January 12th, 2016

Opinion: What CES 2016 Tells Us About the (Bright) Future of Photography

Ask any market analyst for their take on the digital camera business, and you’ll get pretty much the same story of an industry in decline.

According to Chris Chute, Research Director at IDC, camera makers shipped roughly 39 million units in 2015. In their heyday, digital camera sales exceeded 100 million. Arun Gill at the research firm Futuresource Consulting, charts a similarly sharp decline, with sales falling from 73.6 million units in 2013 to 38 million in 2015. Both analysts see more contraction on the horizon.

But broaden the frame, and photography is arguably as vibrant as ever. If there was a major theme to CES 2016, it was surely photography and filmmaking.

It just looked like this:

And this:

And also this:

Alongside the mainstay of traditional cameras announcements (which were innovative in their own right), there were dozens of cameras that could fly, record completely spherical images, create three dimensional virtual reality videos, or go just about anywhere and survive just about anything. 

Photographers and filmmakers have arguably never had so many novel tools at their disposal as they do today.

“I think we’re on the brink of a major change in how we think about photography,” says Pentax President Jim Malcolm. Whereas photography and filmmaking had always been about cropping out visual information to fit a given frame, the new wave of spherical cameras that will hit the market in force in 2016 are all about capturing everything in view.

“When you capture everything, you can create anything,” Malcolm says. In this environment, the composition–what a photographer chooses to frame–can occur after the fact, especially as the technology and resolution behind spherical cameras improve.

Whether spherical imaging and virtual reality represent a genuine sea-change remains to be seen (and we explore that subject in more depth here), but there was undoubtedly a lot of interest, new products and enthusiasm for it at CES.

And while storytelling technology evolves, let’s not forget what else happened at CES.

We enter 2016 with both an explosion in new forms of photography and filmmaking technology and a rejuvenated interest in analog. Truly, these are interesting times.

January 4th, 2016

CES 2016: DJI Debuts Phantom 3 4K and New Inspire 1 Drones

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DJI got a jump on CES with new versions of its Phantom and Inspire 1 photography drones.

First up is the Phantom 3 4K, the newest member in of Phantom fleet. It is closely related to the existing Phantom 3 Professional in the specs department, but uses a 2.4GHz Wi-Fi video downlink  with a range of 0.75 miles. That’s less than the Lightbridge downlink available on the current Phantom 3 Professional, which has a range of 3.1 miles.

The video preview signal will also be lower quality on the new Phantom 3 4K  (480p30 vs. 720p30 on the Phantom 3 Professional). The new Phantom 3 4K has a slightly better flying time–it’s rated for 25 minutes vs. 23 minutes for the Phantom 3 Professional. It will retail for $999.

You can view a complete comparison of the Phantom 3 lineup here.

The higher-end Inspire 1 drone has also been updated with two new versions that will carry DJI’s newest Zenmuse X5 and X5R cameras aloft.

The Inspire 1 Pro ($4499) will include the X5 camera, which features a Micro Four Thirds lens mount and 16-megapixel MFT-sized sensor. Since the camera/gimbal are heavier than the original X3 camera introduced on the Inspire 1, the Inspire 1 Pro will have a slightly shorter flying time at 15 minutes.

The Inspire 1 RAW will come with the X5R camera, which is similar to the X5 but incorporates an option for RAW video recording to SSD memory. Flight times are pegged between 13-15 minutes. Pricing wasn’t available on the X5R.

Read more:

Hands-on with the Inspire 1 Drone

December 14th, 2015

Own a Drone? You’ll Have to Register It with the FAA

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The Federal Aviation Administration announced today that anyone who owns a drone weighing between .55 and 55 pounds will have to register their aircraft with the government—provided they’re not using it for business purposes.

According to the FAA, registrants will need to provide their name, home address and e-mail address. When they’ve registered, they’ll receive a Certificate of Aircraft Registration/Proof of Ownership that will include a unique identification number for the UAV owner—an ID which must be marked on the aircraft.

The registration is valid for three years.

The FAA will charge drone owners $5 to register but will waive the fee during the first 30 days of registration (from Dec. 21, 2015 to Jan 20, 2016) to encourage people to sign up. Online drone registration is available here.

If you own a UAV for business purposes, sit tight. The FAA says the online registration system is only for hobbyists. A registration system targeting the business use of drones is expected to go live in the Spring of 2016.

“Make no mistake: unmanned aircraft enthusiast are aviators, and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a statement announcing the new rules. “Registration gives us an opportunity to work with these users to operate their unmanned aircraft safely.”

Read More:

New Service Is the “Uber for Drones”

Will New DJI Tech Make Drones Unsuitable for Journalism?

Here’s the First Footage from GoPro’s Drone

The Best Drone Movies of the Year

 

November 18th, 2015

DJI Drones Are About to Get Safer But at What Price? [Updated]

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DJI is about to make flying their drones safer thanks to a new “geo-fencing” system that will feed its flying cameras with continually updated airspace information and block them from taking off in or flying into unsafe zones.

The information, provided by AirMaps, will alert DJI drone users with up-to-date guidance on locations where flight may be restricted by regulations or safety concerns. Fliers will have info on temporary flight restrictions due to fires, stadium events, VIP travel and other events. According to DJI, the geo-fencing system will also “include for the first time restrictions around locations such as prisons, power plants and other sensitive areas where drone operations raise non-aviation security concerns.”

This obviously raises some questions about using DJI drones for investigative journalism. National Geographic photographer George Steinmetz, for instance, was arrested for taking aerial photographs of cattle farms. Would cattle farmers and other corporate interests be able to request and activate no-fly zones over their facilities? (We’ve reached out to DJI for clarification on this and will update this post when they respond.) Update: DJI tells us that they’ll provide more specific information about which sites would be deemed security considerations when the software launches in December. “We will generally follow guidance issued by national aviation safety and national security agencies,” a spokesperson told us.

DJI is providing some means of over-riding this geo-fencing too. By default, a DJI drone won’t fly into or take off in locations “that raise safety or security concerns” the company said, but registered users with verified DJI accounts will be able to over ride these settings in “some” locations that aren’t national security-related.

Over-riding a no-fly zone will require a DJI user account verified with a credit card, debit card or mobile phone number. DJI says the verification service “provides a measure of accountability in the event that the flight is later investigated by authorities.” Verification is free and DJI says it won’t collect or store credit card and mobile phone information.

The new geo-fencing system will initially be available in North America and Europe in December by updating drone firmware and the DJI Go app.

Read More:

Would You Get Arrested for a Nat Geo Cover Shot?

Meet the Uber for Photo Drones

Here’s the First Footage from GoPro’s Drone

The Best Drone Movies of the Year

October 29th, 2015

An Early Look at Footage from the GoPro Drone

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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

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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.”

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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.

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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.

ALTA

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_Drone

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.

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Fotokite

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.