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Author Topic: Drone for stills  (Read 2995 times)

soboyle

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Drone for stills
« on: December 16, 2016, 11:47:59 AM »

I'm starting to research drones for use as a still camera, not video (is anyone else burning out on drone flyby overuse in videos?). I realize the under $1500 drones excel at video, but still photography seems to be a weak point.
I see that the DJI Phantom 4 uses a 1" sensor, so perhaps we are getting close for still work. Any experience with Phantom 4 for still? Is stitching multiple images a viable option with a drone?
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chez

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Re: Drone for stills
« Reply #1 on: December 16, 2016, 04:49:08 PM »

I'm starting to research drones for use as a still camera, not video (is anyone else burning out on drone flyby overuse in videos?). I realize the under $1500 drones excel at video, but still photography seems to be a weak point.
I see that the DJI Phantom 4 uses a 1" sensor, so perhaps we are getting close for still work. Any experience with Phantom 4 for still? Is stitching multiple images a viable option with a drone?

Maybe you should be looking at a drone which you can attach a camera to. These mirrorless cameras are quite light and compact, possibly give you a better solution.
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Peter McLennan

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Re: Drone for stills
« Reply #2 on: December 17, 2016, 12:15:10 AM »

Stitching works fine.  I've seen it done with relatively primitive drones.
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BartvanderWolf

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Re: Drone for stills
« Reply #3 on: December 17, 2016, 12:23:39 PM »

Stitching works fine.  I've seen it done with relatively primitive drones.

Yes, since subject and foreground distances are generally a bit larger, parallax should be a smaller issue than on the ground. As always, nearby occlusions can cause issues.

Cheers,
Bart
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TonyVentourisPhotography

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Re: Drone for stills
« Reply #4 on: December 17, 2016, 10:23:58 PM »

The dji inspire 1 and 2 both fly a modified m43 sensor and take Olympus lenses and some Panasonic ones too.  They shoot raw.  For the price, that's the best you will get for sheer still work.  After that you will have to spend some serious cash to fly anything larger. 
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Alan Smallbone

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Re: Drone for stills
« Reply #5 on: December 19, 2016, 09:40:46 AM »

Stitching can be problematic if there is even a little bit of wind. It can be done though with some patience and diligence. The dynamic range for the DJI cameras is ok but not great, often bracketing can help. the drones use GPS for positioning and sensing from inertial sensors, etc. The resolution of it is ok but not great in terms of the accuracy for stitching images. Sometimes panos can be great, sometimes they are not so good. That being said there are many people who take the time to work the shots to get great footage.

Here is a video from someone else but they used individual raw frames to make the aerial timelapses, this was with an inspire.


Here are some of my aerial panos, this first one is 5 shots:
Anza_pano by Alan Smallbone, on Flickr

This is a 3 frame pano each a bracket of 3 images:
Laguna Niguel sunset pano by Alan Smallbone, on Flickr

The image below is a full 360 pano with the upper part of the sky added in photoshop there are some stitching issues mostly related to the craft not being stable enough that day, click on the image to get into the pano.
http://www.aps-photo.com/2015/10/aerial-panorama/

Be happy to answer more questions.
Alan
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Alan Smallbone
Orange County, CA

BrownBear

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Re: Drone for stills
« Reply #6 on: December 21, 2016, 08:41:00 AM »

Here is a collection of images that nicely make the case for drone photography.  My favorite "photo accessory" in the Southwest is a 10' stepladder. Not ready to buy and master a @#$% drone, but I sure appreciate a "higher view" of the world.
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soboyle

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Re: Drone for stills
« Reply #7 on: December 23, 2016, 08:18:52 AM »

Thanks for the info.
Related questions: any guidance on how many hours it takes before a newbie is able to fly a drone with some level of competence? Collision detection and all is great, but being able to fly one of these without being a hazard to your neighbor must take a significant number of flying hours. I'm considering a drone for a project in Antarctica next fall, if I do I will be required to "complete a Concept of Operations (CONOPS) document and show proof of competency to fly the drone, which will be reviewed by the Airworthiness and Flight Safety Review Board (AFSRB). The Board is composed of polar air/land/sea experts from a number of federal agencies..."

