Recommendations for Digital Camera for rocket photography use

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RSOs consider photographers to be expendable...
5MP really doesn't fit my budget right now. I'm looking in the $300+/- range.
I caught a Super Loki Dart just out of its tower from 350'! It's been a while since I did serious 35mm work, but I was always pretty good at catching liftoff shots of rockets. The closer you are to ignition, the less motion blur you get. I often got them still on the pad. Not sure what 50 year old reflexes will do...
And compared to MR they really move SLOW...
Bob Kaplow NAR # 18L TRA # "Impeach the TRA BoD" >>> To reply, remove the TRABoD!
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Bob Kaplow
Check shopper.cnet.com (or any of the other price search pages) you'll find both the Olympus C-740 and Fuji S5000 for low 300's. I feel the extra $50 or so over the previous models is money well spent because of the improvements you gain.
The S5000 was not available when I bought my C-740, otherwise it would have made the decision more difficult. I think the Olympus takes better photos but the S5000 has the best continuous mode of any current digital in the ~$300 price range. (that I'm aware of)
S5000 specs: 1.8 frames per second continuous or Final 5 frames at 5 fps (hold your finger down until the rocket leaves the pad then take your finger off and it keeps the last 5 frames) that is really awesome for those rockets that like to chuff on the pad before they reach full pressure.
Compared to the C-740: 1.4 fps up to 11 frames Here's an example from my 740:
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(warning, not rockets) or 2 fps for 3 frames (this is the mode i find myself using for most liftoffs)
Look through the reviews and sample photo galleries on the review sites that myself and others have mentioned and decide for yourself.
Of course! My previous digital had a 3x zoom and I added a 1.45 teleconverter but it's no match for my current 10x. (you can always add a 1.7x teleconverter if 10x isn't enough)
Yeah, xD is the replacement for SmartMedia, one more reason not to buy a SM camera. I use xD, SmartMedia and Compact Flash for all my gadgets. CF is the most widely used (and you can get microdrives of several gigabytes). xD is the smallest (some say too small) There are some boring differences, which kind has inherently faster bus speeds, which have performance cards available, etc... the cards are really no big deal because the second thing you buy (after Ni-Mh batteries) is going to be a multi card reader. They run anywhere from $10 to $50. Mine is made by Lexarmedia and was about $30 from Wallyworld.
Dan Chandler Southern New England Association of Rocketry
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Dan Chandler
The 602 is a nice camera, I'm jealous of the manual focus ring you have. Autofocus is normally fine for the launch site, but I was on a hike earlier this year and auto didn't work for this shot:
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the time i was able to focus properly, the bird was gone. kinda wished I had your 602 that day.
Circuit City carried the S602z's briefly then they blew them all out one week for like $175. I called every store within 200 miles and couldn't find one. :-(
Cool, day 3 looks like you got some shots of my stuff!
Dan Chandler Southern New England Association of Rocketry
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Dan Chandler
Chris, you're way off on this statement... The more megapixels you have, the bigger prints you can make and you have more room to crop your photo if/when you edit it after.
More megapixels doesn't mean you'll even catch a liftoff. I've got dozens if not hundreds of liftoff shots from my old Olympus D-500L digital which is 0.85 megapixel (good for web, but not prints)
If you don't have a well trained trigger finger, the best way to catch liftoff shots is to use a continuous mode (autowinder for you 35mm folks) btw, the Canon 1Ds is only 3fps for 10 shots. the 1D(not s) is 8fps for 21 shots
What sized prints are you thinking? 3.2 megapixel is fine for 4x6, Poster size would require more. I've heard of 6 megapixel shots being used for billboard work (though after some work).
TTL Optical viewfinders are nice, my old digital had one, new one doesn't. A digital viewfinder is something you can get used to, but it is easier if you have optical. TTL Optical is rare on sub $500 big zoom cameras.
Compose the shot, press the button half way for focus-lock (unless you have manual focus) then it's all about reaction time. "headaches" only last till you're comfortable using your camera.
