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Question:Cheap, lightweight GoPro alternatives for aerial mapping?

warren is asking a question about balloon-mapping: Subscribe to answer questions on this topic

warren asked on May 20, 2017 21:42
1,045 | 5 answers | shortlink

Just following up on the question posted by @cherylh from Fair Tech Collective with something that may be relevant to real-time video counter-surveillance --

Related to various efforts to use smaller kites and balloons to do aerial mapping with lighter cameras, the Mobius Action Cam that many Public Labbers use is great, at ~$70 and ~40 grams, but I'm starting to see GoPro look-alikes show up on Amazon for even less, and with waterproof enclosures and sometimes even Wifi connectivity. I collected a few here, but have folks tried any of these, or have other suggestions for cheap, <100 gram cameras to fly on balloons and kites?

Some I've found include:

Any help appreciated!

Update: we now carry a version of these in the Public Lab store! And there is a guide here to modifying one of these to take infrared/multispectral photos.

Update: a lot of these listed as 4k or 1080, as in the lead image or on AliExpress are 4032 × 3024 pixels (or 12 megapixels), whether they list HD or 4k (I tested one of each). The images they produce are nice, but not incredibly high quality. Also note that you can use this lens distortion removal tool to undo the notable fisheye distortion.

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question:balloon-mapping question:aerial-mapping question:kite-mapping question:aerial-photography response:14191 question:camera-selection question:mini-balloon-kit question:mini-kite-kit


warren 7 months ago

Of course, it'd be great to see an even cheaper #raspberry-pi -based alternative too!

cfastie 5 months ago

Here is a strange development. This action camera has a 1MP sensor. It is a 1/4" sensor which has an area of 10 square mm. The native image size is 1280 x 800 pixels, but it is described as having "5.0 Megapixels." It costs $24.99 from Amazon and looks just like all the other actioncams.

warren 5 months ago

Hi Chris - yeah i would be surprised if it's actually different, these almost all seem like the same hardware in different cases. I have found some deals from time to time on this type of camera for <$30; could be worth buying to see, at that price.

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5 Answers

A good starting point for evaluating these sub $60 action cameras is the sensor. Many if not all of these cameras use sensors that do not have as many pixels as the images produced by the camera firmware. So a camera claiming 16MB might have an 8MP sensor. As expected, it is not easy to find any information about the sensors in these cameras. Sometimes the physical size of the sensor is reported, and it is often tiny -- smaller than the sensor in a cheap PowerShot. These are probably the sensors made for cheap phones, or front facing cameras on phones and tablets.

It might be possible to find or request information about the sensors in these cameras. That might provide a good filter before buying one for testing.


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I suggest you try instead of Amazon -- why pay double or more money for stuff when you can buy it direct from China? They are an umbrella for many different sellers. And they have a decent customer support procedure if, as sometimes happens, something you buy doesn't make it all the way across the Pacific. Delivery can be very slow.

cfastie 6 months ago

The prices at Aliexpress seemed to be the about the same as at Amazon.

Some of the product descriptions at Aliexpress named the sensor. For example this one has a Sony Sony IMX179 sensor. The camera is promoted as a 4k camera with 16MP photos, but that sensor is an 8MP sensor. I think that is very typical for these cameras.

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I Liked recently launched Eken H6S 4K Action camera, on YTECHB

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