My friends Marty and Ian from DroneMaui.com invited me and my family out on their boat today to try and observe some humpback whales. We got to see some amazing action and as usual, our boat was able to stay well away from these majestic creatures because of our drones. The day before we went on a Pacific Whale Foundation boat and I am always a bit disturbed by how close the boats get to the whales and their whale babies. If they had drones with HD downlinks the boat would be able to stay farther away and offer the people onboard a better view of the action. Hopefully in the future these boats will incorporate the use of drones just like they use hydrophones. The more respect people have for these creatures the better we will all be able to protect them.
The DJI Inspire 1 will not take off from a small boat on the water because the IMU will not initialize. The Phantom 2 has always flown just fine off of boats, so until this gets fixed this is a major downside for the Inspire 1 for me. If you want to fly off of boats, you should NOT buy the Inspire 1 (yet).
Today I flew my Phantom 2 instead of the Inspire 1 because of an IMU calibration issue while on a moving boat. I set my GoPro 3 black to 2.7k 30fps and got some cool, interesting footage of some amazing humpback whales. This is my first time using the lens correction in Adobe Premiere and it totally fixed the fish, curved horizon. If you follow the blog, you know I used to use Windows Movie Maker but I recently switched to Adobe Premiere pro because I am working with 4k now. This software is more complex but it is able to do much more if you take the time to learn it. If you like this video, feel free to share it!
The FAA has released the rules for commercial drone use for rigs under 55lbs. Here is the link to a summary of the major provisions and here is a link to the release below. It is much easier to read than the following but I will post it anyway. As I work my way through this I will post updates, for now I am just passing along the information. Click Read More below to check out the actual release.
I Love the Hubsan X4
If you follow my blog, you know I am a fan of the Hubsan X4 as the perfect first drone / quadcopter to learn on but it also has another use at my house - it is my dog exerciser. Flying this in my small yard while my 70 pound dog chases after it is a great way to keep my line of sight flying skills sharp!
If you are thinking about getting into drone photography, the Hubsan is a great place to start. People ask me all the time how to get started and this is always my recommendation. Having good line of sight RC skills is an important part of aerial photography so make sure you have a good practice quad like the Hubsan X4 to boost your confidence to fly safely. This thing is also the coolest toy you can buy under $50!! If you want to get the GoPro Fetch Dog Harness, you can get it here.
Making the Video
We had fun making this video, I crashed it way more than normal but that makes for a more entertaining video. A new Hubsan is already on the way so I figured it was worth it. The one I have now has lasted forever, it is amazing it still flies! I have been trying to train Benny to be more gentle with it when he shoots it down, so maybe that is actually working.
Wind is not a problem for the Inspire 1
The wind was blowing at a steady 20-30mph and there were light polls and trees everywhere. I do not usually fly over in Kihei but I really wanted to get some skateboard footage along this sidewalk. This was the perfect test before I go fly half a mile out over the water to film windsurfing.
It seemed to drift a bit when I first took off and seemed to really lock into position after I put the landing gear up. You will see in the video how stable it is in such windy conditions, the palm tree footage should give you a pretty good idea of the type of winds that were going. I am not sure the Phantom could handle this much wind this easily but because of the Inspires higher voltage, larger props, more powerful motors, and more aggressive flight software it did not have any issues. Even when I went full stick into the wind it managed to get up to a respectable speed although it was obviously sluggish.
So this thing is cool, but can it fly in wind?
So the goal of this test was to see if I could make a short video clip of my friend skating down this sidewalk along the beach in Kihei. I also wanted to practice getting different angles from ground cameras on the ground to make the video a bit more interesting. I ALSO wanted to start talking more in my videos because I think it makes them more useful and gives it more personality. What do you guys think of all this? Check out the video below and let me know!
Conclusion? Yea, it flies really well in the wind.