Also, any good sources out there on fly/no-fly zones for drones? I know that they are not allowed in National Parks currently. What about over rail lines and highways? I've been wanting to photograph a large rail yard but is it legal to do so?
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BrownBear

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Re: Drone for stills
« Reply #8 on: December 23, 2016, 09:20:02 AM »

Related questions: any guidance on how many hours it takes before a newbie is able to fly a drone with some level of competence?

A good friend is a long-time drone enthusiast, both for videos and stills, including gorgeous large panos.  He is a retired pilot, as well as a recreational flier of ultralights and experimental aircraft.  He assures me that drone flying is the easiest flying he's ever done, though I take that in full context of his experience base.

The most reassuring thing he's told me is this: If you feel a drone is getting out of control, STOP FLYING. He sezz that if you simply take your hands off the controls, the drone stops moving and goes into a hover right where it is while you recover your wits.  Not the greatest post-production, but a clear demo of the control that possible (and his flying skills!) can be seen as he flies THROUGH the trees in a palm plantation in this video clip.
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Alan Smallbone

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Re: Drone for stills
« Reply #9 on: December 28, 2016, 01:04:48 PM »

Thanks for the info.
Related questions: any guidance on how many hours it takes before a newbie is able to fly a drone with some level of competence? Collision detection and all is great, but being able to fly one of these without being a hazard to your neighbor must take a significant number of flying hours. I'm considering a drone for a project in Antarctica next fall, if I do I will be required to "complete a Concept of Operations (CONOPS) document and show proof of competency to fly the drone, which will be reviewed by the Airworthiness and Flight Safety Review Board (AFSRB). The Board is composed of polar air/land/sea experts from a number of federal agencies..."

Also, any good sources out there on fly/no-fly zones for drones? I know that they are not allowed in National Parks currently. What about over rail lines and highways? I've been wanting to photograph a large rail yard but is it legal to do so?

The FAA has an app for most smartdevices, also the DJI site has an interactive map you can look at for no fly zones, assuming the US. The app is a good resource. For your trip you might want to get a part 107 drone license for commercial use because you have to pass a written test about flying the UAS, that might make it easier on the review board.

The drone is quite easy to fly, however taking smooth video takes practice. In the cold for your trip you might need a much larger drone with extended batteries rather than something like a Phantom, you might want an 8 rotor unit at a minimum for safety reasons and some sort of control if one motor fails and also a much longer flight time. You will also most likely need at least one observer to spot. With the larger drones you might need dual operators, one operating the camera, one flying the drone, and then possibly one observer/spotter.  I suspect that getting approval will be tough but then I am just guessing.

Like anything in this world pretty much you need to practice with it. Get very familiar with the quirks etc. The drones are reasonably stable but they are not tripod stable. The larger ones are more stable and less affected by wind than the smaller ones. Also with the larger drones the cost goes way up. So I guess it depends on your usage. I would also guess that flying too close to wildlife is prohibited down under.

As for flying over freeways and rail yards, the freeways is a no go unless you are commercially licensed and give notification, and have spotters etc. That is to do it by the rules. In general no flying over people without licensing and notice. Rail yards are probably off limits for security reasons, since they are major transportation hubs I strongly suspect that it is not allowed.  I know the harbor areas here in SoCal are off limits in the commercial harbors. They will actively find you and arrest you if they do see it. Most likely they will confiscate the drone as evidence, it is quite a hassle to get it back. A lot of it is common sense.

You also need to register any drone with the FAA and get your number and all drones in your possession must have this number on it, as well as you carrying a copy of the certificate. Fines are quite hefty. You will also be surprised at how many "airports" there are or at least places where helicopters can land. There are a lot of exceptions.

National Parks are off limits, many cities ban them, some ban them in the public parks etc. Some places will tell you they are banned even though they might not be. Be careful of private property where you do not access or permission, like big empty lots. I have been stopped by police there long before all the FAA stuff started.

It is not all that bad, you just need to be careful and use common sense, a lot of these things are because of knee jerk reactions from people who lack the knowledge about drones. When people hassle you about them, show them and explain to them they do not make good spy device and then things usually calm down. There is a lot of hysteria, same with police, be polite, land, educate them and usually they will let things slide, that is my experience.

Alan

Alan
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Alan Smallbone
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TomFrerichs

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Re: Drone for stills
« Reply #10 on: January 04, 2017, 02:34:20 PM »

Alan Smallbone offered a lot of good information.

