ideas & equipment



This is an archive of rigs I've made, mostly on commission for other people. This archive will take you from the very simple to the very complex, with some interesting variants in between.

For historical context, here's a picture of my first rig, which was based on the only aerial camera cradle commercially available in 1989, but it was heavily modified by me.

Because I wanted to use it to take mostly vertical shots, and hoped to get by with the cheapest radio system I could find, I equipped it only with servos for shutter control and vertical tilt.

(Pass cursor over the picture for a closeup of the push-rod tilt mechanism.)

The metal is twice the thickness of my later rigs, and it hangs from a heavy metal pendulum, but it weighs less than 2 pounds nonetheless, and served my purposes then.


Rig One

My rigs quickly evolved over the following ten years, and none of them I've made since resembles Old #1. Virtually all of them have used the lighter and more compact self-damping suspension system devised in 1911 by Pierre L. Picavet, which hangs from a cats-cradle of lines instead of a pendulum.

To the right is an old pic of my first do-it-yourself kit, vintage 1999, but it's a typical radio-controlled rig layout. Most of my new kits and almost all of the rigs below have the same components:

A. Pan (horizontal) Servo; B. Tilt (vertical) Servo;

C. Shutter Servo; D. Picavet Suspension;

E. Battery; F. Power Switch; G. Radio Receiver & Antenna


My original Simplex rig was designed to carry a camera with a built-in intervalometer — a timer that automatically takes a picture every X seconds or minutes. At the time I made it, there were few cameras so equipped, and no digital ones, but now there are many. Tilt and pan are pre-set on the ground, of course.

Instead of a Picavet cross to suspend it from, a square of basswood plywood was chosen, partly for cost, and partly for lightness. Whether it's a square or a cross is functionally immaterial.

[Pass cursor over picture for another view]

Simplex Rig

This is the new Simplex rig, designed to be used with any point-&-shoot camera that can be triggered by an infrared signal. The intervalometer is the gentLED-AUTO, which allows interval settings from 4 to 240 seconds, contained in the black box to the right of the camera in this case.

As above, pan and tilt are set manually on the ground before launching. The wooden Picavet X has been replaced by an aluminum one, but the function is identical.

The gentLED carries its own long-life battery, and will trigger the camera until the memory card is full.

The next step up is autoKAP, a technique pioneered by Simon Harbord, wherein a digital camera with a large memory card is sent aloft to take pictures by itself, triggered by one of James Gentles' infrared devices and rotated in some way. Simon's technique involves a continuous rotator using a rubber band and silly putty.

This one is my design — the prototype for my current BEAK; it has a servo to rotate the camera between pictures, but needs no radio to do so. The tiny gent360-LED, seen here attached to the front of the camera, signals the servo to turn the camera 30 degrees, takes a picture, and repeats until the card is full or the batteries run dry.

After you bring the camera down, you sort through the pictures, keep the good ones, and throw away the rest. Without digital cameras and large memory cards, autoKAP wouldn't be practical, but now it's my favorite way to KAP, because it takes a small kite and little effort to get very much the same results as more complex methods.

[Pass cursor over picture for another view]


With full radio control, you can still make it light. Here's one I did for myself to see just how light I could make a full-function rig. I used punched-aluminum screening, which is very soft, requiring lots of bends to keep it stiff.

[Pass cursor over picture for another view]

Using the Pentax S4, this SuperUltraMicroLight (SUML) rig weighs just 8 oz (227 g) ready to go, but that's with a standard brooxes Picavet X.

The radio is Harald Prinzler's 433 mHz system; the shutter is triggered by James Gentles' infra-red gentLED; batteries are 130 mAh NiMH cells from Battery Station.


A little more practical is my Titanium Terror Ultra Light, one of just two rigs I ever made with that metal. (I won't do it again, because it's hard to work, makes tools dull, costs a lot, and doesn't really save much weight over aluminum.)

Originally, this rig carried an Olympus Stylus Epic 35mm camera, still my favorite small film camera. Since then I've modified it to take the Pentax S4 and the gentLED infra-red trigger, which saves a little weight.

[Pass cursor over picture for a close-up view]

This rig with gears, legs, & all weighs 10 oz (283 g), so the SUML above didn't save enough to make any difference in performance.

When I use radio control, this is my rig of choice at the moment, as I can carry it in a fanny pack and lift it with a 6.5 foot delta. Sometimes I use it with the 433 mHz radio.



Several years ago I experimented with what I called a Monopost rig: one that doesn't have a frame, but a single center post.

I built half a dozen of them for myself and others.

On this rig, the Olympus Stylus Epic camera — the lightest available at the time — is balanced by the tilt servo and batteries. After lots of tweaking, I decided that this counterbalance was a real limitation, wrote it off as an interesting experiment, and went back to more conventional designs.

