Instant Trials

To mark my resurgent interest in instant photography I have set myself an additional daily challenge for August. In addition to the ongoing 365 Challenge I am also making at least one instant photo a day using the instant cameras that I’ve been acquiring from a well-known online auction site. But, it seems that not every day is suitable for instant photography, at least not when you’re still only a tiny way along the learning curve; my SX-70 Sonar for example uses 100 ISO film and needs lots of light or a tripod.

August #16
Instax Wide 210 – slightly more forgiving with 800 ISO film

The Lomo’ Instant uses Instax Mini film which is rated at 800 ISO so I thought I would use it for my daily image on 16th. Now, I am already liking the aesthetic from the Lomo Instant – I am amazed at how differently it renders images than say the Instax when they are using the same film stock. One thing however that is becoming very clear is that setting the correct exposure first time is going to come from experience. My Fuji Instax cameras generally do very well in Automatic mode and do it consistently but results from the first pack of film in the Lomo Instant are certainly not consistent and I am already sensing a tendency to underexpose.

LOMO TEST STRIP
Three test shots – Lomo’ Instant and Fuji Instax Mini film

For my first shot I left the camera on the Automatic everything setting and the result was very under exposed so I then shot another at Automatic but with +2EV of compensation set with much better results. For good measure I also shot a third image at +1EV for comparison. The results are shown above. In the end I used the version from the Instax Wide 210 shown at the top of the page for my Daily Instant but I have to say that the Lomo has the potential for much more atmospheric images once I’ve mastered it’s foibles.

To be fair this was not an easy scene on a dull day when it was actually raining but it’s an exercise I can repeat on a brighter day to see what happens in different conditions. I will also put the camera on a tripod and play with an external light meter to see how well the camera settings relate to light meter readings.

Smartphone(ography?)

Over the last 12 months my photographic interests have shifted considerably and whilst stills photography is still a primary interest (it needs to be as I’m 650+ days into the 365 Challenge) my main interests these days are Audio-Visual, instant photography and exploring what can be done with my iPhone.

I recently joined a smartphone photography group run by the UPP through which I hope to see a range of work each month produced by other enthusiast photographers using smartphones. I am particularly interested to see how people interpret the world around them through the medium of what is essentially a point and shoot camera albeit one with a built-in darkroom and special effects studio!  I see a lot of smartphone images every day on the internet but these will be from a small group of people who would classify themselves as enthusiast photographers and I’m wondering if they will therefore approach things differently.

365-2019-220
Candid: iPhone XR + Hipstamatic app

Purchasing the Huawei P20 Pro smartphone earlier in the year persuaded me of the potential for smartphone photography and whilst I sold the phone within a few months it was in no way a reflection of the built-in camera, which is superb, but simply that I couldn’t get on with the Android software that powered the other functions of the handset (text messages, internet browsing, checking emails … oh and making phone calls).

365-2019-015
Huawei P20 Pro – this printed at A3 beautifully

I have a small album of smartphone images on my Flickr account which I shall be adding to over time. I’m only just starting to realise the full potential of this creative tool though. They say that necessity is the mother of invention and my prolonged spells of being confined to barracks over the last couple of months have at least given me the opportunity to play, to experiment and also research the options. I have settled on a few key Apps for my use, figuring that getting to know a few pieces of software well will in the long run produce better results than a nodding acquaintance with a whole store-full of Apps.

STOP!
STOP!

My go-to App therefore for any post-production is Snapseed. I believe that smartphone photography should mean exactly that, all the stages of the process completed on the smartphone, in my case these days an iPhone XR which I believe is the current entry-level iPhone. Therefore I shoot with the iPhone, post-process with Snapseed on the phone and then upload to social media or the cloud from where I can grab images for Flickr if I so desire. I use Instagram too (link is to one of my three IG accounts) and always post to that account from my iPhone. I’m not impressed by the Flickr App on my phone however so prefer to upload those from my desktop.

