Tag Archives: Using dji Phantom

6. Flying the Wright Way

Previously: crashing in tight spaces…

The new landing gear with the extended legs and the camera lowering kit arrived, which provided me with plenty of screws to play with. Between the eight screws of the landing gear and the two of the camera’s mount, plus the four rubber shock observers that are like screws, I got my daily screwing fix covered.
Now my camera got a new vertical position far enough from the ground yet low enough to capture more of the view and less of the propellers… (except for the very fast forward moves where the drone is tilted at about 30 degrees forward and the props are unavoidable).
After my last practice in tight spaces I was ready for a challenge!
I’ve decided to fly my drone in circles and above the famous Frank Lloyd Wright statue in Scottsdale.
I’v never been that close to it before. The closest I’ve got to it was on my way to/from Maggiano’s which means I was either too hungry to notice it, or in a food coma after eating too much of these bottomless family style Italian dishes…
It appears that this amazing statue has a very nice garden around it with beautiful statues and water fountains… who knew.
So, I setup my drone on its new and taller landing gear on one of the nice concrete benches around the statue. This is going to feed my daily dose of mistakes…
I plugged the power on, listen to the lovely and loud 6 tones sound, doing my pre-flight check of RC’s controls, the camera and the drone and I’m ready to take off.
I turn on the engines by pulling the sticks to my favorite starting position, bottom centered, and the rotors starts roaring.
As I push the throttle stick up, the drone moves a bit forward, and before I understand what happens, it dives nose forward from about 2′ to the concrete ground, on its side, in such grace and strength that the entire camera gimbal is disconnecting from the mount and all four rubber connectors are off.
It looks so sad, like a baby bird falling of a tree after its first attempt to fly. I pick it up carefully like it was a bird with a broken wing, slowly and carefully bringing it to my starting position to assess the damage.

After 5 minutes of mechanical CPR I confirm no fatal damage to my 4-props mechanical bird, except for the detached gimbal. I reconnected the 4 shock observers of the gimbal and everything seems fine and ready for a second try.
All this was not for nothing, as I learned later in when I was back at home, it seems thatĀ the failed attempt was done without me starting the camera! So maybe this is why my drone chose to crash! It was actually trying to communicate with me, or was it afraid to fly without seeing what’s going on???
This time the camera was running, and, learning from the last mistake, I placed it on the GROUND level and started it all over again.

Quick pre-flight checks again, after I learned that my belly likes to push the switches of the RC every time while I’m connecting the camera and battery, so I learned to always ensure my RC is configured as it should: GPS: on, IOC: default!.
My plan was to circle the long statue while rising up and then fly from above and film downwards while spinning slowly in place.
As usual perspective screwed my plans and what I got was close but far from being what I really wanted. (I already see a FPV addition in my drone’s future…)
After it landed safely I was smart enough to review my footage to ensure my GoPro captured what I wanted before leaving the location.
This is when I learned that the GoPro will not stream recorded video to the iPhone App!!! :-/ so, I had to trust myself and go to my next location, the nearby CrackerJax, to get some medium length shots of the statue.
I ended up shooting from the empty DMV parking, and got about 0% usable footage. The shots were too far, pointing at the wrong targets, and all in all just boring and bad (movement was too quick, bad parallax effect and too much sun glare. )
Next location was at the soccer fields near the famous TPC Golf Course, home of the annual West Management Open golf tournaments.
The place was packed because of a lacrosse tournament that took place there.
I was setting my drone to fly over the overpass between the two parts of the park, and over the playing teams, hoping to get some nice shots of the players from above as well as some long shots of the FLW statue.
Guess what went wrong? Well nothing bad, but, damn that perspective illusion. I could swear I was flying above the center of the soccer field, while in reality I didn’t even rich the baseline… šŸ™‚

Soccer Field Persptive

Still got some nice shots, and this time I needed almost no cropping because the propellers almost never got into my shot…
The picture did turn out a bit more shaky when I flew quickly in any of the 3 dimensions, but I don’t know if it was due to the wind, or because of the new camera lowering kit. I will run tests in the future with and without it to be able to tell.
Enough talking … Now lets enjoy some video…

5. Going Pro (or in short GoPro)

Previously: How I learned yet again that too cheap has its price…

So, I decided to go pro and buy a GoPro with a motorized gimbal so I can get the resolution I wanted and the stability I needed.

