Aerial photography has become a pinnacle part of my photography for the past year. I love the perspective it offers. As you may recall if you read my review on the DJI Inspire 1, I’ve had a few multi rotors over the last year and it seems like there’s never a one-size-fits-all solution.
Having gone from a 550mm hexacopter to a 680mm hexacopter down to a DJI Inspire 1 quad copter, you’d think I’d have enough options for any situation. But what happens when you’re packing for a 3 week trip to Europe where size and weight is the primary concern but also want good image quality? What do you do? I plan to do a lot of hiking, will be carrying my camera gear (loaded up around 30 pounds) and also need to take my 22 pound space suit with me occasionally… so size and weight are of the upmost importance.
My goal was to fly my Canon EOS M, that weighs just under 400 grams (396) with the 22mm F2.0 lens, a battery and a memory card. I thought about just getting a phantom or a small quad with a built in camera instead, but those options left my soul utterly sad, so I kept searching. I had motors, props, a NAZA v2, and receiver from my first F550 that had wrecked, so I figure I should find a small frame that I could stuff those motors onto. After some exploring, my friend Ben Stineman from Rotor Visual discovered the DYS 320 folding quadcopter.
First, Ben got excited and and bought his own DYS 320 to play with and make sure our idea was feasible. Here it is on its maiden flight. As it shipped, it came with 6″ props on 2300 KV motors with 20A ESC’s. This would be great for a racer (which I might buy another one to do), but I needed a heavy lifter. So out with the old, in with the new.
Here’s the mad scientist, Ben, working away on our little franken-quad.
And inside this 17.8″ x 6″ x 12.8″ box fits EVERYTHING I need for my portable aerial photography solution.
What we see here is a Futaba T8J, an RX-LCD5802 LCD monitor/receiver, 2 x 2200mah batteries (soon to be 3700mah), and the heavily modified DYS 320, AKA “LEM” (Lunar Excursion Module (you’ll see why)), and that open spot will be where the EOS M has a place to sit.
See those mega motors? Now we’re talking!
“Why does that have four folding antennas on the bottom?” you might ask… well let me show you!
BAM! Folding antennas, think not! Let’s call these retractible, lightweight, folding landing gear! We had to drill in further on the slots to get the slots to line up with the motor mounts, but that was fairly quick.
And here it is all mounted up with a Canon EOS M. I didn’t have a banana for scale, so I put it next to this 1/72 scale model of the Apollo capsule. So to get an idea of it’s size, just imagine that Apollo model 72 times bigger, then picture it next to it…
Here’s a better representation of scale, the Inspire 1. Notice the inspire has no props on and the LEM does… it’s significantly smaller and lighter.
AUW of 1286 grams… not bad. That will go up 100 grams more when we fly with the 3700mah battery, and we’re going to use 8060 props on that as well. With that combo we should get almost a 10 minute flight time! As is, we’re getting around 6 or 7 minutes of light flying.
So, for now this is our only video of it… haha we used the battery that we had been setting up the NAZA on, so it was pretty much dead already. I do promise you, it does fly, and fairly well… I’ve put 3 flights on but am saving it knowing it will inevitably come down in a terrifying manner. Just trying to get good use out of it until then…
And here you have it, one happy (or scared?) aerial photographer, ready for Europe!
Here I am. April 2015 looking back at 2014. I’m sitting at the airport waiting to catch a plane to Asia as I begin my 4 week journey through 4 countries with a non-profit effort, Global Populace. I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but how can it get better from here? I had un unbelievable year last year, and I’m looking forward to an even more exciting 2015. In 2014, I developed my series “Everyday Astronaut”, shot my first wedding outside of the United States (Ethiopia), and shot 7 weddings out of Iowa as well. I’m excited to share with you a few of my favorite pictures from 2014.
Quick note, this post is also the debut of my new logo/watermark! Thanks to my incredibly talented friend, Sara Fitzgerald (Quirk Creative) for the fun, new look!
The day after New Years day, Audrey and I hopped on a flight for our first international wedding. Of all places we would’ve guessed, we would’ve never imagined we’d be going to Ethiopia! We were in for a wonderful surprise! Read more about Ethiopia and Rediate and Fitsum’s wedding here.
We were awakened by the beautiful sites and people in Ethiopia.
Rediate was a beautiful bride. The blend of two cultures on her wedding day was stunning.
Ethiopia was a unique experience due to the country’s rapid explosion into the 21st century. There were many juxtapositions we witnessed, including this moment when Rediate and Fitsum drove past shanties on their wedding day.
