To New Heights — Quadcopter Testing

Yesterday we continued testing our aerial video setup, which consists of a Go Pro Hero 3+ mounted on an Zenmuse H3-3D gimbal attached to a Phantom 2 Drone Quadcopter. 

After our conservative first flight, which did not exceed 40 feet or so off the ground, we delved into learning more about our rig’s abilities. In the latest flight, we honed the Phantom 2’s GPS home point feature, which once locking on to multiple GPS satellites, enables the quadcopter to return to its launch position and land itself—especially useful as it automates this in the instance of a signal loss from the controlling unit. We also launched this time with the compass fully calibrated, which allowed for a greater degree of control and course correction.

Another feature we tested this time around is the ability to adjust the camera tilt in flight, especially useful because the amount of fisheye distortion from the GoPro changes depending on its direction relative to the horizon line or any other linear plane. The GoPro allows for shooting “Superview,” wide, medium, and narrow—each tier evidencing progressively less fisheye distortion, but at the cost of resolution and breadth of view. The current model can shoot 4K at 15 fps maximum, 2.7k at 30 fps maximum, and higher frame rates as you go lower. This time around we tested at 2.7k, knowing we would be able to crop out landing gear or propellers that might drift into the shot while still having at least a 1080p resolution after cropping.

This time we also used the ProTune feature on the GoPro, which shoots with a flat color profile—preserving additional dynamic range at the cost of color saturation. Coloring in post-production can then reinstitute the lost color, which we did using basic luma waveform scopes in Final Cut Pro X for reference in conjunction with the automated color balance correction feature.

Armed with additional failsafes tested at lower heights and a nuanced set of GoPro settings, we went much higher as evidenced by the latest video and stills. The stills were captured using the interval shooting settings on the GoPro and no color-grading was done on them.

Our intent is to use the quadcopter to capture video to fill out our shot list for our Cold Storage documentary project, but can foresee applications for other metaLAB projects, especially those dealing with outdoor tree and plant life.