Learning to use a new camera for rocketry: a photo-newby's journey

Discussion in 'Photo/Video Tips' started by Marc_G, Sep 9, 2012.

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  1. Sep 9, 2012 #1

    Marc_G

    Marc_G

    Marc_G

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    Folks,

    I'm definitely not a photo buff. In fact, throughout my life I've been reluctant to do much with photography. It's kind of like golf (as I see it)... there's lots of variables you need to keep control, conditions are constantly shifting, and you need to sort of see what you want to achieve before it exists. Equipment needs to be understood and manipulated. And the most critical thing is that it's about capturing fleeting moments that happen, then are gone. Each launch is unique, and the best part can me measured in 10ths of a second.

    Rocketry is the first application where point and shoot cameras didn't give me results adequate to my wants and needs.

    I've used simple point and shoot cameras for rocketry up until now, but I've been unsatisfied with the results of launch / staging / ejection / recovery. So a week ago I made the investment in a camera after seeking advice here in this forum (and via a poll in Watering hole).

    While I bought a somewhat unconventional choice after processing all the information I learned and reviewing my options, I'm pretty confident I made a good choice for my needs. Time will tell I guess.

    This situation: "a photo newby gets new camera and is daunted by how to use it" can't be unique. In fact it's probably pretty common here. So I decided to start a thread documenting my journey into rocketry photography.

    I'm hopeful that more experienced members of the forum will offer suggestions for improving photo and video performance here, and that anyone going through a similar photographic learning journey will benefit as well. I invite others to post here as well, so that I can learn from you as well.

    Yesterday I took some time and played with the controls, and this morning I took the new camera out and did a few launches, trying to capture decent photos. The initialy results were promising, but I have a long way to go before I understand how best to apply the camera, and certainly longer than that before I can develop a phtotographer's eye.

    I'll be posting here later today some of these first shots. Stand by!

    Marc
     
  2. Sep 9, 2012 #2

    Marc_G

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    So, the camera I chose is a Nikon V1 with both a 10-30 mm lens and a 30-110 mm lens. I Think the 30-110 is the one I'll get the most rocketry mileage out of, so that's the one I've got attached for the shots I'll show here. I chose the V1 because it does 5 frames/sec with manual shutter, 10 frames per sec with electronic shutter while still autofocusing, and has 30 and 60 fps fixed focus modes as well, though they are less controllable re: settings, apparently. It also has nice video capabilities and can take full res snapshots (cropped, though, to 16x9 aspect ratio) while shooting HD video. But for today I focused on photo stuff, not video.

    The first launch was my Mini Max, but my son hit the launch key before I was ready with the camera. I hadn't even cleared him to arm the system. He got a time-out for that.

    Next up was a Screamer upscale to BT50. I set the camera to shutter priority at 1/1600 sec and the camera chose f/4, ISO-200. Focal length was 41 mm and 35 mm focal length was listed as 111. Not sure what these mean. Presumably since my sensor is small compared to a 35 mm film frame there needs to be a scaling factor. Whatever.

    I got a nice frame out of it, but I did a poor job of tracking the flight. Equipment is only a little piece of the puzzle.
    (all the photos I'm attaching here are less than full resolution, or are cropped, because the 10 Mpixel frames are too big to attach)

    Screamer launch 1 websize.jpg
    Above is the full frame at 35% scale.

    I think had the camera set to 5 FPS because the next few frames were smoke and then the descent, poorly framed. I think I was zoomed in too far, so in subsequent shots I zoomed out. I reviewed the pics on the viewscreen and decided to kick the exposure to a faster setting, which worked in some tests in my backyard yesterday.

    Next up was my son's Patriot. I moved the exposure to 1/6400 sec. Camera reports f/3.8, ISO-1250, and focal length of 30mm (81 for 35 mm focal length).

    At 10 FPS and constant autofocus (single point center) I got a bunch of pics of it igniting and clearing the pad, here's the keeper:

    Patriot launch websize 1.jpg

    I did an OK job tracking it, and got several shots. Here's one at full resolution midway up (so, I cropped the photo). This is a bit blurry. Settings were locked at 1/6400 sec and this time the sensitivity was ISO-900. I frankly don't know what that means other than perhaps the camera was getting more light from looking at the sky than at ground level, so chose a different sensitivity.