On the way home we made a layover in Istanbul. I didn’t know much about Istanbul before I went there but knew it sounded fun. It ended up being one of my favorite cities I’ve ever visited and made our list of destinations to revisit.
While In Istanbul, we did an engagement session for a childhood friend of mine, Megan, who now lives in Istanbul with finance Bilal. There were endless beautiful photo opportunities in the city that combines European and Asian cultures.
SpaceX Falcon 9, CRS-3, April 18th, 2014. In April I had my first opportunity to shoot a rocket in Florida. I did my first shoot with www.spaceflightnow.com and have continued to have opportunities to shoot with them since–a childhood dream!
My good friend Jeremy Spring went all out with me for his engagement session with his wife-to-be, Kaila, in Wichita.
We hauled a piano around downtown Wichita for some unique photo opps. (As heavy as it looks).
Jeremy & Kaila were happy to be my guinea pigs & let me be creative to get some unique shots.
My friend Valerie had a gig in Des Moines for a weekend, so we took the opportunity to update her promo pics. She’s a professional drummer and was on tour with Bonnie McKee and Karmin.
And next thing you know, weddings were coming in full swing. We lucked out with a beautiful weekend in May for our first wedding back home with Blake and Erin.
And next thing you know we’re out of state shooting long-time friends Amelia and Dylan’s timeless wedding in Milwaukee. Such a cool city & couple!
The next weekend we were off to a wedding in Indiana. One of Melanie and Christian’s bridesmaids was unable to attend due to her chemo treatment schedule. It was so emotional watching Melanie’s brother, Nick, Facetime in her absentee best friend and walk her down the aisle.
Melanie and Christian’s wedding was celebrated in a beautiful rustic barn in the Indiana countryside.
The next weekend we crossed the Mississippi again for Steve and Sara’s Chicago wedding. We did one of our first ever day-after-the-wedding photo shoots, which made extra time to get creative!
We got home just in time to catch our friend Caitlin’s proposal to her girlfriend Jamie. We can’t wait for their wedding this summer when we’re sure we’ll witness Caitlin cry for several hours… haha
I had the opportunity to do a little more commercial work in 2014. Here my friend Taylor Morris modeled EZ Access’ mobile ramp system on a job site downtown Cedar Falls.
We get in the habit of shooing people out of the background of pictures, but Kaitlin’s mom’s reaction was just too priceless to interrupt.
Not one minute later, Kaitlin’s flower girl made us melt as she asked for a kiss from the “princess” :)
Next thing you know we’re back in Wichita for Jeremy’s wedding. We had to wait out bouts of rain, but we were able to capture some fantastic shots in between the downpours. These guys have been through it all together…there’s got to be a metaphor in there somewhere.
Jeremy’s first look featured a song he wrote the night before for his wife Kalia. Between me and you, the best part was when he was waiting for her to come up to him, he may or may not have slightly peed his pants in excitement…. Shhhh
I went straight from Wichita to California to catch NASA’s OCO-2 satellite mission carried by a Delta II rocket at Vandenberg Air-force Base for Spaceflight.com The visibility was less than 50 feet due to thick fog, so I’ll consider myself lucky my remote cameras on the launch pad caught anything!
My cousin got married to his beautiful wife, Kelsey, at the beginning of July. Despite having spent my entire 29 years in Cedar Falls, I was still inspired to try a new shot in front of our historic Blackhawk Hotel.
A full moon topped off Tyler and Kelsey’s picturesque wedding. I came up with a fairly natural lighting scheme to help show the moon, which as you can imagine I was very excited about.
Despite being downtown Cedar Falls the next weekend, we found a new twist right off Main Street with Shawn and Peter. Sometimes the back allies make for stunning backdrops, but it doesn’t hurt to have models for subjects either ;)
Lanie wanted to have a special moment with her mom as she put her dress on, which lent the possibility for a first look with her bridesmaids. I loved how this turned out and will continue to do it when the opportunity arrises!
In another first for us, Rachel adorned herself with 8 adorable flower girls. We thought this was so stinking cute. We hope to see this again!
Maria and Anoaur snuck away with us for a minute just offsite of their beautiful and intimate wedding in the Galena Territories in Illinois.
I spent several hours carrying a ladder downtown Cedar Falls and manually stitching together each block of my quaint downtown. I sold the pictures at a local art show with a very positive response from the community.
We shot my friend Travis’ wedding back home. We did a quick shoot at sunset and got some incredible results.
Travis surprised Katie during their first dance with a confetti canon. It made for an awesome reaction and picture!
