Tag Archives: aerial

Significant Advances in the Consumer Drone Market

Lately I’ve been so focused on mobile, apps, development, conferences, and more that I haven’t posted much besides IBM work news and projects.  Well, I’m taking a break for just a moment…

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, then you already know that I’m pretty much obsessed with “drones”.  It is by far the most fun and exciting recreation that I’ve taken up in a very long time. Not only are they fun to fly, but they get you into some amazing views that were previously inacessible, and have applications far beyond just taking pictures.  I’ve written how-tos for aerial photography and videography, taken tons of pictures for fun, and even shot some indoor footage for TV commercials.

I’m always following the news feeds, watching the advances in technology, watching prices drop, and am continually blown away by what the industry is offering.  The last week to ten days have been nothing short of amazing.

First let’s start with the latest from DJI, who announced the Phantom 3 –  a consumer drone with some very impressive specs and performance.

The Phantom 3  is an easy to fly copter that sports a 3-axis gimbal (camera stabilizer), up to 4K video footage, an integrated rectilinear (flat) lens camera, live HD first-person view, integrated iOS and Android apps, a vision positioning system (for stabilized indoor flights) and up to a 1.2 mile flight range.  All for a cost of under $1300 USD.  That’s one heck of a package, and officially makes my old Phantom look like a dinosaur.

3 Days later, 3D Robotics announced the Solo, a direct competitor to the Phantom. The Solo is also very impressive, and has already won an award for Best Drone at NAB in Las Vegas.

The Solo also has a 3-axis gimbal for stabilized footage, and is designed to work with GoPro cameras.  In fact, it is the only copter that integrates with the camera controller and can control the GoPro remotely. The Solo also has dual processors (one in the controller, one in the copter), HD first person view, and has an upgradeable system that can have new camera systems or payloads configured.  It doesn’t have an optical stabilization system built in, but that can be added to the expansion bay.  What really sets the Solo apart is the intelligent auto-pilot sytem that appears to make complex shots very easy. All of this with a price tag starting at $1000 USD.

I currently own DJI products, but this has gotten me seriously considering a purchase.

Both of these are small aircraft targeting consumers, but from the look of it they are definitely capable of high end applications.  Their small size make them extremely portable, and a potential add in many industries and use cases.  Larger copters are always available for larger scale applications.

Let’s not forget drones for the enterprise…  Last week Airware launched their drone operating system.  Business can now license their operating system for commercial applications and data collection.

Meanwhile, people everywhere still freak out over drones as a political debate, ignoring their utility and positive value. The rules for commercial use continue to shake out, but oh man, it’s an exciting time.

Coming Soon – RC Aerial Photography in Adobe Inspire Magazine!

This week I was in the video studio recording some content for Adobe Inspire magazine on creative uses of quadcopters, GoPros and Creative Cloud for aerial photography and videography. Adobe Inspire is a great place to get new ideas or learn tips and tricks with Adobe Creative Cloud tools. Subscribe to the free Adobe Inspire newsletter or download the iOS app to check it out.

My series will be released in early 2014, but here are a few teasers to whet the appetite. I had a blast with this shoot, and can’t wait for the articles and videos to be released… radio-controlled aerial photography is my latest hobby/obsession.

In the studio:

Inspire Studio

Video from the shoot: Skies above the Adobe office in San Francisco. Captured with a DJI Phantom and GoPro:

If you look really closely, you can see us standing on top of the parking garage to the back left of the Baker & Hamilton sign.

Subscribe today or download the iOS app to be notified once this is live in Inspire. Now, go get creative and do amazing things!

Review: Beholder Lite Gimbal For DJI Phantom Quadcopter

I recently purchased a Beholder Lite camera gimbal for my DJI Phantom quadcopter, and I am very pleased with it. Bottom line for those that don’t want to read this entire post… The Beholder Lite is hard to beat for the price, as long as you have some time to tune the gimbal.  Output video is very steady when flying reasonably, and still images are far more crisp than they are without a gimbal. The final output is not quite as good as the H3-2D Zenmuse, but it is still much more than acceptable. Plus, you can buy almost 4 Beholder Lite’s for the cost of one Zenmuse. However, when flying aggressively, there is a lot of vibration. Read more for an explanation, pros & cons, plus tips for set up and some sample videos.

