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Old September 30th, 2008, 10:46 AM   #1
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Need Advice on the "best money can buy" Camcorder

Hi all,
I am new here and I am seeking your knowledges and advices.
I work for an electric company and I just got a new assignment. My assignment is to do pole inspection...by plane. I am a pilot and a plane owner so what my boss wants is for me to fly 1000 feet above the ground and circle any pole that has transformer hanging on it. These transformers are held up with a set of brackets and lots of these brackets have cracks on them that we don't know until they brake and fall off. My mission is to fly a guy with a camcorder and zoom in on the bracket 1000 feet above to check for cracks in the bracket and record it.

This is a big project and the company had put out $40 Million to inspect all poles in Southern California. So money is no object for me to find the best of the best camcorder. What I need is a high resolution camcorder with a telephoto lense (maybe 50X Optical zoom lense) that could see any cracks from 1000 feet above and clearly. I have talked to a couple of professionals who said for 50K to 70K I could have the equipment I needed for this job. I have been searching all over the net but couldn't find such thing. The maximum zoom I found is 20X optical zoom which I don't think would do the job.

Your suggestion is greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance!

Regards,
Andy
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Old September 30th, 2008, 10:57 AM   #2
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You really don't need to spend that much money.

HDV Canon Camera:
Canon | XL-H1 3-CCD High Definition Camcorder | 0967B001 | B&H
Adapter for EOS lenes:
Canon | EF Adapter XL for Canon | 3162A002 | B&H Photo Video
Lens with the zoom range you need:
Canon | Telephoto EF 600mm f/4.0L IS Image Stabilizer | 2534A002

The lens I linked to is only an option, you can throw any lens on there, bigger or smaller. Remember, its going to be very hard for the camera operator to get smooth footage at tight zoom while the plane is in motion.
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Old September 30th, 2008, 11:19 AM   #3
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I'm just wondering, but why is this being recorded with video instead of using a still camera?The motion and vibration of a small plane would make handheld, fully zoomed video very shaky. Maybe getting a still shot would be difficult as well.
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Old September 30th, 2008, 11:21 AM   #4
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Why is video necessary. Why not a digital SLR. The definition of a high resolution photo will be much better than a video camera of any type and cost.

Seems like the biggest problem will be keeping your target in the frame with a super telephoto, from a moving and buffeting plane 1000 feet away.
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Old September 30th, 2008, 11:33 AM   #5
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Sounds to me like you are going to be looking for 3 things.


1. A camera with exellent resolution
2. A camera that can take aftermarket lenses
3. a potential gyrostabilizer that can nullify the vibrations from that plane motor.

This is one of those rare instances where I would say you MIGHT even do better with a true film camera. I might have even have suggest RED but you're probably not going to wait as long as it would take to get one.

So unless someone comes in and can think of a 35mm sensor camera that can take switch lenses, I am going to suggest that you look into some cameras like this:

Sony PDW700
Sony Product Detail Page - PDW700

Panasonic HPX3000
Learn about Panasonic's AJ-HPX3000

or similar cameras. You'll need to swap the lens for something longer.

You aren't going to find what you're looking for a the local best buy or electronics store. This is a professional application, and you're going to need professional tools. You're also going to need someone with experience to rig the camera mount on your plane unless you intend on taking a camera man out with you to operate the camera. You'll need a way to rig a remote controller to start the recording and stop it. If you're going to operate alone (which I don't recommend) you'll also want a monitor above your instrument panel so you can see what the camera is recording. This shouldn't be too difficult for anyone who knows how to work with electronics and avionics.

Please note that I am NOT any kind of expert with this. I've seen it done, and I am about to do some air to ground video but only as an operator and not a pilot. After being in the co-pilot seat, I can see without question, that I would not attempt to do both jobs.

Best of luck to you.
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Old September 30th, 2008, 11:34 AM   #6
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Hi guys, thanks for the responses. Yeah, what we really need is a still photo of the bracket. But then we need to write the pole numbers and its location for every photo. We will be flying for four hours a day inspecting hudreds of these poles. My camera man will have an increase workload because every photo he takes, he has to document the pole numbers and location. After the day, we have to go back to the office and sort out which photo goes to which pole number. So you see where I am getting at. I thought with the camcorder, we can zoom to the pole numbers first then to the brackets. For location we could record our voice directly to the video tape by reading the location from our GPS. When we come back, we will look at the tape and check each brackets. I hope we would be able to take a still photo from the tape and print out the ones the show cracks.

Louis, thanks for the link. Those are good. I have thought about them but I didn't know you could put a camera telephoto lense into a camcorder. Do you guys know where I can rent these equipment to try out first before we spend 20K for them?
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Old September 30th, 2008, 11:40 AM   #7
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Thanks Perrone for your suggestion. I am only piloting the plane. I am not going to do any camera work. For mounting the camera on my plane, I don't want to do that because it will change the aerodynamics of my plane, and I have to take it to the FAA to get a new certification and new airworthiness. Anything involved with the FAA, I don't want to deal with. Besides, it's nice to have someone in the cockpit to chat with for a four hour flight.
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Old September 30th, 2008, 12:09 PM   #8
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Ha- you're making this harder than it needs to be. A nice digital SLR say a Canon EOS 5DMark II. That would get you amazingly high resolution stills with a good antivibration zoom lens like the 70-200MM. Way better resolution and quality than you'd get with any HD video camera. And it shoots 1080p video just in case.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II: 21MP and HD movies: Digital Photography Review

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM Lens Review

As for the GPS, you can get that data automatically added to your stills via Geotagging, so the voice recording of your video would be completely unnecessary:

ATP Photo Finder

http://www.sonystyle.ca/html/gps-cs1/

All in you're looking at maybe 5 grand for everything. Sounds like a fun project but not a video project.