    Patriot launch websize 2.jpg

    I wonder if there's anything I could do to make it sharper. Maybe a shorter exposure? Anyway, I got several more shots as the camera took its exposure as the thing powered away, gradually getting smaller.

    I got several shots of it returning under chute. HEre's one when it was still pretty high up. ISO-720 was reported (same other settings). Full resolution; this is a crop of the frame:

    Patriot launch websize 3.jpg

    And another, closer... some grain is noticeable.
    Patriot launch websize 4.jpg

    For my first fumbling attempts, not bad in my opinion.
     
  3. Sep 9, 2012 #3

    Marc_G

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    I next gave the 30 FPS a whirl. The camera can take around 30-35 pics at this speed before running out of buffer. However, I don't think I have as much control over settings. It chose f/4 1/500 sec ISO-100 (same 30/81 focal length as previous shots).

    The pics were many, but blurry. Relatively long exposure I guess.

    Here is the Hornet clearing the pad:

    Hornet launch websize 1.jpg

    Clearly, unless I can figure out how to force a shutter priority or whatever to give a faster shot, the 30 FPS mode doesn't work for the up part of the launch.

    Also, I didn't get my stuff together to get a good shot of it coming down. It was on an A8-3 (light, for a Hornet, due to winds) and I was more focused on making sure it didn't land on any spectators. I got a couple super blurry random shots. Nothing to learn from, really.
     
  4. Sep 9, 2012 #4

    Marc_G

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    I then loaded up a downscale BT55 Vagabond on a C6-3. I love this thing, but I haven't had the stones to fire it with the D5-6 I designed it for. Certainly not today; it was windy.

    Anyway, I went back to 1/6400 sec, 10 FPS. Here she is off the pad, cropped in:

    Vagabond BT55 launch crop1.jpg

    She really scoots. I had several frames of partly in, partly out of frame. Then this:

    Vagabond BT55 launch crop2.jpg

    Score! Decals and banding clearly visible!

    There were several more shots (10 FPS, remember) that were pretty good but the angle was such that we started to basically get shots of her exhaust. Not the camera's fault.

    The first shots under Chute were pretty blurry. Then, still high up, I got this one (cropped) [ISO-800, f/3.8):
    Vagabond BT55 launch crop3.jpg

    I guess the autofocus finally was able to find the subject. Things got better as it descended.

    Vagabond BT55 launch crop4.jpg

    The level of resolvable detail is so much more than I had with a PnS camera! I'm not there to the point of a DSLR with excellent lens, but I'm finding the 10FPS mode that can capture 35 shots a godsend for my fumbling attempts to get a few frames with some action.
     
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2012
  5. Sep 9, 2012 #5

    Marc_G

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    I have one more launch; I'll document it later.
     
  6. Sep 9, 2012 #6

    SSenesy

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    Looking good Marc! It looks like you made a good camera choice. The high ISO pictures look very clean. I made the mistake of leaving my ISO setting to 'Auto' when shooting a launch this weekend and ended up getting a lot of blurred shots when the camera didn't set the ISO high enough to give me a fast shutter speed. I'm guessing that it takes at least 1/1000 sec or faster to prevent blur on a mod roc.
     
  7. Sep 10, 2012 #7

    Marc_G

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    Thanks Stan!

    I think I'm going to experiment next launch with controlling more of the parameters. This time, I basically fixed the shutter speed and let the camera do the rest. Next time I'll drill down and try some different things limiting the ISO variability and such. And I have other things to look into such as the 30 FPS mode (how to control exposure times).

    When buying the Nikon V1 I was a bit nervous about not being able to use standard Nikon lenses (without buying the adaptor), but a good lens for DSLR would probably have been out of my price range anyway. From this first set of pictures, I'm pretty confident the choice was a good one. It also seems to take good indoor pics without a flash, though I may want to tweak the color bias a bit.

    Anyway, on to the final launch of the day. My Vigilante flown two stage. There's something about this model that I just love. I'm going to upscale and downscale it soon, but today I launched it just as is! Because the wind was really kicking up, I decided to be very conservative. The booster used an A10-0T in the plastic Estes adapter, and the sustainer was on a B4-2. One might think that's way too short a delay, but on a weak booster I wanted to be careful.

