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.

Flying in High Winds – What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Propeller Spin-off

Wind Gusts Caused This Problem

In this blog, we explain why we limit our flights to wind speeds of 10 mph or less. Seem drastic? Please read on; this is good information.

Drone electronics are quite sophisticated, as they use inertial navigation to stabilize the drone’s camera so it’s almost free from the effects of wind patterns. However, there’s a design limit at which the stabilization reaches the “stops” and no longer holds the camera level.

When the drone is buffeted by gusty winds, the magnitude and direction of the wind can shift quite suddenly. This gives the drone’s stabilization system a workout and sometimes the requirements go beyond the linear operating range. The result is a momentary tilting of the image sent to your remote control.

OK, Crooked Photos And Videos; Is That It?

Not really – something much worse can happen when the drone is buffeted by strong gusts: Such as the sudden loss of your drone! The drone’s stabilization system works very hard to keep the camera steady, but when the wind vector tries to tilt the drone, the motors will adjust speed AND DIRECTION, as necessary, to maintain level. If the wind vector is strong enough, one or more motors can momentarily be driven in reverse.

If your propellers screw on, such as the Phantom 3 series, they rotate in a direction that is usually self-tightening. However, if the motor momentarily reverses in a gusty situation then the propeller can actually unscrew and spin-off. The best way to safeguard against a spin-off is to screw the propellers on very tightly. If you’re flying a DJI drone, this means using the supplied wrench.

If your drone uses the new quick release propellers, they can still spin-off, but you’re at a lower risk. Take the Phantom 4, Inspire 2, and Mavic series for example. Their propellers mount with a push and 1/8 of a turn. You (we all) feel safe because there’s a relatively strong spring to hold the propeller in place. However, these drones’ control systems can still drive the motors in reverse. When thrust is reversed and the propeller pushes hard enough against the spring then it will fly-off.

Having some speed on the drone reduces the forces that can drive the motors in reverse. But the pilot should be very careful about low speeds and hovering because these are the conditions that make it more likely that a gust will try to pitch the drone over.

Of course, the best way to safeguard against a spin-off is to avoid flying in high winds. The graphic above was taken from telemetry received from an actual spin-off event.

Why Can’t The Drone Fly With One Propeller Missing?

If a propeller spins off your aerial drone this is what you can expect:

A drone with six or more propellers can survive a one-propeller spin-off. But drones with four propellers are doomed. These drones have two props that rotate clockwise and two that rotate counterclockwise. They were designed this way to cancel the drone’s tendency to rotate. But if you remove one propeller, the drone will go into a spin.

Without a propeller there’s no lift so that corner drops down. So in addition to spin, the drone goes into an uncontrolled roll/pitch. The drone is hopelessly out of control and falls to the earth.

Recommendations

Inspect the propellers before every flight. If you must fly in winds greater than 10 mph, understand that gusts can easily double the wind speed. Take precautions that the propellers are screwed on tightly with a wrench. If you see the image tilting on your remote control, land your drone immediately. Better to fly another day than to take chances on a windy day.

Flying Aerial Drones At Night Is NOT Permitted By The FAA

Flying Your Aerial Drone At Night Is Not Permitted (Without Waiver) By The FAA

Flying Your Aerial Drone At Night Is Not Permitted (Without Waiver) By The FAA

Your drone lights up like a Christmas tree at night, but does that mean you can legally fly your aerial drone at night? Some drone pilots think yes, but I haven’t found justification for night flying in the USA without an FAA waiver.

This is another of my blogs where the FAA’s rules are straightforward. You can avoid a lot of boring reading if you will just take my word to fly your aerial drone in daylight conditions unless you receive a waiver from the FAA.

Let’s find out what the FAA has to say about night flying:

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules are found in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) which are federal laws. Those that apply to this topic include:

Title 14 CFR 107.29  Small UAS Daylight Operation.

(a) No person may operate a small unmanned aircraft system during night.

(b) No person may operate a small unmanned aircraft system during periods of civil twilight unless the small unmanned aircraft has lighted anti-collision lighting visible for at least 3 statute miles . . .