My friend Chris (Aka Bonafide Hustla of YouTube fame) is here visiting. He does some really cool editing and uses drone footage properly. DroneAbove.com Pro Tip: Take video from the ground as well, it will really make the aerial work stand out and also helps paint the story of what is actually going on. This is something I talk about in my book on drone photography but often I do not do because... I get too excited about flying. This video goes to show how cool multiple camera filming can be.
Besides using multiple cameras, you can also study his editing. Short, quick clips keep you engaged and entertained. Unless something truly epic has happened, chop that footage into short 2-3 second bursts.
Have you filmed something using multiple cameras from ground and air? If so, post it in the comment section below so we can all study it.
How to do a Family Reveal Drone Shot
Drones are really cool, especially the DJI Inspire 1 but cool things seem to cost a lot of money. One way to justify the purchase of one of these flying cameras is to start a business or side business to cover the cost. If you have a family and a spouse, you might also need something to get your significant other to get excited about. Cue the Family Reveal from a Drone shot!
In case you are unsure how to make this shot, here is how I did it. Fly as close as you safely can (the Inspire 1 is nice because it does not have a fish eye lens so we don't seem too far away), set the tilt and do not move it when you start, wave at the camera, pull back on the stick while adding altitude and fly backwards. This will look awesome on cliffs, dramatic coast lines, and really anywhere with sprawling natural beauty.
Cables for the Dominators
One of the things that was unclear was goggled flight with the Inspire 1. I ordered the fancy new Fatshark Dominator HD goggles (which are not actually HD..) so I could hopefully use them instead of staring at the screen on my iPhone 6. When my Inspire 1 arrived, I was excited to see how the ground station would work but alas I needed a cable.. and a strange cable that is not actually made or at least hard to find. You need to get an HMDI to HDMI Micro cable and a HDMI to HDMI mini converter because the goggles have an HDMI Micro input and the DJI Inspire remote has a HDMI Mini output plug. I drove all over Maui looking for this stuff and it was not available anywhere, so I ordered it from trusty Amazon (I love Amazon). I have attached links to these cords if you want to order them.
I have also heard that Fatshark is going to be making this cable but I have not come across it yet for purchase. I will try and update this post when it becomes widely available. If you have any questions or comments, please be sure to leave them below!
Using the Dominator HD with the Inspire 1
When I first plugged the cables into the Dominators, I could tell that the goggles were getting a signal but it was all messy. I knew I was close but I had to consult the user manual to figure out that you had to press the contrast / brightness down to change input modes from AV-2D to HDMI 2D. Once I did that, it came up crystal clear and unlike any video I have seen through goggles.
I did a quick test flight around my house to test things out and it worked. I was actually not that impressed and I am going to need to do more testing to see if I would actually recommend using these $500+ goggles instead of just watching your iPhone or iPad Mini. The OSD from the ground station is clean, but totally different from the mini iOSD I am used too from the Phantom. It was hard for me to tell where the home point was and the horizon indicator did not seem to work that well. After doing all my testing so far using just an iPhone, I think that is a really good option for most people.
Where I WAS impressed was when I tested out my Phantom 2 with these new goggles. These have to be the goggles for any other kind of FPV flight. I am looking forward to using these in other areas of my aerial work and play.
This is a guest article written by Paul Madsen. It is always good to look back at where we have come from and this story really does a good job pointing out how far things have come in RC aerial photography in terms of safety, reliability, and quality. Could you imagine how dangerous and difficult it was to fly a gas collective pitch helicopter around taking pictures? Now you can do what Paul did with a Phantom 2 safely, with 10x the quality and ease for around $1000 -- how things change!! I hope you guys enjoy reading this as much as I did. Be sure to check out his new venture at aerialbids.com.
It’s a pretty exciting time for those who are interested in starting an aerial photography business! New technologies are allowing just about anyone to take stunning aerial photos and video
on par with the best in the business. Aerial photography got its start back in 1858 when Gaspar Tournachon captured the French village of Petit-Becetre using a tethered balloon that reached to 240’. The tools of the trade have progressively improved since then, however in the past ten years we have seen an absolute explosion in aerial drone technology which has brought pricing down so its affordable to those who are interested. My day job is piloting a Boeing 777 around the world, however I got my start in aviation
back in the early 80’s flying radio controlled aircraft. It began with line controlled airplanes, then RC airplanes, followed by RC helicopters.
