rocket video made by binoculars-cell phone connection

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FMarvinS

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Hi all-I'd like to learn about your experience with videos of rocket flight photographed by a cell phone connected to binoculars. What magnification of binoculars are recommended? Is there any advantage of simultaneously zooming the cell phone lens? Please comment on video quality, ease of operation, and how much better are the results of the binoculars-cell phone photography vs. the cell phone camera alone. Finally, what are your recommendations about systems on sale such as on Amazon.com. Thanks for your recommendations.
Fred, L2
KG4YGP
ICBM, S.C.
 
Hi all-I'd like to learn about your experience with videos of rocket flight photographed by a cell phone connected to binoculars. What magnification of binoculars are recommended? Is there any advantage of simultaneously zooming the cell phone lens? Please comment on video quality, ease of operation, and how much better are the results of the binoculars-cell phone photography vs. the cell phone camera alone. Finally, what are your recommendations about systems on sale such as on Amazon.com. Thanks for your recommendations.
Fred, L2
KG4YGP
ICBM, S.C.
Seems a bit cumbersome for what we do, but interested in reading others experiences if any.
 
I've never done that, but if you search Amazon, there are PLENTY of zoom lens clip on, stick on attachments for cell phones that will enhance the magnification of the cell phone without distortion. I don't recommend the digital zoom, because unless your camera is 4K, all you end up with is a blurry pixellated mess because all you're doing is zooming in on an existing series of pixels.
 
Techrat-That's a good point and makes lots of sense. Rhashberger- demo videos (youtube, etc) look pretty good. I'm trying to avoid spending a grand + to purchase a semi-good 35mm camera that does video. In the past, the use of a cell phone camera is barely adequate due to lack of lens magnification on rockets after launch (aside from photographing the motor smoke trail). Thanks for your comments and hopefully others will join the discussion.
Fred
 
FMarvinS --

Please post your videos here when you've settled on a solution.

I did not know that such an option was even available for Cell Phone Cameras.

If it works for you, I will definitely go for the same or something similar.

Thank you !

-- kjh
 
I have that set up. It is a separate lens monocular that attaches to the phone. Used it once. Not good picture's and cumbersome. It was hard to get the lens to stay centered on the phone lens. Bought an $800 Canon T7. I got one for my telescope too. The picture quality wasn't as good as my eye.
 
Teepot-Thanks for you info and details about the monocular set up. I'm also surprised about the video quality of the canon camera. The amazon products I reviewed also included binoculars with adapters for the cell phone. Some youtube files showed decent videos of more stationary views not rockets or planes in flight. Also, what is considered optimal lens magnification for both 35 mm cameras and binoculars to follow rockets in flight?
 
Teepot-Thanks for you info and details about the monocular set up. I'm also surprised about the video quality of the canon camera. The amazon products I reviewed also included binoculars with adapters for the cell phone. Some youtube files showed decent videos of more stationary views not rockets or planes in flight. Also, what is considered optimal lens magnification for both 35 mm cameras and binoculars to follow rockets in flight?
My binoculars are 10x50. Good power and with a 50mm lens it has a wide field of view. Magnification is going to depend on how high you fly or how far your rocket drifts. For the Canon I would use the standard lens. I would turn off the auto focus too.
 
Teepot-I'd like to follow a rocket flight (without cloud coverage) as high as possible. Nearby waivers as high as 15,000 plus feet would facilitate high altitudes. I was informed that for a camera like the cannon a greater than 300 mm lens may be needed. In general, I'd like to record flights significantly better than via a cell phone camera alone. What suggestions do you have to be able to decently see/video a rocket up to about 5000 feet or higher (if feasible) and please specify if binoculars of 10x50 or what magnifying camera lens size would accomodate this.
Thanks,
Fred
 
I think for rocket flights to those kinds of altitudes, you are going to have a very hard time making cell phone cameras with an attached optic work very well. You will need a LOT of magnification, and that’s going to exaggerate the jiggling of a hand held setup and any other shortcomings of an optic attached to a phone, like the lens not being firmly attached or exactly centered. You will probably do a lot better with a purpose-built video camera with a good optical zoom and image stabilization.