My friends Jon and Hailey drove up from Wichita for a unique photoshoot. They let me go out of the box with their pictures, which was really fun :) Not pictured: their Life Aquatic themed photos.
We caught some beautiful light for Rachel and Dana’s engagements. Their dog made for a fun addition :)
Rachel & Kyle got married at Cedar Ridge winery and distillery near Cedar Rapids, Iowa. We had a beautiful day shooting.
Like I said, a beautiful day shooting :)
I couldn’t deny my sister and her family a photoshoot as she neared the birth of her third child. This one was my favorite and captures the family of 4 one last time :)
A vintage tandem made for a fun addition to Alexis and James’ wedding. They even managed to ride the bike down the path, and somehow Alexis’ dress didn’t get caught!
Another commercial shoot, this time for Schofield Chiropractics in Cedar Falls.
Brianna and Justin set up for a beautiful picnic inspired shoot in Charles City, Iowa.
I got really into the world of aerial photography in 2014. I loved this shot of downtown Cedar Falls with a Ferrari 458 passing by.
It was fun to get back with Taylor Morris and his finance, Danielle Kelly, for their engagement photos.
Caitlin and Jamie’s engagement shoot on a beautiful fall evening.
I shot some live pictures for my friends in the band Into it/Over it when they came through town.
Ivy and Matt’s wedding in Dubuque started off at Dubuque’s beautiful River walk.
After the ceremony, Ivy & Matt stopped at Park Farm winery near Dubuque. The perfect fall day.
Matt and Sarah’s family pictures in the Iowa countryside. Always a favorite!
Ruby & Blake had a classy wedding featuring a beautiful vintage car. I’m a sucker for vintage cars :)
The light was perfect all day!
Another fun family shoot out in the country with the Stolz’s. Such a sweet family!
My adorable niece, Lia, was born on a beautiful fall day.
The year ended with an incredible experience as I got the opportunity to shoot NASA’s next manned space craft, Orion, on it’s maiden test flight in Florida. The launch was scheduled right at dawn, but sadly the rocket didn’t go off on the first attempt. At least the sunrise alone was worth it!
The next morning I caught a full moon setting over NASA’s 525 foot tall Vehicle Assembly building. What a beautiful site.
Right on time this time, EFT-1 left the launch pad at 7:05 a.m.
I had the chance to set up another remote camera down at the Apollo test pad. This represents the next manned program, Orion, taking off through the remains of the Apollo test site.
No time to rest, I had to zip straight from Florida to Kansas for the last wedding of the year. Jon and Hailey’s wedding in a vintage theatre near Wichita.
Not in any order, but 2014 marked the start of my “Everyday Astronaut” series. I obtained a Russian space suit in November of 2013, and come spring 2014, I started shooting my first two series. The series was well received and was featured on many popular websites around the world. Flickr even flew me out to NYC for an interview as I was featured as their Artist of the Week.
Keep up with Everyday Astronaut on Instagram @EverydayAstronaut
It just isn’t the same
“That’s one small step(ladder) for man”
“If Felix can do it, I can do it.”
“Testing my glider re-entry system.”
“Keep exploring friends.”
To see more photos from each shoot featured in this post, visit Tim Dodd Photography’s page on Facebook here.
To those of you who frequent my website, this post might seem a little out of your interest, but this post is for you. I want you to be excited about what’s happening right now, what it means for the future of spaceflight, and how today’s technology is fulfilling 1950’s sci-fi imaginations.
Sunrise the morning of Orion EFT-1, December 4th, 2014.
You don’t have to go far in my portfolio to witness my recent obsession with space. Whether it be my Everyday Astronaut series (Instagram), seeing pictures from one of the four launches I’ve attended in the past year, or just seeing me on the streets wearing NASA shirts every day, it’s pretty obvious. But why now? The space shuttle is gonzo, the United States is buying seats for their astronauts from Russia, and the Orion/SLS program really has nowhere to go. But here’s why: we’re at a huge turning point and things are about to get AWESOME.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 v1.1 with landing legs CRS-3, 2014. Those HUGE things on the sides are deployable landing legs.
If you haven’t heard of Elon Musk and his crazy rocket company, SpaceX, welcome to 2015, you’ve been asleep for the past 10 years. His 12 billion dollar rocket company is currently on contract with NASA, sending supplies up to the international space station (ISS). SpaceX also won one of two contracts to send US astronauts up to the ISS in 2017. It’s a pretty big deal that a private company is doing what used to take entire nations.
SpaceX Falcon 9, CRS-3, April 18th, 2014.
But here’s where it’s about to get crazy….
