Flying the ITW Triton on the beach (nice on-shore wind)
Although I am very happy to continue to use CHDK and older Canon Powershots for my infrared photo kite flying, I had a look briefly at other options, primarily cameras with a built-in interval timer capability, as well as suitability to be modified for IR, support for RAW files and relatively light-weight – I don’t have the appetite to fly my Sony a7ii or any other big heavy and expensive SLR.
After a quick search, and reading various user guides, a few interesting suitable cameras turned up. There are more cameras with built-in interval timers, such as the new Nikon A, Fujifilm X100F, older Lumix LX and Olympus tough TG series, but these either have an unsuitable fixed (too wide) lens, are expensive to dangle from a kite or the interval timer will only do a small number of shots with an interval of minutes, rather than the ideal of 3-5 seconds.
The interesting ones that did turn up were the:
- Fujifilm X30, X70, X-E2, X-E2S, X-A3
- Nikon J1, J2 & J3
- Panasonic Lumix DMC GX7, GX8, GX80 & GX85
- Samsung NX500
All nice cameras, and interestingly able to capture full-spectrum and use lens-filters (rather than just a fixed near-IR frequency), but also more expensive than a cheap older Canon A or SX models running CHDK; although a used Samsung NX500, Nikon J1 and Lumix GX7 would be less expensive to purchase used.
UPDATE: Sony Time Lapse App
I originally missed that Sony offer an in-cameraTime-Lapse app for a number of their cameras: Time Lapse App
- NEX-5R, NEX-5T & NEX-6
- a5000, a5100, a6000, a6300 & a6500
- RX100M3, RX100M4, RX10M2, RX1RM2, RX10M3 & RX100M5
This looks like a very comprehensive capability and on an older camera like an NEX-5 or a5000, a quality inexpensive option.
As I find more suitable cameras I will add them to this page: Cameras with Interval Timers
The new 660nm modified Canon SX240 (replacement) camera has arrived, from the ever helpful Andy at Infraready, to replace the broken Powershot n as my main infrared camera dangling from a kite.
The Indestructibles site lists the steps perfectly: http://www.instructables.com/id/How-To-Install-CHDK/
CHDK Download page: http://chdk.wikia.com/wiki/Downloads
One of the first things I noticed is that the SX240, unlike the Powershot n, will reload CHDK after images have been captured – which is great and so much more convenient than having to use a freshly copied SD card each time.
There is also a note on the Wiki that RAW capture does not work correctly when in Auto mode; not an issue, however, as my intention is to shoot purely in Shutter or Manual mode, when flying and Aperture mode when using normally.
The SX240 also has two good features, over the Powershot n:
- Custom white-balance – although capturing RAW with CHDK, this helps with the JPEG files when not using CHDK.
- Shutter Priority (“Tv“) – when swinging off a kite line, having a fixed shutter of 1/500 or 1/1000th is very helpful.
Will post the first sample images shortly.
So the little 590nm modified Powershot n finally came to a destructive end from mother nature and, on reflection, my ill-considered kite flying – I should have flown a kite more stable for bigger gusts on the day. We learn.
The lens took most of the impact and will now not extend or retract. I guess it could be repaired, but it is not worth it and I would like to change it for something less fiddly. It has been good as a light-weight flyer, but I have struggled at times, especially while holding the line, with the small touchscreen and CHDK settings.
Next, it is a Canon Powershot SX240, as I decided to continue using CHDK for access to RAW files and interval timer scripts; saving the weight of an external interval-timer unit. The SX240 is still light-weight, inexpensive to buy used and convert. It also has a shutter priority mode, unlike the Powershot n, which should help with swinging around on the end of a pendulum.
I looked at a few other compact cameras, like the Olympus TG (tough series) but could not find anything inexpensive to buy, with a built interval-timer that supported short intervals around 1-5 seconds and unlimited shots (until the card is full), which is what CHDK scripts will do. I also looked at using older GoPro models, which can now be converted for IR, however, don’t like the smaller sensor images and fixed wide angle – fly too high and the images are too wide losing detail.
The Canon A series (good optiA810, A1300-1400, A2300-2600, A3300-4000) are generally cheaper than the SX series to buy used and lighter, however, they don’t have helpful options like shutter priority.
Infraredy (the ever excellent and helpful Andy) are already converting the SX240 to 660nm and it should arrive for the weekend. I decided on 660nm just for something different from the Powershot n’s 590nm and did not want the more color-limited options of 720nm, 850nm etc.
