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4155Canon PowerShot A560 results

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  • Mark Conner
    Apr 2, 2008
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      NSTAR Flight 08-A featured our first use of the Canon PowerShot A560 7.1 Mpixel camera using the CHDK firmware. Overall the results were excellent. The camera ran for the entire flight on one set of Energizer lithium AA batteries (the blue/silver ones). I shut the LCD display off prior to the flight to help with the battery life. According to the temp sensor in the payload the camera approached -15C in temperature but continued to function. I had sort of tested the cold operation capability of this camera during the lunar eclipse in February - it was about -10 to -12C that evening and I left it outside for an hour taking photos automatically.

      The CHDK firmware (http://chdk.wikia.com) allows scripting of common camera functions, to include a customizable intervalometer function. Almost anything that can be controlled from the buttons on the camera can be included in the script. I had mine set to take full-resolution pictures every 20 seconds and got around 1 Gbyte of images during the 2 hours and 15 minutes the camera was active.

      The firmware can be set to 'boot' from the SD card at power-up, and a default script can also be ready after the power-on sequence. This makes launch preparation very easy - power on the camera, turn display off, click shutter button to start the script. Best of all, this does not require any camera disassembly or any other permanent mods to the camera itself. The original Canon firmware is intact and the camera can be returned to normal operation by either disabling the SD card firmware load, or inserting another card that does not contain the firmware. I plan to keep the camera in my car for grabbing photos of severe weather or whatever. I've also experimented with making time-lapse movies using the intervalometer function and some JPEG-to-AVI conversion software and have been very impressed with those results too.

      The camera will take SD High Capacity cards of 4 Gb or more, according to the manual. I used a 2 Gbyte card for this flight, which can be found for about $15-$20 now. It will also take AVI movies and the CHDK firmware reportedly allows movies of >2 Gbytes in length and I think a 4 Gbyte card would capture an entire flight if the frame rate or quality is reduced a bit.

      The cameras typically go for $85-$100 used on eBay. I believe newegg.com still has some new or refurbed ones for around $125. I don't believe these are in production anymore, so if you want one don't dawdle too long.

      I will have a full set of photos on www.nstar.org in a few days (when you have >400 to review, it can be tough to edit them down). We got several with the moon in the frame as it was setting in the west near our burst time. A sample image is on the website now.

      If you are looking for a high-quality digital camera to fly on your payload with a minumum of integration issues, you can't go far wrong with the Canon PowerShot A560. Others in the A500 or A600 series should perform equally well. If you plan to use the CHDK firmware, consult the site to make sure your particular model is supported.

      Thanks to someone in the ANSR group for posting the note regarding the CHDK firmware availability (I can't find the original e-mail right now) - without that note I would not have known about this capability.

      73 de Mark N9XTN
      www.nstar.org
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