Earlier in the summer, a Pentax K10D was carried to the unbelievable height of 104,000ft to take some photos that would accompany a test of cosmic radiation at high altitudes done by the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Oklahoma State University with the help of the NASA Oklahoma Space Grant Consortium. The K10D had a stock DA 18-55mm lens set to 18mm (manual focus at infinity), used Tv priority at 1/3000sec, Auto ISO (mostly ISO 100), and was set to capture Raw PEFs. The results were undeniably exciting photos from high in the stratosphere (19.7 miles).
Dr. Andrew Arena Jr., the professor of engineering who organized the experiment, got a bit of attention for these photos (link to article at Imaging Info), even from Pentax USA president Ned Bunnell (link to his blog post), because the nature of the test required that the camera was relatively unmodified and it proved how reliable the K10D could be in very adverse conditions. Carried by a weather balloon into the near vacuum and extreme cold, the camera functioned as normal despite the circumstances. However, an unheated protection box with foam padding was built for the camera so that it would be safe enough to survive the +20mph impact on its return to earth by parachute, and a special timer was connected to trigger exposures every 15 seconds (seen below). Also, it's important to realize that it wasn't smooth sailing up and down; once the balloon burst due to low pressure, the payload would spin and bounce about, sometimes quite violently, until the denser air below was reached. The camera survived quite a thrill ride.
I had the pleasure of corresponding with Dr. Arena Jr. to ask him a few additional questions about the K10D rig they used for the experiment. Here's what he told me.
Was the K10D used your own?
That particular K10D was mine that I “donated” for this test. After this successful test we will almost certainly buy one specifically for the project.
We have a homemade timer circuit, but we wanted to use something commercially made for this test. We used the Pclix LT 100.
PENTAX DA* 50-135 f/2.8
PENTAX SMCP-FA 50mm f/1.4
PENTAX SMCP-FA 35mm f/2
PENTAX SMCP-DA 18-250mm f/3.5-6.3
PENTAX SMCP-DA 14mm f/2.8
PENTAX SMCP-DA 10-17
TAMRON AF 90mm f/2.8 Di SP macro
TAMRON SP AF 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di-II
PENTAX AF360FGZ flash
PENTAX BG2 grip