    Same focal and shutter speed as above (1/6400 sec, 30/81 mm, and it chose ISO-1400 at the start). I purposefully chose the A booster so it would stage low, hoping to get a good shot of it, but no luck. Last launch mojo and all that. I way over estimated the speed the thing would climb at, so I got lost of shots ahead of the rocket. But here we go:

    I didn't get the autofocus centered on the bird, clearly:

    Vigilante Launch websize.jpg

    Focus improved on the next shot:

    Vigilante Launch websize 2.jpg

    I missed the staging entirely but managed to swing the camera back down to capture this about 4 frames later (4/10ths of a second after the previous photo, and all these are cropped by the way):

    Vigilante Launch websize 3.jpg

    Then lots of empty frames (clouds, blue sky, no rocket) while I hunted for it, and eventually caught the chute way up there:

    (this is just a tiny bit of the full frame)
    Vigilante Launch websize 4.jpg

    And down she came, with me snapping shots like this (cropped):
    Vigilante Launch websize 5.jpg
     
  8. Sep 10, 2012 #8

    Marc_G

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    So, this being a learning thread and all, what did I learn from day one and "first light" in my camera?

    1. Though I knew this before, the outing reinforced how the photographer is much more important than fancy do-dads on the camera. If you can't keep the rocket in frame, you can't shoot it, no matter what lens or megapixel rating.

    2. Exposure time is critical, and I'm fortunate my camera can do a wide range, but learning to balance exposure time with other factors is going to take practice.

    3. I got better results when I stood 40 feet away from the pad than when I stood 20 feet away. Similarly, I didn't need to be zoomed in all the way at launch. There's plenty of pixels in the frame to crop in with. This will help keeping the bird in frame at launch. I can always twist the zoom ring later when the rocket is up there.

    4. Frame rate is pretty critical for me as a beginner. Even with 10 FPS I lost a lot of the action due to the 1/10th of a second between frames. If I had gotten a 4 FPS entry level DSLR, it would have been even harder for me to wind up with some decent shots for the up part of the flight. So, this kind of validates my choice of camera which was driven in part by hi frame rates. It would be nice to figure out the 30 fps mode in terms of how to get it to have fast exposure times, though I would only get a second of shots before filling the buffer.

    I think those are the highlights for now. Maybe folks reviewing this thread will have suggestions to offer!

    Marc
     
  9. Sep 10, 2012 #9

    SSenesy

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    Marc;

    I think you're learning points are spot-on. I'd like to add one of my own if you don't mind:

    - After you've shot your first few pictures, take a break and look at what you've shot before taking more. Kind of like NASCAR when they take a safety 'caution' shortly into the race. If you can download to a computer, great! If not, most camera's will allow you to review your shots on the rear LCD. If you can, zoom in to see if your blurring or if anything else is wrong. I can't tell you the number of times I've been away for the day, shooting hundreds of pictures only to find out that I had a switch turned to the wrong setting or that something else could have been set better.
     
  10. Sep 10, 2012 #10

    qquake2k

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    Looking good so far. Your skills will only improve. The only thing I can add right now is it looks like in some of the blurry shots that the camera was set on center spot focus. In this setting, the camera will try to focus on the center of the frame, and in some cases, will focus on the background instead of the subject. You might play around with the camera's multi-zone focus setting(s) and see what kind of results you get. Another thing to learn when using center focus is "focus lock". That's where you lock the focus on the subject by pressing the shutter button halfway and holding it. This will keep the subject in focus even if it moves to one side or the other. But it looks like you have a great camera with a lot of capabilities. Steep learning curve, but it'll be fun. And I think your choice of lenses is spot on.
     