(1) Except for Alaska, a period of time that begins 30 minutes before official sunrise and ends at official sunrise.

(2) Except for Alaska, a period of time that begins at official sunset and ends 30 minutes after official sunset.

Reading this excerpt from the rules, the FAA is clear that Aerial Drones shall not be flown at night. However, flying during periods of civil twilight is permitted as long as collision-avoidance lighting requirements are met. Of note, the LED lights on your DJI drone are nowhere near the intensity to qualify for twilight flying; see line (b) above.

The FAA may issue a WAIVER for night flying

Pilots who wish to fly at night may request a certificate of waiver from the FAA’s Administrator. The waiver request must contain a complete description of the proposed operation and justification that establishes that the operation can safely be conducted under the terms of a certificate of waiver.

14 CFR 107.200  Waiver Policy and Requirements:

(a) The Administrator may issue a certificate of waiver authorizing a deviation from any regulation specified in §107.205 if the Administrator finds that a proposed small UAS operation can safely be conducted under the terms of that certificate of waiver.

Of note 14 CFR 107.205 specifically includes flying at night. Your waiver application is submitted to the office of the FAA’s Administrator in Washington, DC.

Can I Fly at Night Under the Model Aircraft Rules of Part 101?

There are some remote pilots that have stated the requirements for 14 CFR 101.41 will allow them to operate at night. In my view, this is a stretch of interpretation for most pilots.

The chapter that covers UAS’s, Part 107, specifically excludes aircraft that are qualified to fly under Part 101. In other words, you can’t use Part 101 rules to justify flying Part 107 aircraft.

Why? Part 101 addresses Moored Balloons, Kites, Amateur Rockets, Unmanned Free Balloons, and Certain Model Aircraft (emphasis mine).  Subparagraph 101.41 addresses the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, which some pilots have stated online justify flying their aerial drones at night.

First, there are several requirements that must be met if your aerial drone is to be considered a model aircraft:

  • You may fly for hobby or recreation ONLY
  • You must register your model aircraft
  • You must fly within visual line-of-sight
  • You must follow community-based safety guidelines and fly within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization

That’s it. Night flying is not explicitly permitted in the subpart for “Certain Model Aircraft”.

Remote Pilots that are flying commercial off-the-shelf aerial drones, such as those manufactured by DJI, will have a hard time convincing the FAA that you qualify under Part 101 rules.  Even if your drone was to qualify under Part 101, the relevant subparts that allow night flying don’t apply to model aircraft. They apply to other aircraft categories, for example:

14 CFR 101.17

No person may operate a moored balloon or kite, between sunset and sunrise unless the balloon or kite, and its mooring lines, are lighted so as to give a visual warning equal to that required for obstructions to air navigation in the FAA publication “Obstruction Marking and Lighting”.

14 CFR 101.25

When operating Class 2-High Power Rockets or Class 3-Advanced High Power Rockets, you must comply with the General Operating Limitations of §101.23. In addition, you must not operate Class 2-High Power Rockets or Class 3-Advanced High Power Rockets . . .

(d) Between sunset and sunrise without prior authorization from the FAA . . .

14 CFR 101.35

No person may operate an unmanned free balloon unless . . .

(b) No person may operate an unmanned free balloon below 60,000 feet standard pressure altitude between sunset and sunrise . . .

None of these sections (17, 25, and 35) should be used to justify flying aerial drones at night.

Conclusion

The FAA is very clear in Part 107 that flying aerial drones at night is not permitted unless the pilot has received a waiver. Using Part 101 is not a good interpretation of the meaning and intent of the FAA’s rules. However, there are those venues where flying at night is permitted and waiverable. Some that come to mind include certain sporting events, law enforcement, and fire and rescue.

Another resource that I’ve cited before is Drone Law Attorney “Rupprecht Law.”

Please read their legal opinion on How to Fly Your Drone at Night.