I have friends with really good SLRs and great telephoto lenses, and they are also pretty talented photographers. They take a lot of great still photos of flights. So if I want to make a video of a launch that shows a lot of detail, I take some cell phone video, and I use the video editor to cut the detailed high-quality stills into the video. So it’s a combo of video for motion and sound, plus stills for detail. I’m not a great video editor, but some of the finished videos have been pretty decent, and they could be really good in the hands of a good editor. And obviously if you had access to even better quality raw video than you can get from a cell phone, it would be that much better, but I still think that high-quality stills would still have a place in the final video for the best detail.
 
Here’s an example of cell phone video and still images combined into one video. The stills are not intercut with the video the way that a more talented editor could do — they are more separated into a section of video and a section of stills, but you can see how it can be done.

Thumper video thread
 
Thirsty Barbarian- great looking video and fully appreciate the intermingling of still shots with the video. Also, Rich-if you use the Nikon, please post some videos!
 
Teepot-I'd like to follow a rocket flight (without cloud coverage) as high as possible. Nearby waivers as high as 15,000 plus feet would facilitate high altitudes. I was informed that for a camera like the cannon a greater than 300 mm lens may be needed. In general, I'd like to record flights significantly better than via a cell phone camera alone. What suggestions do you have to be able to decently see/video a rocket up to about 5000 feet or higher (if feasible) and please specify if binoculars of 10x50 or what magnifying camera lens size would accomodate this.
Thanks,
Fred
You would need a telephoto lens and a camera with active stabilization. Without stabilization if the camera was on a tripod you might get a less wiggly picture but keeping your pan as fast as the rocket maybe problematic. We have a pro that comes to our big events. She does stills rather than video though. I think your best bet is go to a camera store and talk to them. You don't want to buy something that won't work.
 
I use a Lumix FZ300 superzoom bridge camera. In my experience, tracking all the way to apogee requires a bit of luck. With some weather conditions, it's easy to lose the rocket, and once you lose it, it's hard to pick it up again. That said, I've managed to catch deployments above 5000 feet many times.

The Lumix's autofocus doesn't work well for this application. Maybe other cameras with phase detect autofocus would work better.

IMHO there is zero chance the cell phone thing would work.
 
Teepot and Mike C,thank you for your recommendations and I'll further look into those suggestions.
Fred
 
I have a bunch of cameras and video cameras and have changed them a lot through the years. I like photography and I enjoyed having all the equipment to record things like my kids' sports, school events, life events, etc - so I had use-cases beyond rocketry that allowed me to justify (at least in my mind :) ) buying higher end stuff. So, I have a fair amount of experience trying to get good video of rockets.

A bit of a bottom line up front - for flights over about 2000 feet, you are going to have trouble with any cell phone based setup. By the time you spend the money on cell phone enhancements that would get you in the ballpark of decent video, you may as well have bought something dedicated.

For 35mm cameras, I have been a Canon guy since the 1970's, so I don't have a lot of Nikon experience. For about the past 15 years, my main shooter was some version of an EOS 5D and I also had a number of APS-C cameras. Over the past few decades, I accumulated a lot of excellent EF and EF-S lenses (both Canon and 3rd party). Last year, I finally bought a mirrorless camera - the Canon R6 Mark II. I am still learning to shoot with this new tech. The change from SLR to mirrorless is tangible. Lots of great things I love, lots of things I miss. In retrospect, I do wish I had spent the extra for an R5 as the R6 is not the same as a 5D, but it is still a great camera.

35mm cameras are amazing for still photos of rockets. There is nothing else that compares. You can get amazing stills from phones, but even a cheap 35mm will likely beat it. Mainly that is because of the opportunity to buy lenses purpose built for fast motion photography.

Using a 35mm for video - especially fast motion video - is not as easy. The more high end the camera is, the more manual it is. Pros don't get good stills/video from high end cameras because it is easy, they get good results because they spend huge amounts of hours training on their skills and huge amounts of money to augment their setups. As you move down the ladder of 35mm cameras, the ease of use increases, but the capabilities of the camera decrease rapidly. The best analogy I can think of is: Buying a high end 35mm and only using it once in a while is like trying to commute to work in a Formula 1 racecar a few times a year. It only sounds fun until you try it.

Here is the TL;DR - if your goal is video of rockets, I recommend an "old school" solution - get a dedicated camcorder. I have a couple and I love them for this purpose. The consumer/prosumer camcorder industry is not gone yet, but, unfortunately, it is rapidly disappearing due to ubiquitous cell phone video. Luckily, there are still good options, but, when they are finally end-of-life, I have a feeling manufacturers don't have anything new in the pipeline, so I would grab what you can now. The main price differentiation is resolution. If you want 4K video and anything remotely approaching a good camcorder, you are going to spend $700+. If you want a 4K that is good/really good, $1000+ is the starting point. The good news is that, if you can live with 1080p, you can get some amazing camcorders with excellent zoom for about $300+.

