Flying Your Aerial Drone Over Water

Flying Over Water

Flying Over Water

Flying your drone at low altitude over water can be hazardous to its health. However, there are times when professional aerial drone photographers and videographers will have to do precisely that. The drones I fly are manufactured by DJI, which discourages flying over water.

DJI Manufacturer Statements Include:

The Vision System requires clear pattern variations, with light conditions greater than 100 lux. Further, they state that users should operate the aircraft with great caution when flying over water or transparent surfaces. And specifically, Vision Positioning may not function properly when the aircraft is flying over water.

What is a Vision System?

Vision systems may use ultrasonic sensors, infrared sensors, and cameras to detect objects in close proximity to the drone. Several drone models use combinations of sensors to accurately hold altitude and to enable object tracking functions.

How does a Vision System work?

Vision systems are used for short range detection and ranging. Ultrasonic-based sensors operate at about 40 kHz and use pulsed sonar techniques to detect the nearest object. Camera-based sensors employ image processing to determine objects that not only include the ground below but also people and moving vehicles.

DJI states their vision systems rely on very sophisticated image processing to detect nearby objects. Two models that I have owned are the Phantom 3 Professional and the Phantom 4 Professional Version 2. Both employ a combination of ultrasonic and camera sensors to determine their altitude above ground.

At low altitude, the fusion algorithm prioritizes the camera sensor above the ultrasonic sensor and the altimeter (barometer). e.g. the drone’s control system maintains a certain altitude that is stabilized by its downlooking camera. The problem with flying over water is that the downlooking camera sees what the human eye will see, including objects below the surface such as the bottom.

When hovering over water (or any other transparent object), the processor may be fooled into thinking the drone is flying too high, so it orders the drone to decrease its altitude. This happens fairly quickly, which risks the drone dropping into the water.

When you Absolutely Must Fly over Water . . .

If you have to fly below 2 meters for a special shot, we recommend that you turn off the Vision System to avoid unstable movements by the drone. DJI recommends that you fly the drone at low speed and stay alert to adjust altitude.

What else could possibly cause Altitude Issues over Water?

Other physical effects could fool the drone’s processor into decreasing altitude, but only one scenario seems to fit. For an ultrasonic sonar sensor, the sensitivity time control could cause a near-water second echo to be larger than the first echo, which would read a higher altitude.

What about Sonar Returns off the Sediment?

Although sound waves can penetrate the air-water interface, the transmission loss is about 99.95% – each way! Remember, the sound has to go back through the water-air interface for another loss of 99.95%. There’s just not enough signal return to fool the sensor.

You can likewise rule out other physical effects because they would lead the processor to read a lower altitude. These include: ground effect on the barometer and the increased sound speed caused by prop wash water vapor. In other words, the processor would be fooled into increasing the drone’s altitude.

Conclusion

Flying your drone at low altitude over water can risk losing your aircraft. If you must fly under these conditions, then turn off the Vision Positioning System, maintain a minimum altitude of 2 meters, and keep a close watch on your drone.

Aerial Drone Altimeter Accuracy Specification

Measuring Your Drone's Altitude

Measuring Your Drone’s Altitude

One of the specifications that you won’t find for your aerial drone is its altimeter accuracy. In fact, if you call the manufacturer’s support staff they won’t be able to provide you with that spec either. Technology behind the common altimeter is consistent across many of the latest airborne vehicles, including drones. In most cases, altimeter inaccuracies are minor, so these instruments serve their purpose well.

However, aerial drones operate much closer to ground than most other aviation vehicles. This is where we as drone pilots might notice a drift in reported altitude throughout our drone’s flight. We’ll explain why this drift occurs and what can be done to compensate for it.

How Does an Altimeter Work?

What we know is that as one goes up in altitude, the air pressure goes down. The relationship between air pressure and altitude is quite predictable, but subject to minor variables such as the gas content and temperature. So, whether the readout is an analog meter or a more sophisticated digital instrument, the altitude is easily converted from the air pressure. Click here for a detailed explanation on how altimeters do this.