Setting Up Your Aerial Drone Camera

Aerial Drone Camera Options

Aerial Drone Camera Options

Video Formats

When you set up your aerial drone camera to take videos, the first thing you’ll want to do is to select the American standard of NTSC (National Television System Committee).  Your other option is PAL (Phase Alternation by Line), which is more common in Europe, Asia, and Africa. A third standard known as SECAM is also common in Asia and Africa, and your drone may offer it as well. When in the USA, select NTSC. The main difference is frame rate where the American standard is based on 60 Hz and the European standard is based on 50 Hz.

Among your camera’s setting options, you’ll find video size, which allows you to select format and framerate. You can select from 4k for the UHD or Ultimate High Definition (think of Sony’s 4k digital cinema in your movie theater), 2.7k and 1080p (also known as FHD or Full High Definition), and 720p (also known as HD or High Definition).

I recommend setting your video to 1080p, which has a frame resolution of 1920×1080 pixels, and is standard among televisions and computers. Unless you have a requirement to use higher resolution, then 1080p is the standard for you. Higher resolutions, such as 2702×1520 and 4096×2160 are gorgeous if you have the hardware to play them. Their downside is the increased amount of time required to render in video editing software. Another downside is stutter when playing them on less than state-of-the-art hardware.

Recently I compared several of the UHD and FHD video formats and found that my computer monitor displayed all of them, but stuttered when the source was 2.7k or higher. I couldn’t tell any difference in their resolution when compared with standard 1080p, but that would be expected with a 1080p monitor. There was also some stutter when I played a 1080p video at 60 frames per second.

For most videography applications, I recommend using 1080p at 30 frames per second. Eventually the market will move to 2.7k and 4k resolutions, so you should be ready to switch when that time comes.

Photo Formats

Common formats for aerial drone cameras include 12MP (4000×3000 pixels) and 20MP (5280×3956 pixels), which are sufficient resolution for super fine-grain pictures. I have found that the resolution of the sensor is typically greater than the limitation placed on it by the camera’s optics.

Check it out for yourself by blowing up an image in your favorite photo viewing software. You’ll see the image is blurred from pixel to pixel, which was caused by the optics, not the sensor. This is why you want the most direct path for light to enter the image sensor. Due to their small size, these cameras (and their filters) pick up finger prints and smudges that will reduce the resolution of your camera. Inexpensive filters are another contributor to lower resolution.

Three-byte color granularity is known as 24-bit color because there are 8 bits per primary color.  It’s also known as “True Color” or “16.8 million colors” since 2 raised to the 24th power is 16.8 million.  Using our drone’s 12MP image as an example, the resulting image file is 36 million bytes (or 34MB).  Fortunately, cameras compress the images and reduce their file size to perhaps a tenth of their original size. You’re probably already familiar with the common file compression standard created by the Joint Photographic Experts Group and known as JPG.

A drawback of the JPG compression standard is that certain pixels are selectively thrown out. The loss in fidelity is usually negligible. However, the compression process is not reversible so some image quality is permanently lost.

For optimum results, professionals use the camera’s raw mode, which compresses image files without throwing out any pixels. The resulting file sizes are 2-3 times the size of a JPG file, but there’s no sacrifice in image quality. DJI’s aerial drone camera options list RAW, but download in Adobe’s Digital Negative (DNG) format.

For most photography applications, I recommend using the JPG format due to its high popularity. For those special shots (or client requirements) then select raw mode.

Other Aerial Drone Camera Settings

Settings for exposure value, contrast, saturation, color filter, etc. are also available for the experienced photographer. Default values will usually suffice for the casual photographer, but when you’re looking for more control you’ll find it under these settings.

Fly Safe!

No Fly Zones – Flying Your Drone in Restricted Airspace, Part 2

DJI's Fly Safe GEO Zones

DJI’s Fly Safe GEO Zones

Is my flight location in a restricted airspace zone?

No matter what make and model drone you’re flying, you can find out if you’re in or near restricted airspace on the DJI Fly Safe GEO Zone Map (GEO – Geospatial Environment Online). Of note, the DJI GEO-Map is much more comprehensive than the FAA’s online map, from Part 1.