  11. Sep 10, 2012 #11

    mdoering

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    I would add that getting good lenses doesn't have to be expensive. I'm not sure if the V1's adapter allows you to use standard Nikon F-Mount AF lenses, but if it does, it would be money well spent. There are TONS of lenses available, and you don't necessarily need to stick with ones that say Nikon on the housing... Tamron makes some decent lenses as well for "pro-sumer" level photography. Also check out used lenses on eBay, many can be had for a fraction of their original cost... You can also walk in to someplace like Ritz Camera/Wolf Camera, etc and rent lenses of all different levels

    I've had my fare share of camera gear over the last decade both film and digital, and from my experience, I've whittled it down to two lenses I can't live without... My 18-105mm and my 80-200mm F2.8 ED Internal Focus... With those two lenses, there is very little I can't shoot well. The 80-200 would really excel at this type of photography, especially at club launches where you'll likely be a little further from the pad.

    Also, I'm not sure if they make them yet for the V1, but for my D90 I was able to get an extended battery grip, in addition to making it larger and more balanced like my old F5 and D1/D1X cameras were, it also allows you to have TWO batteries in the camera at all times. I'm able to throw my camera with two charged batteries in it and my two favorite lenses in a tiny camera bag and go on a week long vacation without bringing a charger along and I'm good for thousands of shots...

    Good luck and happy shooting!
     
  12. Sep 10, 2012 #12

    jadebox

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    Marc ... your results look good and, as said above, will get even better over time. You'll learn more about your camera's (and your) weaknesses and strengths.

    The 30fps shots may always be blurry because it's likely the camera is using it's video mode to capture them. Moving things in videos look better when there's some motion blur so the shutter speed is usually slow for video.

    Some of the really quick burning motors might require more fps, but I've found that a camera capturing 10 to 15 frames per second will reliably capture close-up liftoff shots of most rockets most of the time. My DSLR takes about 6 fps for a second or two then about 4 fps after that. Not counting the times when I press the shutter release much too early or late, I can get a good lift-off shot about half the time. With my camera that shoots up to 60fps, I can get a good lift-off shot just about all the time.

    The above is based on zooming in for a close-up of the launch (where the rocket almost fills the frame). Since your camera can't do 10 to 15fps, if you don't zoom in quite as close, you'll increase the chances of getting a good shot. You can, as you mentioned, crop the photos and they'll still be sharp enough for 4"x6" prints or use on the web. You really only need the full resolution of the camera for 8"x10" or larger prints.

    -- Roger
     
  13. Sep 17, 2012 #13

    Marc_G

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    Today was a beautiful day so I took the boys back out to try some more camera stuff.

    Frankly, I'm a bit disappointed with my results, but since I was trying different stuff, it's not a failed experiment. I learned some things.

    I set the camera to shutter priority and tried some different exposure settings. Note, I set it to "auto-area" focus at the suggestion of someone last week, and I don't think it did as good a job as the single-point focus I used last week. A lot of my pics were a bit out of focus or the focus was more likely on the wrong part of the frame.

    Anyway, I got a nice pick of my Mini Max scooting off the pad on an A3-4T.
    Mini Max Crop.jpg
    This was with a 1/10,000 sec exposure. Most of the ones last week were 1/6,400. Figured I'd try some faster things. ISO-1600, f/4, focal length 44 (35 mm focal length = 119).

    I didn't track it well and that one shot was all I got. Kinda surprising actually. Lots of smoke. Few pics of the rocket.

    I next changed up to 1/13,000 sec exposure. I have a BT20 downscale of Blue Bird Zero that screams on an A10-3T. I goofed and didn't start shooting fast enough, so here's the first pic I got (user error).
    Mini BBZ crop.jpg
    Looking at it when I got home, it's pretty grainy and again not such good focus.

    Should I have "high iso noise reduction" turned on or off? It's on by default, but I figured I'd ask you guys since mostly I shoot with high iso settings (these come up manually, I haven't tried specifying a specific ISO except for video mode). While we're there, for bright day shooting, should I bump up or reduce the iso or keep letting it sit at the auto setting?

    Got a decent shot on the way down. It's still a bit blurry but never would have gotten this with my P&S camera:

    Mini BBZ descends crop.jpg

    Oops. Kids need me. More later!
     
  14. Sep 17, 2012 #14

    Marc_G

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    It was a fairly distracted morning and I did a poor job of keeping things in frame. My son's Crossfire IXT was next:

    Crossfire launch crop.jpg

    Up it went, with me getting lots of frames of smoke. The camera was set to 1/13,000 and f/3.8 with focal length of 36mm/97.