Which of These “Minor Variables” Affect My Drone’s Altimeter?

Over the time span of a drone flight, the atmosphere’s gas content, that is Nitrogen, Oxygen, CO2, water vapor, etc., can be treated as fixed. Surface-level barometric pressure changes can also be treated as fixed. That leaves variances in temperature as the most significant contributor to altimeter inaccuracy.

Think about where the barometer is located in your drone. It’s a small sensor mounted on or near the motherboard in a relatively confined space. From the beginning of a flight to its end, heat from the drone’s control circuitry builds up in this space, affecting the barometer. Whether it’s a change in air pressure or temperature, the result is the same – a change in reported altitude.

Low Altitude Operations

This is where the thermal effect on reported altitude is more noticeable. You may have noticed when coming in for a landing that your drone is reporting an altitude of some 15 feet or so when it’s actually 3 feet off the ground. If you were to simply take off and hover, you would find that the indicated altitude slowly increases while the drone is actually in a stationary position. These are thermal effects.

Temperature drift in your drone’s altitude reading is hardly noticeable when flying high, and may only be a minor nuisance when flying low. But, where it can cause trouble is when using a programmed mode that instructs the drone to fly at a certain altitude. If that happens to be 10 feet or so, then the program will try to drive the drone at that altitude, but in reality is flying it toward the ground. Even at higher altitudes, you can lose your margin when programmed flight decreases your drone’s actual altitude above objects such as buildings and trees.

What to do When Altitude Accuracy is Important

I recently had a client that required drone photography at several specific altitudes above ground level. This job had to do with precision surveying in advance of a construction project. Since my drone’s altimeter would not meet their requirements, they set up a surveying instrument to measure the drone’s altitude (see picture). You may also consider other workarounds, such as:

  1. At the time of your critical photos/videos, record the drone’s altitude, then land and record altitude again. Take the difference for true altitude.
  2. Allow the drone to warm up for several minutes before lift-off. At the end of flight, use the reported landing altitude to estimate in-flight altitudes. (e.g. interpolate the number of feet per minute of drift.)
  3. Use an independent measurement device, such as a laser rangefinder.

Flying Your Drone in Native American Reservation Airspace

Flying in Native American Airspace

Flying in Native American Airspace

A question was raised during my recent vacation to a National Park in Montana: Do Native American Nations have sovereign authority over their airspace? I had intended to fly the Park’s edge region from Tribal lands (which legally complies with the NPS Policy Memorandum 14-05). However, I realized the rules that apply to airspace over tribal lands might be different.

Airspace Sovereignty from the Native American Perspective

A retired chief of police of an Indian reservation (Gila River Indian Community, AZ) advised that tribal governments are very sensitive of their sovereignty and sacred grounds. He recommended that drone pilots contact the tribal government or police department and ask for permission to fly. The tribes appreciate a show of respect by asking. To sweeten the deal, perhaps you as a drone pilot could offer photos and videos that the tribe could use for its own purposes.

Unfortunately, there have been many cases of trespassers desecrating tribal lands and taking sacred artifacts. As a result, tribal governments now employ their own law enforcement officers that patrol their territory on 4×4’s. My understanding is that you do not want to be on the wrong side of a tribal LEO if you meet up with one!

Has Tribal Sovereignty over Airspace been Settled by the Federal Courts?

In my blog “Does an Aerial Drone Pilot have the Right to Fly Over Private Property?” we looked at property owners’ rights to the airspace within their property lines. It would be consistent, then, that Tribal Nations would have the same airspace rights. That is, they own the airspace up to 500 feet above ground level. This policy was affirmed in a 2016 paper by the University of Oklahoma College of Law Digital Commons “Why Indian Tribes Possess the Sovereign Authority to Regulate Tribal Airspace.” However, in this paper, an argument was made that Tribal Nations own ALL of the airspace within their boundaries.

