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Breathing New Life into an Old Camera

Posted by Tom Benedict on 04/12/2010

So the title is a little misleading.  The camera really isn’t that old.  I built it a couple of years ago, but stopped using it after a while.  The camera in question is a 4×5 large format film camera built specifically for doing kite aerial photography, shown here with a Nikon Coolpix bolted to the side.

Needing Wind

The camera has flown on several occasions, but it’s not the easiest thing in the world to use.  Sheet film is loaded in standard 4×5 film holders in the back, and exposures are made one at a time.  To make another exposure, the camera must be reeled back down to the ground, the film holder changed, and the camera must then be taken back to altitude.  At several dollars worth of film and processing per shot, it’s an expensive and time consuming way to do KAP.  But the film that comes out of it is nothing short of spectacular.

The real catch has been aiming it.  Unlike my other KAP rig, this one has no servos, nothing to define a position.  The angles are all set on the ground, the camera is sent aloft, and the shutter is triggered through an RC transmitter.  The viewfinder is hope, plain and simple.  Another issue that has plagued the camera in the past is vibration.  It moves around in the air.  Because it has such a large cross-section and so little weight, there’s minimal moment of rotational inertia, so the camera bops around in the wind like a balloon.

But I think I have a solution for both of these issues.

A while back I got parts to build a mast head for a 25′ painter’s pole I have.  I since found I prefer to hang a full blown KAP rig from the top of the mast so that I can use my same field techniques with the pole that I do with a kite.  This has made for some nice big panoramas, even in very low light situations.  So I have all these parts lying around: transmitter, receiver, 900MHz video downlink, video camera, monitor, the whole nine yards.  Since I’m doing panos with both the mast and the kite rig, there’s no real need for video downlink.  But with the 4×5…

I don’t have the servos I’d need to move this thing around in the air.  But if I can see what it’s pointing at, I can decide whether to trip the shutter.  Also, if I can see when it reaches a point of minimal motion, that should help get rid of the motion blur I’m getting from high frequency oscillation.  So I’m planning to fit the video downlink rig onto the 4×5 KAP camera, and see what I see on the ground.  With any luck this may breathe new life into the thing, and let me try my hand at film once more.

– Tom


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