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The Smithsonian Serial Camera

August 2001

My interest in photography from a kite was initiated by an article called "Camera Aloft" in the July 2001 issue of Popular Photography. The article includes some choice examples of aerial photographs and a description of the Smithsonian Aerial Camera kit.

The camera kit is available from several toy stores on the web. I got mine from Quincy Toys for $28. Oddly, it's not available on the Smithsonian web site.

It does not include a kite or any kite line.

The kit consists of a cardboard cut-out and some plastic pieces that you assemble into a cardboard box. Inside the box you place a FujiFilm Quicksnap Outdoor disposable camera (included). The plastic bits and a rubber band combine to form a shutter triggering mechanism.

In practice, the box is attached to the kite, the kite line is attached to a string harness on the front of the box. Before launching, you arm the rubber band trigger mechanism and attach a string release line. In launching, you must take care to keep the shutter release and flying lines from tangling. If the shutter release string catches on anything or doesn't unwind easily, the shutter will be activated prematurely.

I took a photo of the assembled apparatus, attached to a delta kite. This is a very light rig and you can get aloft with a smaller kite than this. In the photo you also see the plastic strips which fit on either side of the delta's keel. These stabilizers prevent the camera from spinning around.

The process of launching and flying is shortly mastered. After a bit, one person can even manage both lines himself. Unfortunately, the intrinsic limitations of this design are pretty serious:

I put two disposable cameras through this rig and only came away with three or four usable images:


While this is an interesting toy, I think it is ultimately a failure. If you can afford any other approach, your time will be better spent doing something different. The limitations are simply too great.