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Photography & Videography Techniques and Equipment This forum is for the discussion of technical and practical details of how to take good pictures and videos, as well as discuss the equipment used in that pursuit.

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Old 12-13-2017, 10:27 PM   #1
Xiaomi Mi 4K drone

So I finally decided to spring for a decent quality drone when I saw that video capabilities had reached a reasonable plateau for a reasonable price. Getting a GPS capable drone that can take 4K 30fps video for around $400 was the price point I was waiting for. Just couldn't convince myself that spending $2K on something that could wind up flying away or get stuck up in the top of a tall pine tree was a real wise decision for me to make. Not that I would be too thrilled with this thing biting the dust, mind you, but it certainly wouldn't be quite as painful, I think.

This is the first time I have taken it up into the air. I actually got it on Saturday, but with a brisk breeze taking place the past couple of days, I decided to just hold off on the launch date. Besides, I had a bunch of other stuff to do to get ready anyway. Firmware updates for all the hardware, calibrations for the compass and the video camera gimbal. Stuff like that.

Anyway, this was a flight with REAL modest goals. Just get it up in the air, use basic controller commands, test out the video camera system, and then land it in one piece where I wanted it to land. As long as the drone responded to the controller commands like it was supposed to, and nothing suffered any infant mortality, then this should have been easy to accomplish.

I have been practicing with some smaller drones I bought a few years ago, as well as spending some time on a flight simulator program on my PC. Honestly, this thing feels like a piece of cake to fly compared to the simulator and those smaller drones. With the small drones, if you take your hands off of the controls and your attention wanders for a bit, you might have a devil of a time finding where the blasted thing drifted off to. With this particular drone, because of the GPS capabilities, when you take your hands off of the controls, it just stays PUT where you left it. Which is great, because while taking video, it's almost like having the video camera sitting on an elevated tripod, it seems so stable. And of course the three axis gimbal helps a LOT with that too.

As you can see, very little room for error flying anything on my own property. Except for that little area around the garage, the entire rest of the property is heavily wooded. I'm not even sure I could safely land the thing near to the house, as there are some small clearings, but it would be kind of nerve wracking with all the tree branches all around. Even a small error could put the drone up into the top of a tall pine tree, with me having no way to recover it other than just waiting for it to fall out of the tree some day. Maybe I could hire some squirrels....

This drone also has the capability of recording in 1440p at 60fps, which I may try next time I take it for a flight. I think the 60fps might help a LOT with the obvious visual degradation when moving the camera. I wish this thing had come with 4K 60fps, but alas, not too many drones offering that yet, and those that do are a lot more expensive than this one. But maybe by next year things will change there too. There have been a LOT of improvements with this stuff since 2014 when I first looked into this stuff. Reliability has evidently taking a huge step in the right direction, which was a big influence in my decision to spend even this much money on a drone, modest as it is.

The tarps on the garage apron are because we covered some of the tender citrus trees last night and had the tarps sitting out to dry out before putting them away. Things should be warming up for the next week or so. As it turned out, helped somewhat when I was playing with one of the video adjustments.

Speaking of which, here are some adjustable settings for the video camera that I can play with, and early on in the video while right above the garage looking down at the tarps, I played around with the "saturation" setting on the camera. Might just be my eyes, but I could only really see a change in the blue of the tarps, and not much else. But something I guess I need to play with some other time.

I only have a single battery for the drone, so my flight time is limited to around 20 minutes. This flight was much less because about half of the juice in the battery got used up with all the calibrations and updates I had to do over the weekend. I have more batteries on order, but they are on a slow boat from China. Literally.

Anyway, this is kind of a boring video, but it will give you an idea of how well things have progressed with these flying video platforms lately. I think I am actually a bit excited about the potential of taking video from a completely new perspective for me.

The video is in 4K if you can view it at that resolution.

Old 12-14-2017, 10:54 AM   #2
Amazing. I couldn't hold a video camera with a tripod that steady!
Old 12-16-2017, 02:46 AM   #3
I took the drone out for a flight again today...


Unfortunately I lost the last third of the video because I forgot to stop the recording before shutting down the battery on the drone. I knew I had screwed up just as soon as the battery beeped. Oh well. And it was such a perfect landing too. That "Return To Home" function works really well. What happens is that when you shut off the power before closing down the video, the file becomes corrupted because something isn't written to the file by the camera that needs to be in an orderly shutdown of the video. I've done this before with the little drones I played with, but seems that there is a lot going on to occupy my mind doing this stuff, and the old gray matter just ain't what it used to be.