DJI Phantom with Beholder Lite Gimbal
DJI Phantom with Beholder Lite Gimbal


Um… What is a camera gimbal?

First, a gimbal is: “a pivoted support that allows the rotation of an object about a single axis. A set of three gimbals, one mounted on the other with orthogonal pivot axes, may be used to allow an object mounted on the innermost gimbal to remain independent of the rotation of its support.”

Basic Gimbal (photo: Wikipedia)

A camera gimbal is a set of these gimbal supports that enables the camera’s movement to be independent from the support structure. In this case, the camera gimbal allows the camera’s orientation to be independent from the orientation of the helicopter. Check out this video for more detail:

The Beholder Lite Gimbal

The Beholder Lite gimbal is a direct-drive brushless gimbal. This means: 1) the motors are brushless motors, and 2) that the motors directly drive the support arms for the gimbal; there are no servo arms or other moving parts in the gimbal assembly. Brushless motors are faster than traditional/brushed servo motors, so they offer a smoother response and better stabilization. I have used the Phantom with no gimbal, as well as with a brushed/servo gimbal, and the brushless direct-drive gimbal is by far the best quality.

I mentioned that I am very happy with this gimbal, though it has not been without its own hiccups.


  • Very stable footage ****once properly installed and tuned****
  • Still images are more crisp
  • Videos are far more stable, though aggressive flying will cause significant vibration (this happens with all gimbals, though some more than others)
  • Very affordable compared to similar gimbals on the market.


  • Installation instructions are not very good. They are based on pictures only, and do not clearly identify motor orientation or wiring. I originally had the motors in the wrong direction, and the motor polarity reversed. This third-party post (with video) was very helpful for installation. I’ve provided additional installation details at the bottom of this post.
  • The gimbal is marketed as “ready to go” – you just assemble it and start flying. Once assembled, I had lots of vibration to the point of being unusable. I seriously considered returning it. However, I had to manually change settings before I could get some decent footage. This was both physical (in the mounting), and in software configuration. I had to adjust the output gains before the gimbal would provide stable footage (details below).
  • The vibration absorbing mounts are too soft. You will get vibration from the camera oscillating below the copter. Luckily this can be corrected but sticking some foam ear plugs inside the vibration mounts (see details below).

Both aggressive flying and high-wind environments will cause additional vibration in both the copter and gimbal, so keep those in mind when you are filming. 

Sample Video Footage

I still don’t feel like I have the gimbal settings (gains) 100% dialed-in, but I have it close enough to get some high quality footage. I have found that the 1080p@60fps video mode on the GoPro camera has the best results. 2.7K@30fps has too much rolling shutter effect for the footage to be really usable. I also have not balanced the propellors on my copter, which will also help to eliminate vibration. Here are a few samples from the camera/gimbal combination. All of this footage was captured with a GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition.

1080p@60fps with Post Processing via Adobe Premiere: I still think I can get it more stable by changing a few editing parameters and changing the sequence of my scaling and effects, but I am very happy with this output.

1080p@60fps Non-Stabilized: “Day for night” color correction, non-stabilized, GoPro with ND filter, just for fun…

2.7K@30fps with 10% Warp Stabilization The footage is far better than it is without a gimbal, but there’s still some rolling shutter effect evident (capturing Tony’s hex liftoff).

Aggressive Flight: This footage is completely raw, without any post-processing or stabilization. This shows output when flying aggressively. This was *very* aggressive flight – full speed in ATTI mode. I recommend that you *never* attempt to shoot professional footage flying like this:

Sample Still Images & Compositions

Here are just a few still images and compositions captured with the Beholder Lite gimbal. You can see more on my Flickr page.