Piece Hall, Halifax: iPhone + Hipstamatic via Instagram. The logo applied in Snapseed

Capturing the images is done either using the phone’s native camera or with the Hipstamatic App. Which of these I use at any given time depends largely on the intended purpose and to some degree on how I feel. Pictures of the grandsons for example are largely for family consumption so I use the native camera. This is not set in stone though and a recent exception were a few images of Zac (see first image above) which were captured for my 365 and I chose to use Hipstamatic for the effect created by the John S “lens” and Rock “film”.

At present these two Apps do pretty much everything I need so I am concentrating on learning how to use them rather than diluting my efforts chasing loads of other Apps. The one thing that would make Snapseed the perfect post-production tool on my phone would be more sophisticated black & white conversion options or at least a range of B&W presets. I’m still looking in to other options but at present am converting images with the very basic tool within Snapseed and then tweaking with the regular fine-tuning tools. I’d appreciate being able to quickly replicate particular looks however which is where presets are so useful.

Zac (double exposure)
Double exposure in-phone: iPhone XR Hipstamatic (John S + Blanko)
Finishing touches (including logo) in Snapseed

Interestingly I choose never to use presets within Photoshop or Lightroom when processing images from my Fuji cameras yet I am starting to see them as key components of smartphone photography. Horses for courses?

There will be more on this topic in coming months I’m sure. In the meantime, I’m finding that by using two mediums (instant and smartphone) that are not technically “perfect” I am more likely to experiment – is this something that others find?

(Part II) Another I moved to mirrorless post

In part I of this blog post I identified three key appeals of the Fujifilm system from my perspective:

  • User experience
  • Fuji’s commitment to ongoing improvements
  • Soul

User experience I have already  discussed, so in this second and concluding post I want to concentrate on Fuji’s commitments to ongoing updates and that elusive element – soul.

First though, Fuji scores highly in my book for continually upgrading the capabilities of their cameras by releasing major firmware updates. Many of these updates add new features, not simply bug fixes so it can sometimes feel a little like getting a new(ish) camera.  With their X-series cameras therefore Fuji  keep releasing firmware update to make their more recent cameras better whilst still introducing new camera models with ever better specifications. Now, models don’t stay on this upgrade path forever however, but it is very pleasing to see new functionality trickling back to previous models where processing and physical capacity exists in the older kit.

© Dave Whenham
West End, London. Fuji X100T

Now some will argue that releasing new firmware for the cameras, not just every few years but sometimes within months of the last, is an admission that the camera was not fully finished on launch. The other snipe I have heard is that they use a few new features to hide the fact that the update is simply to fix previous bugs that slipped through the net.  However, they have also introduced firmware updates that have improved the performance of their lenses and enabled them to fully access the newer features in newer camera models.

It’s possibly over-egging the pudding somewhat to say that each time Fuji releases a firmware they essentially give you a new camera, however it certainly does give me a really good feeling about the company. Bug fixing, shrewd marketing or good customer service? You chose which axe you wish to grind and you take your pick!

As always I will leave the technical stuff and a discussion of the cameras’ specifications to others. I’m an enthusiast photographer rather than a working pro and what matters most to me is that very nebulous quality of the user experience – or in the case of these cameras “soul” I like to think.

The words user experience were very easy to type in the first part but were very hard to define in detail and not least  because it will vary considerably from one person to another.  Soul is even harder to define – even with a dictionary to hand!  For me, a camera needs to feel “right” in my hand. I can’t write the exact feeling down but know it when I experience it.  I now have four Fuji camera bodies and each feels a little different, each has its own characteristics and each its own personality almost. Okay, a bit too poetical I suspect! But soul emanates from this user experience.

When out with one of these cameras I feel at ease, confident in the technology and my ability to create images with it.  These cameras just perform really well for me and with them I can produce images that I am happy with and do it without stressing too much over technicalities. They just work. But as the saying goes your mileage may vary so this will not be the same for everyone. I just try to keep an open mind when I use any camera and having used Nikon and Canon extensively as well as various other makes in the last forty-plus years I can confidently say none gave me the same buzz as using these Fujis. That might sound a little fan-boyish but is not intended as such. I genuinely think that there is no such thing as a bad camera these days – just that some cameras fit better with our individual ways of working than others.