Of course, such an assertion by tribal governments conflicts with federal regulations and FAA jurisdiction. However, the author makes a good point that Native American Nations enjoy significant sovereignty in other areas of the law. Since the airspace jurisdiction question had not been resolved as of 2016, drone pilots should contact tribal authorities and request their permission to fly.

Your Rights to Retrieve a Drone If It Lands On Private Property, Part 2

What If An Irate Property Owner Has Your Drone?

What If An Irate Property Owner Has Your Drone?

Aerial drones are usually reliable, and in the hands of an experienced operator are brought home with sufficient battery power in reserve. However, there may be circumstances when the aircraft can’t be brought home and it lands on someone else’s property. I established in Part 1 that the property owner does not have a lawful claim on your aircraft. In this blog, we review your recovery options in less-than-friendly circumstances.

What Are My Options?

If the property owner refuses to return your aircraft, or allow you to retrieve it, then you should call local law enforcement to intervene. As long as no harm was done, then it’s likely that the property owner will hand over your drone to a law enforcement officer. Although the owner may be reluctant, they may come around after being advised that they face a charge of larceny if they hold onto it. There are several other ways this scenario can play out (such as intentionally destroying your aircraft), but if none turn out favorable to you, then you’ll have to ask for a law enforcement report and proceed with a civil or criminal complaint.

I recently heard of a scenario where a novice was using their drone for low-level spying, which violates state and federal privacy laws. If the property owner gets your drone under these circumstances (using any available means) your claim is going to be an uphill battle.

If your aircraft gets stuck in the owner’s tree or is on their rooftop, then be prepared to pay for a service to come out to retrieve it for you. For example, this may cost you $150 for a tree service to come out, climb the tree, retrieve your drone, and assure the owner that no harm was done to their tree.

Sometimes the best grease is money. If the property owner is annoyed, then you may offer a modest sum for their troubles. Conversely, if the property owner demands a “salvage” fee, then this may be the path of least resistance that gets your aircraft back. Even if the law of ownership is on your side, getting a legal judgment will be costly and take time. In the meantime, you’ll probably have to buy another drone.

There is the unpleasant scenario where your drone damaged property or injured a person (or animal). In such a case, your drone deprived the owner of their full enjoyment of the land and your situation has become a whole lot more complicated. This is why you need a good liability insurance policy.

What if the Property Owner Refuses to Return My Aircraft?

Aerial drones can be expensive, with the value of some in the thousands of dollars. At this price point, a court proceeding may be worth the cost. For less expensive drones, a court proceeding may give you some degree of satisfaction but the cost may exceed the drone’s value. Some property owners are so belligerent that they will destroy your drone. I wish I could be gentler in advising that you may need to be prepared to accept the loss of your drone.

In Any Scenario with Complications, Document Everything and Take Pictures

If your operations require flying over private property, then carry an insurance policy that covers liability AND loss of aircraft. If it goes down, then collect as much information as possible about the circumstances, take pictures, print out your controller’s log files, and take names. When dealing with property owners, always be professional and affirm their rights as well as your own. Even though the law is on your side, the property owner has possession of your drone so carefully assert your rights in the kindest manner possible.

Your Rights to Recover a Drone If It Lands On Private Property, Part 1

Did Your Drone Come Down On Private Property?

Did Your Drone Come Down On Private Property?

Aerial drones are usually reliable, and in the hands of an experienced operator are brought home with sufficient battery power in reserve. However, there may be circumstances when the aircraft can’t be brought home and it lands on private property. Does the private property owner have a lawful claim on your drone? In Part 1, we review your recovery options in relatively cooperative, no-harm circumstances. In Part 2, we’ll review your recovery options in less-than-friendly circumstances.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

First, let’s review some of the circumstances that are covered in this blog: (1) unexpected mechanical failure, such as a battery issue, electronic failure, or motor/propeller malfunction; (2) loss of control, such as an automatic return to home at too low of an altitude and it crashes into an object; or (3) forced landing due to an exhausted battery.