I only used one battery as I just wanted to test a few things out this trip. I imagine that flying around above my property like this is going to get old soon enough, so no sense pushing it.

At first I took it up to 125 feet, but for some reason the tree tops just looked awfully close to me. So I wound up bumping it up to 250 feet which put a lot more air between the drone and the treetops. I really need to check to see what I have the Return to Home altitude set to. I really don't want that to be below the tallest trees it might encounter if it decides to head on back because of a connection failure. I've watched several YouTube videos of crashes that it seemed obvious that this is what happened to them.

I took a look at the roof of the house and can see quite a bit of rust on that sheet metal roof. So much for the contractor telling us that it would be good for 75 years. I think they used some of the pieces that were "seconds", as that seems to be a common practice around here with contractors and subcontractors. I notice the several better looking pieces were ones that they had replaced soon after putting on the roof. I had commented to them that it looked odd having them so different looking from the rest of the roof, but the contractor told me that it would all look the same after a year or two. Well here we are 26 years later..... Liar. Might have to see if we can find someone who can paint the roof with a "paint over rust" paint and sealer someday, I guess. That's not a job I want to do myself. That roof is pretty steep, and I'm sure falling off of it would really ruin my day

Did a little cruise over our property, heading mostly north towards the stream, but didn't go to the edges. It seems the GPS signal indicating the location of the drone on my smart phone wasn't showing up once it got further away from me, so I'm guessing the trees are blocking some of the signals. The view I could see from the camera was holding up OK, though, so it's not like I was flying blind. It was difficult to keep an eye on the drone through the trees sometimes. The drone SHOULD kick into the "Return to home" function automatically if it loses signal completely.

I tried recording this at 2560x1440 60fps, and the raw video looks pretty good. But when I went to process it with my video editing programs, NONE of them wanted to work with that resolution. So I wound up upscaling it to 4K 60fps and that seemed to work OK. I'll have to play around with various combinations of resolution and frame rate, and rendering options, to see what seems to work best.

I actually landed the drone while still having 50 percent charge on the battery. But looking up into the sky for long stretches is really hard on my neck.

Later on today I played around with the various exposure settings on the camera while having it sitting on a table pointed to an old camera color test strip card I have laying around in a bunch of old camera equipment. From looking at the results, I think I can improve on the video quite a bit with some tweaks I will implement next time I take it out.

It was kind of windy above the tree tops today, but the drone didn't seem to mind too much. I could hear the motors changing pitch as it fought against the wind, but I couldn't see any sign of that in the videos. That 3 axis gimbal seems to do a pretty good job keeping the camera steady, I guess.
Old 12-16-2017, 09:10 PM   #4
I was able to fly the drone quite a bit today, and spent some time playing around with the settings for the camera. Honestly, my first test didn't turn out so hot with the video results, as I believe I had the contrast and saturation way too high. I didn't have them at max, but apparently it was still too much. Also set the white balance for the "Sunny" setting, and not sure if the combination was the issue or not, but I could actually see the colors changing on the treetops. It was NOT a good looking effect. And the shadows were just too dark, and the light areas just too bright. So back to the drawing board.

For the next launch I cut both the saturation and the contrast settings in half, and reverted the white balance setting back to the default option. Color seemed MUCH better this time, and I didn't have that odd color shifting. So I think perhaps the white balance setting might be important for a stable image, but perhaps more testing will enlighten me.

I got up to around 340 ft, and was about 800 feet away this time, I flew out to the north and south edges of my property. I'll tell you, at that height and distance, if you take your eyes off of the drone for even an instant, it is VERY VERY difficult to find it again, visually. I was actually surprised at how disorienting it is looking at my property like this from an elevated platform. I thought that if the drone ever lost power and just dropped to the ground, I would be able to locate it fairly easily just by noting where it dropped. But man, I dunno. All the trees look alike when seen from above. Might be a good idea to paint the thing fluorescent orange or bright blue to help in finding the thing if need be.

I did lose the video feed once, but it came back a little later on. I still had the GPS locator signal, so at least I knew where it was supposed to be and what direction it was pointing. I flicked it into Return to Home mode and it headed right on back to me, so at least I still had control over it. But definitely a tense moment. I'm looking for an antenna signal booster right now, as evidently the trees are blocking the signals somewhat. I really can't see me ever wanting to fly any drone that doesn't have a "Return To Home" feature. Having that working for you will make ALL the difference between getting your drone back and it just flying off, never to be seen again.

