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Field Technique Driving Design

Posted by Tom Benedict on 09/04/2011

For the last several months I’ve been working with some prototype KAP hardware.  I’m not at liberty to discuss it just yet, but suffice it to say that I’ve learned a lot from the experience.  Mostly what I’ve learned is that I like the way I do KAP, and I find other people’s gear less comfortable to use.  I say this knowing if I handed someone else my KAP gear they would likely find it equally uncomfortable.  No finger pointing here, except at myself.

This has given me reason and opportunity to think about how my technique in the field drives my design of kite aerial photography equipment.  Even when using off-the-shelf components, nearly every KAP rig winds up being hand-crafted to some degree.  We are all of us equipment designers.  All of us have different ideas about what is best, and so all of us design and build unique equipment.

What I came to realize is that I’m not a gear-head when it comes to photography.  I just like things to work.  It’s not that I prefer a point and shoot camera or always set my camera to automatic.  Honestly, I’m happiest with a large format view camera.  But I like the camera to work the same way every time, and I hate to have to fiddle with things in order to get what I want.  I like simple.  If I could make aerial photographs by simply pulling my camera from its bag, holding it up to my eye, and making an aerial photograph, I would.  But I can’t.  KAP is a compromise in that regard, but I’ve found ways to make it as close to this as I can:

  • I like kites with no more than one spar that needs to be installed.  I prefer if it is in no more than two pieces, and that those pieces stay together once assembled.  Unfortunately this makes my Dopero less than ideal for my purposes.  Given the choice, though, I’d rather set up a big rokkaku than a Dopero.  It’s less fiddly.
  • I like a winder that can wind under tension.  Most people in the kiting world will say this is a no-no.  I disagree.  If the winder is designed to take the forces generated with a hefty safety margin, there’s no problem using it this way.  And for the way I do KAP being able to take line in and out quickly while walking is a must.
  • I like a camera that saves its settings so I don’t have to monkey with it.  My current camera does this, and the new one I ordered will do this as well.  My big complaint with my current camera is that I have to start CHDK before lofting my camera.  It seems minor, but this single step has tripped me up more than once.  And more than once I’ve had to remove the camera from the rig, flip open the LCD, and fix what went wrong.  My new camera won’t have this issue.
  • I like a rig that just works: power it up, test it out, and send it aloft.  I’ve been very rigid about this with my own rigs, to the point where this has never been an issue in the field.
  • The same is true of my radio transmitter: power it up, test it out, send the camera aloft.  But the more I use it, and the more panoramas I do, the more I think a completely autonomous rig with no radio control is the route I’d like to go.  This single point is driving the design of the rig for my new camera more than anything else.
  • I don’t like having to fuss with the camera once I start work.  It bugs me that CHDK will only self-boot on 4GB or smaller cards.  I’d far rather fly a 32GB card and never have to stop.  Since the T2i can’t run CHDK, and doesn’t strictly need it for KAP, I got a 32GB card for my new camera.
  • I like to know my image processing software can handle whatever I throw at it.  With the T2i I’m finally venturing into the land of the RAW file.  I’m not happy with my RAW processing tools.  This is something I plan to work out on the ground before I ever send that camera aloft.

That’s it.  Design philosophy in a can.

This is why the first rig for my new camera will not include a radio.  It will not include a video downlink.  It likely won’t include a tilt servo.  It’s going to be strictly for panoramas, and I plan to make every effort to ensure it squeezes every ounce of performance out of the T2i in that regard.  As the design process moves forward, I’ll post details here.

– Tom



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