On-ride photos before digital photography

This is something I never really stopped to think about until I got back into film photography as a hobby the last few years, but does anybody know how exactly the on-ride photos were set up before digital cameras?

I can't imagine they used fresh film for every ride cycle, since even with the cheapest quality film at 1990s prices, I feel like that'd still be a ton of purchases you'd need to break a profit if it was single-use film every time. Though that'd certainly go a long way towards explaining how expensive prints have always been (and how much of a profit they presumably make off of them nowadays for folks that don't just get FunPix.)

I say 1990s because I think (and feel free to correct me) that Magnum was the first ride at CP to have a camera, and I also recall Kodak being plastered all over the park through at least 2002-2003 or so. I'm also wondering if the stubborn insistence on referring to the on-ride photos as "(Ride) Hot Shots" through that time period was a Kodak thing or just trying to make it sound cooler.

I rode Magnum for the first time in 1991 and bought my photo. I'm pretty sure even then, they were digital cameras. The picture appeared on a TV screen similar to now (CRT of course). It was not printed unless purchased.

Jeff's avatar

That's adorable when someone looks at film like a hobby. 😂 The bulk of the photos on this site prior to 2008-ish were shot on film.

The old photos were fed from video cameras running at a high shutter rate. An electronic still store took single frames and stored them in a computer, though not for very long if I recall correctly. I don't know what the printing device was at the time. Heck, I don't know what it is today. My guess is that they started using digital cameras around the turn of the century, because digital video was starting to be widely used commercially (to digital tape, at least) by 1998.


Jeff - Advocate of Great Great Tunnels™ - Co-Publisher - PointBuzz - CoasterBuzz - Blog - Music

I remember when Geauga Lake started on ride photos in the mid 90s they did print every photo from every train and then just tossed them a few minutes later, save for the few that would be sold.

That reminds me, sort of. But where was it that the pictures were hanging on a board secured by clothespins? KI? Was that at Vortex?
All I really remember was thinking what a waste of prints.

I can't recall the company that started the "Hot Shots". I remember the competing technology was "Freeze Frame", which Six Flags was using. CP was not impressed with it, so they tried HS. They first tested it on Magnum's second drop. But, supposedly it was too fast and could not get good shots. That is when they settled on the bunny-hill before last tunnel.

For years, you could see the pieces attached to the track on the second drop where it was tested. I would have to search through old photos to find.

GL2CP's avatar

I have an old wolf bobs one from the mid 90s. Black and white. How times have changed. It’s basically a Polaroid glued into the little card


First ride; Magnum 1994

RCMAC said:

That reminds me, sort of. But where was it that the pictures were hanging on a board secured by clothespins? KI? Was that at Vortex?
All I really remember was thinking what a waste of prints.

Yep, that was Geauga Lake. May have been KI as well, but was definitely GL.

Those early systems were video frames printed I believe with thermal printers. Every photo was printed and displayed because the system couldn’t store enough frames to wait until someone wanted a photo to print it…by the time you got to the booth, the system had already taken and started printing the next batch of photos.

Those still stores might not have even been digital…or at any rate they were analog NTSC video in and out. That also limited the size of the prints as the effective resolution was only about 720 X 260.

The limiting factors were the still store units and the video printers. More still stores meant longer storage times. Then came digitized video which allowed for limited post processing and image storage. By 2006 the systems were fully digital such that the contractor for Six Flags sent me an email offer to buy a midway photo from one of their parks every month for at least three years!

—Dave Althoff, Jr.
Who learned to edit video using 3/4” videotape…



/X\ *** Respect rides. They do not respect you. ***
/XXX\ /X\ /X\_ _ /X\__ _ _____
/XXXXX\ /XXX\ /XXXX\_ /X\ /XXXXX\ /X\ /XXXXX
_/XXXXXXX\_/XXXXX\_/XXXXXXX\_/XXX\_/XXXXXXX\__/XXX\__/XXXXXX

Jeff's avatar

So did I, with a time base corrector that could store one still indefinitely. Get off my lawn!


Jeff - Advocate of Great Great Tunnels™ - Co-Publisher - PointBuzz - CoasterBuzz - Blog - Music

1000 years of force's avatar

Ampex VPR-6 and a TBC-7. I ran my old RCA TR-600 quadruplex machine through an old Ampex Zeus TBC. Sold that quad machine last year, wish I still had it. It would make a *nearly* perfect still frame. Even from tape recorded in the early 1970s.

But I digress... A lot of those old on-ride systems used the old Sony rerecordable laser disc slo-mo systems. They had super robust frame synchronizers and could merge the image fields in real time to eliminate inter-field jitters.

When I was building TV trucks back in the day, we equipped a 3 seat slo-mo setup with former amusement park Sony rigs. (pretty sure they came from Taft/Para era KI...) And a fleet of BVH-2000 vtrs for backups. The old Sonys never missed a hitch.


"Your persiflage does not amuse. " - Ralph (from Around the world in 80 days)

Jeff's avatar

It's crazy what it took to make "good" video back in the day at a resolution that was terrible. Now my $5,500 camera can record raw 4K, and not raw 120 frames per second, to cheap memory cards that hold 100x what my computer hard drive did back then.


Jeff - Advocate of Great Great Tunnels™ - Co-Publisher - PointBuzz - CoasterBuzz - Blog - Music

RideMan said:

Those early systems were video frames printed I believe with thermal printers. Every photo was printed and displayed because the system couldn’t store enough frames to wait until someone wanted a photo to print it…by the time you got to the booth, the system had already taken and started printing the next batch of photos.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure they were thermal printers. I still have one somewhere in storage of me and some friends on the Orient Express at WOF somewhere in storage.

Just to add, the original, pre-2017 Magnum photo booth still had painted-over decal letters that read, "YOUR PHOTO CAN ONLY BE PURCHASED WHILE ON THE MONITORS" below the old, unused CRT monitor racks at the back of the room. As I recall it, there were 4 banks of CRT monitors, so with this rule you would have had three more trains' worth of photos before your photo was erased, or roughly 6 minutes' time to purchase your photo. I always thought this sounded pretty nerve-wracking, so it doesn't surprise me at all they would have instead just printed out all the photos and discarded the unsold photos.

Who remembers the 3D photos they once offered on Gatekeeper when it first opened?

Or the year or two they offered videos of your rides, for that matter? Speaking of vestiges of old photo gimmicks, I think Raptor you can still see where the video cameras were mounted on the back of the car in front of you. Can't remember what other rides they offered that for, feel like that was also somewhere around 2013 or so.

Also thanks for the answers everyone, I never would've guessed still framing a video camera as a way to do it without needing piles of film (though it sounds like that didn't stop other parks.) Still a very clever solution, and it being a third-party technique would explain the Hot Shots branding as well.

do they not still have the "animated" pics of you on the rides? I know I got one on SV and Mystic Timbers at KI before. It's like a mini movie clip of you on the ride.

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