cellphone. However, for most targets that are more than a foot or so off the ground I think I’ll upgrade to a 60″ tripod that will raise the camera to the height of the center of the target. It will mean offsetting the camera to the side of the target, but should provide  a better image for spotting bullet holes on the target.
  • So your phones don’t run out of juice prematurely, charge them with external battery packs:
  • Bulletproof protection… I have AR500 steel targets from XSteelTargets.com that I will hide the camera behind. If I didn’t, I would order this Ar500 Steel Gong 12″ X 20″ X 3/8″ Silhouette Shooting Target to place between the the camera phone and the shooter. This will allow me to more aggressively position my camera directly in front of the target for a clearer picture less distorted by the camera being angled to the target. You could get by with a smaller AR500 target, or probably even a lower grade of steel. However, I will also use the AR500 target as a target when it is not guarding the camera, so it will fill multiple roles.
  • Of course, if you hide the phone behind AR500 Steel, then you will need to position a WiFi router within line of sight of the camera (probably off to the side), else the wifi signal will be blocked.
  • If you are afraid of bullet splash you might put the phone in a protective case like this Pelican 1050-026-100 Small Case with Clear Lid

You might not need the battery pack(s) and USB cables if your phones have sufficient battery life. One of my phones had plenty of juice, the other would only last for about an hour as the Target Camera before the battery was dead.

WiFi Behaving Badly

I learned a thing or two the hard way and would like to save you the aggravation:

  • This DIY target camera setup will work just fine with a fast internet enabled connection. However, my shooting club does not have WiFi, so I wanted to test the range of the phone to phone Hot Spot WiFi connection with no internet access.
  • My Android phones would complain that the WiFi Hot Spot had no internet connection. I had to click through a warning box that I wanted to remain connected, else the phone would disconnect from the local-only Hot Spot after about 1 minute.
  • While testing this at home I also had to make my phones “forget” the home WiFi connection. Otherwise, even after I clicked the warning and said I wanted to remain connected to the local-only Hot Spot, the phone would drop the connection and move back to my home WiFi connection after a few minutes. Apparently, the phone doesn’t like being connected to WiFi if is is only a local connection… although a local connection is all that is needed.
  • I also turned off the cellular data connection during testing on my active phone since I’ve read that some cellular network providers block streaming video data. It may work for you, or may not… but the data usage could be quite high.

Try this project and let us know how it works.

Defender Ammunition CompanyWhere’d you get that ammo, bro?

Gear Report is fortunate to be a part of Defender Ammunition Company’s Team Defender for 2016. As the sponsored review site Defender Ammo provides us with most of the ammo that we shoot in our reviews. For this review we shot Defender Ammunition Company .223 Remington 55gr FJM, .300 BLK 150 gr FMJ and .300 BLK 220 gr SMK Subsonics.

About Jeff

Jeff is the Editor in Chief of Gear Report and a National Shooting Sports Foundation Media member. He reports on the outdoor industry, reviews gear for camping, hiking, shooting, hunting, paddling, backpacking and other active pursuits. A USAF veteran, Jeff earned a MBA in Marketing and Health Services. He specializes in consultative selling and internet marketing. As the VP of BD & Marketing, Jeff provides sales and marketing leadership to MGECOM, Inc. and helps http://MGECOM.com acquire new clients in need of solutions for online merchants in need of Affiliate Marketing program management. Jeff founded and manages Cress Sales & Marketing LLC, offering online sales and marketing consulting and services to online merchants and service providers.