In the late 90’s I decided to start an aerial photography side business, figuring as a pilot, I had a leg up on other aerial photographers who had hire pilots to get the shots their clients needed. I started Sky Photos Aerial Photography and in a year or so had a viable business. It wasn’t long before I recognized that close-in, low altitude aerials offered a look that was superior to the higher-up oblique shots typically offered. So I bought an X Cell gas helicopter off Ebay and went to work modifying it for photography use. My first drone aerial drone job was for a friend who needed photos of an office building in Northern Virginia. I have to admit it was a little nerve wracking. After pull starting the 2.5HP gas engine and warming up, I spooled up the rotor head. The resonance created by the helicopters long legs made me cringe every time I wobbled my way through the spoolup. After all, the landing gear was made of a hockey stick and aluminum tubing by someone with no engineering experience. After lifting off and doing a hover check, I noticed a crowd of people forming around me. I'm sure only a fraction would have shown up if the aircraft didn’t sound like a flying chainsaw! I was a little surprised at how much my fingers were shaking, but I pressed on and slowly climbed to a height of about 300’, careful not to fly over any cars or people. My wife directed me into position while peering into a shrouded mini TV with live video feed. The 35mm camera that was resting on a home-made 3 axis pan/tilt successfully captured the photos we needed with the use of a separate RC controller for aiming and triggering the camera. The flight and landing were uneventful and I was very relieved when my buddy told me the photos were just what he needed for his clients website
I did this for a few years, photographing commercial properties, homes for realtors, car dealerships and many others sites, but after a particularly eventful flight where I briefly lost radio reception ( we used FM receivers then), I realized the machine wasn’t as safe as I had hoped and it didn’t make sense to continue flying this contraption due to the lack of insurance.
Well times have certainly changed. The aerial drones of today have reliable electric motors, radios that are interference free, and many fail safes designed to engineer out the problems of the past. Camera cost and performance has improved and you can even get insurance to cover your drone aerial photography business.
The only thing holding back drone use is how to integrate them with traditional aircraft. As an airline pilot, I have had close calls with gliders, had bird strikes, and even had to lower my cockpit seat to avoid lasers intentionally pointed at my cockpit inflight. I understand why the FAA is reluctant to allow commercial drone use, however with training, monitoring, advancing technology, and regulation, there is no doubt that risk can be minimized to an acceptable level.
My photography business continues to this day, however my recent focus has been creating a website that links clients with aerial photographers in their area. The site; www.aerialbids.com is designed to provide one-stop shopping for clients looking for great aerial photos and video shot by competent aerial photographers. We are looking forward to the day that the FAA fully integrates aerial drones into US aviation and hope that you will add your name to the list of professional aerial photographers in your area.
I wanted to test out the ND filter that came with the Inspire 1 and the still pictures came out looking amazing. Here are some test shots. I also shot a bit of video but I do not have time to post it right now. Here are the pictures below - these are the unedited JPEGs straight from the camera. It was drizzling so some water got on the lens near the end.
Are you thinking about getting this amazing aerial camera? What are you waiting for - it is worth it!! Click here to order yours today!!!
When I got my Inspire 1, the first thing I wanted to do was install the DJI Pilot App. However, because of something to do with the video in / out via the cord Apple will not currently let them put this on the App store. So you need a work around. I am going to describe this simply and give you a file, a link, and some directions. If this is not enough or you have problems, PLEASE post in the comment section what your problem is and how I could make this post better for other people. I will update it and add to the details as well as help you get it installed if you should have any problems. The DJI Pilot App is really amazing and adds a ton of functionality to your Inspire 1!!
