For the Global Space Balloon Challenge I experimented with one new camera and used several others from past excursions. The first flight included a Canon PowerShot SX260, Pentax K-01, Olympus PEN E-PL5, and GoPro Hero 3+ Black. And the second launch a Canon PowerShot G12, Pentax Q7, Olympus PEN E-PL5, and GoPro Hero 3+ Black.

K-01 (16 MP), 40mm Lens

My Pentax K-01 had been destroyed during the previous outing, but believing it still held promise, I bought another on eBay. This time around, instead of using a bulky 28mm fixed focal length lens, I stuck with the pancake flat DA 40mm f/2.8 XS lens that comes standard with the camera. After some testing, I discovered the sharpest aperture setting for landscapes seemed to be f/16. However, in execution I ran into a familiar problem. Shortly into the first launch the cold killed the camera. I had already learned that the K-01 likes warmth, so I came prepared with adhesive backed toe warmers, which had done the job in the past. But somehow they got damp and didn't stick to the camera body. Low altitude cross-winds caused the payload to spin, and what few pictures I did get back were mostly blurry. However, a few images were sharp, with impressive quality, so I'll likely experiment further with the K-01.


G12 (10 MP)

The Canon PowerShot G12 has so far proved the camera capable of the best images with the least headaches. I'm very curious to try the G15. In the second launch I configured CHDK to save RAW files along with JPEGs. For whatever reason, afterwards, I found it very difficult to edit the RAWs such that they came close in color quality to the same JPEG images after similar adjustments.


PEN E-PL5 (16 MP)

In searching for new camera options I discovered the Olympus PEN E-PL5, a Micro Four Thirds system camera that accepts a wide array of lenses. By adding a locking remote shutter cable, the E-PL5 can be configured to take interval pictures using the Anti-Shock feature and the Sequential L shooting mode set to 1 fps (use manual focus, and set "Reset Lens" to "Off"). At 15 second shutter intervals, the battery can last over 3 hours. It comes standard with a M.Zuiko 28-84mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. As is the norm with new cameras, I did not use any direct heating on the camera body. With temps as low as -12 F, the E-PL5 worked perfectly. The quality of the resulting images was very good, but a bit noisier and not quite as sharp as the pictures taken by the Canon PowerShot G12. However, sharper fixed focal length lenses are likely available and would certainly be worth trying in the future.


SX260 (12.1 MP)

The Canon PowerShot SX260 was set up for downward facing images in the first launch. The tree covered, snowy mountains contained a lot of small details for the camera to capture, and noise was a real problem in the resulting photographs. The early morning haze probably didn't help; a blue cast is apparent in many of the pictures. I've had better luck with downward pointing cameras over desert settings, in the late afternoon.


(5 MP / 12 MP)

The GoPro Hero 3+ Black is capable of taking simultaneous photos and video. In the first launch I configured the camera for 1080p video at 30fps, which limited still pictures to 5 megapixels. The quality of the images was only so so. For the second launch, I changed the video to 1440p at 24fps, which allows for 12 megapixel photos. The images were surprisingly good, especially at higher altitudes and when conditions included a lot of sunlight. For the first launch the camera was set up to take a snap every 30 seconds and in the second every 10 seconds. Of the 1000+ pictures taken during the second flight, 99% were throwaways, but because I had such a large pool to choose from I found many more keepers than the first time around -- though it is a pain to go through them all, and your memory card needs to be quite large (64gb). The one drawback is that to get 12mp stills, the video has to be set to super-wide angle and I prefer the medium FOV. The wide-angle fish eye effect in the pictures is also a nuisance, but can largely be eliminated using the distortion removal tool in Photoshop.









Global Space Balloon Challenge
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