They’re attempting to land the first section of their 20 story tall Falcon 9 rocket vertically on a huge boat in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. Why is this important? If you’ve ever wondered why space exploration is so expensive, it’s because every traditional rocket ever flown (not the Space Shuttle) is discarded in the Atlantic ocean. That makes spaceflight extremely expensive. Elon Musk compares it to throwing away an airplane after each flight. If that were the case, no one could afford to fly today.
January 14, 2015, SpaceX made their first attempt of landing on their Automated Spaceport Barge Ship (ASDS). It sadly got misconstrued by the media as a crash landing, a failure, or a “waste of taxpayers money.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. SpaceX has been developing this technology on their own dollar and brilliantly testing their landing procedures after the primary mission has been fulfilled. In other words, they got hired to get something into space, as long as that is completed, they can do whatever they want with the remnants. So while customers are paying them to launch a payload into orbit, they’ve been attempting to land the first part of the rocket back on earth, virtually free of additional cost.
Despite how violent this looks, it’s actually a huge success. It doesn’t take much beyond the raw numbers to understand how incredible even hitting the barge is. The rocket is at 300,000 feet traveling at over 4,000 mph when it begins its decent. It does three precisely controlled burns on it’s way down to maneuver and control its descent. The Falcon 9 v1.1 is fitted with landing legs and control fins to help steer the rocket on decent. To hit something the size of a football field without wings while traveling at mach 6 from that altitude is simply amazing. They would have probably made a successful soft landing if they hadn’t run out of the hydraulic fluid that powered the control fins. Without the control fins, they were unable to maintain a stable vertical position and therefore couldn’t control the landing.
So not only have they had to develop a whole new system for landing a rocket, they also needed to invent a way to land a rocket far away from population and return it. Seeing as NASA/Cape Canaveral aren’t too keen on having companies shooting 13 story missiles at their base, they’re required to make a successful landing or two out at sea before they’re given permission to try to land on the ground.
This brings us to what I think might be one of the most underrated and most unusual developments the space program has seen in a long time. The Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS). Elon Musk lovingly named it “Just Read the Instructions,” after Iain M. Banks’ Sci-Fi book, “The Player of Games.” This 300 x 170 foot barge is held stable by 4 stabilizers that can keep it level and steady even in massive waves.
SpaceX’s Automated Spaceport Drone Ship ASDS “Just Read the Instructions” at the end of March, 2015
Space X has only attempted one landing attempt in January on the barge to date. They had another opportunity in February with the launch of DSCOVR, but unfortunately, with 30 foot waves, they deemed it too dangerous to attempt a landing. Ever since then, rumor has it they have been outfitting the ship with more serious stabilizers to keep it steady in even the most extreme conditions.
Disclaimer: The operator of the UAS obeyed all laws including being outside of a 5 mile radius of any airport, flying under 400 feet, flying within line of site, and not flying over populated areas.
Their next landing attempt will be with CRS-6, currently slated for April 13th. You’d better believe I’ll be glued to the webcast and to www.spaceflightnow.com waiting to hear if it landed.
SpaceX thinks all this effort will be worth it. They hope that by proving a rocket can be reusable, they can reduce the cost 1/10th! That would be massive. I’m excited knowing we’re getting close to a new era of spaceflight — one that is so commonplace it’s exciting again. A future where we expect to hear about exciting launches happening every day to distant places in our solar system and constant trips to low earth orbit. Soon the well off will be able to purchase flights to space hotels. It might be another 30 years, but with companies like SpaceX taking it into their own hands, we really might be on the right path.
I’ll leave you with this picture. This is NASA’s first test flight of their new manned capsule, Orion. The wall in the foreground is from the test site of the Apollo program which took man to the moon. Hopefully someday we’ll look at Orion as an amazing spacecraft that helped take us to new worlds.
I keep meaning to post reviews about my gear. I’ve been lucky enough to shoot years with some of the best lenses in the world. I hold strong opinions on them and rarely does that opinion make it beyond my own inner dialogue.
This time I’m doing it right away. This morning, March 3rd, 2015, I got that ever exciting knock on the door from my Fed-Ex guy. In his hands was a much bigger box than I had envisioned. What lies within it is Canon’s newest drool-worthy lens, the 11-24mm F4L.
Quick note: I’m not here to give you the exact technical run down. I’m going to tell you what my thoughts as a working professional are on this lens. I will interject my opinions on when to use it and how I see myself using it here forth. If you’re looking for MTF charts and barrel distortion tests, you won’t find it here. If you want to see REAL LIFE examples when using this lens compared to the Canon 14mm F2.8L and the 24mm F1.4L, you’re right at home, read on.