Please note there are a number of circumstances not covered in this blog. Primarily, these are activities that might deprive the property owner of the full enjoyment of their land, including evidence of: (1) the drone is causing a nuisance: (2) being flown recklessly; or (3) violating a state privacy law. For whatever reason an aircraft may come down under these circumstances, your rights may be compromised. Please read my blog on flying over private property. In addition, if your aircraft enters controlled airspace and a law enforcement or military activity takes it down, you’ll have an uphill battle getting it back.

Do You Still Own Your Drone?

Case law is well settled that ownership of your property is retained, regardless of where that property may be situated. Conversion of lost property doesn’t occur unless it remains unclaimed by the owner. So, for a property owner to cite conversion (that is to assume ownership), they must post a notice of “found property” or turn it over to law enforcement for a period of time, typically 3 months.

So yes, you have the right to recover your aircraft from a property owner. This doesn’t mean that you can intentionally trespass, especially if the owner is standing there with a shotgun, or there are other obstacles such as dangerous animals. But you do have the right to ask for the return of your property.

How Do You Get Your Drone Back?

If you know where it landed, then you should introduce yourself to the property owner, identify yourself as the drone owner, and ask for its return. The owner may be annoyed, but a reasonable explanation of how it ended up on their property will be helpful. Further, if it has an FAA registration number and other identifying information, then you have established your right of ownership. Don’t forget that your controller also establishes ownership, simply proven by operating the drone; e.g. moving the camera, starting the motors, etc.

Of course, there may be other scenarios where the property owner is less cooperative. These include situations where your aircraft is stuck in their tree, on their roof, or has caused damage. There may also be scenarios where the property owner is just plain uncooperative. We’ll address those in Part 2.

Does a Private Property Owner Have the Right to Shoot Down Your Drone?

Shooting at a Drone is Illegal

Shooting at a Drone is Illegal

Shooting down an aerial drone is a federal crime and could result in criminal liability. Regardless of how a property owner feels about a drone’s (perceived) invasion of privacy over their private property, there are more civil solutions available.

State Privacy Laws Favor Property Owners

We established in our May 2019 blog that case law has favored property owners for altitudes up to 500 feet above their property. So, the wise drone pilot will ensure that they’re flying in accordance with FAA regulations and avoiding any appearance of: (1) the drone is causing a nuisance: (2) being flown recklessly; or (3) violating your state’s privacy laws.

Federal Aviation Laws Favor Drone Pilots

For obvious safety reasons, a drone hit by gunfire could crash, causing injury to persons or damage to property on the ground, or it could collide with other objects in the air. So, shooting at an unmanned aircraft could result in criminal or civil liability, just as firing at a manned airplane. The FAA has cited federal law in their declaration that shooting a drone constitutes a federal crime and could result in criminal liability. Where does it say that?

Federal Law states it in U.S. Code Title 18, Section 32 “Whoever willfully sets fire to, damages, destroys, disables, or wrecks any aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States . . . shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years or both.” Under subsection (c), threatening a drone or a drone operator would also be a federal crime subject to five years in prison.

What if My Drone is Shot Down?

Aerial drone pilots who have an FAA registration number affixed to their aircraft, are Part 107 certified, and flying in accordance with FAA rules will probably have a good case for filing a criminal complaint . . . As long as they’re respecting the rights of property owners! However, case law can go against the drone pilot if it can be shown that they were depriving the property owner of their rights, particularly invasion of privacy.

Summary

Drone pilots must be careful about flying over other people’s property, especially at low altitude. State laws control property rights and in at least one case have favored an owner for shooting down a drone that was allegedly used for spying. In light of Amazon’s recent approval to deliver small packages by drones, the gray areas between federal and state rights certainly need to be clarified.

Drone pilots should know their rights but also avoid situations that may place their drone in jeopardy. Getting entangled in the legal system is expensive and should be avoided if at all possible.

Don’t miss our next blog on your right to retrieve a drone that lands/crashes onto private property.

Does an Aerial Drone Pilot have the Right to Fly Over Private Property?