Yup, practice is a good thing. I'd still be more confident getting a liftoff shot with my old 500L than my new cam which I've had for ~6 months. Reason being I've taken 10,000 shots with my old cam compared to 1,200 with the new one.
That's why continuous drive kicks butt till you've got your skills ready, or if you want shots going up.
The digital Rebel is an AWESOME camera (for $1000), but if you're already spending a grand, why not spend a couple hundred more and get the 10D which has better specs for us rocket folks. You need an excuse to buy a different lens anyway ;-)
Yes, always study the cameras you're thinking of. Another thing I've done is bought small memory cards of different formats (cheap), gone to the electronics stores and tried out each camera. Take the cards home and that way you can compare the output Apples to Apples. This requires that you already have a multi-format card reader.
Chris, you did a nice job capturing shots at NARAM. This is coming from a fellow amateur photographer.
Dan Chandler Southern New England Association of Rocketry
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Dan Chandler
Well the thing that got me going was a flier a colleague brought into the office, with a one day sale on the C-720. Based on your comments, I've decided to pass it over. Now I'm in no rush to decide between the S5000 and the C740. So far best prices I've found are $304 and $359 respectively.
In the same class I also found a Minolta Z1 ($290) and a Toshiba M700 (307) both with 10X zoom.
Well, I've got 4 NiMH already, for my GPS. I guess if the camera eats 4 AA then I'll be in the market for 8 more of them. Might be time to upgrade from the 4 cell charger to the 8 cell charger too. I can see needing to charge NINE to FIFTEEN cells after a day on the rocket field: 4 camera, 3 FRS (times 3 FRS radios), and 2 GPS!
My camcorder takes MMC/SD and both the Pencam SD and my new PDA use the SD. Is xD related at all to SD? I suppose there are some advantages to all your toys eating the same memory chips. But so far my memory chip investment is minimal. What's the market in used SD cards for my Pencam and PDA? I wonder if I can take the Pencam chip and put it in the PDA for viewing?
Bob Kaplow NAR # 18L TRA # "Impeach the TRA BoD" >>> To reply, remove the TRABoD!
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Bob Kaplow
I've always maintained that a good finger is better than most motor drives, at least with film cameras. I probalby shot better than 90% on liftoff shots over the years. WIth motor drive, you got one shot before ignition, then the next after the rocket is gone and only a smoke trail is left. Unless you got a REAL fast drive.
I'm looking more for "digital scrapbook" both for family and rocket flying. Publishing quality 8x10s are NOT in the requirements. I've still got a perfectly good 35mm SLR if I need to do that.
Bob Kaplow NAR # 18L TRA # "Impeach the TRA BoD" >>> To reply, remove the TRABoD!
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Bob Kaplow
I was going to upgrade to the 5700 but I immediately decided against it when I found out they had to ditch the optical viewfinder.
it has an EVF Electronic View Finder. Virtually useless for rocketry.
the new 5400 does have a 4x zoom and when the 2x adapter come out that will net you 8x
Chris Taylor
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Chris Taylor Jr
If you wait more than a few months, there will be a new crop of cameras. But don't let that stop you from getting a camera you like now.
Back a few years ago, I had a friend who was looking for his first PC. He did all the right research and found out some cool new features would be released in a few months. So he waited and found out more stuff would be out in a few MORE months. He ended up waiting 2 years before he finally bought his computer, when he should have just bought one in the first place.
So I guess my point is... It'll be obsolete in 3 years anyways. If ya find one ya like, go buy it. practice with it over the holidays and you'll be set for next launching season
Well they both have more of that "purple fringing" than I like. (look for it around the edges of white areas of a photo) But of those two, I like the Minolta way better than the Toshiba.
