October 29th, 2015

An Early Look at Footage from the GoPro Drone

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 9.19.07 AM

We’ve known since May that GoPro was building its own drone.

While we have no new specifics on said quadcopter, we do have some sample footage from the company that purports to show off just how steady the camera stabilization system will be in flight.

The footage was captured using a Hero4 attached to an advanced prototype of the drone. GoPro says that the video hasn’t been stabilized in post.

The video looks smooth, although it doesn’t look like they flew their drone on a particularly windy day.

See for yourself:

October 26th, 2015

Prodrone Technology Takes on Phantom with Lightweight, Compact Drone


The drone market is buzzing with competitors and a new company threw its hat into the ring at PhotoPlus Expo.

China-based Prodrone Technology is entering the market with the Byrd drone.

So how does Prodrone aim to compete? Its drone is compact and lightweight at 4.2 pounds. In under a minute, a user can fold it up, pop off the camera/3-axis gimbal and stow it in a small backpack. It also promises a longer flying time than many of its competitors–up to 29 minutes in the air, depending on conditions.

The Byrd can stream an HD video feed to a mobile device, has follow me and return to home features and one button take off and landing. The Byrd can be operated solo but also supports two remotes, allowing one user to fly and the other to control the camera.

The drone can keep a payload of nearly 4.5-pounds aloft, so the company is exploring options for DSLR/mirrorless camera gimbals for the unit in addition to the GoPro gimbal which will be available at launch, said Daniel Monteil, U.S. Europe Marketing Manager, Prodrone.

The Byrd will be sold in three varieties.

The standard drone features an integrated 1080p HD camera  that can be swapped out for an optional GoPro and gimbal. The camera has a 16-megapixel sensor and supports HD recording up to 60 fps at 1080p. There’s also an option to record 720p video at 120 fps and snap 16-megapixel still images. Files are stored to a microSD card.

The standard Byrd has a 25-minute flight time. It can send an 720p/30 fps HD feed from up to 500m away. The app supports return-to-home, points of interest and route planning. It will retail for $949.

The advanced Byrd ($1,059) won’t have an integrated camera but will ship with a gimbal that supports a GoPro. It will have a longer flight time, up to 29 minutes, as well as longer and higher quality HD video transmission than the standard model–1080p/30 fps over a 2,000m distance. The drone also supports follow me.

The premium Byrd ($1,399) has all of the features of the advanced but will included a 12-megapixel camera with an f/2.8 lens and 3-axis gimbal. The camera supports 4K recording at 30 fps.

June 24th, 2015

Uber for Drones: Fly4Me Connects Pilots with Clients

A photo posted by fly4.me (@fly4.me) on

For all the popularity of drones, they’re far from a mass market product. Many users, even many photographers, may be leery of sending a flying robot into the air, lest it wind up on the White House lawn or on someone’s face.

That’s where Fly4Me comes in. It’s a new service that promises to link trained drone operators with paying clients–kind of like Uber for drones.

Drone owners use Fly4Me to create personalized profiles and bid on drone-related job offers, including aerial mapping, disaster surveillance but also photography and videography. Operators bring their own drone and get to keep 80 percent of any money earned. Any drone owner that wants to create a profile on Fly4Me has to undergo a safety certification process by the company first.

Fly4Me’s co-founder Adam Kersnoski told PDN that the company had obtained its 333 exemption from the FAA allowing commercial drone operations and that drone pilots using the service would be covered under that exemption.

The current exemption restricts the service to only using drone operators that fly a DJI Phantom 2, however Kersnoski told us the company’s lawyers were “already in the process of modifying [the FAA exemption] to exclude this restriction and add additional platforms.”


Fly4Me is based in Boston and is signing up drone operators throughout the country.

The company is planning to offer some interesting technology to customers who hire operators through the platform, including the ability to view flight results uploaded by the pilot, live-streaming from a drone’s camera, private communication between pilot and customer during flight and the ability for customers to select flight locations by pointing a pin on Google Maps.