    By the time I had it in frame again it was way up there and all I get is like this tiny patch of a frame:
    Crossfire ascends crop tiny.jpg

    Grain is clearly visible. Just like this tiny crop of it coming down:

    Crossfire under chute.jpg

    OK, 1/13,000 sec is too fast. Got it.

    I did rotate the dial to set it to video mode (1080i) just as the thing was coming down on us, here's the video:



    Frame captures from the video look surprisingly good, but then again the rocket was literally right on top of us. I had set the video ISO to be 3200.

    Marc
     
  15. Sep 17, 2012 #15

    Marc_G

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    Still on 1/13,000 of a sec speed, and ISO 1600 / f/3.8, I sent up the Vagabond BT55 downscale on a Quest D5-4. I built the rocket for these engines but have so far always adapted down to lower engines. Light variable winds meant today was the day. However, I swapped out the parachute for a big orange streamer just in case.

    Off the pad (whole frame, 35% scale):
    Vag BT55 liftoff.jpg

    Does the term "bat out of hell" mean anything to you? I had several frames of smoke then this about 5/10ths of a second later. This is cropped in because she was already up there. Still pretty nice...
    Vag BT55 ascends.jpg

    Video from the strapped on camera would have been nice, but I forgot to turn it on before takeoff :blush:

    I got lots of frames on the way up... that D5 engine burns for like 4 seconds or so... They look like the above but gradually get smaller and less defined, of course.

    I lost her in the sun, and when someone pointed to it coming down I did some wild guess shots with the camera swinging around and got her, but these shots aren't great:

    Vag BT55 descends1.jpg

    Shoulda twisted that zoom for closer shots.

    Vag BT55 descends2.jpg
     
  16. Sep 17, 2012 #16

    Marc_G

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    OK, kids are in bed now.

    Where were we?

    Next up: Tau Zero (SEMROC). I set the camera to 1080i video mode. Recall from earlier in this thread that the camera can take 1080i (~60 fps, interleaved) and still take full resolution pictures at the same time, a fairly unique ability. The pictures are cropped top and bottom to suit the video aspect ration but otherwise full res.

    Here's a link to the launch:



    And here's a still captured from the video (these stills were at the video resolution):
    Tau Zero Leaves the Pad from 1080i video.jpg

    Not bad... I set the video to Shutter priority and ISO 3200.

    You can see on the descent it's hunting for something to focus on... it's set to AF-area mode and full time autofocus. Clearly not a good application when the bird is high up, but I think there is some promise here.
    On the way down I took some high-res stills (you can do up to 20 with this camera). Sadly due to the focus issues they weren't worth posting.
     
  17. Sep 17, 2012 #17

    Marc_G

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    Getting toward the end of the day. I kicked the camera back into electronic shutter 10fps still mode, with 1/6400 sec exposures. It chose ISO 640 and f/3.8.

    I really wanted to get a decent staging shot with my Vigilante. Loaded her up B6-0 to B4-4. I was not disappointed:

    Vigilante 1.jpg
    Vigilante 2.jpg
    Vigilante 3.jpg
    Vigilante 4.jpg
    Vigilante 5.jpg

    Got a few more of the booster tumbling and the rocket streaking away. It was nice.
     
  18. Sep 17, 2012 #18

    Marc_G

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    There were also some nice shots of her descending under chute, but I'm almost out of time so I'll get to the last launch of the day.

    My full size Vagabond, on my first ever E9-4. I have launched Aerotech SU E15-4W (and lost my first Vagabond, and almost lost a Der Big Red Max), but this is my first Estes E.

    It was a great flight, again with recovery aided by the use of a streamer instead of a parachute. Here's onboard video by the way, as I remembered to turn this one on:



    From the ground, I used the same settings as with the Vigilante.

    First, the full frame at 35% resolution:

    Vagabond E94 launch pic.jpg

    Then some crops:

    Vagabond E94 ascends.jpg
    Vagabond E94 ascends2.jpg
    Vagabond E94 descends 1.jpg
    Vagabond E94 descends 2.jpg

    She landed on an asphalt path and scuffed up the fins a bit, and chipped some paint on the NC, but she's already back in flying trim. I sanded and CA sealed the fin scuffs and she's ready to go.