While you're shelling out the cash for a camera, why not buy a couple Garmin Rino's that way you'll combine the GPS with FRS and have less stuff to charge! haha spend everything :)
I completely understand if going with a matching set would give you that "warm n fuzzy" feeling. I'm repairing a laptop right now for someone and it has a built in SD reader. That alone would probably sway my camera decision. (if it was my laptop)
I don't see why the PDA wouldn't read the pencam card unless it's formatted differently. There's one obvious way to find out. I doubt anything would be permanently damaged :-)
Dan Chandler Southern New England Association of Rocketry
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Dan Chandler
You can can almsot anything from 350ft away. although getting out just out of the tower is VERY VERY impressive !! (or lucky or both :-)
Actually HPR being slow is an illusion created by the greater distance you are from the rocket.
Since I shoot digital I have to milk every pixel of info I can from the capture. this means filling the frame as much as I can with rocket. doing this makes shooting MUCH MUCH harder.
Try shooting an HPR rocket from 50 feet away or 30 feet. it gets VERY VERY hard :-)
I wish NAR would let me sign a waiver waiving all rights when I photograph so I can get "closer" than normally permitted. but that combined with the regulatory crap of late makes that unlikely. :-(
Chris Taylor
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Chris Taylor Jr
if you pda can read SD and JPG then yes you can view in the PDA
I used to do this with my pocket pc before I sold it.
as for Memory cards. pricewatch. (newegg also has good prices and good reliable service)
XD is another completely different format
as for reading these cards. go to walmart. $30 will get you a USB2 (and 1) compatible reader that can handle every single standard format out today.
Chris Taylor
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Chris Taylor Jr
I used a Poloroid PDC 700 camera for the longest time (.85mp)
I could catch any rocket under the sun with that camera. shortest damned lag time I have EVER seen in a digital camera.
Want to know why you do not see ANY pictures of my nearly 100% success ratio with that camera ? cause the rocket was this tiny little pixelated blob in the middle of the image. thats why.
MP is king for lift off shots (with the exceptions that I listed earlier off course)
DOes not matter how fast your finger is if you can not use the image. (now we have have different measures of "usability" in an image that I can see your point about)
11mp means you are HIGHER res than 35mm. you need nothing mroe but to practice.
but if you have 5mp like I do you are in limbo. first you need a fast finger. second you need an EVEN FASTER finger in order to get in close.
Crop later does not work for digital (agian unless you got taht 6k camera) with digital you crop in the camera or you get a pixel blob.
just look at my naramlive site. I ommited most but I did post some. Heavily cropped to show this tiny little spec. classic example. the MMAxx shuttle I caught. its a BARELY recognizable shuttle shaped blob.
Resolution is everything.
3mp is fine for general shots since when shooting People etc.. you have more in camera crop ability (just walk closer)
but with rockets you are limited in both how close you can get and how effective your finger is at x distance etc..
I have been shooting for over 15 years. Rockets for over 10 digital for over 5. I have developed quite a finger for it. the COolpix finally lets me do more digital than film (very very costly) digital is free.
Chris Taylor
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Chris Taylor Jr
I will take a gamble on that might miss it 11mp shot verse the motor drive 6mp anyday.
8fps is sweet. you will catch a rocket with that (99% likely)
anything less than 8fps though and you stand a greater chance of the rocket going off inbetween your shooting interval than DURING it.
Here is how I use High Speed shooting on my coolpix.
I set it up for Motor Drive mode.
I do not depend on that to GET the lift off. I use my finger like always to do that.
where it comes in nice is if I "continue" to track the rocket while holding the button. Sometimes I get interesting IN air shots from underneath. Nice flame shots etc.. sometimes an early ejections.
I got my lift off. everything else is cream.
as for print size. remember when shooting most rockets you are NOT capturing at the res of your camera. MOST of that res is wasted on "sky"
once you crop you Very quickly run out of pixels. hence getting close and being fast.
You might consider a 4mp camera. only $100-$150 more than you ar elooking at now and the Canon G# camera's are OWE so sweet. My final decision process was between the canon G3 and the Nikon. the greater mp of the nikon won out.
Chris Taylor
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Chris Taylor Jr
makes them useless (for close in shots)
COnsult steve's digicams or dpreview lag time is one of the thing they test and measure.