This took me awhile to figure out and I wanted to do a post for others so they would have an easy way to do this. There are three steps:
1) Download this file to your PC. This is actual DJI pilot app version 0.9.2.
2) After you have downloaded this file, visit http://diawi.com or just click it and it will open up in a new browser window.
3) Drag and drop the file over onto the Diawi.com page where it says "Drag files here."
4) Click Send and it will give you a link. Copy and paste this link and email it to yourself. Check the email on your iOS device and click the link. It will install the DJI Pilot App!
This is the link that I made, http://install.diawi.com/PY3iwM. You can try clicking on it from your iOS device but it will only work for a few people. If the link is expired you have to go through the steps yourself.
I hope this helps, again if you have any questions or problems please post in the comment section so we can resolve the problem for everyone!
I had two days of glitch free flying so I decided it was time to start flying over the water. There is a pretty big swell here and the winds were really light. There were only three surfers out because it was big and it was early so no one was charging out. I did not get any cool aerial surf media but I did get to see how the water looks through the DJI Inspire 1. There is a ton of haze and you can see it in the pictures, clear morning would be sharper but I still think these turned out cool. There is a flock of pigeons that gets fed every morning and you can see them flying around. After reviewing the footage, my recommendation is to leave your drone stationary and let the birds fly through your field of view. I thought I was being crafty by rotating around following them but I think it just ended up with too much motion.
You can apparently change the camera mode to turn on burst, bracketing, and continuous but I have yet to figure out how to do this. Time to start reading up on the DJI Pilot app. I have learned that there are two customizable buttons on the back of the remote as well and I can already think of some cool uses for these like switching between these camera modes and changing the resolution of video speeds depending on the amount of motion I am filming. 1080p 60fps for fast moving stuff, 4k 30fps for the still shots. I am new to 4k and still blown away at the detail when I just stop and hover. It is just beautiful.
The Inspire 1 also came with what I think is a neutral density filter that the manual says will fix those issues I mentioned in the previous post, so I will be testing that out soon!
It also seems like the youtube videos do not show up in feedburner email that goes out to subscribers so if you want to watch the video below you might have to click here.
If you found this useful or interesting, please consider visiting the following link to consider your DJI Inspire or other DJI stuff!
Day two of putting the DJI Inspire 1 through the paces. A few things have annoyed me and a few things have impressed me. But most importantly, can you film a fast moving target with the HD video link? The 4k youtube video below offers some test footage for you to judge for yourself.
This was shot in the cane fields in Paia. There are endless miles of these dirt roads you can go ride around in. The KDX220 is the first dirt bike I have ever owned and it is fun to go explore and cruise around in these fields. My friend Chris is the rider in these videos.
The Good and Bad
So overall the Inspire 1 performed well and I was able to get some incredible footage. The stock camera settings do create some issues that I have not been happy with. For example, when you tilt from a dark area to the horizon, it takes a bit for the camera to adjust and this leads to what I think is some over exposure. I am not a camera junkie but I think I should be able to fix this via the pilot app. I have not messed with 4k @ 30fps before (nor have I flown with such a low frame rate in years) so the motion seems a bit blurry to me. As soon as the drone stops moving, everything looks so crystal clear but rapid movement doesn't look that great to me. Jumping down in resolution to a higher frame rate will probably solve this (Dynamic subject = higher frame rate). There is a definite difference in the speed of an analog video link and this HD link as well. It just makes it slightly more difficult - delay is there and you have to get used to it.
Despite these "issues" I think my first test was a success. I can't say enough how impressed I am with this aerial camera. I spent some time reading through the manual and I grow more impressed as I slowly make my way through it. The latest thing that caught my attention is the smart battery. On the Phantom 2, it just seemed like they wanted to lock you into buying DJI stuff and paying a huge premium. On these, they will not let you recharge if the temperature is too hot. They will automatically decharge themselves after 10 days of no use to avoid damaging the cells (lithium cells should be stored at around half power for longevity). They also let you know how much useful life is left in them. This makes the price of the batteries so much easier to stomach, they are actually worth it now in my opinion (currently $159). I will keep posting more interesting things about this as I am going to be constantly flying and testing this rig, so please sign up and check back often! If you have found these articles useful, consider clicking this Amazon link to shop for your DJI Inspire!