    So from all this I learned not to go too high shutter speed. I also think I need to work on focus issues and maybe do some manual ISO selection. Thoughts from the photogs here? I appreciate all your advice.

    Marc
     
  19. Sep 17, 2012 #19

    qquake2k

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    I think the photos are looking good. My only suggestion would be to try a lower ISO setting. It's looks to me like you're getting some noise in some of the shots.
     
  20. Oct 4, 2012 #20

    Marc_G

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    Last weekend I had a chance to fly again.

    Based on my past experiences and the comments I've gotten back, as well as reviewing some pictures others posted that listed ISO / exposure settings, I decided to lower my ISO setting from typically around 800-3200 (depending on the shot) back to 800 or less, typically around 400. I think I set the thing to auto select ISO between 100-400 for some shots and 100-800 for others, combined with a 1/4000 sec exposure.

    Here's a 1/4000 sec shot at ISO 400. I'll give a downres of the whole shot then a high res close up:

    Vagabond Downscale Takeoff lowres.jpg

    Vagabond Downscale Takeoff hires.jpg

    Here's the same flight, on the way down:

    Vagabond Downscale descent lowres.jpg

    It was a fun shot... even can see clearly the wrinkling in the streamer.

    Prior to this shot I had difficulty getting focus so I had either hesitation in shooting or some blurry shots. I think I had the focus set to auto area mode instead of center weighted.
     
  21. Oct 4, 2012 #21

    Marc_G

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    Next on the pad was my Fliskits Mystic. This is one of my favorite rockets. I sweated every detail of construction and finishing.

    The launch pic was 1/4000 sec at ISO 320 (ISO was autoselected I believe).

    Mystic takeoff high res.jpg

    Mystic takeoff low res.jpg

    Next frame, it was heading up FAST:

    Mystic ascent.jpg

    Again I had trouble on the descent due I believe to focus settings. I got some blurry shots; that's all.
     
  22. Oct 4, 2012 #22

    Marc_G

    Marc_G

    Marc_G

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    I should note that I'm REALLY LOVING the 10 frames per second shoot speed this camera (Nikon V1) gives. I've missed some shots here and there on launch but from almost all my launches I get one or two frames coming off the pad before I either overcompensate following the rocket up, or undercompensate for a low and slow flight. I was a bit nervous going with a lower resolution (10 Mpixel) camera versus a DSLR, but I am finding the resolution sufficient and the 2-3x framerate speed versus a same-price DSLR (3.5-4 fps typical for what I spent) to be VERY helpful. If I were getting half as many frames, I bet my chances of getting that perfect takeoff shot would be much lower.
     
  23. Oct 4, 2012 #23

    Marc_G

    Marc_G

    Marc_G

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    The fast frame rate didn't mean that I got every shot I wanted. I just missed my Fliskits Preator coming off the pad on a D12.

    Nice pic of it accellerating up the pad:
    Praetor1.jpg

    Next frame, 1/10th of a sec later. Oops, so nearly perfect but cut off:
    Preaetor2.jpg

    Then there were a couple missed frames where I just got smoke. Finally on the fifth frame I get this:

    Preator5 clip.jpg

    On the way down I think I got some good shots, I believe because I switched focus modes to center spot. This one was while it was still WAY UP there. Even so, lots of detail is clearly visible.

    Preator descent1.jpg

    I tweaked the exposure down to 1/250th of a second for the flight down under chute. It was slowly drifting down range.

    Preator descent2.jpg
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2012
  24. Oct 4, 2012 #24

    qquake2k

    qquake2k

    qquake2k

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    In my opinion, with the lower ISO settings, your photos are looking much better. You're getting some great shots!
     
  25. Oct 5, 2012 #25

    Marc_G

    Marc_G

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    I also launched my Ranger. 3x B6-4

    Moved the exposure to 1/5000 as I figured it would be scooting. I was right! But I got a good shot at ISO400 (glad I set it to 100-400 autoselect).

    Ranger 039 In Flight.jpg

    The Chute snagged on the way down due to too short delay. Nice shots, though!

    Ranger 040 snagged chute.jpg
     

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