And I got another corrupted video file too. Again, the last file in the series when I was coming in for a landing during the first time out today. I KNOW I turned off the video that time, so not sure what is going on. The second time out, just as a precaution, I stopped the video right after touchdown, and then started it back up again, just in case the LAST video in a series was getting corrupted somehow. But in this case, ALL of the videos were clean when I took a look at them, and none were corrupted. So, beats me.

I'm not sure which is more boring, looking at someone flying a drone over an open field, or looking at a video of just tree tops. So I doubt you all are going to want to watch basically the same old thing every time I take the drone up for a flight. I may render some of them here and there, but unless there is something noteworthy to look out, I don't see much reason to post all of them up on YouTube.

Oh yeah, I actually used the drone for something I originally thought one might be a good tool for. I used it to inspect the rain spouts on the garage to see if the down spouts are clogged up with pine needles and leaves. Maybe I will render that one later tonight, just to show you all how that worked out. But the short answer is, YES, I need to clean them out. Hopefully tomorrow, as the forecast is calling for rain most of next week. If we get a REAL heavy rain, somehow the installers put those rain spout gutters up in such a way that if they do not drain fast enough, the water will back up in them till water actually starts leaking into the INSIDE wall of the garage. I may have to drill some drain holes at that "leak" level in the gutter sides. I guess that kind of defeats the purpose of those rain gutters being there, but oh well. Much better than having water leaking into the garage. Maybe I need to look into a product that keep the gutters from filling up with crap in the first place. If the pine needles and leaves were dry enough, I think the downdraft of the drone's propellers would probably just blow the junk out of the gutters anyway. That thing does move some air!
Old 12-22-2017, 02:27 AM   #5
I did an inspection of the rain gutters and downspouts on the roof of the garage the other day, figuring this would be a nice PRACTICAL use of a drone. Ordinarily I need to drag out the 12 ft. ladder just to take a peek, so I tend to put if off longer than I should. So maybe now it will be something I do more often rather than waiting for heavy rains to cause the water to back up and leak into the inside of the garage as has happened a few times.

Seemed to work out OK, but I can see where a larger display screen than my smart phone would be a lot handier for something like this. I really couldn't see a lot of detail till I downloaded the video onto my PC and then took a look at it on the big screen. I could generally see what I was looking at, but determining just how packed the pine needles and leaves were there, well, not so much.

It was actually tougher than I would have expected to control the drone that close to the roof of the garage. I think the downdraft from the propellers was playing hell with the positioning, not only because the drone was mostly half over the roof and half not, but with the roof being sloped, that was probably causing some unusual wind patterns that the drone was having to deal with. Luckily it wasn't enough to unbalance the drone, so no mishaps, and it worked rather well, I think.

And yeah, it looked like I needed to clean out around the downspout areas, and with rain having been in the forecast 2 days later, I did that chore the next day. Being up on top of that 12 ft. ladder is not my favorite thing to do. though. The ground just looks so far away up there, and I'm sure my falling off of the ladder would make for a pretty bad day.

Of course, after the "work" part of this flight, I goofed off and did a flight over a small area of our property. Hope you like seeing the tops of tree tops.... :hehehe:


Yeah, I know watching something like this is just about as boring as watching grass grow, but heck, this fascinates the hell out of me just being able to take video like this. But doing it seems to be a whole lot more interesting that actually watching it. It's all I can do to stay awake through the entire clip.... zzzzzz

Oh, this was taken in 2560x1440 60fps and then upscaled to 4K 60fps using Vegas Pro 15. I think the upscaling is introducing a bit of graininess, so I might have to try just uploading in the native resolution to see if that is any better.
Old 12-22-2017, 09:19 AM   #6
Originally Posted by WebSlave View Post
I had commented to them that it looked odd having them so different looking from the rest of the roof, but the contractor told me that it would all look the same after a year or two. Well here we are 26 years later..... Liar.
Was your comment in writing? In many places, statutes of limitations for fraud run not from the date of purchase, but from the date the consumer realized that the information the seller gave, and on which the consumer relied, was false.
Of course, if the rust is not a structural issue, but rather a cosmetic one, (unless you are contemplating a sale), it would not seem that there would be much in the way of damages.
Old 12-22-2017, 06:55 PM   #7
Originally Posted by Lucille View Post
Was your comment in writing? In many places, statutes of limitations for fraud run not from the date of purchase, but from the date the consumer realized that the information the seller gave, and on which the consumer relied, was false.
Of course, if the rust is not a structural issue, but rather a cosmetic one, (unless you are contemplating a sale), it would not seem that there would be much in the way of damages.
No, nothing in writing concerning that observation and discussion. But even if it were, I would be bucking the "good old boy" network down here by going after that contractor, and would very likely get nowhere with it. The guy has run for county commissioner twice, and although he lost both times, I am sure he is well connected with those people who are commissioners.