DJI’s GEO-Map System delineates where it’s safe to fly, where your flight may raise concerns, and where flights are restricted. Restricted airspace zones that prohibit flights are implemented around locations such as airports, power plants, and prisons. They’re also implemented temporarily around major stadium events, forest fires, or other emergency situations. Certain restricted airspace zones don’t prohibit flight, but do trigger warnings that inform users of potential risks.

The procedures below are specific to the DJI brand of aerial drones. Other drone manufacturers may have their own procedures.

DJI’s Restricted Airspace Boundary Color Codes

Green– warning zone, such as the outer zones of restricted flight areas.

Yellow– authorization zone, such as the inner zones of restricted flight areas – unlock is available online.

Red– restricted zone, unlock is available by providing evidence from an authorization authority to DJI.

FAA Part 107 requires the remote pilot to receive permission from the airport Fixed Base Operator prior to flying within 5 miles of the airport. If your drone is inside the “green zone”, that is it’s inside the 5-mile radius but outside the 1.5-mile radius, DJI assumes the pilot has this permission – your drone will fly; no further action needed. However, if you’re inside the 1.5-mile “yellow” radius, the drone’s firmware prevents the drone from starting and/or entering this airspace.

DJI provides an easy method to unlock your drone’s firmware so you can enter “yellow zone” restricted air space, such as around regional airports. DJI assumes the pilot has this permission and simply verifies your identity in their online process. Here’s how:

Unlocking a Yellow Zone Restricted Flight Area

Unlocking a yellow zone boundary, such as within 1.5 miles of an airport, requires permission via the DJI website, which verifies your identity and coordinates the “Unlock” with your DJI online account. A reminder that you should have a valid reason, such as a commercial photo shoot, prior to asking the airport’s Fixed Base Operator for permission.

Procedure

Open the DJI Fly Safe web page:  https://www.dji.com/flysafe

Click on the “UNLOCK A ZONE” tab and enter your DJI account information.

Enter your drone model, location, authorization date range, and controller serial number. Your remote controller serial number is not printed on the remote, but you can look it up in your DJI Go app. You can also look it up in a Litchi flight log under the column FlyControllerSerialNumber.

Choose to verify your identity by credit card or mobile phone (with text capability):

1. By phone, enter the number (no hyphens), press send and you will receive a text message. Enter the token.

2. By credit card, enter the number (no hyphens) and info.

If successful, you will get this notice: “This Authorization Zone has been unlocked. You can check your unlocking records in the DJI GO app.” Caveat: you may not see the “unlocking record” in your app but you will be prompted to fly safe before taking off. Also, this procedure only works for the DJI Go app; other after-market apps may not work.

Unlocking a Red Zone Restricted Flight Area

Permission to fly in a red zone is done via e-mail to flysafe@dji.com. You will need to provide evidence from an authorization authority. DJI will then process your request and, if approved, unlock your drone via your DJI online account.

Fly Safe!

No Fly Zones – Flying Your Drone in Restricted Airspace, Part 1

Aerial Drone Restricted Flight Zone Signs Coming Your Way Soon

Aerial Drone Restricted Flight Zone Signs Coming Your Way Soon

This blog outlines some of the latest No Fly Zones in the United States. These are places that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) states you cannot fly your aerial drone. This subject is dry and boring, so all you need to know is that you can’t fly your recreational drone near airports, military installations, major sporting events, and nuclear research labs.

Of note for our DJI drone pilots, DJI has software lock-outs to keep their drones out of restricted airspace. Part two of this series outlines the procedure for DJI drone pilots to unlock their drone’s restrictions, such as when they have permission to fly in restricted airspace.

National Security Sensitive Facilities/National Defense Airspace

FAA NOTAM FDC 7/7282 governs restricted air space. The restrictions extend from the ground up to 400 feet, apply to all types and purposes of Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) flight operations, and remain in effect 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

This NOTAM identifies in an online map the FAA’s restricted UAS flight operations airspace: https://uas-faa.opendata.arcgis.com/

At this time, the restricted airspace is typically around military installations, large airports, and nuclear research labs. It seems reasonable to expect that power plants, prisons, and other critical infrastructure will be added to this online map.