(Lead image from left to right: Adam Kersnowski, co-founder; David Amatuni, designer; Dmitry Sharshunskiy, co-founder; Karina Dodor, attorney.)

April 15th, 2015

The Drones of NAB 2015

Flying cameras were big at NAB 2015.

The show’s dedicated aerial pavilian played host to a frequently packed audience of onlookers straining their necks skyward as drone vendors flew their wares in an enclosed cage.

Some are calling it “the drone rush.” Whatever you choose to call it, there will be plenty of air craft to choose from this year. Here are some highlights from the show.


3D Robotics Solo

The Solo is the first drone to support full remote control of GoPro cameras while also delivering live-streaming HD video to mobile devices. The drone can deliver a video stream to iOS and Android devices up to half a mile away. You can record the stream directly to your device’s camera role or use the HDMI output in the camera controller to output it to broadcast devices for live-streaming.

Thanks to a pair of Linux computers (one in the drone, the other in the controller), the Solo boasts a number of “intelligent” features that give the drone greater autonomy–enabling it to fly predesignated routes automatically or handle camera controls without user intervention. A Smart Shot, that lets you set up a shot in real-time which the Solo will execute on its own.

A Cable cam and Orbit setting allow you to create a flight path along a “virtual track” in space which the Solo will then fly while you focus strictly on the camera. You can also tell the Solo to fly the route and work the camera. A “Follow” mode programs the Solo to track the camera operator’s movements by locking into your mobile device. Solo also features a one-touch aerial selfie, because of course it does.

Its flight time is 20 minutes with GoPro and the included 3-axis gimbal attached.

Solo ships in May and is available for pre-order now for $999.


Freefly Systems

The company’s latest professional drone, the Alta, can mount professional cinema cameras up to 15 pounds in weight to either the top or bottom of the quadcopter. It boasts a flight time of 15 minutes and Freefly says it can be assembled and ready to fly in 15 minutes.

The Alta is a mostly Freefly-engineered affair. The company is now using its own flight controller instead of a third party system. The drone ships in June and is available for pre-order now for $8,495.

Dangling overhead in the Freefly booth, still in prototype form, was a Movi gimbal capable of holding a payload of 50 lbs. It was attached to an unannounced prototype drone that, presumably, will be able to carry a such hefty payload.


Yuneec Typhone

Yuneec showed off new Typhoon and Tornado drones.

The Typhoon series is aimed at hobbyists as well as pros. The new Typhoon Q-500+ ships with the ST-10+ Personal Ground Station that can maintain a control link with the drone from up to 800m away and a video stream from up to 600m. The ST-10+ has been updated to offer a larger 5.5 touch screen running an Android-based interface.

The Typhoon’s onboard camera sports a microphone and16-megapixel image sensor capable of 1080/60p video capture. The  fixed lens has a 130 degree field of view. It is mounted to a 3-axis gimbal. The drone’s camera can be detached and mounted to the company’s ProAction Steady Grip.

 Flight time is 25 minutes on a fully charged battery.

The Q500+ is available for pre-order now for $1,295.

Yuneec also unveiled the Tornado H920 hex-copter system designed for mounting a Panasonic GH4. The H920 has a flight time of 24 minutes and ships with a 24-channel transmitter with video link.



As the name implies, the Fotokite is a drone that stays tethered (kite-like) to the operator. The physical tether is meant to offer a safer, more reliable solution to prevent fly-aways, where a drone loses contact with a ground controller. The tether also has other virtues–it sends 1080p HD video down to the user and power back up.

There’s shoulder-worn battery back with interchangeable batteries so you could theoretically fly the Fotokite for hours, unlike conventional drones that tap out after 20 minutes.

Pricing and availability weren’t announced.

March 12th, 2015

The Best Drone Movies: NYC Drone Film Festival Crowns Winners

We’re still in the infancy of drone cinematography, but there’s more than enough content available now to start passing judgement on it.

The New York City Drone Film Festival wrapped up earlier this month and handed out awards, or “Dronies” in nine categories. To enter, films had to be five minutes or less with at least 50 percent of the footage captured using a drone.

