Target Camera -- Wireless Wonder
Field-Tested System Works for 1000 Yards and Beyond
If you want to reliably see bullet holes at 400 yards and beyond you need a Target Cam. It will do what no conventional optical system can. Yes, with perfect viewing conditions (no mirage), the most expensive 40+ power riflescopes and spotting scopes might be able to resolve 6mm bullet holes at 600 yards, in the white. But add some mirage, or move the target to 750+ yards, and all bets are off. The truth is, when the mirage is really bad, even the finest optics will have trouble resolving 6mm bullet holes at just 400 yards... forget 800 or 1000!
So how do you see your shot impacts at long ranges (400 to 1000 yards)? An electronic Target Cam system, with wireless transmitter and receiver, is the answer. Place your camera a few yards from your target, set a monitor or TV set on your bench, and you will easily be able to see bullet holes at 1000 yards and beyond. The technology works, and it's not that expensive. Forrest Foster has put together a reliable, turn-key system for $825.00. In this article we review Foster's field-tested Target Cam and also explain how you can set-up your own wireless Target Cam system.
Electronic Target Cam Systems -- The Basics
There are four basic components in any wireless Target Cam system: electronic video camera, remote transmitter, local receiver, and a display unit (which can be a TV set, computer monitor, or dedicated display). For a camera, you can use a commercial-type security camera or a consumer camcorder. Security cams are more sturdy and weather resistant. However, a camcorder gives you the option of recording your shooting sessions (plus it is more versatile for other applications). The transmitter and receiver units are available from a variety of sources for $200-$500.00. You want to make sure they offer enough power to work effectively at long range.
Viewing Your Target
For the display, the simplest way to go (and what we recommend) is to purchase a used flat-screen computer monitor, at least 13" (diagonal) screen size. These can be obtained for $150.00 or less. A bigger screen lets you see more of the target frame while still keeping the bullet holes large enough to be easily seen. When shooting at 1000 yards you'll want to display at least 24" of target width (maybe more). A big screen is definitely recommended for 1000-yard shooting. Shown at right is a Samsung 15" (diagonal) LCD monitor displaying a target 1000 yards away. Generally speaking, when comparing TVs with computer monitors of equal size, the computer screens will give better resolution. Flat screens usually (but not always) have less glare than tube-type TVs. Another option is a lap-top computer. If your lap-top has AV inputs, you probably can use it as a self-powered target cam monitor. Since lap-tops have their own battery packs, you don't need to worry about a 120-volt power supply until the lap-top needs recharging.
Powering Your Target Cam System
Once you've got the hardware, then you'll need power sources for all the electrical units. Normally the camera, transmitter, and receiver run off 12 volt batteries. You'll need a 120 volt power source if you use a TV set or computer monitor as your display. There are a variety of ways to provide the 120 volt power. If your range has electrical outlets, just string an extension cord. Absent range-installed 120 volt power, you can run your TV or monitor off your vehicle battery, or you can use a portable power pack. To use vehicle power, you need a 12 volt to 120 volt inverter. These are relatively inexpensive; inverters run about $30.00-$40.00 and can be purchased from Home Depot style stores or online vendors such as TheInverterStore.com. If you don't want to use your vehicle's battery, portable powerpack units with 120 volt outlets can be purchased for $60-$100.00. These units, such as the Black & Decker Electromate 400, will run your monitor all day without a problem, and then can be recharged.
|Turn-Key Target Cam from Forrest Foster|
You can spend hours (or days) pouring through catalogs selecting components for a system, then spend more time hoping your gadgets all work together reliably and have enough effective range to deliver good results at long distances. Or you can contact Forrest Foster, an AccurateShooter.com Forum member and long-range shooter from South Dakota. Over the last couple of years, Forrest has experimented with a variety of Target Cam components. He's field-tested different cameras and transmitter/receiver packages and come up with an affordable system that works reliably at 1000 yards and beyond.
Contact Forrest Foster: (605) 342-8320 | FFoster [at] dsginc.biz
Foster offers his target-cam set up in two configurations. For $825.00 he supplies a quality Sony video cam, wireless transmitter and receiver, cables and powerful, rechargeable 12 volt batteries. All you need to do is add a monitor or small TV set. If you already have a video camera, Forrest offers the same package, without the Sony camera, for $525.00. Those prices even include shipping in the lower 48 states. Not counting the monitor, the whole system weighs about 20 pounds and will fit in a duffel bag.
Foster's system is ready-to-go and easy to set up (provided you know how to attached color-coded cables). Forum member Donovan has tested Foster's system and provides a user review below. Overall he's very happy with the system: "I suggest that anyone interested in a Target Cam should give Forrest a call or email him. He can answer your technical questions. He researched and tried several different systems before committing to the particular components he sells. His set-up is a proven 'high quality' working system that performs reliably out to 1000 yards. Count me a very satisfied customer!"
