Nevada Space Grant
High-Altitude Ballooning

This program is generously supported by the Nevada Space Grant Consortium

Site Navigation:

BalloonSAT Home
   Film camera
   Digital Camera
Data Loggers
Power Supplies

Project Records



We have used several digital cameras over the years, ranging from the super cheap to prosumer digital SLR. Some have worked very well for us some have not. What we have discovered is that digital cameras work much better when the pictures are stored non-volatile media (e.g. SD or CF card).  That means that cameras with built in memory while being lighter and cheaper will lose all your pictures if the battery voltage gets to low.  Cameras with cards (SMC, Compact Flash, SD, Sony Memory Sticks) will keep whatever pictures it has taken for a long time with no power to keep them in memory.

If you want to include several cameras (one in each payload) here are some things to think about:

  • LCDs add weight and there is no one to check picture quality so they are useless
  • Zoom lenses are heavy and use batteries up faster
  • Find a camera that's a good balance between quality and weight
  • Figure out how often you want or have to take pictures and select a camera accordingly
  • Get one camera and test it out before you buy a bunch (just bag it up and put it somewhere cold and let it take pictures.
  • If the camera doesn't have an interval timer, you are going to have to solder timing circuit wires to the camera shutter release so get good at soldering first.
  • Look for a camera with manual focus (everything is at infinity when on a balloon at 100,000 feet).
  • Look for a camera with manual shutter priority (1/500 sec is typically what we use to prevent bluring of photos).
  • You will have to heat the payload to keep a digital camera running (the batteries do not tolerate the cold very well).

If you are going to fly one high-quality camera here are some things to think about:

  • Try get a digital SLRs with an external shutter release. Easy to control the shutter with a simple relay. Be aware that many cameras use a serial protocol rather than a simple switch.
  • Relatively high-end point and shoot cameras (e.g. Nikon Coolpix) are good alternatives to digital SLRs.
  • Harbortronics makes a nifty device for controlling the shutter release of many digital cameras.
  • Use a lens hood to protect the lens during impact.

Here are some the of the digital cameras we have flow recently: 

Nikon Coolpix S9

Has buit-in interval timer

Fairly light (~200 grams)

This is our "standard" camera
used on student payloads.

Kodak Easyshare V705

Very wide lens, equivalent to 23mm
lens on a SLR

Needs to have shutter release "hacked"
and a timer circuit. VERY hard to "hack"

Fairly light (~200 grams)

We've flown this a couple of times. With good results.

Canon Rebel XTi

This is grandaddy of our flight cameras.

We used sigma 10-20mm wide angle lens to get maximum coverage

One of the lightest digital SLRs around, but the paylaod still ends up around 2 kg

Capable of using a 16GB CF card, which hold about 1800 photos in RAW format (that's a lot pictures to go through!)

We use exposure bracketing to maximize photo quality.

External shutter release only requires a relay to trigger.

Aiptek pencam SD

For $20, this camera is hard to beat - the SD card costs more than the camera!

We use this camera to capture low quality video.

Runs on 2 AAA batteries.

Relatively easy to hack the shutter release. Requires you to also hack the mode button.

Can only take upto 1024 seconds of video (17 minutes) at a time.

Actual video shot using the camera can be found in the mission galleries.

Aiptek Pocket DV5300

Another inexpensive Aiptek video camera ($50).

Records VGA resolution video.

Runs on 2 AAA batteries.

A 2GB SD card will record for about 3 hours, so you don't need to hack any buttons (simply record the entire mission).

Nikon Coolpix 5400

This is the newest camera in our arsenal (even though it is an old model)

Relatively cheap ($100 on eBay)

The FC-E9 fisheye lens gives this camera a 190 degree field of view

We are awating our first flight with this camera and lens. Stay tuned!

Requires a serial shutter release device. We use a digisnap by harbortronics.