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Check out this balloon mapping guide to see the sources of all the materials we use in our balloon mapping kit that is available on the store.
Pick and choose from the basic or advanced kits, and read in more detail about specific choices below. Also see the Illustrated Guide for a downloadable PDF with a simplified set including assembly and use instructions.
For any kit you're going to need helium, so that's a good first place to start.
Your most basic option is the medium weight nylon, or mason line (#18, rated to ~150 lbs) from a hardware store. It's often sold in 500 foot rolls for a few dollars. Buy 2 or 3 and put them on a reel, like this -- you really want 1000-1500 feet minimum.
For much higher flights, ~4000+ feet, you want lighter and stronger string. Monofilament fishing line (the clear kind) is risky because it can suddenly snap. Braided spectra gets worn and will also snap unexpectedly. This may be because fishing line (esp. high strength) is designed to be used in the open ocean without obstacles to get caught on or tangled in. But if you're careful it has very low drag and we've used it for some great flights on days with almost no wind.
We've found that the best choice is Dacron, which is what kite flyers use. It's not quite as thin and strong as fishing line, but we can buy 3000 feet at 50 pound strength for only $20 here:
http://www.kitebuilder.com/catalog/index.php/cPath/30_192 (there's sometimes a deal for $10 pink reels)
These days, you can just go for the cheapest -- you can get a 10mp camera for $55
or so. Just make sure the camera has a continuous shooting mode where you can hold down the button to trigger continuous photos every second or so. We have had great luck with Canon Elph SD series cameras, SD450, SD600, SD850, SD1000, SD1100... which all take great photos and have a continuous shot mode. On Ebay the older ones like the SD600 can often be found for less than $40.
Jeff has been using the Canon A490, which is great, for around $60-80. It takes AA batteries which is nice in a pinch. Most recent Canons have continuous shooting -- just be sure to put it in P or M mode.
Some grassroots mappers finesse manual settings based on how cloudy it is, etc, but I've had a few flights where the sun broke free of the cloud cover and overexposed my photos.
So I tend to leave everything on auto -- full resolution, S quality (super, or minimal compression).
If you can turn off the LCD it'll save battery but then it's hard to confirm that it's actually continuously shooting. It's unclear if leaving the "click" sound on saves battery vs. using the LCD, but with AA batteries it really hasn't been a problem... you run out of memory first.