Drone photography

PureView drone photography 

Choose your drone and your shop

Suppose you own a Nokia 808 PureView and want to do “drone photography” on a budget, here’s how I did it. First I looked for a partner to share the adventure and to cut cost in half. I “conspired” with my photoclubfriend Peter van Doorne. He is always in for adventures and thinks perpendicular to my thinking so he is my ideal sparring partner. Initially I looked for a DJI Phantom drone but Peter van Doorne suggested a Blade 350 QX. On the internet we found: “The Blade 350 QX quadcopter is a solid package for anyone looking to get into aerial videography. It does not pack the same punch as the DJI Phantom series of quadcopters, but at its price point, $478 for a RTF (Ready To Fly) version it offers a decent value at the entry-level market”. Peter van Doorne found a shop “Modelbouw Bloemendaal” with the Blade 350 QX in stock. Bloemendaal is close by for us and the shop turned out to be a real specialist. The choise of a “physical” shop and not an “internet” shop proved to be important because we knew nothing about model airplanes and we had to ask many questions. But let’s first see how our setup looks:

On a budget, but photos with high IQ
The Nokia 808 PureView weights 170 grams; no problem for the Blade 350 QX. Our goal was not to make videos but just photos. We both want high quality photos be it that I go for “nature” and “people” and Peter van Doorne for “architecture” “garden” and “social”. I am rather experienced with the Nokia 808 PureView and I thought that the combination of low weight, big sensor, PureView technology and features should make the Nokia 808 PureView useful for drone photography. The results even surpassed our expectations.

The Blade 350 QX costs about half the price of a Phantom drone and an anti-vibration camera mount is included. That mount is based on rubber joints and has optimized dimensions for a GoPro camera. To this mount we fixed the Nokia 808 PV with rubber straps. The Nokia 808 PV has no optical image stabilisation but the rather basic rubber joint approach of the Blade mount proved to be sufficient. Our pictures show that a so called Gimbal construction (more axis gyroscope stabilisation) that costs between $ 300 and 400 is not necessary. At least not for drone photography during daylight. Next picture (from the manual) shows the details of the Blade camera mount.

Some air pictures
Before going into details how to set up your Nokia 808 PV and how to control your picture taking and fly your drone, I will show some air pictures to arouse your appetite. Click on the pictures for a fullscreen view. First a picture from about 15 m altitude of the wellknown Vondelpark in Amsterdam.

Next picture is taken in the dunes near Noordwijk the Netherlands. The next picture of a holiday ressort near De Zilk the Netherlands is taken from about 35 m altitude.Interesting reframing is possible because of the huge 808 pixel count. And below you can see where it came from:

I now add 2 pictures made by Peter van Doorne. You will notice his different approach. Click on the pictures to see how detailed they are.

How to set and operate your 808?
Unlike for Android and Apple smartphones there’s no app I know of for the 808 for WiFi liveview. That’s no problem because the 808 has a great interval feature. We set the interval to 5 sec and the number to 200; about 16 minutes. Sufficient because the battery life of the drone is max about 10 minutes. Focus is set to “infinity” and ISO to 50 or 100. ND filter is “off”, that’s to say in our country. Whitebalance is on auto. Normally exposure compensation is set to zero but I am planning to use minus 0.7 to pull more details out of the highlights. Aspect ratio is set to 16:9 to get the widest view and resolution is set to “full”. This means 34 MP with this aspect ratio. Peter van Doorne and I prefer to use full res to be able to maximize details for big prints. But for other work PureView at 8 MP is also very rewarding. Other JPG parameters can be set “to taste”. We start the interval sequence before powering on the drone. Initialisation of the drone (stabilize and find GPS position) can take 30 sec. so before take off you get about 6 groundpictures to delete later.

How to operate your drone?
You have to learn by by trial and error, that’s the only way. And be prepared that your drone will crash a few times in the beginning. So take off from grass and not from concrete or a stony surface. And don’t fly too high. Your drone can then take those crashes without damage. Do not yet attach your 808 while you are learning. But you will find out that flying is not difficult. You just need some practice. The Blade 350 QX has 3 different flying modes. I stronly advice to start in the smart mode. In smart mode you can go to the altitude you want and the drone will keep that altitude and also its GPS position. Once in that stable position it’s very easy to rotate the drone horizontally on its axis and make beautiful panoramas. This way your drone operates like a peculiar very high tripod. Many of the pictures I share here are made in this manner. 

It’s like shooting from the hip.
With our hardware configuration we don’t have live view of the pictures we take. But that does not mean that you have no control over your photograpy. A well known technique in streetphotograpy is “shooting from the hip”. You take candid images of people without looking through the viewfinder. Our approach is similar. The pictures you get are determined by the angle the 808 is looking to the ground, the altitude and the aspect ratio. We set the aspect ratio to 16:9. We set the angle under which the 808 looks down. The altitude varies. During practice you develop a feel for what your picture will look like. Like shooting from the hip.

These are the 2 maximum angle position that the anti vibration camera mount of the Blade 350 QX allows; “straight ahead” let’s say zero degree and “peeping position” let’s say 40 degree (no rocket science!) to the vertical axis.
I took 12 test pictures from exact the same location at 4 different angles (zero, 13, 26 and 40 degree) and at 3 different altitudes (altitudecontrol at 1/2, 3/4 and full position). Next you see the results.

These tests helped me a lot to predict how my pictures would look like.

On Flickr we have a gallery with an increasing number of PureView drone pictures. You can see them as a fullscreen slide show clicking: GALLERY

Some closing remarks and tips
For the Blade 350 QX a wind force up to 4 Beaufort is no problem. It’s remarkable to see how well the drone holds its position even at wind force 4. But landing with wind force 4 needs some care.

You should avoid places with trees. Not only because of the danger of collision but also because I got the impression that the GPS signals are deflected.
And be careful about water. Rain water in view of the electronics and surface water because you don’t want your drone landing there.
With a full charged battery your drone will fly 10 minutes. But I limit it to max 8 minutes to keep on the safe side. And in 8 minutes you can make about 100 pictures with the 808 settings as described.
After the flight the nice moment comes that you transfer those 100 pictures to your computer and the thrill to see how your pictures come out.
Happy flying, happy shooting.

June 2014
Peter Meijs  



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