Unboxing and Initial Software Issues
My Inspire 1 finally came. Saying I was excited to get it would be an understatement. My FatShark Dominator goggles also got here as well, but I have not been able to test them yet (more on this later).
Sitting on top of my box were some prop locks because apparently these have been kicking off props during flight under difficult conditions so I was thankful to have gotten these because I only fly in difficult conditions. This drone is very, very different from the Phantom as well as the S800 that I had. The carrying case was a nice touch and everything was laid out and the copter was in "travel mode." It came with extra props and a carrying case for the camera / gimbal combo. The biggest downfall I can see to owning the Inspire 1 after a day of messing with it is the issues around the DJI Pilot software. The issue is that you can not download it because it doesn't exist on the Apple app store. Below is the best way I found to solve the issue of DJI Pilot software.
How to get the DJI Pilot APP Installed on your iPhone
I saw some postings about using iFunbox and I could not get it to work. It was very involved and difficult. Here is a much easier way!
1) Download the file below (which is the DJI pilot app, 0.9.2 I think).
2) Go to Diawi.com and upload this file to create a link
3) Click that link you created on your iOS device to install it
DJI Inspire 1 and the Fat Shark Dominator HD Goggles
I finally gave in and ordered the Fat Shark Dominator HD goggles because my old dominators finally started to go bad. I had no idea what to expect and it turns out they will work, BUT you need a cord that no one sells yet (If you have found one on sale, please let me know). If you want to use goggles, you need a Mini HDMI to Micro HDMI cord.
First Quick Flight
Once I got the software installed, I had to do a quick maiden in my backyard. It was windy and I have a small yard now so I was pretty careful. I was immediately impressed with the Pilot app. Plugging your copter into a computer to make adjustments, worrying about your camera settings, etc is all in the past. As an aerial photographer, I want to focus on getting the shots and action I want and not on equipment setup. Some people enjoy tinkering and building and adjusting and I used to be one of them. Now, I want my equipment to simply do exactly what it is supposed too and let me focus on flying and filming.
The Real Test Flight
This is hopefully what you have been waiting for. I have not seen an actual review that flies in real conditions and gives the details. So are some details I gathered from my first real test flight.
I had my wife record me buzzing around close flying line of sight just so you could get an idea of how smooth and controlled this drone is. The video doesn't look that good when you fly around like this but that might be because you need a higher frame rate. 4k @ 30FPS is good for slow stuff but quick flying, probably not as much.
The 4k video from this while flying slowly into the sunset turned out amazing. I had no intentions of making anything cool or beautiful but this clip just blew me away. I am really excited to get my extra batteries in and start making art with this cool flying camera.
Conclusion - It is worth it
Ok, this currently costs $2899 directly from DJI and I have to say I am happy with my purchase so far. This makes shooting aerial pictures easy and makes anyone seem like a pro! Want to shoot real estate pictures easily? This is it. Want to make beautiful aerial landscape shots? OK. I am not sure yet if this is going to be able to replace my Phantom for surf photography and other action drone stuff but if I had to bet, I think it is going to exceed my expectations. If it has some quirks or nuances I have to learn then so be it. Considering I had one of the first s800s and it cost me around $6000+ and still involved a large amount of tinkering, this thing is a dream at half of that cost.
The founder of DJI has said he admires Apple computers and Steve Jobs. Before I even read about his public admiration of the Apple founder, it became pretty obvious when I purchased my first Phantom 2. The packaging reminded me of all the beautiful and well built boxes I always got when purchasing Apple stuff. When I opened it up and set it all up, I was truly impressed with this new version. This was not just the same thing in a different package as I had initially suspected - this thing was truly an evolution of the initial DJI Phantom (You can read all about my first impressions here). Fast forward a year and we see even more improvements but more choices and these choices are leading to confusion in first time drone buyers and experienced users alike. The goal of this post is to help you make a decision about which drone to buy based on what you want to accomplish.