Adobe San Francisco Office
San Francisco City Hall

Installation Details

In addition to the gimbal’s manual, I strongly recommend that you read both of these posts and watch the videos for detailed installation instructions:

Pay particular attention to motor orientation and wiring. The motors look symmetrical, but their weight and operation is not. The pitch motor should have the wire coming out the side that is closest to the copter. The roll motor should have the wire coming out the side closer to the camera. If you have your motor polarity reversed, you’ll know b/c the gimbal will vibrate back and forth. This won’t hurt it, and you can just reverse the wires easily if this happens. In the picture below you can see my motor orientation:

Motor Orientation and Wiring
Motor Orientation and Wiring

Very important: make sure your gimbal is balanced. If the power is off, the GoPro should not fall in any direction. It should just stay where it is. Having it perfectly balanced is key to having smooth footage.

The rubber vibration dampeners are too soft for the gimbal. If you fly it “stock”, you will get a TON of vibration from the gimbal oscillating under the copter. Use some soft foam earplugs, roll them up, and put them inside of the dampeners. I used the cheap foam orange ones you get from any drug store, and they work great. I put one in each of the 6 vibration dampeners. Another picture below, so you can see the orange ear plugs in the dampeners:

Earplugs to Stiffen Vibration Dampeners
Earplugs to Stiffen Vibration Dampeners

Once your gimbal is powered up, if you have vibrations while the copter motor isn’t even running, then you need to adjust the gains and tune the gimbal itself. I had to do this. You can connect using a standard micro USB cable (from any Android phone), and use the software here: https://code.google.com/p/brushless-gimbal/downloads/detail?name=BruGi_049B_r161.zip&can=2&q= and drivers here: http://www.silabs.com/products/mcu/pages/usbtouartbridgevcpdrivers.aspx (windows only)

Not entirely necessary, but I also put Moongel in between the gimbal and the copter body to absorb vibrations, and I also put it on top of the gimbal’s gyro board to absorb vibrations that may affect gimbal orientation (see picture below).

Beholder Lite on DJI Phantom
Beholder Lite on DJI Phantom

Do not get the white wires too close to the power wires or to the motors. They are very light weight, and can get interference from power wires, motors, and motor wires. You will get inexplicable vibrations if this occurs.

One last thing… If you use zip ties on the gimbal for extra safety, keep them very loose. If you compress the dampeners, the bottom plate will hit the controller board, and cause significant interference with gimbal operation. Everything will be fine one second, then completely out of control the next.

Battery Life

Before having a gimbal, I could easily get 12+ minutes of flight time per battery. With a servo-based gimbal, I could get about 10+ minutes per battery. With the Beholder Lite, I get a max of 8 minutes per battery. I set a timer for 7 minutes, and be sure to bring it down as soon as the time goes off. However, this seems comparable to battery life with other brushless gimbals that friends/coworkers use. The decreased battery life is due to additional weight of the gimbal, plus the additional power consumption from the gimbal motors.

What Next?

Use Creative Cloud to process all of your video and images to make them the best they can be! Here are some very useful posts for processing your content with this configuration (or similar configurations)…

Videos from Russell Brown:

Videos from Colin Smith:

And have fun!

Recap: Russell Brown’s Top Gun Flight Training at Photoshop World

Last week I had the opportunity to feed my obsession with aerial photography and participate in Russell Brown’s Top Gun Flight Training workshop at Photoshop World, and it was an awesome experience! Many thanks to Russell for putting together this incredible workshop. There’s nothing like a giant room full of RC photography enthusiasts, with multiple copters flying around all over the place, coupled with a wealth of Photoshop and video processing knowledge (links below for all of this content)!

There are few places that have as dramatic architecture and landscape as Vegas, and this also made for some great photos.

Aerial shot over the Luxor and Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas
Aerial shot over the Luxor and Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas

The day started with an intro from DJI, who sponsored the event and donated copters for workshop participants to use.  If you haven’t seen their copters/footage yet, you should check out the short video below to see what’s possible with today’s radio controlled aircraft.

Next, we broke off into teams to cover basic flight training principles… everything from safety (the most important thing of all), basic takeoff and landing procedures, flight modes and capabilities, to techniques for panoramas and dramatic shots.

Once everyone had a chance to fly the copters and get acclimated, we regrouped to learn how to work with your aerial footage. Do not miss the videos from Russell Brown and Colin Smith in the links below. These are must-watch content for any aerial photographer, cinematographer, or GoPro enthusiast and contain a wealth of information!