I have found that the best way to get video of your rocket launches is some combination of all of the above. For a launch I really want to capture, I have Runcam 2 4Ks onboard (one pointed up and one pointed down), I have a couple/few gopros around the pad, I have a 35mm on a tripod to capture stills, and I handhold a camcorder to catch the flight. Pro-tip - don't use the screen to track your flight. Get an eye cup for the viewfinder and use it. It is really difficult to see the screen on a sunny day and track your rocket while zooming, moving, etc. It is way easier to do all that through the view finder.

This isn't my best work, but shows a bit of how you can track with a camcorder:



I have posted these 2 videos WAY too much, but they do highlight what you can do with a variety of cameras:





Word of caution - the rocketry hobby is addictive and expensive, but it absolutely pales compared to the deep dark hole you can fall down once you start accumulating photo/video gear :)
 
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I have a bunch of cameras and video cameras and have changed them a lot through the years. I like photography and I enjoyed having all the equipment to record things like my kids' sports, school events, life events, etc - so I had use-cases beyond rocketry that allowed me to justify (at least in my mind :) ) buying higher end stuff. So, I have a fair amount of experience trying to get good video of rockets.

A bit of a bottom line up front - for flights over about 2000 feet, you are going to have trouble with any cell phone based setup. By the time you spend the money on cell phone enhancements that would get you in the ballpark of decent video, you may as well have bought something dedicated.

For 35mm cameras, I have been a Canon guy since the 1970's, so I don't have a lot of Nikon experience. For about the past 15 years, my main shooter was some version of an EOS 5D and I also had a number of APS-C cameras. Over the past few decades, I accumulated a lot of excellent EF and EF-S lenses (both Canon and 3rd party). Last year, I finally bought a mirrorless camera - the Canon R6 Mark II. I am still learning to shoot with this new tech. The change from SLR to mirrorless is tangible. Lots of great things I love, lots of things I miss. In retrospect, I do wish I had spent the extra for an R5 as the R6 is not the same as a 5D, but it is still a great camera.

35mm cameras are amazing for still photos of rockets. There is nothing else that compares. You can get amazing stills from phones, but even a cheap 35mm will likely beat it. Mainly that is because of the opportunity to buy lenses purpose built for fast motion photography.

Using a 35mm for video - especially fast motion video - is not as easy. The more high end the camera is, the more manual it is. Pros don't get good stills/video from high end cameras because it is easy, they get good results because they spend huge amounts of hours training on their skills and huge amounts of money to augment their setups. As you move down the ladder of 35mm cameras, the ease of use increases, but the capabilities of the camera decrease rapidly. The best analogy I can think of is: Buying a high end 35mm and only using it once in a while is like trying to commute to work in a Formula 1 racecar a few times a year. It only sounds fun until you try it.

Here is the TL;DR - if your goal is video of rockets, I recommend an "old school" solution - get a dedicated camcorder. I have a couple and I love them for this purpose. The consumer/prosumer camcorder industry is not gone yet, but, unfortunately, it is rapidly disappearing due to ubiquitous cell phone video. Luckily, there are still good options, but, when they are finally end-of-life, I have a feeling manufacturers don't have anything new in the pipeline, so I would grab what you can now. The main price differentiation is resolution. If you want 4K video and anything remotely approaching a good camcorder, you are going to spend $700+. If you want a 4K that is good/really good, $1000+ is the starting point. The good news is that, if you can live with 1080p, you can get some amazing camcorders with excellent zoom for about $300+.

I have found that the best way to get video of your rocket launches is some combination of all of the above. For a launch I really want to capture, I have Runcam 2 4Ks onboard (one pointed up and one pointed down), I have a couple/few gopros around the pad, I have a 35mm on a tripod to capture stills, and I handhold a camcorder to catch the flight. Pro-tip - don't use the screen to track your flight. Get an eye cup for the viewfinder and use it. It is really difficult to see the screen on a sunny day and track your rocket while zooming, moving, etc. It is way easier to do all that through the view finder.