So, my five penn’orth to add to an already overcrowded “I moved to mirrorless” oeuvre.

365-2019

This years 365 Challenge is doing well with only one slight wobble so far and as we have just passed the 100th daily image for 2019 it is time to update my thoughts on the project. Now, I’m a bit of a geek and love numbers so let’s start with a look at what cameras I’ve used so far this year.

CameraCount Percent
Fuji X-T32931%
Fuji X100t2526%
Huawei P20 Pro2223%
Fuji X-E11112%
Fuji X-H177%
Mavic Pro (drone)66%
INSTA 360 ONE/ONE X22%

Unsurprisingly my Fuji cameras make up the majority of the 102 daily images year to date, I moved fully to the mirrorless system in March, although the ever-present Huawei smartphone is holding its own too. The Fuji X-H1 has appeared seven times but given that I’ve only owned the camera for ten days this represents a very high proportion of recent daily images.

I maintain a spreadsheet with image details to complement the albums on my Flickr photostream

The least surprising fact from my little spreadsheet (see above) is that almost half (47%) of my daily images would be classified as urban images. The reality of a 365 is that we shoot images where we live our lives and whilst I’d love to fill my days with rural landscapes (14%) or coastal seascapes (2%) the reality is that I spend most of my time in an urban setting. Of the remaining images, a further 37% of them, whilst categorised differently, were also taken in or around my home making them essentially an urban capture too.

Tree bark - macro

One thing I have got into the habit of doing most days is my “insurance” shot. An image taken early on in the day, usually in or around the house, which I have in reserve just in case I am unable to get out with the camera later in the day for a more considered daily image. I rarely use them but it is reassuring to know they are there. This close-up of bark was a recent insurance shot which wasn’t used as I was able to spend time photographing one of my grandsons that day.

I wrote recently about the case of the disappearing mojo and in that piece I reflected on how the 365 Challenge can help keep the motivation alive. Undoubtedly, the challenge itself provides a strong creative energy and the further into it I get the more determined I am to maintain the daily image capture. Image 102 was posted yesterday but that was actually my 530th consecutive daily image since embarking on the challenge in October 2017. The completer-finisher in me helps keep the sequence going. There have been days though when I’ve not felt like bothering but they are getting fewer as the 365 becomes just a part of my normal daily routine. I get up each day and each day perform the routine hygiene tasks (washing, dressing, eating etc) without really considering them a chore and my 365 image has similarly become almost part of this hygiene routine.

365-2019-102: Another grubby grandson pic! Samyang 100mm macro at f4, the IBIS in the X-H1 allowing my shaky hands to get away with 1/40th second. This is the image that supplanted the bark shot above.

There is no doubt therefore in my mind that the 365 Challenge has helped to keep me creatively motivated, especially now that we’ve got past the initial months where it was a new routine and it is now firmly embedded in my daily routines; it has become a way of life, or at least a part of my everyday life.

365-2019-101: I deliberately tilted the camera to catch the lens flare, I’ve shot this scene many times before and wanted something a little different today.

I also believe that the challenge of trying to find a new image, and bear in mind half of all my 365 images are taken within a mile of my house, has sharpened my eye and I see compositions and creative opportunities more readily as a result. Image 101 (above) is a case in point and is less than a mile from my back door. I’ve shot this scene many times but wanted to do so again because I liked the glow along the left hand side of the frame – but how to make it a little different? Lens flare was what popped into my head and with the rising sun sitting naked in the sky I only had to tilt the camera slightly to cause the extremely bright source to flare and create some colourful streaks. Flare is something I usually avoid even shading the lens with my hand at times but on this occasion it seemed to fit the image nicely. In fact I liked it so much I made it my daily offering eschewing the other more traditional images I captured on that walk.

So, there we have it. The 365 is an ongoing project and one that I intend to keep going for as long as I am able or for as long as I have the inclination. Each month I set up a folder on Flickr for that months offerings and the March 2019 folder can be found HERE.