Videos from Russell Brown:

Videos from Colin Smith:

Finally, the day ended with a flying competition… The person who could fly through 4 hula hoops without knocking anything over, without crashing, and land in a controlled fashion walked home with a brand new DJI Phantom, and the winner did it in 26 seconds! … This was not an easy task.

Some additional photos from the event…

Barry Blanchard shows us a DJI S800 Octo-rotor setup
Barry Blanchard shows us a DJI S800 Octo-rotor copter
DJI Phantoms awaiting flight
DJI Phantoms awaiting flight
Russell Brown kicks things off
Russell Brown kicks things off
Flight training underway
Flight training underway
Flight trainers getting ready (photo credit Sean Teegarden and Randy Jay Braun)
Flight trainers getting briefed (photo credit Sean Teegarden and Randy Jay Braun).  In this photo: Aaron Grimes, Ben Grimes, me, Russell Brown, Barry Blanchard, Jesse Zibble, Randy Jay Braun, Paul Pan, Steve Snell

To finish things off, an amazing video from the Grimes brothers, filmed entirely with a DJI Phantom and GoPro:

All of this made possible with Adobe Creative Cloud. Want to get the most out of your aerial footage?  Then become a member today!

Lens Profile Correction for GoPro Cameras

Last week, new release-candidate versions of Camera Raw and Lightroom were posted to Adobe Labs that feature additional camera and lens support. I was extremely excited when I found out that one of the new camera profiles supported is the GoPro Hero 3. I’m a huge fan of GoPro cameras, and this means we now have more ways to get more creative with their usage.


I have a GoPro Hero 3 Black, and I use it in lots of different situations… everything from mounting it to a surfboard, attaching it to a remote control helicopter, mounting it on my car, to weird perspectives snapshots of everyday life. I love the camera, and am always finding new/creative ways to use it.

I was recently thinking… I absolutely love the shots I get off of the GoPro, but I wish there was an easy way to reduce the fisheye distortion. I wanted to try my hand at creating some aerial panoramas, but the distortion was causing issues. You can reduce the distortion using Photoshop’s Adaptive Wide Angle filter, but that can be tedious to get right. This release makes the process of reducing fisheye dead simple.

Reducing the lens distortion is now as simple as selecting the GoPro camera profile in Camera Raw’s lens correction settings, and you can use it to create some incredible images. Check out the video below to see how to apply GoPro lens correction to both images and videos in Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom, and Adobe Bridge.


Here are some side-by-side comparisons of before and after applying the GoPro lens correction.

Chesapeake Geese


I’ve also been able to use this feature to create some awesome (in my opinion) aerial panoramas using the DJI Phantom quad-rotor remote controlled helicopter. The easiest way to create one of these panoramas is to select the images you want to merge inside of Adobe Bridge. Then right-click and select “Open in Camera Raw…”, and then apply the lens correction to all of the images. Once you’ve done that, keep the same images selected and go to Tools -> Photoshop -> Photomerge inside of Adobe Bridge. This will launch the Photomerge process inside Photoshop, and after a few minutes, you will have a nice panorama to work with. Take the generated panorama, turn it into a smart object, and then you can start applying other filters (including Camera Raw) to it, and you can achieve some great results.

Here are a few panoramas I’ve created. Click on any one of them to view an interactive panorama, where you can zoom into the full resolution of the image.

Salisbury, MD (5392 x 1833) – Click for Interactive Panorama
Avon, NC (6623 x 1533) – Click for Interactive Panorama

To make the panoramas interactive, I used Photoshop’s “Zoomify” export, combined with the Leaflet mapping library for an interactive HTML experience. You can ignore the HTML it generates, but keep the images and XML configuration file. I then used this open source Zoomify Layer for Leaflet to make the images fully interactive, without any plugin dependencies. You can pinch/zoom and pan the images, and they are loaded as individual tiles, so it’s a smooth experience for the end user.

Next Steps

Go get started, and have fun! You can download Camera Raw 8.2 and Lightroom 5.2 release candidates from labs.adobe.com – just make sure to get the correct Camera Raw plugin for your suite (CS6 or CC).

Also, check out this video produced by Adobe’s own Russell Brown for additional information:

Have fun and enjoy! Feel free to share any of your creations too!