This NOTAM also states the enforcement actions and penalties: $32,666 for a small business, $13,066 for an individual not acting as an airman, or $1,437 per violation for an individual acting as an airman; and revoking FAA certificates and authorizations to operate UAS’s under Title 49 U.S.C. Sections 44709 and 46301. I’ve also seen reports that military installations can shoot down unauthorized aerial drones.

Sporting events

FAA NOTAM FDC 7/4319 restricts UAS operations around stadiums and motor speedways.

UAS’s are prohibited from flying at or below 3,000 feet within a 3 nautical mile radius of any stadium with a seating capacity of 30,000 or more people during a Major League Baseball, regular or post-season National Football League, NCAA Division I football game, or major motor speedway event. This temporary flight restriction applies to the entire U.S. domestic National Airspace System, and takes effect starting one hour before the scheduled event time until one hour after the event concludes.

The FAA’s Go-To Resource

B4UFLY is an easy-to-use smartphone app that helps unmanned aircraft operators determine whether there are any restrictions or requirements in effect at the location where you want to fly. B4UFLY pulls its information directly from publicly available FAA data sources and packages the information in a user-friendly and intuitive format. You can download B4UFLY from Google Play (Android) or Apple’s App Store (IOS).

More information is available online at:  https://www.faa.gov/uas/where_to_fly/b4ufly/

Future Developments – ID and Tracking Your UAS

ID and tracking technology is actively being considered as a requirement for UAS’s by the Aviation Rulemaking Committee. Yes – this is about adding transponders to future drones so big brother can identify your drone (and you), and possibly override your control.

Their most recent report is found here:  ARC Recommendations Final Report 9/30/2017

The FAA welcomes UAS questions at their e-mail:  uashelp@faa.gov

Fly Safe!

Everything You Never Wanted To Know About Flying Your Drone in the National Parks

USA National Park Service

National Park Service Policy On Aerial Drones

Flying aerial drones in the National Parks of the USA was outlawed in June 2014 by the Director of the National Park Service in his Policy Memorandum 14-05.

Several incidents led to this interim policy guidance, which supplements Title 36 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).  For example, I read reports about amateur drones harassing wildlife, interfering with search and rescue efforts, interfering with fighting forest fires, and in one case a drone that crashed into the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park.

What You as a Drone Pilot Need to Know

Let’s just get down to the important stuff – what can they do to you if you get caught? Park Rangers are permitted by law to make arrests for violations, and if convicted a drone pilot faces fines and jail time.

So, where does it say that?  Title 36 CFR Part 1.5 and the Policy Memo provide the authority, and 36 CFR Part 1.3 states the penalties, which read: “shall be punished by a fine as provided by law, or imprisonment not exceeding 6 months, or both, and shall be adjudged to pay all costs of the proceedings.”  I’ve also heard of Park Rangers confiscating drones, but I haven’t seen a policy statement granting them that authority.

What parks are covered?  Title 36 covers all lands that fall under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, including National Parks, National Military Parks, National Monuments, and Battlefield Sites.

Can I Fly Over Other Federal Lands?

Currently, my sources state that you can fly your drone over the National Forests and most lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management.  However, watch for changes in policy as lawmakers are crafting new rules regarding aerial drones.

Process for Permission

For most drone pilots, the bar is simply too high to get a waiver or what the National Park Service calls a Special Use Permit.  The NPS Policy Memorandum outlines the process in Exhibit B. Paraphrased, it states the Park’s Superintendent will receive a written request for proposed drone operations and endorse it up the chain of command to the Associate Director, Visitor and Resource Protection office in Washington, DC for approval.

Are There Any Workarounds?

