After the successful arrival of Curiosity on the surface of Mars, it’s time for the cameras to go to work. The rover will soon be sending extraordinary data, images and video of the martian landscape with it’s camera gear slowly arming itself for a 2 year shootout.
Like many of us photogs and video maniacs, we always have a hard time deciding are next move in terms of camera equipment. Imagine you’re NASA, what type of camera is going to survive and perform in the extremely harsh environment that Mars unfortunately has to offer. A fancy rain cover isn’t going to cut it. These cameras need to be weather sealed to the max as the landing forecast was -53c(-63.4F) and wind speeds are merciless picking up high volumes of dust and howling around 90mph.
NASA was smart enough not to strap a Cannon EOS 7D or a Nikon D300 to the belly of the beast. If you think USB cable transfer is slow, imagine a high megapixel sensor sending an image 350 million miles to earth. There isn’t enough tea and crumpets in the world to wait for those pictures. Instead, the rover is fitted with a modest 2 megapixel sensor and most images with be chomped down before sending them back to earth. Fortunately, the sensor will be able to slide some 720p video into the mix snatching an instant thumbs up.
Curiosity has a total of 17 cameras mounted on the rover but the two that stand out sit atop the neck of the rover like a pair of binoculars – each having a fixed focal length lens. One Camera has a wider angle 34mm lens and the other a 100mm lens. What was told to be a heated debate, both cameras originally were to have duplicate zoom lenses. Obviously for cost savings the decisions was stiff revealing them to be fixed focal length. Some other fancy features of Curiosity’s cameras is the delight full 360 degree panorama and a raw stereo mode allowing the two cams to combine making a quasi-3D image. (Maybe with the use of these cameras, will get a nice portrait of a martian who may incidentally wander through the frame)