A few of the winners, like “Superman with a GoPro,” may be recognizable from their days on the viral video circuit, but a few were new to us. We’ve included a few of the winning films below. The full list is here. (more…)

January 8th, 2015

The Photo Drones of CES 2015 Do the Flying for You


The FAA may be making uncomfortable noises in the direction of commercial drone photography, but that hasn’t stopped drone makers from hitting CES with several new products. Many of the photo drones at the show got their start on Kickstarter, where they successfully raised millions in 2014 with an eye toward shipping in 2015.

In fact, the Consumer Electronics Associations is expecting a banner year for drone sales, estimating the global market will grow 55 percent from 2014 to hit $130 million in revenue this year. In five years, drone revenues are projected to hit $1 billion.

What’s new for 2015’s crop of flying cameras is that this breed can operate without user intervention. Once you program them, they’ll follow a subject around without any further instruction. Welcome to the future.


AirDog showed off its auto-follow drone for GoPro cameras. The drone, which  is now available for pre-order for $1,295, can be programmed to autonomously follow a moving subject without any operator intervention.

The secret is the company’s Air Leash waterproof transmitter which can keep the drone locked on its holder up to 1,000 feet away. You program the drone to follow you and it can then keep pace with a subject moving as fast as 40 miles per hour. You can also program it to hover, circle or point the camera directly down.

Depending on your air speed, the AirDog will stay aloft for between 10 and 20 minutes. It weighs 4 pounds with GoPro, gimbal and battery.


Similar in spirit to the AirDog, the Hexo+ can also autonomously track a moving subject while carrying a GoPro aloft. It will be slightly cheaper than the AirDog, with a pre-order price of $1,149 and a ship date of September.

The drone is programmed using a smartphone app, which lets you set your desired framing. Unlike the AirDog, you won’t need to hold a remote to keep the Hexo+ on your tail and you’ll be able to choreograph more complex flight patterns using the app. It has a flight time of roughly 15 minutes and uses a brushless gimbal system to stabilize a GoPro (including the Hero4). It will ship standard with a 2D gimbal but you can upgrade to a 3D gimbal as well.


The Zano distinguishes itself by its tiny size and equally tiny price. At an expected retail price of $279, this palm-sized drone is infinitely cheaper than almost all competitors (even Parrot’s inexpensive Bebop). It sports a 5-megapixel integrated camera and is controlled via Wi-Fi from Android and iOS devices.  It uses Wi-Fi to stay tethered to the camera operator and can fly autonomously, tracking a moving subject within Wi-Fi range.

It will offer a removable battery and microSD card slot and will stay airborne for between 10 and 15 minutes. It’s expected to ship in June.

January 7th, 2015

DJI at CES: Gimbals Galore


Drone maker DJI tipped off CES attendees to four new products in the works for 2015.

While details are sparse, the company said it would offer a new mount that will let owners of the new Inspire 1 drone decouple the 4K camera from the drone for hand held use. It will offer two modes: one for tracking movement and another for keeping the camera locked.

The company also plans to launch a wireless thumb controller for its Ronin gimbal that combines a pressure sensitive joystick and an OLED display so  you to control the unit’s motion with a nudge of your thumb.

For owners of Sony’s A7 camera series, DJI is prepping  a 3-axis Zenmuse gimbal that will stabilize the cameras for drone photography (including the A7 Mark II, A7R and A7S).

Finally, DJI announced the H4-3D GoPro Hero4 Black edition gimbal for use on the Phantom 2 and Flamewheel systems.

thumb controller


November 12th, 2014

DJI One-Ups Phantom With More Powerful, 4K-Recording Inspire 1 Photo Drone



DJI has a new flying camera in its growing air force of drones.

Billed as a step-up for the Phantom 2 but smaller and more approachable than the Spreading Wings line, the Inspire 1 quadcopter will have more lift and stability than the Phantom thanks to its 13-inch propellers. It also sports something no other drone in its class currently does: an integrated 4K camera.