Does This Sign Apply to Aerial Drones?

Does This Sign Apply to Aerial Drones?

There’s an altitude limit at which property owners own their airspace. Above that altitude, it’s owned by the federal government. But regardless of altitude, airborne aircraft are always operating under the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Federal case law first established property owner’s airspace in 1946 as a minimum altitude of 83 feet in a foundational ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court “United States v. Causby, 328 US 266 (1946).” A navigable airspace boundary was later established by Congress as the minimum altitude for aircraft flights – stated as 500 feet above ground level. Property rights laws generally accept altitudes below the minimum navigable airspace as the airspace owned by private property owners.

To be clear, the FAA has jurisdiction over all airspace above the ground where aircraft can operate. However, the FAA does not own the airspace below those altitudes defined as navigable airspace.

What Do I Need to Know as a Drone Pilot?

One lengthy legal analysis suggests drone pilots have the right to fly their drones at 400 feet above private property. As you know, 400 feet is also the maximum altitude that drones may operate (with certain exceptions). Note: I couldn’t verify their 400-feet altitude spec, but offer this resource since it cites some good historical information. Whether you’re using 400 feet or 500 feet, current case law favors the property owner if a claim of trespass is made against the pilot.

Does this mean that if you’re doing commercial photography you’re at risk if your drone flies over an adjacent property? Maybe. However, proving loss of the owner’s “full enjoyment of their land” would be difficult if there’s no evidence of: (1) the drone is causing a nuisance: (2) being flown recklessly; or (3) violating your state’s privacy law. In our experience when flying our drone on commercial jobs, it’s very difficult to avoid flying over a neighbor’s private property. So when we’re on a job, we always have a copy of the owner’s (or agent’s) tasking and fly safe.

I’ve been approached by curious neighbors asking what I’m doing with my drone and have found that by explaining the tasking and showing them the drone’s video display it creates a lot of good will. First, they can see that the drone’s wide-angle camera makes it a poor platform for spying. Second, they think it’s very cool to learn about this kind of technology.

This is also a good time to hand out a business card. Sometimes curious neighbors may have a good question down the road, such as “Can I hire you to photograph my property?”

What About Public Lands, Such as the National Parks?

We covered this question in our blog posted on December 7, 2017 “Everything You Never Wanted To Know About Flying Your Drone in the National Parks.” The NPS Director’s Policy Memo 14-05 stated that aerial drones may not be operated from park property, but may be flown over park property (within the FAA’s Part 107 rules). Apparently, federally-owned land managers defer matters of airspace to the FAA.

Summary

Private property owners are within their rights to demand that drone pilots keep their drones away from their property lines. This is a request that responsible drone pilots should respect. Unless a lawful objection has been raised, whenever flying over private property always fly in a safe and professional manner. This will minimize your risk of an unpleasant confrontation and possible legal action.

This Crosswind is Driving My Drone Crazy

Heading Offset Due To Crosswind

Heading Offset Due To Crosswind

As mentioned in my 10/25/2018 blog, “Flying in High Winds – What Could Possibly Go Wrong?,” wind can affect your drone’s flight control system. In severe situations, its effects are immediately apparent on your screen, such as an image that bounces around. However, there’s another more subtle effect that can impact the quality of your videography, which you should know about.

Review of Your Drone’s Flight Control System

First, let’s review what keeps your drone stable while in flight. Today’s sophisticated drones use a magnetic compass and the global positioning system (GPS) to determine the drone’s heading and position. The drone’s inertial navigation system is always comparing its solution with that of GPS to hold the drone in position and to keep the camera steady. So, even if the wind is buffeting your drone, its control system is doing a pretty good job of holding the camera steady.

However, if the wind is high enough and the gusts strong enough, the drone’s flight control system can be driven into its non-linear region. This appears as bouncing around in the video feed to your screen and recorded images if you’re shooting video. Your only solution is to wait until the wind settles down and try again.

