The Phantom Camera
Taking pictures and videos from a new perspective is the main function of the Phantom drone. It functions as a tripod in the sky with its own built-in high quality video and still camera.
In this section we will describe both the hardware and the software which comprise the Phantom photography system. Following this chapter we provide a number of hints and tips which may help those new to Aerial Photography and Video produce better images.
Camera Hardware and Basic Specs
All models of the Phantom use a similar looking camera – but there are some internal differences. The Professional model can shoot up to 4K video. The usefulness of 4K for the casual user is questionable as mentioned earlier in this book. The Standard model has less processing horsepower and uses a different sensor than the Advanced and Pro.
Basic Camera Specs:
Video: up to 1080P 60fps (Pro model has 4K 30fps mode, Standard 1080P 30fps).
12 MP still photos -JPG or DNG (RAW)Photo Capability
F2.8 lens with 94 degree FOV (Field of View)
High quality Sony camera sensor and lens (Advanced and Pro only)
DJI 3-axis stabilizing gimbal and controller
MicroSD slot and included card for image storage
Taken as a whole, this assembly provides an aerial imaging system superior to any mid-priced (up to $1400 US) drone. The purpose built camera does away with the fish-eye wide angle common to earlier models, providing a more realistic view. The real magic is in the stabilizing gimbal, which keeps the camera level and steady to provide amazingly smooth video. The camera can be tilted from 90 degrees down to 30 degrees up from level. Combined with the ability to maneuver the quadcopter, this gives you – the pilot and photographer – the ability to capture impressive video and still photos.
Don’t confuse the camera of a Phantom with that of a DSLR or other higher end (large sensor) cameras. Professional cameras weigh many pounds and cost thousands of dollars…still, the camera is perfect for the job at hand – that being hobbyist and light commercial (inspection, real estate, etc.) work. Some pros even use the upper end Phantoms for actual aerial production work – the results go in corporate and training videos and even in some well known shows and series.
Functions and Operation
Note: The Camera and DJI Go App on the Phantom 3 Advanced and Pro are similar to that on the DJI Inspire 1. When searching online for videos and guides to camera and Go App functions, you may find those about the Inspire helpful.
The Phantom camera is always on – even when you are not actively taking photos or video. It broadcasts its view back to your smart device and tablet so that you are always seeing the view from the camera. For this reason, many pilots prefer larger tablet computers (Nvidia Shield, iPad mini, etc.) to smart phones. Your Remote combined with the DJI Go App provide full control of the camera functions as well as its orientation.
Many of the camera functions can be controlled by your choice of either the DJI Go App or buttons on the Remote. The various buttons and dials on your Remote perform the following functions – although you can change some of them in the DJI Go App Settings.
In addition to the labeled controls in the image, two additional paddles on the rear of the Remote are programmable through the Go App settings.
As with most consumer point-and-shoot cameras, you can choose to leave the Phantom in an automatic mode or choose various manual settings on your own. All settings can be accessed through the DJI Go App when the camera selector is in the photo mode (slider to the left). Those without photographic experience will probably be happy with the default settings and some adjustment of the exposure (thumbwheel on the right top of the Remote). Since an accurate preview of the picture will be shown on your smart device, you can adjust the exposure and exact framing of the picture and then hit either the hardware (real) button on your Remote or the button in the DJI Go App to take the shot.
Still photography can be easier to produce and share as compared to video since little or no work has to be done after the shot is taken. Those who wish more control over the final image can their favorite image editing program such as Photoshop, Lightroom or Apple Photos to crop and adjust their photographs.
The Phantoms are stable enough that panoramas can be stitched together from a series of photographs. Take a series of 3-7 images allowing about a 50% overlap on each as you spin (yaw) the Phantom. Then, using your favorite Panorama stitching program (Photoshop Elements does a good job), blend the photos into one very wide view! There are also some add-on programs which take panoramas.
The Phantoms have great video capabilities – but getting the most from it requires knowledge and experience as well as talent. Sure, most anyone can take off and turn on the video camera and fly around, but the final product is likely to be as boring as those old unedited home videos you may have sitting in a drawer or closet. Video is both an art and a science and creating an interesting or inspirational requires a lot of time and energy – especially on the back end (after taking the video). This section will discuss three aspects of successful video production, that of:
The hardware (Camera, Gimbal, Lens, etc.)
The Scenes and Shots
Post processing (editing) and sharing
Hardware and Firmware
The Phantoms are purpose built to take stable and clear aerial video. The key to this quality is a top grade camera sensor (made by Sony) along with a decent lens and – most important of all – a 3-Axis stabilizing gimbal.
In terms of specifications, all models are capable of shooting video in both PAL and NTSC formats (USA uses NTSC) at up to 1080P (full HD) and 60 frames per second. Some models also have a 4K mode, which is called UHD (Ultra High Definition) at the following specs:
UHD: 4096x2160p 24/25 fps, 3840x2160p 24/25/30 fps
Lower resolutions take up less space on your memory card and are easier for your computer or other device to edit and upload. Higher resolution, in some cases (large screens, actual movie and pro video production) may give you a higher image quality. Higher fps (framers per second) will give you the capability to slow the video down (for visual effect) if desired and also result in smoother video. A settings of 1080/60fps is more than adequate for most hobbyists.