Panoramic woodland

Panoramas are often seen as a landscape photographers tool but they have many other uses and I like to use them in all sorts of settings, not least in woodland. Two or three vertical images stitched together can make for a very detailed 1×1 image for example and whilst the resultant image does not look like a panorama as we know it the methodology is exactly the same.

The image here though takes a more traditional approach and stitches multiple images to create a super wide panorama without the need to crop out a large chunk of the image top and bottom which would have been the case if we’d used a super wide lens to capture everything in one frame. Indeed, this particular image is a 180° panorama and even a fisheye would have been hard pressed in this instance!

For less ambitious stitched panoramas I will typically shoot 4 or 5 frames, overlapping each by around a third and using the camera handheld. Practice has helped me in this as the camera needs to pivot around the same point (on all axes) to avoid large alignment shifts which result in having to crop deeper into the stitched image. Given that I was looking at a 180° panorama for this image I shot my frames with the camera firmly mounted on a carefully levelled tripod. The initial image (below) was created using the merge function in Photoshop and is shown exactly as produced. Note the blank areas where no data was captured and how small they are; this means that the tripod was allmost levelled perfectly but not quite!

The panorama is made up of 13 individual files as can be seen here and Photoshop has applied masks to each so that the final image is comprised of a little of each individual frame. You can see the progression of the lens as it was moved between each shot.

Once I was happy that it was properly aligned I simply flattened the file to create just one layer with the raw panorama ready for processing in the ordinary way. As I set white balance, aperture, ISO, focus and shutter speed manually I tend to stitch the files first and post process afterwards.

Levelling the tripod is important as it means that you maximise the usable area of each frame. Overlapping each sequential image by between 35% and 50% gives the software the maximum material to work with and creates a better stitch. I always shoot an extra frame either side of my intended area – if my intended scene extends from B to E for example I’d shoot frames from A to F inclusive to ensure that my intended outer edges of the image are fully covered.

Tales of a First-time vlogger

With a rare free afternoon recently and none of the usual domestic responsibilities as we were away from home I headed off into the Wiltshire countryside; we were visiting family down south and I wasn’t required that Friday afternoon! My aim – to shoot my first video clips with the Fuji X-T3 and more importantly to stick myself in front of said camera. In other words, and despite the denials forming in my mind, it was the creation of a vlog that was vaguely running around my head. I have in the past compiled a few mixed stills/video pieces with the Fuji X-T20 using voiceovers rather than talking to camera. I think my hands featured a couple of times in these efforts (operating the tripod-mounted camera) and on one memorable occasion I ambled into shot, put a filter on the lens and shuffled off again!

So what I was planning was, for me at least, rather heady stuff!

To skip to the conclusion, the end result is OK I think and I enjoyed the whole process BUT there is tons of room for improvement. So what were the key take-outs from this first vlogging experience?

  • Script – use one
  • B-roll – shoot loads then shoot some more
  • Chose locations for taking to camera more carefully
  • Syncing audio is the way to go
  • Try not to start every sentence with “So”
  • Look AT the camera
  • Shooting both stills and video is challenging

Script

Despite what I’d read previously and indeed written in my free writing sessions I did not prepare a script. I do reference this omission in the vlog as I realised ten minutes in that despite having a vague idea in my head the lack of any sort of prompts meant I rambled at times and found it difficult to hold a train of thought. Luckily I was able to remove some of the talking and leave it on the cutting room floor, but there are a couple of occasions when I repeat myself and even niftier editing wouldn’t have been able to save me. The loose idea in my head was to record the elements for the vlog whilst chuntering in real time about my experiences. In the end one entire idea got cut because I wasn’t happy with the flow of words. So, a script, even one comprised of just bullet points would be useful. Personally I like the idea of writing a full script, even if I don’t deliver it verbatim, as this will also give me the raw material for my blog. To be fair though, the loose aim was to reflect as I experienced my first vlogging session so at least what I have produced is reflective of my original aims.

