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Which Camcorder Do You Use to Shoot Rocket Videos?

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Bruce

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What is the best way to shoot videos of rockets being launched?

Do you use a tripod? It seems like when the rocket is overhead, you'd have to scrunch down at unnatural angles to keep it in view.

How far away do you stand? Further might be better as you wouldn't have to pan as fast, but a closeup view of the rocket might show more detail... And how far is too far?

What kind of camera do you use? A flash memory camcorder seems appropriate, but what about a still camera that also takes videos?

What features are most valuable on the camera? Long optical zoom might be helpful. What about image stabilization? Does that help at all? Slow motion / high speed shutter would almost certainly be helpful. What cameras can take video at 240 frames per second or even 120?

Those 3" LCD screens seem kinda dim in the direct sunlight. Would an optical viewfinder help, or are there other alternatives?

I have seen the focus go blurry on some rocket videos, so having a focus lock that you don't have to set each time you start up the camera seems helpful.

What about the user interface for the camera? Which ones are intuitive and which ones are frustrating?

What other features do you find helpful?

Which cameras come the closest to being best suited for getting good videos of rocket launches?
 

rharshberger

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Most camcorders I have seen at launches (Flyfalcons and Burkfj's) are handheld units like the Sony Handycam style and iirc they set the focus to the infinity setting, though Frank's kids iirc do zoom in a bit from time to time. Autofocus does not work too well once the rocket is off the pad or at long distances.
 

RoyAtl

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I haven't paid any attention to cameras in the past 20 years, but here's my wish list based on how I used to film rocket launches.

As much Optical zoom as you can get, it should zoom quickly, or slowly, with not much jerkiness.
Fixed focus at infinity. With zoom lenses this may not exactly be an option. At the least you want to be able to turn auto-focus off and set it close to infinity so you can make adjustments.
Either a pistol grip, or a side wrap grip (that's my name for it. not sure what it's really called). Either way, fingers should have access to zoom controls.
Don't know if Image Stabilization is really a good idea, but maybe they've made good strides in recent years.?
To me a tripod is never a good idea. A monopod is what you want... i.e. you can shoot mostly stable video until liftoff, then raise the camera to track it (just be sure to keep people five or six feet from you so you don't whack them.
I'd advise 50 ft from small rockets. Zoom in to get a good close shot. zoom out during count down to a moderate wide shot. At liftoff you have a decent chance to keep the rocket in frame and when you feel comfortable, start zooming in on the rocket in the air. After deployment, zoom slowly out. As the rocket reaches the ground, slowly zoom in again. For larger rockets, the normal spectator distance is ok.

Don't go into digital zoom if you can help it.
 

rklapp

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I've changed my technique over the past months and always looking for a better alternative. It's more about what style one decides to use. I'm using 3 cameras now. 1 is on a tripod for closeups. I recently bought the GoPro8 and using 1080p at 240fps for the slomo. 2 is the old GoPro3 for the ground angle set at 720p at 120fps for the slomo. 3 is my handheld iPhone8 set at 1080p and 60fps. Last week, I had a lot of failed launches and had a difficult time figuring out the timeline.

I think today I'll try 1080p at 240fps for the handheld shot. I don't think a tripod would work because it quickly has to track the ascending rocket. If it's a cloudless sky, the camera has a difficult time focusing on the descending rocket. Light stratosphere clouds seem to work the best. I find that at apogee, it works best to touch the 2x button on the iPhone's screen. This usually helps with focus and prevents the rocket from looking like a dot at 500 feet. I get annoyed at videos (including my own) that show a blurry sky for 30 seconds until the rocket descends into view. I've tried filming with my Nikon DSLR but difficult to find and track the rocket at apogee with the manual zoom.

 

Bruce

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What I'd like to find is a camcorder that will shoot at 240 frames per second like the GoPro or the phone. Even 120 fps would be good enough.

Do such consumer camcorders exist?
 

rklapp

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Good question. FPS is not a common feature advertised with camcorders. The Canon controls speed but not FPS. I'm looking for a reasonable camcorder that makes it easy to quickly focus and zoom in on the rocket at apogee and track it on the descent. Not your typical family action shot...

1601457207948.png
 

rfjustin

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1. Eye viewfinder (do not use the LCD screen)
2. Manual focus ring is a must
3. Optical zoom, the more the better
 

Bruce

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Good question. FPS is not a common feature advertised with camcorders. The Canon controls speed but not FPS. I'm looking for a reasonable camcorder that makes it easy to quickly focus and zoom in on the rocket at apogee and track it on the descent. Not your typical family action shot...

View attachment 433423
It looks like x1/2 might mean 60 frames per second and that would certainly be better than the usual 30 fps on most camcorders. I agree that it is frustrating how the marketing of camcorders seems to hide or minimize the availability of slow motion features.