I love my Amazon mobile app… between the app and the amazing “Amazon Prime” I can review and order things in the best price through my phone and get it at my door within 24-48 hours with free shipping… I LOVE IT!

So, less than 48 hours later I got my new GoPro HERO+ Black edition, which, lucky me, is using the same SD micro card as the Vivitar (I guess there is at least one good thing about Vivitar copying the GoPro so well… actually, not so well… but you get my point…)

A day later the gimbal arrived Ā (it did all the way from Hong Kong!!!)

I installed it and did a quick test

Although I have both programming and electronics background, still to this day, when I plug something for the first time and it works, I’m always amazed, surprised and excited! I can’t believe how it all integrate so nicely the first time you try it…

This was no exception, but wait… there’s more…

The Phantom comes with an additional lever on the RC’s back that allows sending tilt level signal to the camera. But in order to enable it, I had to disassemble the drone, run wires through the tiny holes, plug it into the “brain” of my Phantom in order to program the tilt channel to properly control the camera so that it can be set to view forward or downwards.

Another thing I learned about myself, I’m getting so excited when I see screws especially when I need to unscrew them… I can’t explain why, but it probably explains why I ended up as an engineer, I just can’t resist unscrewing screws, just so I can screw them back in later on… I should probably see a Dr. about this… but… I won’t let any Dr. screw with my head… šŸ˜‰

With the new gimbal mounted (which came with shock observers as well to reduce the jello/”moving shutter” effect), I was ready to take it on its next air-trip.

Just like a little boy I counted the hours left until the weekend starts, so I can go fly my more-expensive-by-the-day toy.

Going forward, every time I launch my drone I must forget how much money I’m throwing to the air and hope it will land in one piece…

Saturday morning finally came, and I was ready… so ready…

I quickly decided on my next location for shooting, which was the starting point of another trail in the area. I plugged the battery to the drone (it makes a load 70s video-game sound every time you do this, as if I won the last level of Pacman), and was getting ready to take-off, as a couple with a dog went by me, ready to start their morning walk.

As soon as my drone took off and hovered at about 5′ above the ground their dog freaked out and start barking like crazy! I was apologizing while pushing the throttle’s stick up to make the drone go high enough so the dog could cool down.

It didn’t help, the dog just went crazy and kept barking at my drone. They tried to calm it down for a few moments and realized their morning walk is over. They gave me one of these polite yet discussed angry looks, and went back home with their freaked-out barking dog. I felt bad, but hey, my drone has its need as well…

As always, a video worth a million words… so I give you my first GoPro + motorized gimbal flight results:

As you can tell by the fact I added some music, this time I was much happier with the results.

First, I didn’t need to apply any filters to compensate for the vibrations of the drone, or add any color corrections.

Second, the quality of the video was so high that I could actually crop and zoom the video without losing much of the quality (except for the bird’s shot where I really got into the “digital zoom” range for a short while in the editing).

In addition, I started to feel much more comfortable controlling my drone in the air, and was able to run much more complicated moves like flying through the soccer-goal while flying 2 feet off the ground, or tracking the baseball field while turning the drone and flying sideways…

I came home, reviewed the footage and felt the need to have another run. I decided to practice my maneuvering skills and did two more flights.

The first was an outdoor flight but back in my backyard, trying to control it in a tight space… with and without GPS:

The second was an attempt to fly the drone indoors and see how well can I (not) control it:

I was so excited with the results (relatively speaking…) Ā but my expenses needed one additional Amazon visit … With the Gimbal, the camera was so close to the edge of the landing gear that the camera would hit the floor on each landing and even during takeoff (which explains the camera jumpy movement you see at some of my bad landings). This camera and the gimbal are too expensive to let them break on each tight landding attempt… so an extended set of landing gears was due to be purchased, with additional camera mounting spacer that will lower the camera ~ 1 inch from the drone to help capture less of the propellers in my view.

