I’ve waxed lyrical about the Ricoh GR being a great UAV camera before - well the long awaited successor has been announced (but hasn’t yet landed) and summarised over at DPReview. The interesting aspects of the uprated specs are IIS (inbody image stabilisation), 24MP sensor and touchscreen. The resolution boost and IIS will be of significant interest to UAV users so it will be interesting to see how it performs out in the field.
I commented late last year about DJI becoming a camera manufacturer… this is an interesting and exciting move simply because the quality of imagery from drones has lagged significantly behind the rest of the camera industry. So whilst there are clearly regulatory challenges that need to be overcome through hardware and software engineering, the end-user is interested in the best visual imagery possible and drone manufacturers are starting to wake up to this fact.
So I was surprised to see that SeneseFly had announced back in 2016 its (then new) eBee Plus offered an hour of flight time within a ~1kg airframe that can incorporate RTK/PPK positioning (forget those ground control points!) and multi-spectral/thermal. But… they have also introduced their own homegrown air camera dubbed SODA (Sensor Optimised for Drone Applications). It is extremely light on specification however their website notes its a 20MP 1” fixed lens camera. This that likely utilises Sony’s standard 1” sensor, although it would be useful to clarify the exact size. Is it genuinely 13.2×8.8mm? Taking their GSD example figures, that breaks down to a 10mm focal length lens, equivalent 27mm on a full-frame camera. Interesting there is a single global electronic shutter which is a good thing for a fixed-wing aircraft: it should stop the problem of a rolling-shutter.
Fascinating to see the drone-camera market develop and it’d be great to see some results from this baby.
DPReview report report on DxOMark’s tests of the Zenmuse X7 and it makes for some impressive reading… it’s a quality sensor that has nearly 14 stops of dynamic range with good low-light performance. This line from the review pretty much sums things up:
it delivers results that compete closely with those from a high-scoring APS-C format DSLR, despite being housed in a camera that’s mounted in a stabilized gimbal and specifically designed for aerial photography.
Two years ago I blogged about the introduction of a micro four thirds camera by DJI, followed last year by the Phantom 4 which allowed RAW capture. These are giant strides by a drone company trying to get better image capture - but the capabilities of the cameras still lagged significantly behind COTS (commercial off the shelf) systems.
One of the big drives for DJI has been the film industry and so there has been some buzz on the wires with the announcement of the Zenmuse X7, a camera built by DJI rather than using a partner’s system that has some interesting specs (see DP Review). This is primarily aimed at cinematographers, but as DP Review note this is actually a highly disruptive move by the company. It marks their entry into camera manufacture and introduces an APS-C sensor (24 MP), with a new lens mount and suite of lenses. So a larger sensor size but at a dramatically lower weight and smaller dimensions - the flange distance is a tiny 16.84mm with a minimum weight (including lens) of 630g.
So, let’s say it, this is a camera (and integrated into a system) that is destined for photogrammetry. Watch this space, disruption is coming!
With being fresh back from EGU, it seemed an appropriate moment to provide a few brief links to things relevant:
1. UAV PICO: I was the lead convener for the “Unmanned Aerial Systems: Platforms, Sensors and Applications in Soil, Agriculture and Geosciences” which was again hugely successful. There were 14 presentations, everyone turned up and delivered sharp and punchy talks in the 2 minute madness. All were excellent, so its well worth taking a look at he abstracts.
2. Cameras and settings for optimal image capture from UAVs: my own talk went down well with plenty of questions in the interactive session afterwards. This is material that has recently been published in our Progress in Physical Geography paper, so take a look at that for a more detailed exposition.
3. James presented on his PhD work looking at the impact of image quality on 3D reconstruction using SfM. This went down well, generated much discussion and drove some more people to the (full) PICO. Take a look at his synopsis of EGU and read the poster (take a look at the full High Resolution Topography in the Geosciences: Methods and Applications session).
4. As a result of all this work, James has produced a nice summary of Photogrammetry rules of thumb which can be read in conjunction with the PiPG paper noted above.
Industrial drones are it… whilst the media spotlight has been firmly on cheap and cheerful like the DJI Phantoms delivering drugs to prisons or involved in near misses with commercial aircraft, the heavy lifting (literally) is being done by commercial drones in the industrial sector. You only have to visit something like the Commercial UAV Show to get a real sense of the breadth of application from behemoths produced by Lockheed-Martin, to the full range of DJI products and then a massive influx of products from China, including the impressive range from Yuneec.
The commercial sector is vibrant and it’s notable that drone manufacturers realise they need suitable cameras to hook up to their systems which means increasingly close ties between the sectors. We’ve seen Hasselblad tie up with DJI (flying on their industrial Matrice range), whilst Phase One have a range of cameras dedicated to commercial use. And this is invading a space traditionally held by aerial cameras (e.g. Vexcel).
So it’s no surprise to see Canon looking to move into this space and the (just rolling off the tongue) PD6E2000-AW-CJ1 is just that, as reported by DPReview. The drone itself is produced by Prodrone, a company Canon has invested in, and is not too dissimilar to the DJI Matrice 600, but kitted out with Canon’s ME20F-SH. This is firmly targeted at the disaster relief sector - the camera has an ISO of 4 million (yes, you read that right!) which will allow it to capture video in near-darkness.
The drone space continues to accelerate in terms of innovation, so expect to see an interesting and exciting roadmap of products appearing at breakneck speed!
Is this the next Uber Drone, coming to some skies near you? As the article says, would like to see 1000 hours of safe flight time first and the ability to fly with only two motors by feathering then should there be a failure. Exciting times though - I get a sense of scenes from The Fifth Element coming true (that would be Ruby Rhod first maybe)!!
And the cost of hiring a UAV is being driven down…. Dronebase is your AirBnB of UAV operators. Don’t pay over the top and go to one site to find them. The growth has been extremely rapid - see what their investors think. Its a great idea and, well, a very useful resource.
We’ve long been able to view remote video footage from a remote camera - when I was developing the kite aerial photography workflow I currently use, I experimented with a small spy camera that transmitted video footage back to an analogue LCD TV. It worked quite well and the intention was to use it to determine camera attitude and so allow use to remotely rotate the camera. Except for one BIG problem - when you are imaging the natural environment from relatively close range (60m), one piece of grass looks EXACTLY like another!!! In the end it was a pointless exercise.
Anyway, things move on and the next obvious way to integrate video was via AR (augmented reality) through a video overly in glasses. And true to form, DJI have announced another tie up, this time with Epson and their Moverio BT-300. See the announcement and some commentary on it over at DPReview. For consumer drones these make more sense as you tend to be viewing obliquely from (very) close range so positioning is important. Of course the glasses cost as much as the drone (!) but expect these products to become more prevalent.
DPReview report on a new DJI/Hasselblad tie up that sees Hasselblad bundle their A5D (see my earlier post) medium format camera with DJI’s industrial Matrice 600 drone. The drone has a flight time of ~20mins with the 6kg payload, whilst the A5D ranges up to 60 MP and weighs 1.3kg (body only). This is clearly targeted at the professional aerial imaging sector so expect to see more tie ups on this front.
I’ve not blogged on it yet, but Hasselblad have also recently announced their new X1D, the first mirrorless medium format camera which has a 50MP (43.8×32.9mm) sensor but only weighs 725g (body). Expect to these this making its way into drones pretty shortly! Well… if you have the £7,188 asking price to hand.