Remember also their are two different times you need to be concerned with.
Full Press and half press then finish press shots.
Full Press the Nikon SUCKS BALLS I have missed so many shots because the damned thing just would not get it act together.
but for lift off's its VERY good sinc eyou half press pre do all your crap and them full press. in that usage the lag time is effectively zero.
Chris Taylor
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Chris Taylor Jr
Chris, for your review:
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(warning, not all rockets)
So everything is tiny little pixelated blobs? These are all from my .85 mp camera. I happen to think they're quite useable for web publishing.
Dan Chandler Southern New England Association of Rocketry
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Dan Chandler
Nice shots. Especially the F-16's on the bottom SWEET shot. That RC Truck shot is also VERY cool.
but note. Most of the rockets are on the larger side and you appear to either be much closer than is normally allowed OR you have a zoom.
Remember having a .85mp camera with a 3x zoom is EXACTLY equal to having a 2.5mp camera with no zoom. Zoom literally is in camera crop and always a big big plus. The ONLY reason my 5mp camera is moderatly effective is that I have a 3x zoon (wish it was 6)
Also the croc/gator shot. either you got a REALLY long zoom on that camera OR you have much larger Balls than I do :-) hehehe
I have thousands (I think around 3800) pictures that I took with my .3 MP camera. My QV10 and QV100 which maxed at 640x480 (still have that camera alas it does not work so well anymore)
Would I shoot a rocket with it and expect very much? no. Same with the .85
I have actually gotten some "somewhat" usable rocket shots with my PDC700 (image size 1024x768) but I was VERY VERY close to the pad and it was a relatively large slow rocket and I got REALLY lucky.
Most of the liftoff shots I got with it were low enough in res that you would have trouble identifying the rocket if someone did not tell you what rocket it was OR you were very familiar with the rocket shape etc..
its just too small (and not even any zoom at all in the pdc700)
you have a 1024x768 image of which around 50x100 pixels was the actual rocket if you were very very lucky.
with 5mp by the time I crop I end up at .85 mp but a fully usable .85mp (barely) and as you can see by my site I am VERY good at shooting rockets.
When resolution is that low it simply becomes your limiting factor. even your Sun Flower consumes some 20% of the pixels you have availble.
Now imagine that same picture but the rocket consumes on one half the number of pixels as ONE of the petals on that flower. all of a sudden its far less usable.
I will post some of my better one later (from the pdc) so you can see.
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Chris Taylor Jr
I've always maintained that any computer product you buy in the store today is ALREADY obsolete. Yet my 33 year old SLR is NOT!.
Neither of the Rino's offer the magnetic compass necessary for Site N Go rocket finding.
Bob Kaplow NAR # 18L TRA # "Impeach the TRA BoD" >>> To reply, remove the TRABoD!
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Bob Kaplow
Almost anything does NOT include a Mach 5+ Super Loki Dart. I'm still amazed that I got anything. I told everyone around that NO ONE would be able to catch the thing at liftoff. I don't know if it was an accident or just dumb luck. This thing disappears as fast as a Mosquito.
Actually not. My L1 cert flight peaked at about 5Gs. A mosquito can do over 100Gs. MUCH faster acceleration.
Every one considers me to be a hard assed RSO. But I'd let you get as close as you wanted to the lift-off :-)
Bob Kaplow NAR # 18L TRA # "Impeach the TRA BoD" >>> To reply, remove the TRABoD!
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Bob Kaplow
I found the Canon G3 for $613. Buit with only a 4X zoom it's like I'm only using 1mp of the 4mp compared to an 8X zoom. Ditto for the Nikon. With the 10x zoom I can get a LOT closer than your 4x, more than making up for the 25% less pixels. At least for now, silicon is cheaper in lense form than in CCD form.
Bob Kaplow NAR # 18L TRA # "Impeach the TRA BoD" >>> To reply, remove the TRABoD!
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Bob Kaplow

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