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Canon PowerShot S95 with CHDK running.

After months of reading, there are only a few options for launching a high quality light-weight camera onto a balloon that can take photos every few seconds.  I went with hacking a Canon PowerShot camera with CHDK.  Haven’t floated it up yet, but on the ground it is allowing full manual control of everything and it shoots RAW images.  Perfect for the quality that is needed.  Next step is to use it in the air.  If you want a bit more information on CHDK,  continue reading…

Many light-weight point-and-shoot cameras have a “Time Lapse” feature, but they usually automatically turn the result into a ready-made movie.  I need more control and access to the high quality still images.  Surprisingly smart phones can do this, but  (call me old-fashioned)  I can easily send a $400 camera up on a balloon, however I just can’t send my cel phone up into the heavens with only a string…  Additionally, popular balloon aerial mapping sites recommend putting your camera into continuous mode and just jamming the shutter on.  Not for me.  I need to send the balloon up for hours and don’t want to sort through 10,000s of images – let alone running the battery down or over-heating the camera.   There are also a number of DIY solutions for creating a device that will click a camera’s shutter at regular intervals.  IMHO this just adds extra weight and allows for more to go wrong.  More importantly, I am not good at building small mechanical devices that actually work.  So I opted for purchasing a Canon PowerShot S95 and hacking it so it could run an external script for time lapse.

Canon Hack Development Kit (CHDK), started by Andrey Gratchev, enhances most Canon PowerShot cameras without replacing the stock firmware.  It’s open source and has its own Wiki. It took me a few tries, but it was pretty easy to do.  Unless you are a geek, you will need good step-by-step instructions.  Also working in the Windows OS might be better than Mac OS, but that isn’t a requirement. Methods vary depending on which model PowerShot you have.  Once you have CHDK running, you can access many “hidden” controls – like shooting RAW.  More importantly you can download scripts that can be run on the hacked camera.  Some of the most used are time lapse scripts that allow the camera to shoot images at any interval for any length of time.  All this information can be found by searching the internet, but here are the two articles that I used for this particular hack.

If you are trying this and having problems, don’t leave questions here for me!!!  🙂  I am not THAT good!!…..  Go to CHDK sites.