This isn't my best work, but shows a bit of how you can track with a camcorder:



I have posted these 2 videos WAY too much, but they do highlight what you can do with a variety of cameras:





Word of caution - the rocketry hobby is addictive and expensive, but it absolutely pales compared to the deep dark hole you can fall down once you start accumulating photo/video gear :)

Mtnmanak-thanks for the advice which appears to be based on a ton of experience. Those were exceptional videos that you attached to your post!
Which specific camcorders do you recommend for both 1080p and 4K? In addition, I enjoyed your level 3 build-beautiful job. Please respond or send pm on how to find the full build file if available.

Regards,
Fred
 
I've been shooting video and stills of rockets for over 20 years with all levels of equipment (cell phones to $30K video cameras), and even made a DVD of LDRS 21 (2002) that I sold online. The evidence for how hard it is to follow a rocket can be found on Youtube – simply watch the many hundreds of HPR rocket videos and take note of how many of them are able to track the rocket. I would suspect that for every 100 tries, maybe 1 will be successful. (I am specifically speaking of high power rockets that have apogees of 1000's of feet.) Under the right conditions, it is possible to pick up the rocket under drogue and then shoot video of the main deployment. But to track a rocket to 15,000' and capture the apogee deployment with any meaningful magnification? I would suspect that's beyond the realm for the vast majority of us.

My current setup is a Nikon Z6 with their excellent 200-500 f/5.6 ED VR lens using an FTZ adapter. It has very good image stabilization. The Z6 shoots excellent video in addition to stills. (Its replacement is the Z6 II). Take one look at that setup and you'll see why it's so hard to track a rocket to apogee in real-time. But it's great for stills of rockets in flight (and birds for that matter). However, it requires a pretty decent investment of both time and money to get good at it.

I don't mean to sound negative or that it is impossible to track a rocket to a 15,000' apogee, but the reality is that it is far harder than it ought to be. Going to 2,000-5,000' is doable with a big rocket, but still quite a challenge to follow smoothly. I think having realistic expectations is an important starting point.


Tony
 
Which specific camcorders do you recommend for both 1080p and 4K?
I haven't bought a camcorder in quite a while. There are many mirrorless cameras that have video capabilities that exceed what used to be available, and you are likely to get longer zooms that way.

That said, I agree that tracking much above 10K feet is going to be extremely hard, if doable at all. I think my record for a good tracking shot is probably 8K at best, and it was largely a matter of luck.

I keep thinking about the best way to automate camera tracking (either active using GPS telemetry or passive using computer vision) but actually doing it seems too much like work for me to get very far.
 
It's worth noting here that it's easier to track the early part of the flight with a physically lighter camera as things are moving fast relatively. I noticed this when I switched from my cell phone to a mirrorless Panasonic G85, more so as I added an audio mixer, mic, and FRS radio to the rig. The upper part of the flight is also hard to zoom in on, even with active stabilization, as you zoom in it gets really hard to keep the rocket in the viewfinder/screen. Once you lose it in the viewfinder it's next to impossible to find it again.

I still prefer the G85 to my cell phone as the video quality is much better. Though my cell phone does not have a great camera as far as cell phones go. FWIW, the G85 is a micro 4/3 camera, I mostly use the kit 12-60 f3.5-5.6 which is a 35mm equivalent 24-120mm. Only when the rocket is 500+ feet away to I break out the 45-150 (90-300mm eq). You can't really track fast moving rockets if your zoomed in too much.
 
It's worth noting here that it's easier to track the early part of the flight with a physically lighter camera as things are moving fast relatively. I noticed this when I switched from my cell phone to a mirrorless Panasonic G85, more so as I added an audio mixer, mic, and FRS radio to the rig. The upper part of the flight is also hard to zoom in on, even with active stabilization, as you zoom in it gets really hard to keep the rocket in the viewfinder/screen. Once you lose it in the viewfinder it's next to impossible to find it again.

I still prefer the G85 to my cell phone as the video quality is much better. Though my cell phone does not have a great camera as far as cell phones go. FWIW, the G85 is a micro 4/3 camera, I mostly use the kit 12-60 f3.5-5.6 which is a 35mm equivalent 24-120mm. Only when the rocket is 500+ feet away to I break out the 45-150 (90-300mm eq). You can't really track fast moving rockets if your zoomed in too much.
Excellent summary of the issues.