Wind Can Affect Your Videography in Other Ways

While flying your drone manually, you’ll probably never notice the effect of a crosswind. However, in programmed flights, such as DJI’s waypoint mode, you may notice a yawing (heading) offset while the drone is flying from point A to point B. This offset is known as “crabbing.”

Crabbing is where the yaw axis of the camera offsets from the drone’s direction of travel. Stated another way, while your drone’s course toward Point B may be on a direct heading, it offsets in yaw to another angle, typically turning into the wind.

In light winds, the crabbing effect is minor, but as the crosswind speed picks up it becomes more pronounced. Its effect on your video? You’ll notice your drone’s video image offset a few degrees from the straight-ahead direction.

What Causes Crabbing?

Your drone does a pretty good job of maintaining its heading and position along the desired track over ground. However, it still has to adjust heading to compensate for wind and stay on the objective track. When your drone adjusts the heading, its camera crabs over to an offset angle. This is simply vector math and is commonly encountered in aviation scenarios (as well as for boats in crosscurrents, etc.). Think of an airplane landing in a crosswind – notice how its angle relative to the runway is offset? That’s crabbing.

What Can I Do With This Information?

With awareness of crabbing, you can look for its effect on your videography. If it becomes objectionable then you can increase your drone’s speed (again, vector math), wait for a calmer day, or crop out some of the offset in postprocessing.

What Should I Expect To Pay For Aerial Drone Photography Services?

Let’s Start With Some of the Costs of Running a Business . . .

The Business Part of Aerial Drone Photography

The Business Aspect of Aerial Drone Photography

. . . specifically, our drone photography business. There are many operating costs spread across aerial photography operations. They include: drone hardware, accessories, digital camera, camera glide, desktop computer, laptop, tablet, software, office expenses, Internet access, desk phone, mobile phone, aviation liability insurance, FAA certification, transportation, accounting, banking, taxes, etc. These costs are spread across all of our services.

Is a Drone Shoot that Complicated?

We go through a lot of effort to deliver results so you don’t have to deal with these burdens. A hobbyist can go out and buy a drone for less than $500 and then go into “business.” However, that is where the similarity ends. A professional drone operation is so much more than that, so let me explain some of the preparations that go into every drone photography session:

  1. The first step is receiving the task from our client. Through phone conversations and e-mail, we learn about the location and type of photography services desired. (Photography in this article includes videography.)
  2. From there, we look up the location on Google Maps; then check against the FAA’s restricted flight zones. We can fly in certain areas, but others are off limits for drones. Please read our blog.
  3. We then hand-chart the flight requirements onto a hard copy from Google Maps. Tools include self-developed programs to calculate altitudes, speeds, camera tilt angles, fields of view, etc. We know how to translate the client’s requirements into drone commands and can visualize what the camera’s field of view will look like. We’re good at this, very good. Usually, we get our shots on the first try!
  4. Flight requirements are then entered into drone flight programs. We use several, and select the appropriate program for the mission. Some examples: videography, surveying, mapping, etc. Programmed drone flights provide smooth, repeatable missions. This is particularly useful if the client wants us to fly the same mission again, such as for progress reports or seasonal changes.
  5. Driving time to the client’s site is one of our major cost drivers. We need to charge for extra driving time outside our service area.
  6. On site, we look over the terrain for obstacles that may pose a hazard to our drone, such as trees, power lines, light poles, water towers, etc.
  7. The fun part, flying the drone, goes relatively quickly. The preparation steps above help to ensure a successful mission; while collecting the required photography takes less than 20 minutes.
  8. If the client is on site, we download the photography to their computer or give them their files on a USB thumb drive. Otherwise, we upload their files within 24 hours to a cloud service and send them a link. We operate a fee-for-service business, and deliver unlimited copyright with our products.
  9. Returning to the office, we download the files to a desktop computer and back them up onto a storage server. Periodically, we back up client files to BluRay disks and retain them for several years.
  10. Of course, collecting our fees, processing credit cards, accounting, paying taxes, sending receipts, logging flights, etc., all add to the time commitment.