Canon Powershot n
New little project – a 590nm converted Canon Powershot n. A quirky little, and I mean little, 12MP style camera from 2013.
The conversion was done by the very helpful Andy from Infraready and arrived today.
The real attraction here is the camera’s size and weight, given its life is to go up high on various kites; however, it has some basic drawbacks straight out fo the box: no RAW, no custom white-balance and no external time-lapse remote. All of which would normally make it a very unsuitable camera for IR work, however, the CHDK (Canon Hack Dev Kit) community have done their magic and there is a port for the little Powershot n.
Unlike my old Canon S90, which refuses to comply (even though it should), the newer Powershot n was ever so easy and quick. CHDK went on in under 2 minutes! I just downloaded the correct software version, unzipped it to micro-SD card (newly formatted) and put the files in the root directory. Then the little (I am going to keep using that adjective because the styling and size fascinates me) camera is started using the ‘MOBILE CONNECT‘ button (NOT the off/on button), followed by the MENU button (on the screen) and a menu option to firmware update… and hey presto, there is CHDK (use the MOBILE CONNECT button again to bring up the CHDK menu).
Why this is important is that, amongst a whole list of new features it adds, it allows the camera to produce (for offloading) RAW and DNG files, which can then be correctly white-balanced; although it important to note that the “RAW” format is not true to Canon’s CRW and CR2 formats. Capture One, however, seems to have no problem in reading in the DNG files and allowing the white-balance to be adjusted, so all good so far.
Intervalometer Time Lapse
In addition to now being able to capture RAW files, CHDK can also run custom scripts, importantly for me intervalometer scripts for time-lapse. There are a number of scripts for intervalometer time-lapse, so far I have just used the simple Countdown Intervalometer script – which worked just fine.
It is simply a script file that is downloaded to the scripts directory (the install instructions are on its Wiki page – use the link above or the reference at the end of this post) and allows you, via the CHDK menu on the camera, to set the number of shots you want (inc infinity if you want) and the interval; which is all I need when the camera is swinging around under a kite.
- The way I load CHDK is only temporary and needs to be initiated after each session/use – once the photos have been taken and the camera turned off, CHDK is lost. The next time, if you start on the mobile button it is back to trying to connect to a Wifi network (its original function). To reload CHDK again, the DCIM folder with the photos just needs to be deleted (after downloading) and the load process using the MOBILE CONNECT button used again. I believe there are ways to have it loaded permanently, which I will look into, but for now being temporary is fine.
- This is all for the original Powershot n and not the later Facebook branded version, the “Powershot N Facebook®“. Installing CHDK on the Facebook version apparently is a little different, as they used the MOBILE CONNECT button for their specific Facebook upload.
Canon Powershot n
CHDK & Powershot n
- http://mighty-hoernsche.de/ (download versions page)
CHDK Raw Formats
CHDK Intervalometer Script (time-lapse)
I have decided to try out some alternative lenses with the full-spectrum Sony, continuing with the emphasis on being lightweight for tracking, hiking, climbing etc.
The new setup is to use all primes, rather than the combined small (and lighter) kit 28-70mm zoom and the f1.8 55mm. Similar to what I mostly use with my normal visible light photography, I am going to try and work with lenses at just 20, 55 and 135mm.
- 20mm f3.5 Voigtlander Color Skopar (with Nikon adaptor)
- 55mm f1.8 Zeiss FE
- 135mm f2.8 Nikon AI-s (with Nikon adaptor)
The Voigtlander and Nikon primes are all metal lenses, so actually slightly heaver than I would wish (and heaver than the Sony kit lens). I also have an old Nikon AI-s 28mm, which is really light, and may add that as well for some trips.
One of the big advantages of this set up is that I just need to carry 52mm lens filters (lens filters being the burden of full-spectrum), with the 20, 28 and 135 all having a 52mm native filter size (the Zeiss 55 uses a step-up ring of 49 to 52mm).
Although pure near-infrared filters (590nm, 720nm etc.) are now relatively inexpensive and easy to obtain, dual bands, like BG3, UG1 etc., and absorbent hot-mirror filters like the S8612, BG40 BG39 etc., are not. Having a full set of filters for all the common, especially the larger 62mm+, filter sizes would be very expensive. I am, hence, happy to use older and smaller aperture lenses so I can stick with my existing filter set (my previous M43 cameras were standardised on 52mm, so I have lots).