Foster tells us: "Have you ever been shooting and wondered 'Where did that shot go?' Do you often practice by yourself with no one able to spot for you? Ideally, when practicing, you want to see ALL your shots in all weather conditions. But, at 600 or 1000 yards, no matter how good you spotting scope is, you will not be able to see your bullet holes on the target all the time. A wireless Target Camera can make that possible. With this you can see your bullet holes right at the bench and don't need a spotter. You can practice for High Power or F-class matches without the use of a live pit or the need for another person. Just shoot and look at the TV screen. My Wireless Target Camera system consists of a high power transmitter, receiver, high-resolution color security camera, and rechargeable batteries to power the units. The system is also available without the camera if one already has a home video camera with component video output."
As explained above, Foster's target cam system costs $825.00 with camera or $525.00 without camera. In addition, the shooter needs to provide three components: a small TV/monitor, 120v power source/adapter, and a tripod. That's about $150-$200.00 worth of hardware if purchased new, but many shooters many already have some or all of this equipment. Here's what you'll need:
One 13" TV $100 (17" or 19" flat-screen monitor recommended)
One 12v to 120v inverter, $30.00
... OR a portable PowerPack ($60-$100)
One folding tripod, $15-$30.00
Editor's NOTE: If you're looking for a sturdy, all-metal tripod, shop for a used Davidson Star-D on eBay. You can find these high-quality tripods for $25.00 or less. The Star-D Pro design is the same as the Leitz "Tilt-All", which retails for $100-120. Though identical, on eBay Star-Ds cost less than used Tilt-Alls.
|Operation of Target Cam System--Helpful Hints|
Forrest Foster has a number of tips that will help you get the most out of your Target Cam system. Field-testing has shown how to get the best performance out of the system and minimize the risk of hitting your camera with errant shots:
Camera Placement: Set your video camera far enough away from the target that there is no chance of hitting the equipment with a missed shot. If there are other shooters on the range consider where their misses might go. Normally you can set the camera about 20-25 feet short of the target and about 8 feet to the side. Use the zoom control on the camera to center the target image and display enough of the target paper to see all your shots. I adjust the tripod to set the camera's vertical height even with the center of the target.
Antenna Placement and Height: Normally I just attach the transmitter to the upper section of a tripod leg, with the antenna pointed upwards. In one situation where there was a slight rise or mound between the tripod and the bench, I had to raise the antenna up to waist height to get good reception. It is important to maintain clear "line of sight" between the transmitter and the receiver. If necessary you could mount the antenna on a tall pole--but you probably won't have to do that.
Target Display Size: How much of the target you want to display will depend on the distance at which you're shooting (and, to some extent, the accuracy of your rifle). At 300 yards, I like to zoom in pretty tight, so the monitor screen shows about 18" of target width (6 MOA). At 600 yards, I like to display the entire width of the IBS 600 yard target, which is 21" x 24". For sighting-in, you may want to go wider. For 1000-yard shooting, you'll want a pretty big field, at least for starters. Try showing about 40" of target width. Remember that's only 4 MOA (roughly) at 1000 yards.
Battery Maintenance: Foster supplies fairly big, heavy-duty rechargeable batteries with his unit. These will drive the transmitters and receivers a full day or longer. The batteries can be recharged with a trickle charger. It takes about 12 hours for a full charging cycle. During very cold weather, try to keep the batteries at "room temperature" until ready to use.
|How Well Does the Target Cam Work -- USER REVIEW|
Forum member Donovan has used Foster's target cam system extensively, and currently has it deployed using an older camcorder rather than the Sony device. Donovan is highly pleased with the set-up and says it works great all the way out to 1000 yards. Donovan writes:
"For those interested, I am one of Forrest's system testers. With a cheap Sanyo 21" TV, I get a great picture of the target at 1000 yards. With a Samsung 151MP flat screen, I get a better target view yet. The video camera that Forrest sells with the system features a variable focal 5-50x lens. In testing, I have placed it as close as 5 feet and as far as 75 feet (25 yards) away from the target with no difference in quality of view on the screen. Just simply adjust the zoom to the amount of target you want displayed.
When set up at 300, 600, and 1000 yards, I did not see any difference in picture quality, as received back at the bench. 1000 yards is the farthest distance at which I've used the Target Cam system, but I'm sure it would transmit and receive further.
For my normal setup with a 1000-yard target, I put the camera on a tripod and have it positioned at target height. I have it placed about 25 feet back and about 5 feet off to the side of line of fire. With this placement, I would have to shoot a couple MOA low AND a couple MOA wide before I would hit the cam.