-Noah
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Old September 30th, 2008, 12:09 PM   #9
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Andy, I think Chris is absolutely right. Basically, what you really need is a good SLR like a Nikon D3, and a mp3 recorder with a headworn mic. Basically, your camera guy shoots stills while talking into the recorder. He records pole number into the mp3 recorder, snaps his photos of the pole number and transformers and the job is done.

You an even use video software back home to make a "video" that has still shots dropped into it, and the audio layed underneath that the camera guy can describe the pole and any damage he might see.

Taking this to video will give you less resolution and more headaches. Not to mention a LOT more unnecessary cost.
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Old September 30th, 2008, 12:26 PM   #10
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Thanks Noah, that GPS looks very cool. Maybe I will try that. I have ordered the new Canon 50D last month for personal use before this project surface. I wonder if it will do the job as good as the 5D Mark II. When I get it (hopefully next week), I will go to Samys and rent a photolens and try it out. I will let you guys know how it comes out. Thanks a bunch guys!!!

Andy
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Old September 30th, 2008, 02:46 PM   #11
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Im not sure you can easily accomplish your task in the manner you are proposing.

I have shot a few poker runs (high perf. boats) out of helicopter using DSLR and video (XH-A1). Granted it's not quite the same, but there is a heck of a lot of vibration and wind buffeting (obviously one or both doors are taken off for this). We were always far closer than any 1000 feet, more like 100 feet at times. You have a low keeper ratio doing this kind of shooting. And in a plane, I guess you have to circle at least some of the sites/poles.

If you use video you will have to tie in the com to the camcorder so you will have audio notes on the video later.

1. How do you read the pole #s from an elevated position?

2. A lot of transformer banks consist of 3 single phase transformers arranged in a circle on the pole. Are you going to fly around each pole to check each bracket?

This is certainly a major project. Maybe you can contact a specialty aerial video company for help.
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Old September 30th, 2008, 03:32 PM   #12
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Hi Jeff,
The pole numbers is positioned as below, maybe 10 feet above ground:
http://i31.photobucket.com/albums/c3...n/1839266E.jpg

Yes, alot of them are 3 single phase like this:
http://i31.photobucket.com/albums/c3...39266EWIDE.jpg

I hope to be able to capture cracks like these:
http://i31.photobucket.com/albums/c3...9266ERIGHT.jpg

http://i31.photobucket.com/albums/c3...66ECENTERb.jpg

I will be making a couple of 360s until we got the shots we want and then move on to the next one down the line. These photos were taken by a colleague who shot them from the ground with a digital point and shoot camera.
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Old September 30th, 2008, 04:53 PM   #13
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Hi Andy...............

Don't want to come across as a party pooper here, but I would seriously suggest you take a comprehensive test run or 10 at this before parting with cash for anything.

I have absolutely no doubt that if you asked Uncle Sam very very nicely he would part with one of their laser guided, servo driven gyro stabilised C130 maxi gun platforms that can hit a 1 foot wide target from 10,000 feet (they might just ask for a $5 million bond, just in case you lose it!).

Apart from such largess on the part of your military, I don't fancy your chances much.

1000 feet?

140+ mph?

6 inch crack?

A lens the size of a small howitzer?

Hand held?

Call me negative if you want, but it just doen't sound like a viable game plan.

You'd be better off doing a Google and kitting out a fleet of dedicated "pole cam vehicles".

Alternatively you MIGHT get away with it from a chopper, but only if you can get that range and speed down to substantialy smaller figures.

However, I could be completely wrong.

I'll be interested in what your test runs show up.


CS
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Old September 30th, 2008, 05:33 PM   #14
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Hey Chris,
Thanks for the advice. Not bad but I don't think Uncle Sam would do that for a utility company. We are privately owned, not government owned.

For the last century or so, we have been inspecting these poles with a fleet of vehicles. In large county like LA, it's fine for those employees who only drive a short distance to a section of the city to inspect poles which are mostly on the sides of a street. But for other rural areas like Bakersfield or Palmsprings, they have to drive a couple of hours to get there, then they have to walk on foot, climb fences and get into someone's land who would come out chasing them guys with shot guns. So it is really getting dangerous for those guys in the field. They are getting tired of driving 4 hours a day, getting shot at and chased by dogs, and everything else you can imagine, but the actual time working isn't much. They end up inspecting 10 to 20 poles a day. So that's where I came in to give them a different approach that eventually could cut cost and time. We have a fleet of choppers here but they don't want to use them for inspecting poles. They use it for inspecting power lines and taking the big boss to important meetings but somehow they refuse to do pole inspections.
Anyway, I am going to try it and let you guys know. I can turn around a point at 90 MPH and in rural areas, I can go down to 500 ft so we'll see if I get good photos with that. Thanks again for the advice.
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Old September 30th, 2008, 05:51 PM   #15
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Well, if money is no object, than you might do well to consult this company:

L-3 Sonoma EO

They are down the road from me, my wife works there, and that's just about all I know - but they do high-end contracting for optical surveillance equipment manufacturing for military and security agencies. They might be able to steer you in the right direction.

-Jon
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