With the Nikon to E-mount adaptor (I use a Metabones made one), the Nikon and Voigtlander lenses are manual-focus only; however, for most of this type of photography, predominantly landscape, it is not a problem and works well with Sony’s excellent focus-peaking functionality.
This has been my photographic travel kit (in addition to my iPhone and a battery charger) while travelling in Iceland. After image quality and RAW capture, I prize my equipment to be lightweight, hence, it it is pretty minimal.
- Full-spectrum modified Sony a7ii
- Sony f3.5-5.6 28-70mm lens
- Sony f1.8 55mm lens
- Lens pouch
- Spare batteries & charger
- Filter pouch with filters: 590nm, 720nm, 850nm, W47B, UV Cut & Schott BG39
- Mini Tripod
- White-balance cards
The stunningly sharp f1.8 55mm lens is only carried for people shots (bokeh) and has the Schott BG39 and a UV Cut filter permanently attached (to capture normal, visible-light shots). The little 28-70mm kit lens, used for virtually all the infrared and dual-band images, is optically surprisingly good, inexpensive and superbly lightweight.
Previously I have carried a 20mm wide-angle prime, but decided to leave it at home this time and try stitching 2-3 images instead when the 28mm could not cover the view. So far I have been very happy with the results of stitching ultra-wide shots and suspect the 20mm will stay at home for other trips involving lots of walking and climbing. The focal length I have missed on a few occasions has been a longer telephoto, something around 250-350mm, to capture distant mountains and glaciers. These are, however, usually heavy lenses even as primes, so doubt I will add one to the kit and take on more travel weight and inconvenience.
The little mini tripod only came along for any low-light night shots (a remote chance of the Northern Lights), but has not been used on this trip. The Sony is so good in low-light that there is really little need for any kind of tripod in daylight.
Importantly, carrying the 55mm lens and the filters in a small pouches means that all I need for the camera can be carried on my belt, or in my pockets (spare battery, cleaning cloth, WB cards), and therefore I have no need of a camera bag when walking or climbing.
I have used in-expensive camera bag liners for sometime now and for flying can get all the kit into a small liner that can fit in a hand-luggage side-bag or small backpack. I have long given up on expensive heavy camera bags that shout “look at me” and “steal me”.
All packed away
If I am happy to carry anything more, then I will take my small Voightlander 20mm with the Nikon mount adaptor. This is a manual lens with a massive depth of field anyway, so the loss of auto-focus has little impact with it.
I grew up in my student days on manual focus, with a beloved Contax 139 and Zeiss 50mm,(which dates me); however, have happily lived and relied upon auto-focus for the last 20 years, only occasionally switching to manual focus when the situation needed it or if I pulled an old 6×6 out of the attic (I exclude using my manual-only voigtlander 20mm lens as the depth of field is so large that it requires no effort, just leaving near infinity).
Back now in manual-focus only land, with the Sony a7ii and Metabones Nikon adaptor, is romantically part of the appeal; however, I had forgotten how much the ergonomics of a lens matter – the feel of the focus ring, how far it travels, switching between the focus and aperture ring etc. Not criteria I have used in a while with my DSLRs, where lens criteria has just been about the likes of maximum aperture, optical performance, weight and cost.
It has, however, now suddenly come back to me how much ergonomics matter. I have had for some time a fine Nikon 50mm f1.4G lenses, which will not work with the simple Metabones adaptor (G lenses, no aperture ring). No problem, I just bought online inexpensive, but still optically very good, Nikon AF-D f1.8 50mm
A simple solution in theory, but I had forgotten about ergonomics. The adaptor pushes the aperture ring forward (same for all lenses) away from the camera which is good and works well; however, with this 50mm lens the focusing ring is thin and right at the end of the lens, which with my big hands and fingers is quite fiddly and annoying – so much so, that if I had tried before I bought, I probably would have looked for an alternative that worked in my hands better. Not the end of the world, but a good lesson for me to learn for next time.
The old Zeiss 50mm, from the Contax, on the other hand still feels perfect (hey, that is the romance of long term relationships) and is begging me to get an adaptor for it, so it can join the fun.
These things happen and you have to accept that if you are using cameras regularly, in all terrain, accidents will happen.regularly… but it still hurts, especailly when it is something you like and value. !
My Olympus EVF, over the weekend, was irreparably damaged on my Olympus P5. 🙁
Frustrating as the Olympus EVF4 is screen/presentation wise very good; however, it does cement my view that add-on EVFs are not great in terms of ergonomics.
Probably won’t replace it, given the overall change in equipment.