Flight One – Planning and Lessons learned

Each time I go out I will try to record lessons learned and the highlights of the mission.

Flight One

My first flight was not quite what I expected, yet it was exactly what I had hoped for.  I went out with a simple plan; become more familiar with my equipment and start scoping out good places to fly.

I started by using AirMap.com and Skyward.io to find an area without any airfields and few people.  Living in western Washington state and it is hard to find an area without trees. There are often open areas along  rivers and the Columbia river is close by.  My research revealed an area about 45 minutes from my house and with destination in hand I was ready to start planning.

Checking ‘UAV forecast‘ I picked a time of day.  I logged the flight on ‘AirMap’ so when I arrived it knew my plan.  I hiked about 1/4 mile to scope out the area and to find an ‘off the path’ place I could launch from.  The wind was steady and stronger than the UAV forecast predicted but other than that it was a beautiful day.

Lessons

I like to pioneer new technologies which usually means figuring it out as I go.  It is important to prepare by reading whatever posts are available and watching videos but there is no substitute for hands-on-experience.

When everything goes perfectly you have demonstrated competency in what you have learned.  Needless to say my first flight didn’t go perfectly. Here are the lessons I learned.

Lesson 1 – Over half my video was blurry

I had read and seen YouTube videos that talked about this in detail, and yet it got me.  When you first fire up the Mavic, before you take a picture or video, you must tap the screen to set a focus.   It would be nice if the camera start focused at infinity, but it doesn’t.

Lesson 2 – Shoot scenes

I started recording and just let it run.  I was working with a brand new SD.  The recording seems to have just stopped and restarted on it’s own a couple of times. Hopefully shooting shorter scenes or formatting the SD in the Mavic will address this issue.

Processing the video and seeing the multiple files I realized  starting and stopping the recording to capture a ‘scene’ is how you should shoot video.  That way you can easily throw away unusable video.  It takes time and resources to process video files.  Shooting scenes eliminates processing time and provides a level of organization.

Lesson 3 – Cache everything you need

Flying where there are no airports could well be flying where there no cellular data capabilities. Programs that rely on the cloud will not work.  I was planning to try DroneDeploy but it wouldn’t come up.  This made me aware of the need to cache data and maps.  I need to be able to fly regardless of the cellular service where I am flying.  This will mean learning what applications allow caching and practicing in advance.

Lesson 4 – Sun visor for the iPad

I thought I had this covered.  However, the anti-glare screen I put on my iPad only makes it harder to see the display.  I had to turn my back to the sun to shade my display. That meant  when I was looking in the direction of the drone I couldn’t see the display.  The anti-glare cover has to go and I purchased a sun visor for my iPad.  Next time I should be able to see the display and drone at the same time.

Lesson 5 – Landing Pad

A significant difference between a launch pad and a blanket is that the launch pad has a taut surface.  A taut surfaced landing pad has significant value on uneven ground. The camera gimbals got caught in the blanket during calibration and during takeoff and landing the props were skimming the blanket. I have landing gear but didn’t want the extra wind resistance.  I came to realize that a proper landing pad is a good idea.  

Lesson 6 – Video encoding

The end product of most flights is video. Video processing requires a lot of CPU power, and disk space.  Understanding a little about encoding is critical to success in editing, The ‘raw’ files captured on the SD card are in a format that isn’t good for editing. That is one reason you should start and stop the recording.  You only have to encode and process the files you use!

The Mavic uses a codex that is best for recording.  It is stored in a highly compressed format generated by the camera.  The compression is focused on the size of the data and fast writes, not rendering.  Changing the encoding from raw format on the SD card to something friendly to rendering allows an editor to use the CPU for editing, not rendering.  Be aware encoding can expands the file by a factor of 10.  A 900MB file becomes 9GB and it takes 10 to 20 minutes to encode.

Ah, but once you encode editors works well.  Prior to encoding editing was painful and slow and the CPU fan ran at full speed. After encoded the file iMovie performed flawlessly and the CPU fan wasn’t noticeable. Video encoding is absolutely necessary!

Review

From lesson 3:  Load the applications with cached data and practice by disabling all network connections and walking through the process.

From lesson 2: Plan scenes. I want to work with the different modes and different software I have.  Each task will be planned as a scene and I will create a script for walking though the software and flight.  I will break the recordings between tasks and sub-tasks.

As a business I want to establish a set of ‘scripts’ that can be reuse or quickly customize to create new scenes.  Capturing how to create different scenes will allow me to offer services that are well defined and consistent because they can be easily reproduced.

Summary

I feel the video from my first flight was mostly garbage because I couldn’t see the display very well.  I was not having a good time and stopped at the end of my first battery.  That was when I discovered Drone Deploy wouldn’t launch because I did not have a good enough data connection.  I couldn’t look at tutorials for AutoPilot either.