Immediately, I was stunned by the sheer size of the box. There’s no way a lens with a maximum focal length of 24mm’s could take up this big of a box… right?
Lo and behold this thing is just simply a beast. It dwarfs other L lenses of similar focal length in both weight and overall size. According to Canon, the weight is 2.6 pounds (1.18 Kg). That is almost double the weight of the Canon 14mm F2.8L, which weighs in at 1.42 (645 grams). As a matter of fact, it weighs nearly the same as the two lenses I was hoping to replace in my bag when doing travel photography, the 14mm F2.8L and the 24mm F1.4L.
About that weight and size, it feels great. My 5D MK III feels well weighted and the lens fits great in your hands. It’s a little more front heavy than you’d expect, probably due to that massive front element.
The rear element supports drop in gel filters. This is due to the large and odd shape of the front element.
Putting the 11-24 on a Canon EOS M is a hilarious proposition. As you can see in the above picture, the 14mm (which used to look huge) now looks comically small. The 11-24 feels proportional (although massive) on the 5D MK III but it looks downright silly on the EOS M.
The zoom ring and focus ring are EXTRA tight, which I LOVE. Knowing how the tightness wears out after a few years of good use, the tighter it is day 1, the better for me. It leads to easy liveview focusing when you’re trotting around trying to dial in focus perfectly.
Autofocus is your typical Ultrasonic motor fast. Nothing extra spectacular here, but first impressions it seems to nail focus much more accurately than the 14mm F2.8L, which you’ll see in a few upcoming examples.
So we’ll start off with my previous go-to for ultra wide angle lenses, the 14mm F2.8L. (Click for a full resolution JPEG)
So what’s 14mm actually look like compared to 11mm? Let’s see…
Woah. 11mm’s on a full frame is pretty crazy. I know this looks like a large patio area, but it’s truly not a large space. Notice, there does appear to be a little extra lens vignette compared to the 14mm. That’s easy to fix though. (Click for a full resolution JPEG)
The 11-24 appears to do a better job of controlling chromatic aberration than the 14mm. The tree appears to have retained a little better detail, but let’s get in closer to see if that holds true. (Click for full resolution JPEG)
(LEFT) 14mm F2.8L vs (RIGHT) 11-24mm F4L So, on closer inspection, the 14mm seems to be much sharper, but the 11-24 has less pink fringing. This is a tight crop of the very top left corner of the lens.
So, the 14mm appears to out resolve the 11-24mm in the corners, but how about the center? To be honest, this could’ve been down to my manual focus abilities in liveview. Regardless, let’s peek at the center.
(LEFT) Canon 14mm F2.8L vs (RIGHT) Canon 11-24mm F4L
Again, to be honest, this could be down to my manual focus abilities, but they both appear pretty excellent in the center. The 11-24 does an excellent job of controlling fringing/chromatic aberration. You can clearly see in the railings against the white sky a lack of any additional color on the edges.
What about compared to my truest work horse, the 24mm F1.4L II? It can’t possibly hold up against one of Canon’s sharpest lenses, can it?
The 11-24 looks great out on its 24mm end. (Click for full resolution JPEG)
One of my favorite lenses of all time, the 24mm F1.4L II. (Click for full resolution JPEG)
Before we move onto the crops of these two photos, notice the 24mm F1.4L appears to have a little more barrel distortion compared to the 11-24. I’m very surprised by this. Canon seems to have tamed the distortion very well on the zoom.
(LEFT) 11-24mm F4L vs (RIGHT) 24mm F1.4L Notice the exposure difference. Although I took these pictures back to back, I think the vignette of the 11-24 makes the stairs appear to have a little more contrast. Sharpness is on par with the Canon’s sharpest wide prime.
(LEFT) 11-24mm F4L vs (RIGHT) 24mm F1.4L Again, the exposures seem a little different (although they weren’t), lighting could have changed a bit between the two minutes as clouds were moving fairly quickly. But again, the 11-24 appears to have a little more contrast. Again, detail is on par. Considering the 11-24 is shooting wide open (F4), this is impressive.
So, it seems to really fare well against two of Canon’s best wide angle primes, the 24mm F1.4L II and the 14mm F2.8L II. This is important when I consider packing a bag for two weeks of travel in Europe. My biggest fear would be compromising image quality for an all-in-one solution. When I’m doing travel photography, F stop is less relevant than in portrait/event photography. I use a tripod often, and I can hold the shutter open long enough that the F4 doesn’t faze me as much. Knowing the extra “legs” the lens has with its 11mm focal length is worth the drops in F stops. It’s something I can’t achieve elsewhere.