Once your drone is airborne, your flight falls under FAA rules.  The NPS Policy Memo acknowledges this and states “Launching, landing, or operating an unmanned aircraft from or on lands and waters administered by the NPS is prohibited.”  However, under the FAQ section (no. 9), this prohibition is clarified with a very useful statement that aerial drone flights originating outside the park’s boundary ARE permitted to fly over national park lands (because they’re in the air space that falls under the jurisdiction of the FAA).  I will add that the wise drone pilot will fly strictly in accordance with the safety provisions of the FAA’s 14 CFR Part 107.

Fly Safe!

Traveling With Your Drone

What is the Best Way to Transport Your Drone and all of its Accessories?

The logistics of traveling with your drone on a vacation or business trip are simplified with a little preparation. I’ll outline battery bags, backpacks, and carrying cases in this article.  First, let’s cover the FAA’s position on those Lithium-Polymer (Li-Po) batteries:

Air Travel

FAA requirements (49 CFR 175.10(a)(18)) state that:

  • Each battery must have short circuit protection.
  • Spare batteries must be carried in the cabin (not checked).
  • For less than 100 Watt-Hours (W-Hr) per battery, there is no limit on the number for personal use. (With permission from the carrier, up to 2 batteries can be carried with up to 160 W-Hrs per battery.)

Notes:

  1. Always discharge your batteries to 10-15%.
  2. The W-Hr rating is typically stamped on the battery.  For older batteries, the FAA calculates the W-Hr rating by multiplying the battery’s voltage by its Amp-Hr rating.
  3. Some example batteries: Phantom 3 batteries are rated at 68 W-Hrs and Phantom 4 batteries are rated at 81 W-Hrs.

Battery bags

I recommend a Li-Po fire-resistant carrying bag, such as those made by Lipo Guard.  Not only a wise investment for traveling, it also provides a safe enclosure for charging.

How to select a backpack or carrying case:

Start with your drone’s dimensions, including all accessories that you plan to pack.  That will be your minimum requirement.  Your maximum requirement is the size restriction for your commercial carrier – typically an airline.  The restrictions I’ve come across:

  • Personal item dimensions:  maximum of 18x14x8 in  (typical for under the seat stowage). UPDATE – United Airlines’ stricter dimensions just went into effect: 17x10x9 in. Always check!
  • Carry-on bag dimensions:  maximum of 45 in L+W+H  (I’ve also seen 22x14x9).
  • Your carrier may charge a fee for a carry-on bag, but no one charges for personal items.

If you’re so inclined, then go with a hard case and check it through to your destination.  The advantage of a hard case is that everything is well-protected and much more accessible.  Some hard cases don’t even require you to remove the propellers; although I always do.  Checked bag max dimensions are typically 62 in L+W+H.  Checked bag fees may apply.

Once you’ve listed your requirements, it will be much easier to select a case that meets your needs and suits your style.  Personally, I prefer a hard case for travel by car and a compact (personal item size) backpack for travel by air.

Fly Safe!

The Exciting World of Panoramas

Fourteen Individual Photos Were “Stitched” to Make This 360-degree Wide-Angle Panorama

How often have you wished for a wider angle lens to capture your subject of interest? Or have you seen wide angle panoramas and thought to yourself “That’s cool, I wonder how they did that?” Let’s take a look at how to make panoramas that provide a poster-size photo of your subject or immerse yourself into a 360-degree wide-angle, or better yet a cylinder or sphere. Virtual immersion is some of the latest technology for real estate marketing, travel, and personal entertainment.

Rules for Panoramas

Depending on zoom setting, eight pictures should be sufficient for a 360-degree panorama. Do some test runs to practice your technique. The general idea is to take a series of horizontal pictures that overlap 10-20 percent. Ditto for vertical panos. Add a row of pictures above (horizon) and below (ground) for a larger panorama. And always:

  • Take pictures from one position (technically, the position of your lens)
  • Lock your camera’s exposure for all pictures

Making Your Panorama

The term for assembling the individual shots into a panorama is “stitching.” Basic stitching software includes Microsoft’s ICE (it’s free). For more professional results, programs such as PT GUI Pro automatically blend the images. Think of the blue sky that varies in intensity from shot to shot. Automatic blending provides a pleasant transition from lighter to darker shades of blue.