An opportunity just as I was leaving for some drone footage was a godsend in terms of B-roll

B-roll

What can I say? I did not record anything like the amount of b-roll footage I needed. This meant that what I did shoot had to be stretched out more than was ideal for the free flow of the visuals. Thankfully I was able at the end of the session to get the drone out which gave me some B-roll but even then I was scratching around as I did no want to overdo drone footage of rapeseed crops. So, shoot some b-roll, shoot some more than shoot some more again!

Locations for recording to camera

I had my locations sorted in my head before I set off, but three of the four I chose were by the roadside. Initially I hadn’t anticipated this as an issue as I knew the roads quite well, they were all B roads and typically when I’ve been there in the week they have been quiet apart from when folk were going to or from work. For some reason it was like Piccadilly Circus last Friday! I have lots of discarded A-roll where I am either waiting for vehicles to pass or being drowned out by them. Nothing more to say really, except be a little more choosy in future!

Zoom H1 and Rode Lav mic

We will gloss over the shameful scenes at the first location when I forgot to put the lav mic on. Again, I do confess to this in the vlog. After setting both the camera and the recorder running I clapped my hands together sharply providing both a visual and an audible cue for later syncing in my editor. The resultant spikes on the waveforms enabled me to extremely quickly line them up and replace the cameras audio with the external track. I cannot imagine doing it any other way after this experience.

Watch your words

Years ago on a business leaders course I was video recorded for the first time. On viewing the resultant footage I was horrified at how often I said “um” especially whilst thinking of what to say. Well, I am pleased to say that I have largely cured myself of that these days. BUT. There’s always a but isn’t there? I have a new verbal tic. So, can you guess what it is? It will be obvious if you’ve watched the vlog – at one point I started three consecutive sentences with the word “so”.  I had to comment via a caption – another learning point identified.

Eye contact

If talking to the camera was weird, and I mention that too, then looking at it was even weirder.  Fortunately none of the clips are too close-up on my face so it doesn’t show quite as much as it might have done and there is actually one sequence when I managed it quite well but it is definitely something to be improved upon.

Mental gymnastics required

I am a very experienced stills shooter and a very new video shooter. One of these I can do without conscious thought and the other needs 100% of my attention. I found that because I was concentrating so much on how to record the video and set the camera for that aspect then I basically forgot to take any stills or those that I did take were rather hurried. I have no true keepers from the day even though in those conditions I should have been able to have come away with at least half a dozen, especially in the woodland or rapeseed fields. This will get easier with practice I’m sure but I am also going to see if taking two cameras will help. Using one for video and one for stills will hopefully help with the mental adjustments as I won’t have to make any physical adjustments to camera settings. I have a lot of stills taken at 1/50th second for example!

So, in summary, this is only my first experience of recording and producing a vlog and there were other things that cropped up either on the day or in post production. These points here however are the key ones and give plenty of food for thought.

Overall, I enjoyed the experience and got some satisfaction watching the vlog grow on the timeline. I have identified lots of room for improvement (and some not documented here) but I am looking forward to addressing each area as I move forward and also to identifying further ways in which to improve my vlogging skills.

As Arnie said: “I’ll be back!”

Droning On

The second anniversary of my Mavic Pro drone purchase will soon be upon us (as I type this) and in order to supply copy for a Club photography magazine recently I got to thinking about what I’d learnt.  Incidentally, if you’ve been following recent drone product launches mine is the original Mavic Pro; the newer Pro2 is apparently a big step up in image quality.  

In truth much of the learning came in the last six months of 2018 as I was not well enough to take the drone out over the 2017/18 winter months and prior to that I was still really nervous about the whole flying a camera thing. But practice is really paying off and even the quality of my images has improved considerably.

I am first and foremost a photographer, so, what does this photographer take from his first full year flying?

90 feet above the weir at Cromwell Bottom on the River Calder with the damage done by the floods a couple of years ago still very evident. A one-second exposure, courtesy of the 10-stop Freewell ND filter.