Now that there are many even-lighter digital cameras available, it might be worth resurrecting.

The white nylon posts on the wooden Picavet cross are for mounting a pair of stabilizing windvanes.

Other KAPers have requested rigs for larger cameras, most notably for the Canon Rebel because of its low weight and cost. The digital Rebel XT (350-D) is a perfect SLR for KAP, and can be accommodated in my BBKK rig.

One feature of this camera is that the shutter may be triggered by the infrared gentLED Shutter switch, which saves the need for a servo to push the button.

This client wanted a rig that would carry a 10-22 mm zoom lens and include horizontal/vertical format control (HoVer). This combination requires careful balance because the payload is long and heavy, so the frame had to be expanded vertically.

[Pass cursor over picture to see the camera in vertical (portrait) position, with the HoVer mechanism behind the camera. The legs don't grow — the pic was taken from a lower position.]

Another requirement was for the rig to be used on a pole. This was accomplished by simply attaching a pole adapter atop the pan axle, allowing the rig to be operated upside down.


This is the heaviest SLR rig I've made, and I made two of them in 2006, one for an archaeologist to hang from a boom, and one for a mining engineer to hang from a crane over an open-pit mine. Neither was flown from a kite to my knowledge (and relief).

The camera is a Canon 5D, with a lens that weighs about as much as the camera body, for a total of over three pounds ready to shoot. The total weight of the system is nearly five pounds.

[NOTE: I will no longer take commissions for rigs of this size, but the parts are available from the Parts page if you want to try it.]

Note that the tilt servo is not directly connected to the tilt frame, but has gearing in between. That's due to the weight and depth of the camera, which was over 6 inches front to back. Rather than support a heavy load with the servo shaft, the weight is carried by the well-supported gear axle and all the servo has to do is twist it all.

[Pass cursor over picture for a close-up view]


The use of video-assisted aiming is logical with a digital camera, as one can take the signal from the video-out port on the camera and transmit it to ground.

This was my own digividirig, using an Olympus D40z 4-megapixel camera and the transmitter from an X-10 security camera in a new housing. This rig also had Horizontal-Vertical (HoVer) format control.

[Pass cursor over picture for another view]

With almost all video-assisted rigs, there is still enough lag between seeing and clicking that you may not get the shot you thought you were getting. Most experienced KAPers today still use the mind's eye to guide them, and I strongly encourage beginners to learn KAP without video.


Easily the most complex rig I've made, the Duo accommodated two very different cameras: a Pentax 35mm SLR and an Olympus D40z digicam.

The client needed to take both digital and infra-red images of agricultural test plots in Colombia, and wanted a single rig to do all that, with video-assisted aiming for both cameras.

The D40z was no problem, but the SLR needs a tandem video camera. Further, the cameras are widely different in shape and size, so a single shutter servo location would not serve both cameras.

The solution was to make a platform for each camera, each with its own appropriate fittings, which would snap into the rig's tilt frame interchangeably.

The Olympus has only a microservo for shutter release, whereas the Pentax has a tandem camera mounted below the lens and another microservo for shutter.

Extra-reliable power was felt to be necessary in the field, so we provided parallel-wired batteries.

duo rig

A later variation on the same idea — but without video — is this rig which accommodates both a digital SLR and a lightweight digital point-&-shoot camera.

In this case, both cameras were Canons, and would fit on the same platform, and they both could be triggered by a gentLED infrared shutter release.

It wasn't all that easy, though. The Canon Rebel XT is triggered by a different infrared code than the Canon S70 point-&-shoot camera, for some reason, and their sensors are on opposite sides. So the rig was equipped with two gentLED units, one on the right of the camera platform, and one on the left.

[Pass cursor over picture to see the rig with the Canon S70.]

canon duo

One of the most unusual rigs (at the time) used the Ricoh RDC i700 camera, no longer in production, which had a built-in internet link. The soil scientist who commissioned the rig intended to control the shutter with his laptop, using the r/c equipment only for pan and tilt.

This rig never fulfilled its promise, but iPods and Androids and their ilk have far greater potential as controllers, and soon somebody will make WiFi work for KAP.

[Pass cursor over picture for another view]

ricoh rig

Stereo is useful in some aerial studies, and I've made three stereo rigs: one for the study of penguins, one for soil studies, and one for archaeology. This is the most sophisticated one, in that the two Epic cameras may be adjusted side to side depending on altitude.

The cradle is nothing more than a large Picavet cross with a tail to stabilize it rotationally and hangers for two small cameras pointed straight down. Radio control is limited to a simultaneous shutter release.

stereo rig