I can’t wait for next weekend when I’ll get to play with it again…

Lessons Learned

  • With or without GPS, flying in closed or narrow areas will cause your drone to go crazy, no matter how good you can control it, unless you can fly fully manual (which I’m far from ready to…)
  • ALWAYS assume that the drone is closer than where you think it is… perspective is so confusing… like this feeling that two planes are about to crash although they are so far from each other…
  • Dogs don’t like drones… Just live with it…
  • Flight time with the gimbal went down from about 10 minutes to 6.5-7 minutes
  • GoPro at 2.7k gives amazing results and allows to crop and “zoom” in editing down to 1080p without losing anything, which allows to hide the propellers
  • The original landing gear is too short for the GoPro with a motorized gimbal…

4. Vivi-what?

Previously: Ā My First Take Off

I realized if I plan on keep running this toy in small areas, I must have a proper propellers guard or I will break many props and many things around me.

Thanks to Amazon, I got my guards after a couple of days and installed them waiting for the weekend to be able to test it again.

To my surprise, I also got the camera I won that week as well! I was so excited to get my Sony Action cam… wait… Ā but this doesn’t look like the Sony Action cam, coming to think of it, it doesn’t look like any Sony product. I look at the case and realized my memory was playing tricks on me… Did I say I won a Sony Action Cam… I guess that was wishful thinking. What I won was an action cam, no doubt, but it was a Vivitar Action cam. That’s fine, tell me when you are done Googling for Vivitar… I’ll wait…

Welcome back…, and don’t feel bad, I didn’t know it exists either…

Bottom line, Vivitar is a <$50 worth knockoff Ā of the GoPro. Same size, same packaging, just none of the quality features.

I looked online and people show they could hook the Vivitar Action cam to their dji Phantom, and I was able to mount it perfectly because they even copied the mounting arm. So I mount the Vivitar on my dji Phantom and waited for next day to test it. Planning ahead I also ensured I have a couple of spare batteries so I don’t run out of juice too early.

Speaking of juice, a short comic relief: I saw this recently on Facebook: – Why doesn’t Apple call their power supplies “Apple Juice”?

Back to my drone story. I got all my batteries charged, the Vivitar camera is charged, mounted and loaded with a micro SD card. I went to sleep setting up my clock to wake up early so I can finally have a flight documented by a mounted camera.

I was thinking of the first spot I want to try it in, and came up with a nice place called the “Lost Dog Trail” in my area.

I packed my drone, the extra batteries, some spare propellers, just in case, and went on my merry way…

It seems that many people like to hike, probably too many because I could barely find a parking spot.

To cut a long story short, here I am ready to kick the air-tiers off I found a nice spot and turned on the camera, made sure it is running and off we go…

The results were, well I’ll just say it: disappointing!

The camera was shaking like crazy causing the moving-shutter effect, also known as the Jello effect, the picture quality was really bad, and the shooting was not smooth at all because the camera is mounted directly to the body of the drone.

By the way, the video above was treated for anti-moving shutter, and with color correction to make it somewhat “watchable”.

It was clear to me, for what I’m trying to do I have to upgrade to a GoPro with a proper Gimbal so that I can get the cinematic effects I need.


The good news, with a total of 4 take-offs and landings, Ā I had zero (0, none, nada) crashes!!!!

I think I’m starting to get the idea…

Other lessons learned:

  • What you see from the ground is not what your drone sees from the sky
  • Getting a smooth ride is not easy at all
  • Direct sun at your camera in combination with the propellers will cause some black rolling stripes artifact on your video
  • Picking the correct camera angle is almost impossible
  • When you think you are high enough, you are not. Go higher to get the effect you want

3. Take off

Perviously: Young boy falls in love with a hobby he can’t afford, 30 years later, he get’s his first drone, and manages to make almost all the mistakes in the book.