I suspect that "cosmetic" rust, won't stay that way for long, and it will eventually eat through the metal panels, which would allow rain water to seep into the roof of the house.
Old 12-22-2017, 09:06 PM   #8
Then your 'paint over rust' idea is a good one. I know that I have painted some stuff that had light rust that I didn't want to sand completely (weight plates)with Rustoleum and it did a great job.
Old 12-23-2017, 06:22 PM   #9
I am glad that people are having the courage to post their videos of their crashing their drones. I think I'm learning a lot by watching their mistakes and trying to figure out what they did wrong. There appear to be several causes:
  1. Being distracted by someone else nearby
  2. Flying via FPV in a direction other than where the camera is pointing
  3. Misjudging how far the drone is from some obstruction or it not being visible at a distance when flying via line of sight
  4. A hardware or software failure in the drone or controller

From what I have seen in the available videos, the first three are much more common than #4. And since people might be a whole lot less likely to post videos showing their mistakes than they would of actual failures of the drone/controller, I suspect that "pilot error" is the cause of a vast number of crashes.

Before doing this latest flight yesterday, I recalibrated the gimbal and the compass, and had to do a firmware update too, so I was running slim on battery life for the flight afterwards. These firmware updates are mandatory, evidently, and you just cannot fly the drone until the update has completely successfuly.

The gimbal seemed more level than before, and I didn't get any of the compass errors I seemed to get every flight. The horizon still goes skewed sometimes, but it seems to correct itself eventually.

I also mounted a modified antenna booster too, just to see if that would help. But I didn't send the drone out far enough to really test it any. I will sometimes get video distortion on the display of the cell phone, so I want to see if the antenna booster will help with that.

As mentioned above about "pilot error" I almost made a mistake when Connie was out there with me. Not paying close attention and when I was bringing the drone back down, it had drifted away from the garage more than I had realized. When I noticed the drift, I got disoriented when I tried to move it away from the tree, not immediately realizing what direction the drone was pointing, but luckily caught it in time. When the drone is pointing towards you, all of the lateral movement is the reverse of what you think it should do. I wasn't as close to the tree as it appeared in the video, but close enough. Not a good idea getting distracted when flying these things, I suppose.

Anyway tried a little manual "follow her" when Connie walked down the driveway to fetch the trash cans.

I'm still very impressed with how stable this flying video platform is.

Old 01-03-2018, 05:34 PM   #10
Took the drone out the other day to try to figure out where that high pitched squeaking noise is coming from that I am hearing. First I took the props off and then used a microphone attached to my camera to try to see if I could identify which motor was making the noise by checking one motor after another. But I really couldn't hear the noise that way, so perhaps the lifting force of the propellers is necessary.

So I put the props back on and then did a short flight and brought the drone as close to the camera as I could to see if that would register audibly what I have been hearing. I guess I should have moved the work table out of the way, as this drone just does not like an uneven surface that gets in the way of the prop wash. I found it tough to control even under GPS mode and had to fight with it when it kept trying to drift close to me and the camera.


But I can plainly hear the squeaky noise starting around 2:54, but not too much luck trying to determine if it is just one motor making the noise and if so, which one. I think it got slightly louder as the left front motor of the drone faced the camera, and I kind of leaning towards that motor being the culprit, if I had to make a choice.

If it would hold still, I could try the same thing using the microphone, but that would mean having to set the controller on a table and walk around the drone closely without having any hands on the controls. I am not too keen on that idea.

Not sure how much this is something to be worrying about, though. Maybe a little spot of lubricant applied to the motors would help? Hopefully if it gets worse, it will do so gradually instead of a sudden motor failure while 200 ft up in the air and over a pine tree.

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