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-   -   Anyone explored camera drones? (https://dpnow.com/forum2/showthread.php?t=17129)

Ian 22-02-18 01:34 PM

Anyone explored camera drones?
I've already covered this subject over on the e-group forum but I thought I'd canvass opinions here as well :)

I have acquired a Zerotech Dobby drone. This is what it looks like (picture heavy!):












It's a very compact drone with folding arms for the props. It has a GPS receiver plus sonar (height sensing when landing) and two cameras - a 13 megapixel fixed focus photo/video (1080p) camera that is at one end of the unit that can be manually tilted up to 90 degrees from forward to downward and a secondary downward facing camera for optic flow registration of details below so it can maintain its position when GPS is unavailable (indoors, for example). The camera has electronic image stabilisation (EIS) that can be switched on or off. The drone and its camera are controlled by an app via a smartphone and has a specified range of 30 metres horizontally and 15 metres vertically, though those figures are very conservative, especially if you use a WiFi repeater. Some people have sent theirs 30 metres plus high and over 750 metres horizontally before having to return the drone to home after the battery reached half capacity. Flying time is around 6-9 minutes depending on how hard the drone has to work (fighting wind, camera on, etc.).

Here's an indoor Dobby drone selfie:


I've tweaked this in Lightroom from the 13 megapixel JPEG, but not by much. It's a tough challenge for a camera as the walls in the room are yellow and there is a skylight so the lighting consists of yellow reflections and (overcast) daylight. But really not bad at all.

The drone was hovering in front of me about 4 feet away. No (E)IS was used for this one.

I've also been outside and here are some shots:




I didn't spend too much time on taking pictures but I did feel it was over-exposing and adjusted the compensation down. There was a slight breeze and some motion blur is evident in most of the stills, but not that bad unless you pixel-peep at 100% on some shots.

I launched the drone about 5 times and each time from my hand, landing back on my hand again - it was very muddy, so I successfully avoided that :)

Highest I got was about 17 metres. I didn't dare go higher!

A limiting factor was the app reporting that the compass wasn't working properly (it reckoned there was an unusual electromagnetic interference). This limits its flight range for safety reasons. I recalibrated the compass a couple of times but this only seemed to sort it out temporarily, so I'll have to look into that.

Outside, the noise from the props is not an issue at all.

It'a great fun though I haven't had much chance to practice outside because of the weather but as I will be back in the Far East at Easter and visiting some coral islands I'm hopeful of some good results!


Garry 22-02-18 06:43 PM

Re: Anyone explored camera drones?
Very interesting !

Have to say that I haven't thought about buying one recently........

But I realise that drones are being used more and more, and for filming as well as stills.
I can see the advantages of having one of these. I might even think of getting one in the future.

How is the handling ? I guess they are quite stable. Yes ? I fly a battery powered helicopter through the house. Great fun. But not at all stable.

I assume that being the drone has 4 rotors and electronic safety features, that it is relatively easy to fly.

Impressed with the quality of photos.

Ian 22-02-18 06:51 PM

Re: Anyone explored camera drones?
Yes it's semi-autonomous so it uses its sensors to remain stable. It doesn't have collision avoidance sensors like more expensive drones, though, so if I'm careless it could get stuck in a tree or hit a wall. But basically if you don't apply a directional input it just hovers. It will also land by itself when the battery gets critical and there is a return to home function. It can also detect your hand and land on that if directed :). You can also launch it from your palm and even toss it into the air.

I took it out today and took it to 42 metres - scary as it becomes so tiny! The video camera does suffer from some rippling effect which is a combination of a fast shutter speed when it's bright and vibrations from the props and motors. The recommended fix, apart from tightening the prop mountings, which I have done, is to fit a (supplied) ND filter, which I will try next.


PS We already have a drone of sorts - it's a Starship Enterprise quadcopter. That's completely manual and very difficult to fly! It mainly looks pretty on its stand in the living room :D

Autumn 22-02-18 07:17 PM

Re: Anyone explored camera drones?
That looks to be great fun Ian. I am amazed at the quality of these drones. Look forward to seeing the Coral Islands.

Ian 23-02-18 08:22 AM

Re: Anyone explored camera drones?
Yes, I'm taking the family to my Mum's home town in the Philippines (Leyte) and there are several coral islands quite close by (from as little as a 20 minute boat ride). I just hope that it won't be windy - this is the biggest enemy of a small drone like the Dobby. But April is just about the best time of year if you want hot and sunny weather there. We're also going to Hong Kong and Thailand.