To track a rocket through viewfinder requires at most a moderate zoom, and the faster it travels the less zoom you can use. But to see a rocket at thousands of feet, you need a lot of zoom, which makes it almost impossible to keep the camera in the viewfinder – the smallest motion is greatly magnified. It's a conflict of demands. And trying to zoom in on a rocket in flight is extremely difficult.

Here's another way to look at it. Find a quiet road and look for a nice rocket shaped object near the side of the road. A street sign is too thin, but a telephone pole would work if there is something about 6-8ft up that's easy to see. Then using your car's odometer, drive about one mile down the road – that's just over 5,000'. Now look back at the pole or whatever you chose as your stand in rocket, and especially try looking at it through a viewfinder. Take a photo and see what kind of detail you can get. That's a decent sized rocket at apogee at just over 5,000'. It can be very humbling.


Tony
 
Just ideas:
One way I can think of is having a video camera with a long focal length (high magnification) and a smaller telescope with a wider field of view and a cross hair reticle.
Mount them together so they move as one unit. Use the lower power telescope and cross hairs to track and the higher power lens on the camera to record.
It will still be hard and will take some practice.

Many even use Zero magnification, just optical cross hairs to track. A modified Red dot finder (common Astronomy finder) with a brighter dot would work well.

Last is a fully automated tracker. low power telescope with camera to computer the drives a tracking mount system.
 
If you think about it when capturing fast moving objects like rockets you tend to see very shaky video or the object lost in frame. Essentially you are holding the focal plane and sighting through it so your hand technique is exaggerated in the video not to mention tracking.

I've considered making a PVC tube gunstock and mount my iPhone to the end of it using one of those auto vent phone holders.
Shouldering the PVC like rifle and following the rocket by sighting down the barrel and not the phone (camera) may improve things.
 
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Just ideas:
One way I can think of is having a video camera with a long focal length (high magnification) and a smaller telescope with a wider field of view and a cross hair reticle.
Mount them together so they move as one unit. Use the lower power telescope and cross hairs to track and the higher power lens on the camera to record.
It will still be hard and will take some practice.

Many even use Zero magnification, just optical cross hairs to track. A modified Red dot finder (common Astronomy finder) with a brighter dot would work well.

Last is a fully automated tracker. low power telescope with camera to computer the drives a tracking mount system.
The issue here is the angle between the scope, the camera, and the object. If you set the camera and the scope to be aligned at say 500 feet for the launch, when the rocket hits 5,000 feet it wont be aligned anymore and your crosshair on the scope might not have the rocket in frame at all.
 
I want to thank all for the sage advice and lessons gained from their experience. It seems that realistic photographic goals and eventual choice of appropriate cameras will wait until after I do a fair amount of home work. at this point I have discarded the cell phone-binoculars approach and will review current camcorders (with optical and or manual magnification) and mirrorless cameras. Thanks again for your thoughts and suggestions!
Fred
 
Shooting rockets is a balance between "what is that bitty dot?" and "where did it go?", and (especially early in flight) there may be zero space between the two. NASA makes it look easy, with razor sharp close ups, and butter smooth slow motion, but even for them it isn't -

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/flyout/shuttle_imagery.html


I was sucked into this realm by a grandchild, and I've posted several hundred launch videos over the last few months; it still frustrates me that they aren't as good as I'd like, and that I can't get every launch. Every day I shoot I learn something or discover an equipment change I should make. That said, I subscribe to the view that any video is better than no video.

Do what works for you. It may help to optimize for one part of the flight - it is very hard to get a good, close view at liftoff and still keep the rocket in frame, and a setup for apogee might not work at all early on.

Lots of people are happy with what they shoot with hand held smart phones - don't be afraid to shoot what your phone camera or Go Pro does best - usually wide angle views (but they get better all the time).

Practice helps a lot - you do better on the one flight you care about if you shoot a couple of dozen to iron out your technique and equipment.

Equipment really can help - an excellent camcorder and solid tripod with a good fluid drag ball head help a lot, with a significant drawback - I started with the (relatively good) stuff I shot horse shows with, and improved this and that, and in no time had something north of $3k pointed across the flight line. And I'm sure I could do better with a $6k camera, that DEFINITELY is not happening and a $3,500 tripod is not in the cards either. A little like rocket electronics.

It really is a black hole - aside from the cost, I spend anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour to edit a 2 minute video . . .

That said, I think we can all agree that a really cool launch video is very cool indeed, and worth the effort.
 
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