Breadloaf past its peak

The first KAP session of the 2016 autumn color season was timed perfectly. The sugar maples were vibrant around the Breadloaf Campus of Middlebury College at 1500 feet asl in the Green Mountains. I spent a glorious hour flying the nine foot Levitation delta in bright sunshine and gusty 14-18 mph northwest winds. But the Canon EOS M was not taking photos after the first three minutes of the flight. The Saturn V Rig bounced on the ground when a gust interrupted the launch, and maybe that was responsible for the camera failure. The camera was not damaged and worked fine two days later at the same place. But the colors were conspicuously faded by then.

One of the few photos taken on October 10 by the Saturn V Rig before it stopped triggering the Canon EOS M. The fall colors were not as vibrant when I returned on the 12th.

On October 12 the Fled kite barely had enough wind to lift the EOS M. I spent two hours in the warm sun waiting for it to pick up, and eventually got the Saturn V Rig high enough to capture a spherical panorama. This requires that 38 photos be taken before the rig moves very far, and that was a challenge. Out of the 530 photos from a few different short flights, only one set would stitch together. 

The Canon EOS M on the Saturn V Rig snapped this shot as the Fled was launching it on October 12.

After the failure two days earlier, I made some adjustments to the triggering system to make it more robust. This just involved adding more Velcro to hold the infrared LED in place over the remote sensor on the EOS M. I don't know whether it made any difference. At the end of one of the flights, the Saturn V Rig bounced on the ground. When I got to the camera it was powered off, but it had been taking photos right up to the landing. So maybe the EOS M turns itself off when its knocked around. I might have to do some shake tests. 

Stereographic projection of a spherical panorama stitched from 34 photos captured by a Canon EOS M riding on a Saturn V Rig lofted by a Fled kite.

The little planet image above is stitched from 34 photos. The SkyShield was programmed to take 38 photos in every cycle (5 tilt positions and 3 to 10 pan positions per tilt angle). The four photos which did not make it into the panorama are in the upper row (mostly sky) and two of the three nadir photos which are mostly redundant.

An aerial panorama of the Breadloaf Campus of Middlebury College. Stitched from 13 photos captured by a Canon EOS M riding on a Saturn V Rig lofted by a Fled kite.

Although the leaves were past their peak color, it was still rather pretty up there. My bucket list now includes capturing the peak, in a good year, and stitching a perfect little planet of this place. Maybe next year.

The EOS M on a Saturn V Rig under the Fled. I added some extra Velcro (green) to hold the IR LED in place.
A full resolution crop of me outstanding in the field. This is a direct crop from the little planet image above, and illustrates the improved optical quality of the EOS M compared to PowerShots.

Flight notes: 


  • Model: Canon EOS M
  • ISO: 200
  • Shutter speed: 1/800 second (Tv)
  • Focus: manual on infinity
  • Focal length: 35mm (eq.) EF-M 22mm lens
  • White balance: Sunny
  • GPS: NA

Magic Lantern:

  • Not used for anything


  • Version: 2.4 (3-switch DIP)
  • Sketch: SkySweepEOS.04.ino
  • Mode: 5 tilt angles with 10, 10, 9, 7, 3 pan positions (upper to lower)
  • Shutter triggering: The SkyShield pulsed an IR LED in front of the remote sensor on the EOS M.
  • Power: 6 eneloop AAA
  • Customization: The nadir tilt angle was changed to 4 so the camera was pointed straight down.


  • Kite: FLED
  • Wind: From S, 5 to 10 mph
  • Altitude: About 500 feet of line was out for part of the flight.
  • Duration: A few short flights of less than 10 minutes each
  • Photos taken: 530 total, 210 on the flight which captured the photos above

Panorama stitching:

  • Software: Microsoft ICE
  • Preprocessing: none
  • Stitching: 36 of the 38 photos stitched together.
  • Post processing: The little planet projection above was patched up in Photoshop to repair stitching artifacts.

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