Importantly … 

Get used to flying it; to taking off, landing and generally moving about the sky. If you are a first-time flyer, then forget about photography for a few flights. Yes, it will be hard to do and a little frustrating, but practise flying in all directions, squares, circles, backwards, forwards, side-to-side. Get to instinctively know when pushing right on the stick will move the craft left and when it will move it right – it’s easy to forget especially if things go a little awry. The one time I crashed (see below) was exactly due to that confusion. With the drone pointing towards me and drifting to my left towards the trees I instinctively pushed the stick right to take evasive action. Except this was the wrong thing to do as it took the drone to ITS right and directly into the branches I was trying to avoid. I always try to watch the drone too when manoeuvring rather than the screen as I can more quickly spot if its drifting in the wrong direction.

Needless to say, I didn’t follow this course of action (to be fair no one suggested it) but in hindsight waiting just a little longer to take photographs would have meant better pictures from the start and a more comfortable flying experience.  Do as I say not as I did might be another way of putting it!

Exposure is critical

Hovering above the beach at Newborough. Sometimes exposing to the right means that you still have to leave the shadows as silhouettes!

The Mavic Pro has a much smaller sensor than many enthusiast photographers will be used to and therefore has less tolerance to noise. Indeed, whilst the stated ISO range is 100-1600 I rarely move it from 100 and indeed I’ve not seen many bloggers or vloggers suggesting using the higher ISO.  These days with live histograms on most cameras it is relatively straightforward to “shoot to the right” and the Mavic Pro is no exception. I have the histogram up on the screen at all times and watch it carefully. I aim to keep the graph pushed as far over to the right on the screen without “clipping” into the highlights.

Exposing to the right (ETTR) is a well-used photographic technique and means adjusting the exposure of an image as high as possible at base ISO (without causing unwanted saturation) to collect the maximum amount of light and thus get the optimum performance out of the digital image sensor. It is easier to pull down exposure in post-production than to pull detail out of the shadows. With the tiny 12mp sensor on the Mavic Pro I want to start with as much detail captured right from the start, hence ETTR and RAW (DNG) capture is my go-to approach.

Nail the composition

Here is one very good reason why you want to learn to fly and position the drone with as much accuracy as possible.

So nail the composition!

You only have a relatively small file to play with; 3992×2992 pixels (typically giving  a 23mb file) compared for example to my Fuji mirrorless camera’s 6000×3376 (48mb) or my Nikon D800E’s 7360×4912 (72mb). Having to crop into the file throws away precious pixels and of course if you then need to enlarge the image for printing you are further degrading the image quality.

Try to get composition spot-on to avoid cropping later. Be patient, rotate the drone and take it higher/lower, left/right, back/forward as needed to really get the framing as near to your vision as possible. Swiping up on the display screen to temporarily remove all the data and information displayed upon it can help and don’t forget to check the corners of the screen too. There is no doubt that in this situation the iPad screen beats my iPhone but that’s a discussion for another day.

Do keep this in perspective though, I recently printed an image from the drone at A3 and was blown away by the quality. A bit mushy sometimes in the corners but fabulous in the middle of the frame. For small prints and on-screen usage, the files can take some tight cropping but to my mind it makes total sense to maximise every pixel available and careful composition at the time is a huge help in this regard.

Exercise restraint

9 frame panorama, DJI Mavic Pro at 65 feet above the River Calder at Cromwell Bottom

When processing your images (I shoot RAW and process in Adobe Camera Raw) try to avoid pushing the sliders too far – less is definitely more and over-zealous use of the sliders will seriously degrade the image veryquickly in my experience (remember small sensor). Once again, getting the exposure right and nailing the composition also help here. I have found that skies generally need some gentle noise reduction, but again don’t go overboard and if you are able to do so I would suggest just selectively de-noising the sky and not the more detailed parts of the image which can quickly turn to mush.

Height isn’t everything

You don’t have to shoot everything from 400 feet up! Just because you can doesn’t mean you always have to. I have included height information in the image captions and you will see there are successful compositions shot from 65 feet up for example and even from head height.

75 feet up – Newborough Beach

Be open to shooting each scene from different angles and differing heights. I will often take the drone to 400 feet and then slowly bring it down tweaking the composition and taking a series of different images as I drop back down to around 80 feet. Other times I will watch the screen as I slowly rise into the air looking for the optimal point at which the composition seems complete.  There is no zoom lens on the Mavic Pro I use (although a zoom version has just been released along with the aforementioned Pro 2 with its larger sensor) so, just like using your feet to “zoom” a prime lens on your stills camera, you need to use the joysticks to “zoom” around the composition with the drone.