Canon 24mm F1.4L II (Click for full resolution JPEG)
Canon 14mm F2.8L II (Click for full resolution JPEG)
Canon 11mm – 24mm F4L (Click for full resolution JPEG)
Notice the 11mm is so wide it’s even getting the edge of the building I’m standing NEXT to! I did not expect to see that building in my shot. It’s insanely wide. So wide, it will be impossible to get people out of your shot sometimes.
Due to the cloud movement, we have to ignore exposure a little bit. BUT, the 11mm still appears to have a decent amount of vignetting visible. Luckily for us, vignetting is easy to fix, and sometimes even a little desirable. Once Canon has a lens profile for this lens, they’ll be able to fix the inherent vignette so you don’t have to even worry about it in post.
Another side note is all of these shots were using autofocus on the same point (just above the center). This was to show how accurate the autofocus was right out of the box. I’ve tried to dial in the 14mm F2.8L II many times and have always struggled with beyond 20 feet accuracy. It looks like the 11-24 hit focus much better than the 14mm.
(Update: 4/15/2015) After a few months of shooting with the 11-24, I can confirm at F4 it has pretty severe vignetting at 11mm. Again, lucky for us, vignetting is very easy to fix. See below examples:
I do a decent amount of real estate pictures for local realtors. This would be a fairly typical shot with my old 14mm. Size matters and every realtor and their clients want the inside of their house to look as big as possible. Look how big this room looks when we go from 14mm to 11mm. (Click for full resolution JPEG)
The room appears to have grown a few feet back. It doesn’t appear much wider, but we have magically made it appear much larger. This is the ultimate for indoor spaces. This would certainly be the best lens available for shooting houses. Realtors, either fork up the $3,000 for this lens and another $2000 for a full frame camera to utilize it, or hire someone who has it. Use it right and you’ll be able to sell houses like none other. (Click for full resolution JPEG)
Here’s a case of how we can use wide angles wrong. This table is perfectly square, but having shot it at an off angle it appears to be a strange polygon.
To make that effect even worse, here it is at 11mm. The square table is almost un recognizable as a square. Make sure and line up your shots to keep lines square with each other, so as not to completely confuse the viewer. Shooting pleasant shots with a wide angle is actually very difficult.
It’s hard to express how close the camera was to the soda can, so here’s a shot with my iPhone. Not at all what it looked like in the shots, right?
So to sum up: Canon has produced a lens that’s as sharp or sharper than its prime counterparts. Although slower (F stop wise). It has chromatic aberration and distortion well under control. Vignetting is probably its biggest fault. But, that’s probably the easiest thing to have fixed in post, so I’m not shaken by that.
It’s a heavy, big lens that might be intimidating to some. It’s very front heavy–so heavy in fact it fell out of my shoulder bag already…
Luckily the replacement lens cap is only $25, but it’s currently unavailable. *Face in palm*
I’ll be using this lens primarily for architectural and real estate shoots. It’ll also be a travel companion, although I don’t use wide angle lenses for my landscape shots. It also won’t replace my 24mm F1.4L for weddings and events because I need the additional brightness of the prime. There’s just too many times that I’m hand holding at F1.4, ISO 3200, 1/50th of a second and I have NO room for a slower F stop, let alone a lens that lets in 8 times less light.
In case you don’t know how the F-stop scale works, going from F1.4 to F2.0 is half as much light. From F2.0 to F2.8 is another half, and again going from F2.8 to F4.0. So again, I won’t be replacing my F1.4 with an F4 any time soon. But going out to 11mm is unheard of, and because of that, it will have a place in my bag.
My first weekend with the Inspire 1 was outstanding. That’s what we did with the Inspire 1 right out of the box…. Impressive, huh? Keep reading, it only gets better.
A little background: I’ve been flying DIY multirotor “drones” for around a year. Like so many others, I’ve been taking to the skies to capture images that were only available to passengers of manned aircraft only a few years ago. When I first looked into buying a system, I think I did it a little backwards. I knew what camera I wanted to fly with, my Canon EOS M, and bought a DIY DJI F550 kit to lift it. It required many modifications to carry a camera as heavy as mine as well as many heart aches when the payload was exceeded and my expensive equipment would take nasty spills. With each spill would come new, bigger equipment and soon my modest F550 turned into a massive heavy lifter that could easily lift 5 pounds for 12 minutes. Eventually, the upkeep and system maintenance got to me. Although I only crashed 3 times in a year, I was getting sick of constantly making repairs and tweaks to keep my fidgety system in the air.