Movement of the camera is controlled by flying the Phantom in combination with tilting of the gimbal. Various settings in the DJI Go App can be explored to allows for more gentle movement of both. These settings are Gimbal Speed as well as “Expo and Gain”. Some online guides are available to help you make sense of these settings when you reach that stage of your video production expertise.
As with still photography, you can take video in auto or manual mode. Auto may work well when lighting conditions are perfect. However, the camera will often overcorrect when it senses various scenes. For example, panning from the ground to a nearby house and then to the trees and sky may cause the camera scene to get darker, then lighter and then darker again as it attempts to make the best of each scene. This is not the ideal scenario for more professional looking videos so budding videographers may want to learn about the various manual settings available in the DJI Go App. One of the simplest settings is to turn on Manual, set the ISO to 100 and then adjust the exposure so the scene looks decent on your monitoring device. This will avoid the unsightly lighting changes mentioned above.
More advanced videographers may want to make use of the Log mode setting, which captures a flatter looking video that contains more dynamic range (picture information). The Log video can be manipulated in post production (an editing program) to create a superior end product.
Bright sunshine can cause difficult conditions for a video camera. One solution is a ND (Neutral Density) filter which can be installed over the lens. DJI as well as other companies have started providing these filters.
Scenes and Shots
This is where much of the art of video is evident. You, as the director, will be making decisions as to where to fly and what to capture. You will also be choosing how to move your Phantom, and therefore your camera, around your subject(s).
Video and film are subjects in themselves, but some basics can help you create scenes which can later be melded together in a feature worth watching.
Real directors start with sketches (storyboards) and scripts. In the case of hobbyists, we are usually fine with just having an idea of what we want to depict in our final video. For example, if you live along a sea coast and it’s springtime, you may envision a 2-3 minute video which depicts various views and scenes capturing both the season and the general landscape. These scenes may be taken over a 2 or 3 week period at various locations – or, even in a smaller area, but at different times of the day. The idea is to have some variety in your scenes so that it will tell a short story.
Watch some professional videos and you will see that certain camera moves add a lot of visual appeal. Some examples:
The Reveal – if you are behind some small hills or dunes near the beach, it makes a nice scene to have the Phantom take off and lift upwards so that at first the camera only sees the hillside or dune, but soon reveals a vast scene of the shoreline. The same type of shot can be done by starting behind a lone tree, bush, stone wall, etc.
Zoom Out – in much the same way, starting with the Phantom close to an object (like a house or barn) and then moving the drone backwards will hold the viewers eye. Many exiting programs can reverse your video, allowing you to change a zoom-in to a zoom-out.
Fly By – flying at a fixed height with the camera pointed slightly downward can give a nice view of the landscape which can be slowed to 1/2 speed in an editing program.
Pan – this is a “tripod in the sky” shot when you will slowly yaw (turn on its axis) the camera anywhere from 90 to 360 degrees to show the entire horizon. This works well when taking the picture of urban areas from a park or with similar scenes. Be careful – quick or 360 degree pans can be dizzying to watch.
The combination of these shots, properly assembled, provides interesting and watchable video. Keep the final product in mind both before and during your collection of raw video.
Video Editing (Post Processing)
The proper editing of video is a skill that requires time and patience…as well as some talent and creativity. Just as with home movies, no one wants to view all of your raw footage. The best flying videos will be from 30 seconds to 3 minutes long and contain titles, transitions and various scenes. A rule of thumb is that it takes one hour to produce one minute of good video. This means a typical hobbyist project of of 2-3 minutes (ideal video length) can be done in one evening.
Video Editing Programs
Very good videos can be assembled with low cost or free editing programs. Here are some well known programs for Windows (W) and/or Mac (M):
iMovie – (M) – Free
MovieMaker (W) – Free
GoPro Studio (or newer GoPro editor) – (W,M) – Free
Adobe Premier Elements – (W,M) – $70
Cyberlink PowerDirector – (W) – $70
If you picture yourself as the next Spielberg, you can step up to products such as Apple’s Final Cut Pro (Mac only – $299) or other more advanced editors. Note that these can be harder to use for the novice, but the learning curve may be worth your while if you want to produce more professional output.
Online and Tablet/Phone based Editing Programs
You’ll be better off using a desktop computers to edit your Phantom 3 videos due to the large files (HD or even 4K) that you need to manipulate. Moving these files on and off of your mobile devices can be time consuming and confusing – at present the Phantom cannot easily transfer the video files from your aircraft to your smart device. You can, however, put together a short and lower resolution movie using Director, a small editor built into the DJI Go App.
Built-in Video Editor
DJI provides a basic video editor built into the DJI Go App, allows you to choose the best moments from your flights and build a complete video with music, text, and more.
This feature is currently quite limited and is not fully documented in DJI’s manual or elsewhere. However, if you wish to quickly upload some short clips this is a useful feature.
YouTube Live streaming
If you have a cellular smart device and good connection you can share the view with your friends and the world, live over YouTube. This is known as “Livestreaming”. You must first have a youtube account and change the settings to “Enable Live Events”. Then, in the General Settings of the DJI Go App, you must select Live Streaming and also login to your youtube account from the App.
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The later part of this book contains an appendix and various add-ons such as a glossary and links. In the final part of this book – Chapter 9 – we will link to those articles and more. Click here for chapter 9 (coming soon).