The camera uses a 12-megapixel Sony sensor and is capable of 4k/30p video recording and RAW still photo capture. In addition to 4K, the Inspire 1’s camera can record 1080p HD video with varying frame rates between 24 and 60 fps in either MOV or MP4 formats. It’s capable of burst shooting up to 7 fps.

There’s a fixed focus lens that’s threaded so you can screw in ND filters before you take flight. The camera rests on a 3-axis gimbal to maintain stability while airborne.

While the Inspire 1 won’t accept third party cameras, DJI’s Director of Aerial Imaging Eric Cheng tells us that the system is modular so that you can replace the camera in the future if and when DJI makes a new camera available for this platform.

The new drone features a design that transforms into a v-shape as it takes flight, allowing the camera to drop down below the landing gear giving it an unobstructed 360 degree field of view.

647A2339The Inspire 1 is stabilized using an optical flow package with a dedicated camera and ultrasonic sensors that helps orient the drone in the air indoors or without GPS, a first for UAVs in this category, Cheng says. The system is for use at low altitudes (under 5 meters) with plenty of light and a varied surface patter. Cheng said it would be particularly useful in cities where GPS’s 2-meter margin for error may be too wide to avoid obstructions.

You’ll also find built-in Lightbridge, DJI’s technology for wirelessly transmitting 1080p video to mobile devices up to 1.7 km away to aid in composition while in flight.

The Inspire 1 has enough bandwidth to not only accommodate an HD signal but also full metadata, analog video for pilot steering and 16 channels of RC control. A single, technically adept operator could thus not only steer the drone but operate the camera too, all from a single controller, Cheng said. You will, however, still have the option for dual control (one pilot, one camera operator).

The on-board battery can keep the Inspire 1 aloft for up to 18 minutes and you’ll be able to monitor the battery’s life throughout your flight. The total platform (including battery, gimbal and camera) weighs roughly 6.5 pounds.

DJI has also revamped its app, allowing for a live map with flight route and flight telemetry data, plus remaining battery life and manual camera controls.

It will cost $2,899 with one controller or $3,399 with two.

In addition to the new drone, DJI is also releasing an SDK today so that third party developers can create Android and iOS apps for the company’s Phantom 2 Vision series of drones. Many users are interested in industrial mapping applications, Cheng says, but a few photo and video-centric apps are in the works as well that will allow users to edit and share videos from mobile devices and ensure flights comply with regulations.

App developers will have access to the drone’s camera, including video transmission, positioning, settings and image storage. They’ll also have access to live telemetry (flight speed, latitude, longitude, distance travelled, etc.) and flight control.


July 23rd, 2014

Court Refuses to Hear Challenge to FAA’s Drone Cease-and-Desist Orders

A Federal appeals court in Washington, DC, has dismissed a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) by a search-and-rescue group in Texas that uses drones in its work, but both sides in the case are declaring victory.

Texas EquuSearch had tried to overturn an email from the FAA ordering the group to stop operating unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly called drones, in its search-and-rescue operations, the AP reports.

The three-judge panel said it could not review the case because the warning notice the FAA sent to did not represent the agency’s final policy on drone use, “nor did it give rise to any legal consequences.” The FAA is expected to finalize its policy on piloting drones for non-recreational use next year. The policy could affect photographers who  use drones to carry cameras on assignment.

The court’s ruling fails to clarify what authority the FAA has currently to regulate the use of drones.  In March, a federal administrative court judge overturned a $10,000 fine the FAA had imposed on photographer Raphael Pirker for using a drone to shoot a video for the University of Virginia, because the FAA still has no regulations on the books regarding the use of drones.

Brendan Schulman, the lawyer for Texas EquuSearch, told the site Motherboard that the appeals court ruling last week  “achieves the desired result of clarifying that Texas EquuSearch is not legally required to halt these humanitarian operations.” Texas EquuSearch has resumed piloting drones, AP reports.

In a statement, the FAA said, “The court’s decision in favor of the FAA regarding the Texas EquuSearch matter has no bearing on the FAA’s authority to regulate” unmanned aircraft vehicles. The FAA also said it reviews the use of drones “that are not for hobby or recreation on a case-by-case basis.”