Just a Quick Note on Postprocessing

If the client has asked for postprocessing services, we have a number of high-end desktop programs for photography, videography, and mapping. We’re experts with this software, taking the uncertainty out of the equation and delivering products that meet or exceed the client’s expectations. Examples of our postprocessing products can be found on our Portfolio page.

So, Just How Much Time Do You Spend on a Standard Drone Shoot?

Six hours, which typically breaks down into thirds: (1) Client communications; (2) Mission planning; and (3) Executing the mission. Compared to most other skilled trades, our prices are very reasonable. In the end, we’re in business to earn money, but it just comes down to the fact that we love to fly!

Zoom-in With a Fixed Lens Camera

Zooming In With Your Drone's Fixed Camera Lens

Zoom-in With Your Drone’s Fixed Camera Lens

At one time or another, everyone has had situations where zooming in on a video clip adds that finishing touch. Whether it’s for effect or for greater stand-off distance, the convenience of camera zoom takes your photography to the professional level.

In this blog, I’ll show you how to get Full High Definition (1080p) results at a zoom factor of 1.4x using a fixed-lens camera. This is good information for venues like sporting events and weddings, which can be recorded from the air but at a great enough distance so the drone’s presence has minimal notice. For more information on camera resolution please read my blog Setting Up Your Aerial Drone Camera.

Do I Need an Expensive High-End Drone and Camera?

Although that would be one way to get zoom capability, it can be a very expensive investment. But, let’s look at just one of many high-end drone/camera solutions:

For a modest investment of $5,000 you can purchase a DJI Inspire 2 drone, Zenmuse X5S camera, and Lumix 14-42mm zoom lens and the results will be quite professional. The Lumix lens gives you the standard camera focal length equivalent of 28-84mm. So, with 50mm as the standard for zero magnification, this camera has a zoom range of 0.6x wide angle to 1.7x telephoto. Remember these numbers.

Is There a Less Expensive Alternative?

There’s another solution that is far less expensive and provides excellent results. Many drones on the market can record Cinema 4K video, which has a resolution of 4096×2160 pixels. However, most users are satisfied with a Full HD resolution of 1920×1080 pixels.

What these numbers mean is that to get a digital zoom capability, you can record video in Cinema 4K mode, which leaves plenty of resolution to render any portion of the frame in Full HD. Rendering the video is done in post-processing, where video clips are transformed into the finished video.

For example, we can use our drone to record the desired scene in C4K mode. We start with the equivalent wide angle focal length of the camera’s lens, which is 35mm (0.7x). Using post-processing software, as much or as little of the C4K image can be cropped for the desired magnification. So, when your video is captured in C4K, you can select a crop “window” of up to 50% and render your new “zoomed-in” video in beautiful FHD. In other words, you get a full-definition 1920×1080 pixels! For this level of cropping, you achieve a zoom factor of 1.4x, equivalent to a 70mm telephoto lens.

Compared with the $5,000 solution, which zooms 0.6x to 1.7x, this digital zoom technique gets you 0.7x to 1.4x.

Any More Slick Ideas?

Two for sure . . .

  1. If you want even more zoom, just crop to get the desired magnification. There’s no limit to how much you can crop, though you will start to see the results of lower resolution. For example, you can crop at 25%, which gives you a zoom factor of 2.8x (140mm telephoto) but the resulting FHD video will display a lower resolution of 1024×540 pixels.
  2. Any method of zoom will increase the image’s sensitivity to camera movement. So a small and acceptable level of vibration at 0.7x may be objectionable at 1.4x. Unwanted vibration can be minimized in post-processing using image stabilization. For more information please read my blog Video Production and Post-Processing.

At FAD-Photo, we use the DJI Phantom 4 Professional V2, which provides a highly stable platform capable of stunning high definition photographs and videos. We have mastered the art of taking C4K videos and using our post-processing software to minimize vibration and render FHD videos.

We deliver the results you would expect from a professional aerial drone photography service! For more information, please refer to our Aerial Drone Photography and Video Services page.