So, my drone is ready for its first flight… Taken back to that same spot in the backyard, I cross my fingers, which make it really hard to operate the remote controller, so I un-cross my fingers and get ready to go.

I plug the battery in, the loudest tones are coming off my drone, all pre-flight-checks passed (lights blinks in right order and colors, no low-battery anywhere…) and I position the remote’s sticks to kick off the engines…. so far all is great.

I push the left stick up as slowly as I can, and then…. TAKE OFF! My Drone is actually flying. I was so excited I just let it hover for a few seconds before I realized I should do something with it…. so I start carefully moving the sticks on my remote… (good thing they are made of this rough surface because the sweat on my fingers would probably cause it to crash at this point)…

I try to figure out what sticks movement cause what drone movement, rotation, elevation, forward, backwards, sideways… I think I’m getting the drift, so I start guiding it around my backyard….

It flies so beautifully in front of me, hovering over the grass, the same grass that is protected by my large tree, the same tree that …. BLOCKS GPS CONTROL! my drone is looking like it’s fear of eights is kicking in again, and yet again the drone ignores my remote and just start going like crazy, and crash into my lawn… giving it some last spins of a great lawn-mower that both puts the engines to a complete stop, and paints my propellers with a nice and fresh shade of natural green…

Grass on a phantom lawn mower propeller

But at least, it made its first flight…

After a relatively quick recharge, I’m ready for my next attempt, still not realizing that my backyard is probably the worst place to practice flying a GPS oriented drone!

This time my daughter was around to document my attempts.

And since a video worth a thousand words:

One of the landings (or should I say crashing) ended up on one of the small rocks in my backyard and broke the camera holder…. good thing I was smart enough to practice without a camera (and of course I didn’t get my camera yet…. but… I promise I wouldn’t have tried it with the camera at this point… trust me… really…. no really….)



2. Gravity

Previously: A boy learns about flying objects…

I got my package with my new dji Phantom, but my camera was still finding its way to me.

Meanwhile I learned the basics of the drone, it’s feature, the controls, GPS, propellers, etc.

Before my drone will be able to fly for the first time, I was about to make any possible mistake in the book…

First, I plugged the battery pack to the included balanced charger, just to learn a few hours later that I didn’t plug the smaller plug to the charger, so 3 hours wasted already.

Next, I had to update the firmware on it, but it can’t run on a Mac and my Windows 8.1 desktop didn’t allow it to install due to drivers signing issues, so I had to reboot Windows into a special mode that skips the drivers signature check…. Did I mentioned it took me 5 times of install and remove to figure this out.

Finally I was able to update the firmware and was ready to try my first flight.

Reading on the web how stupid it is to fly it indoors, I decided to start in my backyard. When you live in Arizona, saying backyard is like saying a pool… So my backyard area is very tight… In addition I have this huge tree that is great to block the desert’s sun, here in the valley of the sun… Guess what else will be blocked by my lovely tree? GPS Signal!

Yes, my first flight was in an area that had a tree on one side, a pool on the other side and walls and windows on all the other sides, plus some columns, cause how else will the patio’s roof will stand in place???

But wait, there is more….

I found a nice spot, far enough from the pool, the tree and the house, and was ready to kick off the engines by setting the joysticks into one of the “on” sequences …

The rotors start spinning, I push the left stick up to see some elevation for the first time, and …. Nothing, as if my drone refuse to take off. The farther I push the stick, the louder it gets and it feels like it has fear of heights and it just holds to the ground as hard as it can…

After a few attempts it hit me…. What other mistake could I possibly make? Of course, I reversed the propellers and put the CW on the CCW motors, and the CCW on the CW motors, making sure my drone will try to fly INTO the ground.

As I was back at my desk swapping propellers around, I remembered how surprised I was while installing them for the first time of the amount of force it took to screw them in!!!

Ok, now I think I’m ready to fly it again, but not before I’ll have to recharge the battery! This Time I made sure I didn’t forget to plug the little connector to the charger….