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Nov 29, 2005, 03:07 PM
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chrisgood's Avatar
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Inexpensive Digital Cam Comparison

I have been working with several inexpensive digital cameras for aerial photography over the past few years and wanted to come up with the best [pics] for the least [money].

My web page showing some of these setups is at:

I have always had good results with the Aiptek Pencam SD. It is a 1.3 megapixel camera and accepts SD memory cards. It is light and easily converted to electronically trigger. It costs $20 - $30 plus the SD card. This camera has long been a favorite for aerial photos. This camera is powered by 2 AAA bats, or from the receiver pack through the USB port. When 5 volts is applied through the USB port, the camera works normally. No screen, and the current draw is small.

I was in a CompUSA earlier this year and saw an Argus DC3640 on clearance for $50. It is a 3.1 megapixel camera and accepts SD cards as well. As a bonus, it has a TV out port, so you can run the video to a transmitter for downlink. This camera is powered by 2 AA bats. When 5 volts is applied though the USB port, the camera basically turns into a memory key and it won't take pictures. Alternately, you can supply 3 volts to the battery connectors. The screen can be turned off, so the current draw can be kept low.

Just last month I was in Radio Shack and saw one version of the FlatFoto on sale for $40. There are several FlatFoto digicams available. This one is listed as 3.0 megapixel, but actually has slightly more resolution than the Argus DC3640. It accepts SD cards also. It is powered by a single internal lipo cell that must be recharged by plugging into a USB port on a computer. The screen can be turned off, so the current draw can be kept low.

On Friday last week, WalMart (like everyone else) had many specials; I purchased an HP E317 digital camera for $88. It is 5 megapixel and accepts SD cards too. This camera is also powered by 2 AA bats and can be programmed to act like a memory key or digital camera when USB power is applied, so this camera can be powered by the receiver pack too. It has a high current draw because you can't turn off the screen, so beware.

I have modded the first three to be triggered remotely; the HP E317 will get that same treatment this week. I wanted to compare and see exactly what kind of pics I would get with each. Below are the results. Each of these is a panorama of 4 pics joined by Autostitch. I made the panoramas so I could see lots of lighting and coloring differences across a single picture. Autostich does not change any contrast or coloring; it only joins images. The original size varied by camera based on megapixels. All have been reduced to 1500 pixels wide for this display. The Pencam SD was the smallest originally, the Argus and Flatfoto were about twice as big, and the HP E317 was the biggest. It would support the largest printed version of an image.

The Argus is out. I have tried to change the focus several times and just can't get it to work correctly. Other reviews I have read on this camera say it is not worth the effort. It is too bad, because it is the only one of the bunch that has TV out.

The Pencam SD takes great pictures for its size and I have been using it all over the country for aerial photos. I will continue to shoot with this camera. This thread shows some of the pics I have taken with the Pencam SD.

The FlatFoto was a good deal, but after reading some reviews I wasn't so sure. It tends to overexpose shots, or so say the reviews. I have seen it wash out close-up shots with the flash, and it does overexpose the sky a bit, but the pictures I have taken so far have been excellent. This one will continue to fly for me.

The newest digicam that I bought specifically for aerial photos is the Hp E317. While it has not flown yet, the ground shots have all been great. It is the largest of the bunch, but not by much. It should fly nicely in a SlowStick or Magpie.

NOTE: The images were reduced quite a bit here. The originals can be seen at:
Last edited by chrisgood; Nov 29, 2005 at 03:15 PM.
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Nov 29, 2005, 07:44 PM
err...see where it went?
crooser's Avatar
good comparison

looks like the light wasnt the best when you took these

the HP clearly has the most detail but the pics would appear to need some cleaning up in post. how does the HP in good sunlight?
Nov 29, 2005, 11:40 PM
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chrisgood's Avatar
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The light was not good. I was headed for work this morning and stopped to take these. It was a dreary Maryland day. I will post more if it ever becomes bright around here again.

Nov 29, 2005, 11:45 PM
I AP'd myself again......
aviatordave's Avatar
Last edited by aviatordave; Jan 27, 2006 at 12:47 AM.
Jan 23, 2006, 06:24 AM
aerial photographer
Lorphos's Avatar
Have you been successful at modifying your HP Photosmart E317?
It's on sale in Germany now and I'm considering getting one for AP.

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