For the United States, the "where you can fly" question can't be easily answered at this point. It can be further complicated by whether you are flying as a hobbyist or for commercial benefit...and commercial benefit seems to encompass a wide range of activities. One example from the FAA is using a drone to see if your field is being uniformly watered. If you sell the crops, then it is a commercial benefit, but if it's your own garden, then you can do it as a hobbyist.

For recreational flyers, the FAA geographic limits are fairly easily determined. For example, if you fly within 5 statute miles of an airport, you must notify the airport (and air traffic control if they have one) of your intent, including flight location, maximum altitude, flight times. They have the right to disapprove. Of course, forget about flying in Washington, DC. Large stadiums are off limits. There may be temporary no-fly zones around such things as forest fires or hurricane impacted areas. You can find all of these both from maps published online by the FAA and through their free B4UFly app.

There are other restrictions, such as the operator must keep the craft within unaided visual line of sight. There's also the need to adhere to a safety code promulgated by national modeler organizations. They haven't said _which_ organization, yet. However if go look at the major ones...the names of which I can't remember right now...you'll see that they are common sense limits, such as don't fly over groups of people, etc. There's a max 400 foot AGL restriction.  Well, it is modified by if your within 400 feet of a structure, your altitude is limited to 400 feet above the structure. And of course, you must always give way to any manned craft.

If you do a very quick search on YouTube, you'll see that these are violated daily.

Then there are state and local laws, and these are damned hard to find. For example, you cannot fly from a Denver, Colorado city park, but this is listed in a parks regulation document...along with hitting a golf ball. There are exceptions, for example you are allowed to fly in an RC park and hit golf balls in a driving range. It took me forever to find that particular restriction. And it doesn't address whether or not it's illegal to fly over a city park, only that you can't fly from the park.

Add to this various common law rights...is it a trespass if you fly over someone's house?...which have not been clearly adjudicated, and it gets a bit complicated.

Common sense and a bit of politeness will help.

As to the Phantom Pro 4 camera. It's a 20 mb Sony Exmor 1" sensor. The focal length is 8.8 mm, which would be a 24mm equivalent. I recall that it's a seven element design. It has a mechanical shutter for stills, ranging from 8 to 1/2000 second, with an electronic shutter from there to 1/8000 second. The aperture is from f/2.8 to f/11. Base ISO is 100, going to 12800. For exposure it has auto, shutter priority, aperture priority, and full manual modes. The lens itself is fairly decent with some softness in the corners.  With the 3:2 (full frame) aspect ratio there's some series vignetting in the corners. The camera has auto focus (not continuous...tap to focus) and manual focus. It can supply JPEG and DNG (raw) images. LR can read the DNG, but there's no official Adobe lens or color profiles for this camera at this time, although Adobe and DxO do support the Phantom 4, which uses an entirely different camera.

Okay...all that being said...it's a point and shoot. While the dynamic range is actually pretty decent, there's luminance noise even at ISO 100 in the DNGs, particularly in the blue channel. Don't expect to be printing large from this camera, or at least not without a heck of a lot of post processing. I can print an acceptable 13X19" (12X18" image area), but my definition of "acceptable" probably wouldn't pass muster here.

As pointed out, if you want better IQ you're going to be spending a lot more money. DJI's step up would be the Inspire 2 with a ZenMuse X5S, which is going to set you back $3000 for the aircraft, $1400 for the camera and gimbal, and some additional money for a lens (there are compatible Olympus and Panasonic lenses). And you probably need another $1000 for the DJI Focus control, plus money for additional batteries, carrying case, and other incidentals.  And this just gets you to a micro43 camera.

What it can give you is a different viewpoint. The world looks very different at 100 feet in the air. If you approach it with that in mind...and quit thinking that you're going to get the IQ of even an entry level DSLR, then you'll be happy.

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Harold Clark

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Re: Drone for stills
« Reply #11 on: January 25, 2017, 08:52:01 AM »

In Canada regulations are strict for commercial drone use. A permit must be obtained from Transport Canada in advance of the shoot, the application can run ten pages. The crew must include a safety officer if operating in populated areas. If used within five miles of an airport, a licensed radio operator is also required for communications with ATC. ( This would include virtually all of the Toronto area due to multiple airports ).

Many operators are flouting the laws which makes it difficult for those who play by the rules, apparently stricter enforcement is on its way this year. A heavy commercial grade drone with its multiple propellers is potentially lethal if crashed on someone's head or though an aircraft windshield so it is understandable that some regulations are necessary.

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