Related Article
Commercial Drones are Legal, Federal Court Says

July 9th, 2012

How Sean Hemmerle Photographed Drones

© The New York Times Magazine/photo: Sean Hemmerle

To accompany an article in the latest issue of The New York Times Magazine about how the Air Force trains its pilots to control unmanned drones used for deadly strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, the magazine assigned architecture and portrait photographer Sean Hemmerle to photograph the aircraft at Holloman Air Force Base, a training facility in New Mexico. His images, shot with a Mamiya 7, make the drones look stark and strange—“They’re blind moles in the sky,” says Hemmerle—and also technologically astonishing. That, says Hemmerle, was his intent. “When I got there I thought: Wow, these are strangely beautiful,” he says. “They’re curious to look at. I was hoping the pictures would sort of lull you in with beauty, and then hopefully an hour later you’ll say:  ‘What did I just see?’”

Stacey Baker, the photo editor at The New York Times Magazine who produced the shoot, says she gave Hemmerle a wish list of shots to take. Despite—or perhaps because of—the increasing criticism of the CIA’s use of remotely piloted drones to carry out assassinations in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, Hemmerle was allowed to shoot everything on Baker’s list. “They basically threw open the doors to us,” explains Hemmerle, who was accompanied throughout the two-day shoot by First Lt. Logan Clark of the public affairs office. “They only asked that we not show the last names of the pilots.”

He photographed both types of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), the Predator  and the Reaper, take offs and landings, a flight simulator, and rows of ground control stations (GCS): the windowless, antenna-studded containers from which pilots control the aircraft while watching video monitors. At Holloman, which is located near the White Sands Missile Range south of Albuquerque, trainees learn to hone in on targets by tracking cars driving along local highways.

Captain Emily Chilson, chief of public affairs at the base, tells PDN that Holloman is a training facility “so there’s nothing classified here.” The facility had hosted a “media day” for photographers and reporters in February; another media event is scheduled for later this month, Chilson says. Wanting something different for The Magazine, Baker secured permission to send a photographer when other press weren’t around. She contacted Hemmerle on May 11, and on May 15 he and Ari Burling, a photographer friend who acted as his assistant, flew from New York to New Mexico.

© The New York Times/photo by Sean Hemmerle

Hemmerle spent two 16-hour days, shooting from dawn to dusk, hoping to get the best light possible. Shooting in a World War II-era hanger, “They were long exposures, of 15 or 30 seconds, to make dawn look like day.” Baker had asked him to shoot film, and he backed up everything he shot on the Mamiya RZ by shooting with a Canon 5D Mark II. Once his film was processed, he looked through about 60 contact sheets and about 100 digital frames before sending a selection of his 20 favorites to Baker. Four images appeared in yesterday’s print edition; nine images appear online.

Hemmerle, who has shot in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan, has photographed other centers of power.  Kathy Ryan, The Magazine’s director of photography, had recently seen Hemmerle’s photo of a meeting at US Central Command in Tampa, Florida, which he shot for the MIT Technology Review. Ryan and her husband, editor and curator Scott Thode, are co-curating an upcoming exhibition of work by School of Visual Arts alumni, and had visited Hemmerle’s studio two weeks before he got the call from Baker.

Hemmerle served in the US Army from 1984 to 1988, and believes mentioning this experience on his bio has helped him when he’s photographed the military. “The commanders are always respectful.” Of the Air Force personnel he met at Holloman, he says, “Everyone’s so accommodating, so professional, and smart, too.”

He didn’t know other photographers had visited at Holloman, and didn’t know why he was given so much access.  “I was thinking that if they’ll let me see that and they’ll let The New York Times publish it, it’s the cherry picked tip of the iceberg. When I see that we can photograph that, I’m like,  ‘What else you really got going on?’” He adds, “There’s a touch of Dr. Strangelove there,” referring to the Cold War movie about military hardware run amok, “but the experience of actually photographing them was fantastic.”