I wasn’t new to RC aircraft either, I had 3 years of RC helicopter experience already in my portfolio, I was just experiencing the woes of a DIY set up.
I had been asked on a few occasions to try and capture decent video from the sky. That’s what just never worked out. I was constantly trying to balance gimbals, isolate vibrations and some how control the camera set up from ground stations. It just wasn’t working for me. The video quality, even with an EOS-M and a GoPro Hero 4, were very subpar. Not that the output couldn’t be excellent from either solution, it’s just the relationship to my set up wasn’t satisfactory.
I remember seeing the release of the DJI inspire 1 last year and thinking “MEH.” Very “MEH.” In fact, I wrote it off as an over priced, gimmicky toy. Ooooo look at that cool leg thing, LAME. Then I saw a little review video pop up online. It really caught my attention. The video quality straight out of the box looked amazing, the controller had so many cool options, a two man operation looked simple and intuitive… Considering it has been 4 months since I last flew my hexacopter, I figured if a turnkey solution would get me more reliable and easy flights, it’d be worth it! I feel like we have a narrow window of being able to fly these things easily before the FAA cracks down and grounds them for us “semi professionals.”
After a little stint of shopping, I finally found a vendor who could ship one out in about a week. Friday, February 6th, 2015, the box finally arrived. What awaited inside was a huge surprise.
Right out of the box I was blown away. The first thing that stood out to me was it’s weight. It’s hard to believe something so heavy can fly so gracefully. The build quality is simply outstanding. I have seen a few videos where it looked like the camera was extremely loose. It is wiggly, but that’s because of it’s excellent vibration dampers that keep it isolated from the craft.
The landing gear’s internal motor and mechanism is beautifully crafted. I couldn’t get over how sturdy everything feels.
The next thing that stood out was the controller. It’s very well weighted and ergonomic. All the switches and dials feel excellent and are easy to reach. Again, another thumbs up on the controller for being better than I had expected.
Even the phone/tablet holder is well thought out to be able to support almost any sized device.
My iPhone 6 sitting in the cradle perfectly.
An iPad mini (gen 1) sitting in the holster. Side note: The mini isn’t recommended as video playback will suffer due to it’s slower processor. For iPad use, look to the mini 2 or 3 or the Air 2.
DJI’s attention to detail is applaud worthy. They even included battery warmers to attach for when you have to fly below freezing temperatures.
It wasn’t until after we had spent a weekend flying that I finally tried plugging in a second monitor to the HDMI output.
The on screen display of the HDMI output. Notice, it is the same thing the camera operator will see. So if the operator is looking away from the direction of travel, you won’t be able to fly FPV. I really hope DJI makes a second FPV camera soon. That would make me so happy.
Even the included case is pretty outstanding. Fairly small, but able to hold a lot of spare batteries, a spare controller and the load of spare props. The Inspire 1 even came with TWO sets of props!
The 4k camera included with DJI Inspire 1. Its modular attachment means the camera will be upgradeable over time. Making the Inspire 1 a little more future proof.
It even included a nice little case for the camera. When you pack the Inspire 1 into it’s case, the camera needs to be disconnected and the drone needs to go into “travel mode.” This makes it lie completely flat. DJI even included a 16gb micro SD card. A welcome extra.
So, how about that camera? That was the all important question for me as a photographer. Would it perform anywhere near my EOS M with a 12mm F2.0 Rokinon lens on it? You be the judge.
Downtown Cedar Falls Iowa aerial photography DJI Inspire 1 DNG edited Tim Dodd Photography raw picture. Wow. Yes, the scenery is stunning, but so is that little camera. ISO 116, F2.8 and 1/25th of a second.
Downtown Waterloo Iowa. ISO 197, F2.8 and 1/25th shutter speed.
400 feet above downtown Cedar Falls. ISO 100, F2.8, 1/240th.
ISO 982, F2.8, 1/5th of a shutter speed. YES, 1/5th of a second. That’s just how stable this thing is. We’ll get into that in just a minute. Fairly clean for such a high ISO.