Can anyone provide specific models of camcorders with slow motion or high frame rate features?
 

bguffer

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It looks like x1/2 might mean 60 frames per second and that would certainly be better than the usual 30 fps on most camcorders. I agree that it is frustrating how the marketing of camcorders seems to hide or minimize the availability of slow motion features.

Can anyone provide specific models of camcorders with slow motion or high frame rate features?
What is your minimum capture time for slow motion? Is a few seconds sufficient, or do you need several minutes?

Several cell phones can do slow motion, but the cell phone limits you to a few seconds of real time capture time. There are several non-cell phone cameras in the same boat. The action cams tend to not have that limitation. Some action cams have a reputation for getting hot when recording slow motion (really any high bitrate modes) and will auto turn themselves off.

If you are launching alone in a park, the cell phone slow motion record time may be sufficient. If launching at organized launch, the cell phone slow motion record time will likely not be sufficient.

Bob
 

bguffer

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1) Which are you tryng to capture?

1a) slow motion video at pad?
1b) slow motion video away from pad?
1c) slow motion video (manually) tracking the rocket?
1d) slow motion video onboard the rocket?
1e) real time video at pad?
1f) real time video away from pad?
1g) real time video (manually) tracking the rocket?
1h) real time video onboard the rocket?
1i) photos at pad?
1j) photos away from pad?
1k) photos onboard the rocket?

2) Is audio important to you?

3) What is your price range?

Here is an example where i used 4 cameras:
 
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bguffer

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When duckduckgo'ing slow motion cameras, try keywords of "high speed cameras". Tends to be the more technical term.
 

bguffer

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If you got a hole burning in your pocket and need super slow:
Believe these folks have successfully completed most/all transactions.

I'd advise steering away from FPS1000 or any variant by Graham Rowan (sp) / The Slow Motion Company. I was part of crowdfunding for initial design, and 5 years later had not received my order, while Graham was accepting money for a second and third design. Some people had supposedly received there first and even second design orders, while i had not received anything. Eventually i got a 80% or so refund, when differences in currency exchanges were accounted for.
I lost out on money i would have gained had i invested the money in stock/CD/etc as well.
 

bguffer

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Half a year ago i was reading good things about
Yi Technologies 4K+ Action Camera
Believe if you find on Amazon, it will be well above MSRP (kinda like Roger mentioned Casio EX-F1s being 8-10 years ago, in your initial thread)
I compared the Yi to several other generics, and to the 2 main name brand action cams, and decided to go with the Yi 4K+. I was mainly looking for a camera to do slow motion at the pad. Believe one of the deliminating factors for me was whether the camera would possibly overheat when running for extended times while recording slow motion.
 

bguffer

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While researching cameras with slow motion capabilities, i found it useful to go to the manufacturer's website and download/view the instruction manual for each camera. The manuals ususally list what resolution and frame rates are available, and the maximum recording time length. I weeded out a number of candidate cameras that way.
 

Initiator001

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1. Eye viewfinder (do not use the LCD screen)
2. Manual focus ring is a must
3. Optical zoom, the more the better
Yes.

I still use a 15+ year old Sony TRV120 Digital 8mm tape Handycam.
Before that I used a Sony CCD-F40 which was a great camera but I wore it out.
 

Bruce

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1. Eye viewfinder (do not use the LCD screen)
2. Manual focus ring is a must
3. Optical zoom, the more the better
Yes agreed, those all sound like useful features. But I've never seen a consumer camcorder that had either an optical viewfinder or a manual focus ring. Sure would be nice if they did...

So to get these features, it sounds like a DSLR style camera would be needed.

Disadvantages of a DSLR vs a camcorder that I can think of would include:
1) Size / Weight - A DSLR is going to be a lot to haul around compared to a compact camcorder
2) Price - Probably more expensive
3) Limited telephoto and zoom capabilities - Camcorders sometimes have as much as 40:1 optical zoom and extreme telephoto. A lens like that for a DSLR is likely to be heavy and expensive if it's even available.

On the other hand, a DSLR certainly has it's advantages...
1) Larger image sensor will give sharper images and have better low light capabilities
2) Optical viewfinder is usable outdoors compared to external LCD viewfinders which are dim at best
3) Manual focus and zoom rings are much easier to use than menus and up / down buttons

So which is best for videoing rocket launches? Or are there other options?
 

rklapp

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Yes agreed, those all sound like useful features. But I've never seen a consumer camcorder that had either an optical viewfinder or a manual focus ring. Sure would be nice if they did...

So to get these features, it sounds like a DSLR style camera would be needed.