Can I Control Where The Stitches Are?

Good stitching software will give you control over where the images get stitched. Say you have 20 degrees of overlap, but an object is in motion in both images. For example, a car is in position A in one image and position B in the other image. You select which image to dominate through masking, and the other will disappear. As long as you have adequate overlap, the images can be successfully stitched.

Spherical Panoramas

Use the software’s “Layers” option to create the file set for a spherical projection. Then use Tools/Publish to Website, add these files and hit the convert button to build the web file set. Upload these files to a web folder and copy the link to the master file “name.htm”. (You will see a lot of image files, each with small portions of the pano; this is normal.) Insert the link wherever you desire and the spherical panorama will come up when viewed in your browser. Use your mouse to move around the pano. This is how the professionals do it for real estate portfolios, FaceBook, etc.

Here’s an example of a spherical panorama we made with 26 images: Monument Valley

Other Practical Uses

As I mentioned above, panoramas can be used to make super wide angle photos. If you can’t position yourself far enough away from your subject, then take multiple images of it and stitch them together. Do you have a large print or poster that’s too large for your scanner? Scan it in sections and stitch them together for a high-resolution image file that’s much better than taking a picture.

Fly Safe!

Balanced Propellers Will Reduce Vibration in your Aerial Drone

Use an instrument like this to ensure your drone has balanced propellers

Balance Your Propellers For The Smoothest Possible Flying Experience

Balanced propellers will reduce the vibrations that transfer to your flying camera as these small movements can result in blurred stills and shaky video.

How Can I Improve the Quality of My Drone’s Photography?

Drone manufacturers have fairly good quality control for their airframes but like any airborne device their smoothness depends on proper balancing of the rotating components. In our case, that would be the propellers. We’ll assume for the moment that the motors and propellers are running true and aerodynamically balanced. More on that below.

First, Why Should the Propellers be Balanced?

Well, why do drivers balance the tires on their cars? Experienced drivers know that unbalanced tires lead to vehicle vibrations when their speed picks up. The same holds true for drone propellers. When one part of the propeller is heavier, the spinning mass delta will cause vibration that increases with speed.

The Solution is Propeller Balancing

To balance the propellers, you’ll need to purchase a balancing kit; example in the picture above. It works by attaching a rod to the propeller and the pair is then balanced on a very low friction support. Any propeller imbalance will cause the propeller to roll until the heaviest part of it hangs below. Balance is achieved by adding or removing material until the propeller is stable.

Here’s the How To:

Place the propeller so it’s horizontal and watch for one side or the other to dip. Then sand/scrape off a small amount of material from the heavier blade such as on the bottom side near the tip. (Or add a little scotch tape to the lighter blade.) Horizontal balancing will take out most of the vibration.

Vertical balancing is next. The concept here is that whatever imbalance that remains is in the hub. Place the propeller so it’s vertical and look for motion. Balance is again achieved by adding or removing material until the propeller is stable, but this time it’s at the hub. If needed, sand/scrape material from the heavy side of the hub, between the propeller blades. This step may take longer because more material typically needs to be removed.

Your propeller is properly balanced when it remains stationary on the support no matter which position the blades are placed.

How Do I Ensure the Propellers are Running True?

Great question and easily answered! Start your drone on an elevated surface, such as a table, but don’t take off. Then observe the blade tips, looking for spread. There will be little to no spread if the blades are running true, which means they’re aerodynamically balanced.

If there’s spread between the tips, then the blades have different amounts of lift or the motor/shaft are bent. This means that your propeller is aerodynamically unbalanced, causing vibration. Typically, the culprit will be just one of the propellers so you can rule out a bent motor by swapping the propellers (e.g. exchanging one black hub propeller with the other). If whatever spread you saw on the one side does the same thing on the other, then the propeller is bad.

Balanced propellers will lead to the smoothest possible photography with your drone. Whatever residual vibration that appears in your video can be taken out with post-processing software.

Fly Safe!