Of course, I’m not saying don’t take it up – 390 feet, Blackley Top

The hardware

Whilst I’m not intending to review the hardware some comments are pertinent as the choices you make here can have a big bearing on success or failure. 

Ringstone Reservoir. It can be a little disconcerting putting the drone up into mist for it to temporarily disappear but it gives an angle I could not get otherwise.

Let’s start with what for me makes the whole process workable – the viewing screen. The Mavic Pro doesn’t have a screen supplied with the controller, so I purchased an Android smartphone to fulfil this function. Turns out that this was not my smartest choice as the minute I plugged the “smartphone” into the Mavic controller it went “Oh, goody! A big battery!” and proceeded to draw power from the controller. Unsure as to whether this was normal or not, or indeed if it was expected, I decided to change and use an iPad mini instead. I figured the bigger screen would make it easier to read the display so parted with a few more hard-earned pennies to buy the small iPad and a sunshade to keep the glare off the screen. This worked much better apart from one niggle, it kept sending out a warning message that it was running low on memory even though I was only running the DJI app. Nervous that this might cause me to lose sight and/or control of the drone I switched to using my iPhone whilst I investigated.

Long story short – I never did get around to investigating and now simply use my iPhone. The only compromise is that if I’m going to be out all day I take a power bank to top the phone up for normal use if required after flying the drone although to date I haven’t needed to use it. I put the phone in Airplane mode whilst using the drone to prevent calls or messages interfering with the flight.  I need to wear my reading glasses AND my distance glasses simultaneously however; the former on the end of my nose to view the screen and controller and the latter above them so I can maintain line of sight with the drone. I must look slightly odd, but such is old age.

Flying the drone and keeping it safe in the air was always going to be my biggest concern and I have to say I’m very glad I opted for a premium model as I quickly got to grips with the basics and whilst I was in no hurry to step out of beginner mode when I did take the plunge I was pleasantly surprised. If in doubt, I can let go of the joysticks and the drone will hover where it is until I get myself sorted! The requirement to maintain line of sight means that under my control the drone never gets remotely close to the maximum distances it can technically achieve but I cannot see why people want to fly their expensive kit in places where they cannot see it. 

“Bamburgh Sunrise” DJI Mavic Pro at 102 feet above the beach at Bamburgh

As already mentioned, I have crashed the drone once, in Snowdonia, on the first occasion when I had someone with me whilst I flew the drone. Thankfully it was less than twenty feet off the ground and the branches I flew it into helped cushion the fall. I had the drone pointing towards me which means that right on the controller means go left as far as the drone is concerned. A mistake I make very rarely now but still, no harm done apart from a few scratches to the drone and a dent to my pride.

So, whilst flying the drone is still an adrenalin-fuelled experience I do now feel confident in flying the machine and am starting to produce some pleasing results, particularly with still images which I capture using the DNG raw mode and process in Photoshop. I have found that I need to apply sharpening and clarity a little more aggressively than I am used to and that I have to be extra careful with regards to noise in the image. I usually take the drone out early in the day and have not yet shot extensively in the brighter part of the day but when I have I find the files a lot cleaner, especially with the sun behind the drone.

Conclusion

So, I have made good progress with flying, have settled on using my iPhone as a screen and am starting to get some good still images from the drone. Whilst there is still some work to do with image quality, or perhaps more accurately consistency, I am now producing usable and pleasing images from every flight.

I’ve a few other things to mention, including my experiences with filters shooting panoramas and the various built-in shooting options but will leave those for another day.  

Ringstone Reservoir on a brighter morning. As with all branches of photography looking for something a little different to the norm can result in striking images

To recap my conclusions from this exercise, learn the basics (flying), remember to squeeze as much from the little sensor as you can and exercise restraint when sat at the computer.

This is one purchase I have never regretted for a single moment.