Disadvantages of a DSLR vs a camcorder that I can think of would include:
1) Size / Weight - A DSLR is going to be a lot to haul around compared to a compact camcorder
2) Price - Probably more expensive
3) Limited telephoto and zoom capabilities - Camcorders sometimes have as much as 40:1 optical zoom and extreme telephoto. A lens like that for a DSLR is likely to be heavy and expensive if it's even available.

On the other hand, a DSLR certainly has it's advantages...
1) Larger image sensor will give sharper images and have better low light capabilities
2) Optical viewfinder is usable outdoors compared to external LCD viewfinders which are dim at best
3) Manual focus and zoom rings are much easier to use than menus and up / down buttons

So which is best for videoing rocket launches? Or are there other options?
The trouble I had with using my DSLR was that the auto focus was too slow, manual focus too clumsy, and the zoom too difficult to control especially when trying to manage the focus and zoom at the same time while the rocket is approaching apogee.

The auto focus and quick 2x zoom in my iPhone8 at 1080p/60fps works great as long as there’s something for the camera to focus on like high clouds or sufficient tracking smoke. There are times when the focus is a real ass and refuses to focus on anything. Stopping and starting the video seemed to help which can easily be edited together.

 

Bruce

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1) Which are you tryng to capture?

1a) slow motion video at pad?
1b) slow motion video away from pad?
1c) slow motion video (manually) tracking the rocket?
1d) slow motion video onboard the rocket?
1e) real time video at pad?
1f) real time video away from pad?
1g) real time video (manually) tracking the rocket?
1h) real time video onboard the rocket?
1i) photos at pad?
1j) photos away from pad?
1k) photos onboard the rocket?

2) Is audio important to you?

3) What is your price range?

Here is an example where i used 4 cameras:
 

Bruce

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I'd like to get slow motion video (with sound) while manually tracking the rocket. I realize that this will not be easy to get good results.

Zoom in too much and you miss the action. Zoom out too much and there's no detail.

Stand too close and it will be hard to follow the rocket. Stand too far away and the video will be shaky from the hand held telephoto.

I assume that with slow motion / high frame rate, the shutter speed will be faster and hopefully that will translate into clearer and also smoother videos.
 

rklapp

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I'd like to get slow motion video (with sound) while manually tracking the rocket. I realize that this will not be easy to get good results.

Zoom in too much and you miss the action. Zoom out too much and there's no detail.

Stand too close and it will be hard to follow the rocket. Stand too far away and the video will be shaky from the hand held telephoto.

I assume that with slow motion / high frame rate, the shutter speed will be faster and hopefully that will translate into clearer and also smoother videos.
Unfortunately not always. We experimented with the slomo feature 1080p/240fps and video was more blurry so we switched back to 1080p/60.

For the reasons you indicated, I only use slomo with the static cameras on the tripod and ground. The GoPro has more stabilization features at 4K/60 than it does at 1080/240, but the 240Fps is best for slomo, usually 0.12x speed.
 

bguffer

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Unfortunately not always. We experimented with the slomo feature 1080p/240fps and video was more blurry so we switched back to 1080p/60.
Do you know if your particular camera/phone is accomplishing the higher fps by interpolating frames captured at a lower fps? I know some of camera phones with high fps do that, and that could cause blur or ghosting.
 

bguffer

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I'd like to get slow motion video (with sound) while manually tracking the rocket. I realize that this will not be easy to get good results.
You may be best off finding a camera does does slow motion like you want (and probably won't capture sound while you record slow motion), and then capture/track launch with slow motion camera, and have a normal camera/phone be pointed at the pad the entire time capturing the sound. Mix the two together in a video editing tool later.
 

bguffer

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I'd like to get slow motion video (with sound) while manually tracking the rocket. I realize that this will not be easy to get good results.

Zoom in too much and you miss the action. Zoom out too much and there's no detail.

Stand too close and it will be hard to follow the rocket. Stand too far away and the video will be shaky from the hand held telephoto.

I assume that with slow motion / high frame rate, the shutter speed will be faster and hopefully that will translate into clearer and also smoother videos.
When i have tried to track rocket with slow motion (or take photos at 10 fps) from a distance, i usually setup a slow motion camera at the pad as well. If i fail to track the rocket from a distance (or push the wrong buttons) and miss the launch from a distance, at least i have the slow motion at the pad. I can pull an image from the slow motion at the pad as well, if i want a picture of the rocket with plume.

Bob
 

rklapp

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Do you know if your particular camera/phone is accomplishing the higher fps by interpolating frames captured at a lower fps? I know some of camera phones with high fps do that, and that could cause blur or ghosting.
Probably, the iPhone auto detects when the action occurs and slows the video then speeds it up when it thinks the action has ended. Overall, the simpler, the better. I like the phone camera's one button zoom feature. My iPad doesn't have it. Like you said, it's easy to miss something when fumbling around with zoom menus and twisting knobs.
 

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