The quality of a picture I see on my Samsung 151MP flat screen is like watching a DVD. With my cheap 21" TV, the colors and contrast are of lesser quality, but there is still no problem seeing all the bullet holes. To give you an idea of the image quality, if a fly or mosquito lands on the target or buzzes around, you will see it as well. And compared to a riflescope, even the very best of scopes, you can't beat the TV image for long-range viewing. At sunset, when the target is getting hard to see with my NF scope, the TV picture is still spectacular."
|Component Sources for Home-Built Target Cam Systems|
Foster's system is fairly priced, given the fact that he has field-tested all the components and put together a high-quality system that works without a hitch. For $825.00 he supplies all the key components: Hi-Res Color Video Camera, compact A/V transmitter and receiver, two (2) heavy-duty, rechargeable 12-volt batteries, and A/V cables. All you need is a 13" or larger monitor or TV set and an extension cord (or 12v/120v inverter). If you want to save money, you can supply your own video camera and knock $300 off the price. But if that's still cost-prohibitive, readers on a tight budget can piece together their own target-cam system. You can obtain less expensive electronics, use cheaper batteries, and save a few bucks in the process.
Forum member TailDrag15X has put together a few target cam systems. He's identified some good Audio/Video wireless components at reasonable prices. Below are his recommendations. Keep in mind that AccurateShooter.com has NOT checked out these sellers or these specific components. If you want a field-tested set-up, call Foster.
Building a System is Not Difficult
TailDrag15X explains: "To see your bullet holes at long range, all you need in addition to the transmitter/receiver units are two good power supplies, a camera, and a cheap computer monitor or TV set with 'video-in' jacks. I even have a 13" TV/VCR combo that I can record with. Having a camera with Audio capability is a plus.
I have used my set-up for practice out to 1000 yards with no complaints from the locals about problems with TV reception or the like. I'm gonna try to use my new mini system (1000 feet for a cost of $100) at our local F-Class Matches this year. I'm sure I'll hear complaints there!"
|Another Option -- Compact Digital Camcorder|
Forrest Foster's Target Cam system comes complete with a high-quality Sony color video camera commonly used with security systems. The Sony camera adds $300.00 to the system price ($825 with camera vs. $525.00 without). For not much more than the price of the Sony security camera, you can buy a modern digital camcorder that will both display the target image AND record your range sessions. There are many, many good camcorders on the market now, but we recommend the new Canon "FS" series. These record video to digital flash memory (no tapes). The cameras are small and light, and offer excellent resolution. The FS10 model, with 8 gigs of internal memory AND a slot for a removable flash card, costs just $359.95 at Adorama, one of our sponsors.
Small is Good
For a Target Cam, compact size is a good thing. A small camera is harder to hit with an errant shot, and it is easier to shield with a metal cover. Just 4.9" long and 2.4" wide by 2.3" tall, the Canon FS10 could easily be placed inside a piece of steel pipe to prevent impact damage. The FS10 is quite a bit smaller than a soda can--that should explain how easily it could be shielded with metal armor. And with its powerful 48X zoom, you can set the FS10 many yards from the target as further insurance against bullet strikes.
Since it is all-digital, the FS10 operates with no moving parts, even while recording. As a result it requires very little electrical power so the battery lasts a long time. When operating the FS10 camcorder, you can expect 2.5 to 3 hours of continuous "run time" on a fully charged battery. The FS10 comes with a rechargeable Lithium Ion battery.
How Is the Resolution?
The Canon FS10 boasts a 48X optical zoom. With the camera positioned a full fifty (50) yards from a target, and zoomed to display about 24" of target width on a 13" TV screen, we could easily resolve 22-caliber bullet holes... in the black. No problem. Recorded video, when played back on a wide-screen TV, was near-broadcast quality. If you want even higher resolution, Canon makes a similar-sized HD (High Definition) camcorder, the Vixia HG10. This state-of-the art HD device delivers nearly twice the resolution as the FS10--much higher resolution than your monitor can probably display. The HG10 costs $649.95 at Adorama.
Be Careful in Rainy or Dusty Conditions
The Canon FS10 (like most other consumer camcorders) has a plastic shell with many exposed, external controls and ports. The unit isn't very weatherproof, so rain and blowing dust/sand could cause problems. The FS10 was NOT designed for beach landings! If you regularly shoot in wet, rainy conditions, or where there is a lot of blowing dust, a metal-bodied, weather-resistant security cam would be a better choice. Some security cameras are designed for long-term outdoor installations and they will survive better in harsh conditions. That said, you could easily protect an FS10 or similar unit from light mist or dust by wrapping the camera in a plastic bag, or mounting the camera inside a weatherproof box. The FS10 is compact enought that you could easily fabricate a wind/rain shield from a plastic milk bottle.
Topics: Camera, Video, Lens, Shooting, Target, Target Cam, Sony, Canon, VideoCam, Camcorder, Paper Target, Optics, Spotting Scopes, Rifle Scopes, LCD, CRT, Samsung, Target Monitor, Transmitter, Receiver, Transceiver, Boost, Antenna, Range, Wavelength, Frequency, Zoom, Score, High Power, Forrest Foster, Donovan Moran.