Using the DJI Phantom

The aerial photos on this site were shot with a DJI Phantom Vision 2+ V3. There are two distinct activities associated with getting shots with the DJI Phantom. 

Flying -  set up

It's really important to set up correctly for each flight. That means two things. First is calibrating the compass, and second is getting connected to at least 6 GPS satellites. B&H has a great video made by Kelby to help you. I probably watched it ten times. Its much better than trying to get it all from the documentation, even though it's not bad. Make sure you get the right signals that indicate each step was done correctly. There are a lot of stories about flyways, but most are about earlier version (where the GoPro connection interfered with flight control), or people cut corners on set up and calibration. 

Flying -- control

Before you start taking pictures, practice flying -- a lot. Practice taking off and landing to the point where you can really set down on a spot consistently. Get comfortable to the point of intuitive control with the two sticks, and what each does. The documentation includes exercises to practice. Do them all! You'll only have about 20 minutes of shooting time on a battery, and you don't want to waste time with poor piloting. One special note. The new controller has a detent that holds the left joystick in the "off" position. Be careful you don't push it that far in a descent. If you do, the blades will stop, and gravity happens. 

Taking pictures -- the Vision App

I use an iPhone 5, and it works well. I found that I have to restart my iPhone for each photo shoot, if I want to have FPV, and I do. I set everything to Auto (shutter, white balance, and ISO). The camera is quite good, thought it's no Canon 5DII. It's a 5mm, so you'll need distortion correction SW (e.g. Lightroom), but the images are very good, and in focus as you might guess. I have found white balance in JPEG a little off in other than daytime lighting. So, if you're shooting at dawn, dusk, or night, I suggest RAW. 

Let me know how it goes for you.

Good shooting.

Don't fear the ISO

We all have read about "set the ISO to the lowest possible setting", to avoid that dreaded noise. So, we sacrifice sharpness, for example, because we can't get a fast enough shutter speed at ISO 100. My experience is that today's DSLRs are very good at ISO's well above the traditional "limits". I shoot a lot of motor sports, and shooting a car coming at you at 60-70 MPH, or more, requires a pretty good autofocus and/or pre-focus, and lots of depth of field to get the whole car sharp. ( Note: I find the Servo A/I on my Canon is good enough to track the cars.) Well, the formula for that is high shutter speed to stop the vehicle, and stopped way down to get depth of field. So, even in broad daylight ISO 100 just won't cut it. I've run ISO as high as 1600 with great results. The only caution is don't expect to crop heavily. But if have the glass you need, you should get great results. For the head on shots I use a Canon 5D II with a 400/5.6. I set ISO to between 800 and 1600, and get f/11 or so. If the lighting's right, you can read the helmet brand.

Good shooting.

External Hard Drive for MacBook

I just added some external storage to my Mac, and wanted to share the decision and installation process. First, let's start with the choice of type of storage. Basically you have directly connected hard drives (DAS) or network attached boxes (NAS). There are cloud applications, but I just want to address local solutions here.


NAS offers some handy benefits such as huge storage capacity, RAID support, web access and so on. But the network connection and latency will affect the editing process in programs like Lightroom. If you're like me and capture 1000 or more frames on a typical shoot, this can be a problem in your post workflow, particularly if the client has a deadline. I don't take short cuts in editing, so even an extra minute per image is problematic.


Although a little more awkward - a drive plugged into your laptop - even Firewire provides a much faster interconnect for editing than wifi. If you have USB 3.0 support, it's even faster - way faster. What's even better is that they're dirt simple to install, can be changed out when they get full, can be partitioned for multiple uses, and can be configured for RAID if you really feel the need. I added a 1 TB WD My Passport Studio. The instructions are easy to follow and are divided into three areas -- basic install, the Mac Turbo feature, and security utility. Unless you're taking the external drive someplace where others will have access, you can forget about the third, which includes a password you have to enter each time the drive starts. The other two took me about 15 minutes to install. The drive shows up in your Finder window, and is journaled for the MAC OSX, so it's already formatted. There you can give it another name if you like. Probably a good idea if you expect to add more later. Be sure to eject it when you shut down and want to unplug it.


Just make sure you use the "copy" command on Import (middle of the frame on top) and specify your new drive as the destination in the top right corner of the screen. Downloading from my camera card to the drive was just about as fast as to the internal drive, and I noticed no difference in the editing process. 


I shoot everything and store everything in RAW, so my files are around 20 MB each. A 1 TB drive can therefore hold about 50,000 images. If you want full RAID 0 protection, get two of them, daisy chain them on the Firewire bus and set them as as a RAID set, using the RAID utility on the MAC. If 1 TB seems too small, these little drives are available in 3 TB capacities today, and probably more soon. But the nice thing is you can just buy more as you need capacity. Just remember a way to know when you changed from one to another, as Lightroom will think they're connect when you bring up a collection.I just use install date, since I date code all my collections, making it easy to know which drive I need to connect to view/edit a collection.


That's it. Let me know how this works for you