So, initial thoughts are fantastic. So how does the still camera compare to my old setup? I used to fly with an EOS M and either a 22mm F2.0 lens or a 12mm F2.0 lens. Here’s a few examples…
ISO 100, F5.6 and 1/500th shutter speed. Rokinon 12mm F2.0 for Canon EOS M
ISO 400, F5.6, 1/200 shutter speed. Rokinon 12mm F2.0 for Canon EOS M
The takeaway? I think they’re both great. I think the output of an EOS is superior to the Inspire 1’s camera. BUT, and this is important, the DJI camera is WAY better. Why? Did you notice that one picture at night where it’s shutter speed is 1/5th of a second? I swear, when you fly this thing, it feels like you’re raising a long pole up into the sky. The thing just doesn’t move. The gimbal does an incredible job keeping things still. The raw DNG file off the camera has a decent amount of headroom to edit, however it does get pretty grainy after about ISO 400. But it’s still very usable.
So what if we had an excellent gimbal for an EOS M that could hold it still? Well, I tried. I tried 3 different gimbals and 3 different control boards. I could never get it to work 1/10th as good as the Inspire’s gimbal. It just wouldn’t hold things nearly as still nearly as accurately no matter how well balanced. I thought about dropping some coin and getting a really good gimbal from DJI, but starting at over $1000, I felt that wouldn’t be the best route to go.
The other important thing is I have FULL control over the camera while it’s in the sky. If I need to make an adjustment to exposure, file type, ISO, white balance, ANYTHING, I can do while it’s in the air. No more landing to fiddle with focus and ISO or whatever else have you. I can easily switch to video quick like it’s no big deal.
So back to that highlight reel… Wow, right? Simply wow. I had maybe 30 previous flights with a multirotor RC before I shot this. It’s that easy. I wouldn’t say I’m a complete noobie, having previously flown RC helicopters for 3 years. I’d say I’m right in the middle. I’m not a professional pilot and I’m not an amateur. But the thing is so easy to fly, I could fly confidently knowing it would handle anything I threw at it.
So here’s our consensus on flying it and operating it.
For those of you YouTuber’s check out ^THIS VIDEO^ on our youtube channel, “The Astronaut and The Rapper.” Make sure and play it in 4k!
You’ll notice the weekend reel is color corrected and edited. My buddy out in LA, Patrick Lawler, did a great job editing the footage quick. Just so you can see them back to back, (what he is capable of) and what you can do to push the footage, here’s a side by side:
So, it can’t all be good, can it? Well, it pretty much is all good. The ONLY gripes I have are small, and hopefully, fixable.
1. I wish it could go into travel mode with out turning on the controller. Not a huge deal, but I’d just like to push a button on the Inspire 1 its self and transform into travel mode.
2. I REALLY wish it had a second camera for a full time FPV. I hear there’s possibility of an accessory coming someday that would be officially supported by DJI. Their video platform, lightbridge, is capable of two separate video feeds. Why they didn’t include a stationary 640×480 camera in the first place is beyond me. I would’ve paid $400 extra for it. With the incredible control the camera operator can have over the camera is great, but it can leave you with out a clue of where you’re going. A little of this can be solved by having two controllers. This way, controller can have a map on it (the operator) and the camera man can have the camera’s view. This would help a lot, but at $600, I’m not too keen on adding a second controller to my rig. It’d just be so great if they’d let us tap into that video input and be able to output via HDMI.
3. Hmmmm after a few minutes of thinking, I literally can’t think of a third thing. The closest I can think of is to have options for cameras, but I think that’s coming. The camera is a great gen 1 camera, but I’m very excited to see what else they come up with.
Who’s this for? It’s beyond a hobbyist. It’s too expensive and too capable to just fly around for fun (not that it isn’t fun). There’s much cheaper options if you just want to show off to your friends and get neat pictures of your neighborhood. The camera output isn’t quite good enough for a real aerial video crew either. It’s 4k is great, but wouldn’t pass on a feature film. This is for guys like me. Professional photographers or videographers who either didn’t think the Phantom was good enough for them, or didn’t want to go the DIY route. Maybe you’ve gone the DIY route and you got sick of it, like me. This is perfect for shooting commercials, real estate, indie films, music videos, or farm land surveys. Living in Iowa, I’m excited to try my hand at aerial farm survey’s this summer. This will be the perfect machine for it.
All in all, amazing. NOT a toy, and far more than the sum of it’s parts. With the steadiest gimbal I’ve ever seen, an easy to use interface, an outstanding controller, a carrying case, an incredible video transmitter solution, and an incredibly capable flying machine, it’s simply outstanding.
Thanks to my buddy Ben Hagarty for camera operating, editing videos and nerding out with me over the weekend. He’s going to shoot with me often with this as his talent for getting a shot is much appreciated. We have a new YouTube page, “The Astronaut & The Rapper” where we’ll be reviewing random gear in the future, so be sure and subscribe.