Garry 23-02-18 05:22 PM

Re: Anyone explored camera drones?
Nice trip. Will be looking forward to the results.

Barr1e 23-02-18 10:17 PM

Re: Anyone explored camera drones?

Originally Posted by Garry (Post 86534)
Nice trip. Will be looking forward to the results.

Me too.

Mind I think I would need an all singing dancing one for fear of an accident.
I think I would be a poor pilot. :eek:


Garry 24-02-18 12:25 PM

Re: Anyone explored camera drones?

Originally Posted by Barr1e (Post 86536)
Me too.

Mind I think I would need an all singing dancing one for fear of an accident.
I think I would be a poor pilot. :eek:


You would be fine, Barr1e.

As Ian has said. If you take your hands off the controls. It will happily sit there hovering, till you retake control.

Also if the battery reaches critical level. It will fly back to you.

I am seriously considering getting one..............

Garry 24-02-18 12:30 PM

Re: Anyone explored camera drones?
Quite interested in these, Ian.

Apart from the 4 photos taken with the Drone, seen here. ( Yourself and 3 airborne outdoors shots )

Have you any more examples of photos, taken via the drone please ?

I understand that wind can play a major factor in flying the drone.

What about light conditions ?

Also.......What controls are seen on the phone ?

Ian 24-02-18 02:08 PM

Re: Anyone explored camera drones?
I'm still getting to grips with the Dobby. Its short flying time and my teething problems with the compass calibration mean I haven't done a lot in the way of photos and video with it. I have discovered that you can get a higher capacity battery (12 minutes flying time instead of 9) but it's 60! I have two more of the standard batteries on order fron Gearbest (China) for a flash sale price of 24 :). They only take 40-50 minutes to charge-up.

Basically, the camera is like a decent smartphone from 4 years ago; 13 megapixels and it does 1080p at 30fps video, but if you use electronic stabilisation the sharpness suffers.

There are some good videos on YouTube. Here is one good example:

There are some examples of stills and a rather unfair comparison with a much more expensive drone by the same guy here:


PS, not sure why the preview isn't showing from YouTube... will investigate.

Garry 24-02-18 04:37 PM

Re: Anyone explored camera drones?
Tanks for the links.

It is a remarkable little gadget, full of electronics.

Still doing my home work on it. But have to say.

I wouldn't mind one.

The video these guys were shooting was very good.

Ian 24-02-18 08:54 PM

Re: Anyone explored camera drones?
I would be patient - I got mine really cheap. scan.co.uk got a consignment of Dobbies in last month and were selling them for 129 with a second battery. They sold out fast :) The best price I see currently is 149 without the extra battery (typically 30). Most suppliers are selling them for 200-250. The Dobby is near end of life as the replacement has been revealed, though it's not yet on sale. There will be more deals I'm sure. You should also look at the results others are getting with it and you will see that some effort is required to get good results. If absolute size is not critical, there are some very tempting, if slightly dearer, alternatives. The Parrot Bebop looks good. I don't know if you have a GoPro style action camera, but there are drones for around 120-150 that can carry one and these have a longer flying time and range.


Garry 24-02-18 10:09 PM

Re: Anyone explored camera drones?
I don't have a GoPro. But might prefer to go down that route.

They are a great little camera, and very versatile.

So might look at a drone that can carry that then.

Ian 25-02-18 12:11 AM

Re: Anyone explored camera drones?
I'm currently testing a couple of GoPro rivals from Yi - the Yi Lite (100 with waterproof case) and Yi 4K (180 with waterproof case). GoPros now look very over-priced! The Yi 4K even records stills in RAW (Adobe DNG format). If I get along with the Dobby I can see myself getting a larger drone to carry one of the Yis. The problem is portability - folding drones are the way to go, I feel.

One thing to bear in mind is that drones heavier than 250g (the Dobby is 199g) have to be registered with the CAA.


PS You'd really need a powered gimbal to hang the action camera from for best stability - then you need to consider the landing gear getting into shot :) If I could justify the cost I'd probably buy a Mavic Air!

Garry 25-02-18 10:48 AM

Re: Anyone explored camera drones?
The Mavic Air looks a serious bit of kit.

The Yi looks interesting, particularly the Yi 4K shooting in RAW

I am in no rush to purchase. I will watch and listen and read first.

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