Next a small lever with guide and pull-rod is fitted to the set-up, this protrudes from under the wing LE and allows me to nudge the video record/stop button as required.

The wing is carefully fitted so as not to knock any of the camera controls on various cables connecting wing and fuz.

Before launching I peer through a small hole in the side of the fuz to check that the red record indicator is showing on the screen. And now it should be ready to roll...

The main problem with the video camera is that it has to come out to switch it on and off, and it has a lot of protruding buttons which are easy to catch.

The stills camera can be powered up/down in situ, a switch being mounted on the fuz. It only comes out to review the shots. It does have a habit of powering up in low resolution and I have to check for this and correct it if required. Since this is only detectable by reading the info displayed on the screen there is a peephole in the side of the fuz. Very annoying to find you have got a set of excellent shots at 640 x 480 res.
What Camera?

There are any amount of cheap digital cameras on the market today and nearly all are small and lightweight, eminently suitable for carrying aloft. Most will not have any remote facility so will require the shutter to be mechanically operated by a servo. That said, it is possible to take one apart and pick up the shutter release contacts, and perhaps those of the on/off switch. If this can be done it makes for a much smaller, lighter and more reliable set up.

I have done this for the Olympus C2000Z and Fuji A203 that I have used for the shots on this site. However, this requires a tad more electronics confidence than most modellers will admit to. Information from a service manual is very helpful in working out how to get the thing apart without damage. Most cameras are fairly secretive about how they come apart.
Cameras and the Shutter Release


Manufacturers can be very tight about revealing how to take their products apart; the worst in my experience is Nikon, who just would not let me past the switchboard when I wanted to talk to the service department. This may be a safety issue - see the warning below about the flash circuitry.

It may be thought that a way to bypass this whole issue is to pick a camera with a repetative timer function, but these are few and far between. In addition, the shortest interval offered is usually one minute as this function is intended for time lapse photography. In any case there is a lot to be said for being absolutely in charge of when the shot is taken; holding a particular attitude and heading for several seconds to be sure the timer has grabbed the shot is difficult - much better to just throw a switch.
Ideal Requirements

These comments are mainly directed toward stills cameras although obviously much is applicable to video. The main requirements apart from size and weight is a decent lens. Any stills camera today will be more than adequate on pixel count, but lens quality can vary a lot. If you stick with a major name (Nikon, Canon, Olympus etc.) this should guarantee a good lens.

There are  other features that are just as important. The most important one in my view is the ability to focus quickly and accurately - don't assume this is a given. Some cameras are very poor in this area. The most that can be said is that that generally if focus cannot be acquired the system will default to infinity, which what is wanted. However, this takes time so leads to a significant delay in capturing the shot. If the camera is slow or unreliable on autofocussing (get one that is better!) can it be set to infinity on manual focus?

Another desireable feature is the ability to achieve accurate exposure under rapidly changing light conditions as the aircraft turns into the sun - this is particularly noticable with video cameras. The FlyCamOne gets dazzled for several seconds when this happens.

The higher the shutter speed the better, and if the camera can be set to shutter-speed priority this will prevent the auto-mode


setting a slower speed which can cause camera shake and panning-blur, particularly in an IC-powered model. Consider using the sport setting to force higher shutter speeds.

Most cameras time-out to save power if this are no button-presses for a while and sometimes this cannot be extented beyond a certain period. What happens next depends on the camera; some will wake up on a shutter-press, like the Olympus, others require a depression of the power button. Potentially this means two lots of button-pushing gear - frustrating and unwieldy to say the least. A way round this is to ensure that a shutter-push takes place within the time-out period, either manually or via a timer... Much better to chose a camera that does not have this limitation.

Assuming you are going the low-tech route of a servo, how is the servo to be mounted to the camera? A tripod mount can offer a bracket-mounting option that might otherwise need to be engineered. The coupling needs to be secure and reliable.

Of course, if you are taking video then the camera can be set running manually before takeoff and stopped when back on the ground. This is invariably what I have done.

It is well worth exploring the menus to see just what can or can't be configured as the right camera set-up can make your system much easier to operate.
Preflight Checks

Something that will need careful consideration whatever type of photography you indulge in is how the camera will be powered on and off, and generally set up. Also, how you will verify that it is in the mode you want, before takeoff. Frustration rules when you have to disassemble the aircraft to switch on, having previously forgotten this vital step. My Panasonic video camera has a typical reversible, flip-out screen which covers the power switch. This means it has to come out to be switched on, disturbing everything as it fits under the wing. The set-up procedure is as follows:

A standard preflight check is done on the model/control gear to confirm that this side of things all functions properly.

The camera is switched to video mode and the screen reversed and flipped back (it must be reversed or the thing will shut down when it closes, also no can see what it's doing).

The camera is then inserted into its bed of foam, chocked with additional foam pieces and the zoom controls (easily knocked or left in the wrong position) set to wide angle. I check that the camera is level, well insulated against vibration and that the shutter cover is open.
Dave Blandford
Dave B's Aerial Photography Site
Zoom Control

I experimented with the zoom function on the Olympus 2000Z, a 3x optical zoom covering 35 - 105mm in 35mm terms and quickly found that all it did was to optically reduce the altitude while magnifying the camera-shake. The only value would be in zooming in just enough to remove the wing from the shot, but I quite like it there anyway. The bottom line would appear to be - don't bother, take everything at wide-angle. This is the best setting for minimising camera-shake.


Much the same applies to video cameras, but in addition to blurred footage they suffer from being bounced about so that the end product is unwatchable. A supplementary diverging lens can help reduce this, in effect by zooming out to a wider viewpoint.

In addition, post processing to deshake the video is possible. VirtualDub is a free editor offering this feature.
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