I have gotten so many emails from people wondering which version of the Phantom they should get. There really are 4 options and I will do my best to walk you through the pros and cons of each setup as they all have different uses and capabilities. If you have found this guide useful, please consider making your purchase through DroneFly.com, Amazon.com, or the DJI Store.
DJI Phantom 2
The stock Phantom 2 is the cheapest way to get a quality consumer drone in the air with a camera. It does not come with a camera so you must supply your own. This is the perfect rig for someone who has developed decent RC quadcopter skills and wants to get a camera in the air to start taking pictures.
DJI Phantom 2 Vision
I have never owned a Phantom Vision but it offers a lot of out of the box functionality for taking aerial pictures. This is the best option if you want a simple, out of the box platform for aerial pictures and a ground station.
DJI Phantom Vision 2+
The Phantom V2+ is the most advanced, out of the box consumer drone you can currently buy. If you want the easiest setup for aerial pictures and videos and you do not want to use a GoPro this is your choice.
DJI Phantom 2 with 3 axis Zenmuse
This is my preferred rig because I love flying GoPro cameras. The zenmuse gimbal version of the Phantom 2 is probably the least ready to fly consumer drone on this list. You have to install the included gimbal, install an FPV transmitter, and install the iOSD if you want telemetry. However, the work necessary is well worth it in my opinion - I love my Phantom 2 and all of my favorite videos have been shot with this aerial platform.
Is collective pitch the future of drone photography?
When I was on my way to Dallas a few years ago to fly for the Discovery channel, my friend and co-pilot was telling me some hush hush rumors about the future of aerial photography platforms from DJI. The big secret was collective pitch and the rock solid flight characteristics that could be had from such a design. I was a bit surprised to see someone beat DJI to this but they seem to have their hands full with the delayed launch of the Inspire 1.
Fixed Pitch vs Collective Pitch
If you are new to RC helicopters, let me take you back to the days of fixed pitched and collective pitch helicopters. Fixed pitch helicopters were difficult to fly because of tail drift and the massive delay between throttle changes and altitude changes in the helicopter. Collective pitch helicopters spun the main blade much (dangerously) faster and then you just changed the pitch of the helicopter to move the heli up and down. The lag was virtually eliminated and insane maneuvers were possible. However, with one main blade spinning at 2000 RPM it was never a good idea to use these for aerial photography unless you were in a controlled environment or there were no people around. The beauty of multicopters was they were fixed pitch and they had many propellers spinning much slower and the energy was spread out to four propellers and therefore much safer.
Assault Reaper 500
Jump ahead to the Assault Reaper 500 collective pitch quadcopter from HobbyKing.com. This thing is built to be 3d quadcopter and probably is a blast to fly. However, my mind instantly jumps to aerial photography applications because that is what I love to do. The implications for such a rig are obvious. More speed, faster response, and greater stability in wind. If you are shooting fast moving dynamic subjects, nothing will be able to beat this. I have not flown this yet, but if you can get flight software that is suited for aerial photography instead of 3d, this will be the rig to use if you are filming fast motorcycles, cars, waves, boats, and other fast moving stuff.
Collective pitch Drone Photography
In order for this to be an aerial photography platform, it would need to be modified a bit. It would need a camera mount and a gimbal, and FPV transmitter, and a flight mode that was designed for aerial photography. The main drawback to flying a normal collective pitch helicopter is the fast spinning blade. The blade on this will be spinning much faster than the blades of a normal quadcopter but because the power is spread out among 4 different propellers the danger will (hopefully) be significantly less. We will not know how dangerous these are until people are using them but my guess is they are safer than a T-rex and more dangerous than a DJI Phantom or QAV500. Will collective pitch be the future of consumer drones - Please comment below!!