The location had some of the features I was looking for but overall is not a great choice.  Wind is something that is always going to be a factor along the Columbia river.  Finding big open areas in Western Washington is not easy because of all the trees but I’m sure there are some out there and I will find them.  I’ll also get good at flying around trees but that doesn’t seem like the best place to start.

I hope that in the sharing my experience you find something of value.

vlog 101 – Equipment for Vlogging

Video Logging – Equipment

Video is a cornerstone of the UAS services so moving past simple web pages to a Vlog series is part of the business plan. I envision selfie videos where I will talk about the flight while walking to a launch site. After I get to the launch site I want a video of the pre-flight procedures, actual flight, and flight closing steps.

At a minimum I need a steady-cam selfie stick and tripod.  However what is really needed is a cameraman. Staying in the view of a fixed shot on a tripod requires zooming out and losing detail.

DJI Osmo Mobile

The Osmo Mobile caught my interest because it has ‘Active Tracking’, which means I can select myself as the subject and the camera will follow me around. That addresses my need for a cameraman in the field as well as a steady-cam selfie stick!

That is a dramatic improvement over a static mount but the Osmo has a lot of other uses as well. During the flight I can record time-lapse to make for interesting transitions where I can talk about the flight and what is happening.

DJI Osmo Mobile pictureDJI Osmo Mobile

First Impression

Since it seemed to fit my needs I went ahead and purchased an Osmo Mobile.  Overall  my first experience with it was  very enjoyable.  It started with me being frustrated. Everything seemed to float around so keeping something centered wasn’t automatic.  The good new is that when I started moving around and observing how it worked it didn’t take long get the hang of it.

There are definitely techniques you need to discover. I found twisting the handle in advance of turning a corner broadcast the intent and makes the camera moves with you instead of slightly behind you.  Within an hour I was moving around and getting very smooth motions even when I changed the camera’s position dramatically and put myself in awkward poses.

Software

Working with the DJI Go application I found the Active Tracking worked as I expected.  The only issue I have is that it cannot zoom.  That said it did a good job of keeping me as the center of focus which is all I hoped for.

Next, the panoramic picture feature quite impressive. I really like the 9-shot panoramic.  There is also the time-lapse photography which slowly pans creating a very interesting effect.  I never realized how those videos were created, simply amazing.

I quickly create a video with an appropriate sound track and posted it on Facebook all from within the DJI Go app.  The editor was simple and very limited but it was easy enough to work so I give it a thumbs up.

For $9.99 FiLmIC Pro moves the controls of the camera onto the Osmo handle and allows you to create videos and export them to the camera roll (something DJI Go doesn’t do well). It doesn’t have all the feature the GO app offers instead it concentrates on camera controls and editing.  It appears to me that both apps have their place.

Studio Camera

With the mobile camera gimbal in hand I continued to think about what I might need. Since I will be doing studio discussions I looked into standard vlogging studio equipment.  There is an attitude towards using a phone camera for a studio camera but everyone agrees the cameras in high end phones are quite good.

The only significant issue I read about related to using a phone for the studio camera was the audio quality.

External Audio

There are direct connect and wireless external microphones available for phones.  The wireless units are more expensive, less reliable (including pops and noises in the signal), and not as compatible as directly connected microphones. While an obvious choice in review they are not necessarily the first choice.

Directly connected microphones are somewhat limited in that you don’t want a wire hanging from the steady-cam assembly since it moves around and is balanced.  That leaves a shot-gun microphone attached to the gimbals so it is always pointing in the direction of the camera’s view.

I found several shotgun microphones that plug directly into the phone but they were too long to use with the Osmo Mobile.  The COMICA CVM-VS08 Professional Cardioid Directional Condenser Shotgun Video Microphone however has a plug in it’s center so it protrudes less than 2″ and should work.  It also mounts forward and backwards making it great for selfies.

Summary – VLog on

It appears the DJI Osmo Mobile is a great device if you are looking to start or enhance any kind of video cast or vlog. There are other phone holding gimbals on the market that cost less and look very good, but as far as I can tell DJI is the only one that has ‘Active Tracking’.

There is also a third party application, FiLMiC Pro, that works well with the Osmo and I expect there will be more since DJI offers an SDK for development.  It is nice to know you can write something if it is really needed.

The price for the DJI Mobile is about double that of similar looking gimbals on the market. Is it worth the investment? From my initial review I believe the answer is a resounding ‘yes’, but the proof is in how it works in production.  I’ll keep this post updated.

 

 

 

 

Floating Cameras – Launch

Floating Cameras is to serve as a repository for UAS related resources and services.

Our pilots utilize the most advanced software and equipment and are constantly training to keep up with the advances as they occur,  mastering new techniques and then training  the other pilots.

Join as a Pilot and gain access to additional content which includes proprietary training materials.  Post links to your videos (YouTube channel, etc) and tell your stories on the Skills Wiki.  Share in detail how you accomplished the amazing shots and get valuable feedback from your peers.