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Product Review: DJI Phantom Quadcopter for GoPro (Part 2)

DIY Upgrades and Troubleshooting for Better Video

By Jeff Foster | February 27, 2013

After using the DJI Phantom quadcopter with the GoPro Hero3 for about a month, I've discovered several tips, tricks and resources for getting better photos & videos with this setup. In this segment, I share what I've learned about stabilization, calibration and experimental mounts for the GoPro to get rid of Rolling Shutter (Jello Cam). I've also learned that I'm a terrible pilot and still need a lot of practice and "flight time"!

The DJI Phantom shown here with foam "quick mount" GoPro Hero3 and upgraded to balanced Graupner CF Props

See PART 1 of my DJI Phantom Quadcopter for GoPro review here

Stability... In Search Of:

I've learned a lot more about multi-rotor UAVs than I ever thought I'd care to prior to getting the DJI Phantom - but like just about everything, you find that once you start you just can't stop!

I say that not because it's an addictive money-sucking hobby (which I could see it could be very quickly) but in search of that illusive, stable in-flight video on the GoPro, you have to do a little digging... but the info is definitely out there! This is a growing industry and while many hobbyists are paving the way, more pros are starting to look at their options and trying to figure out how they might be able to capitalize on POV cameras - with the GoPro Hero3 leading the way.

I've been fortunate to learn from some highly experienced folks here too - Don Scott from DSLRPros.com, who has been supplying me with all the test gear and upgrades and is DJI's distributor of the Phantom, and Colin Guinn, CEO of DJI North America. Every time I've shown them an issue I've been having with stability or rolling shutter issues, they've given me tips on resolving them, and I'm going to share them with you in this segment.

First, let me share with you my best attempt at flying with no alterations on the GoPro mount or balancing the Phantom's props:
 

As you can see in the above example, even stabilizing the footage in Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 with the Warp Stabilizer and the Rolling Shutter Repair tools, there's still plenty of "jello-cam" in the video.

I've learned this is caused by two primary factors: unbalanced props and vibrations through the GoPro mount. Some have mentioned that the video mode you shoot in has a contributing factor as well, but since my battery life (and only one battery to test with at the moment) I haven't been able to test multi-modes in any one test flight with similar conditions. I plan to do this comparison in my next installment in March, just before NAB.

Testing Shock-Mount Options

While most of the mounting solutions out there for the GoPro are rigid/stationary (including the current mount provided by DJI for the Phantom) there are several DIY mounts that have been improvised that help reduce the vibrations to the GoPro from the body of the Phantom. This is a critical first step as it will surely lessen the affects of motion/vibrations from unbalanced props and sudden movement. 

I've heard a lot about using sorbothane, and while I await getting some 1/4" sheet stock to create some mounts, I bought some sorbothane shoe inserts and cut them up to test. My first attempt didn't work so well as they're almost like Teflon where nothing wants to stick to it, but I was able to get some hold with Epoxy to a GoPro mount and to the body of the Phantom for at least one test flight. I used some rubber bands as an emergency "bungee" in case the vibrations broke the glue hold loose - which it did eventually, and I was thankful for the rubber bands.


While it did function quite nicely to reduce obvious vibrations, I still managed to get a bit of the "jello-cam" effect from the rolling shutter (discovered later to be caused by unbalanced props). I did manage to obtain some nice 4K stills of our horse running around in the arena though, who didn't quite know whether to run from the Phantom or stop and eat it!
 

But most folks using the sorbothane mounts are applying it as a bumper/washer they screw-down against with the mount. My only concern is that there is still some rigidity and vibration transfer through the screws at that point. I'm actually considering experimenting with 1/4" thick Neoprene instead, so watch for more test results in my next segment in March!

As a quick & temporary solution that I've been using quite extensively and effectively the past two weeks came from Colin Guinn at DJI, and cost less than $10 and you can install it in about 10 minutes - using sponge foam makeup discs from the drug store and some Scotch heavy duty outdoor mounting tape.

Just make a "sandwich" of the foam/tape and apply it where the original mount for the GoPro goes on the Phantom body.

Then attach the provided GoPro mount to the tape. It hold and holds quite well! Don't worry about the excess exposed adhesive surface, as while it may collect dirt and debris, it's easy to replace and probably should be replaced often if you continue to fly with this setup.

For safety, I attached a small length of picture wire to the GoPro base and the landing gear. My fear is the thing vibrating loose at several hundred feet and then falling to it's death (or that of someone/something below). Once good thing about the 5lb outdoor tape is if you do have an impact with a tree or a rough landing, the GoPro can break free and dangle without damage to the camera or the case (or the Phantom body).

No, this isn't a sophisticated solution, it's not permanent and it's far from attractive, but the closed-cell foam really works well in isolating the vibrations from the GoPro. The next step is in balancing the props so the Phantom is more stable.

Prop Balancing - Simple but Critical:

Since I'm new to the world of powered flight, I learned about prop balancing and how critical it is not only for flight control, but for stability in shooting with your GoPro. Again - I entered into this as a complete novice and just wanted to get some cool POV footage with my GoPro and not get sucked into the hobbyist factor, but quickly discovered there are some mandatory steps you must take to get better video footage - which involves some upgrades and DIY techniques/maintenance to achieve that.

I went to the local Hobby Town and picked up a prop balancing kit - not really knowing what that was and what I was supposed to do with it. Thankfully, it came with full instructions and a couple YouTube videos later I was in business. Simply using sandpaper or a craft sanding tool, you can smooth out any dings/dents in your props from "close encounters of the tree/ground kind" and equalize the weight between both ends of the props. The stock props on the Phantom are fairly soft and pliable so easy to balance - even after I've beat the crap out of them!

 

CONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE...

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Comments

Seanchandler067: | March, 01, 2013

Jeff - excellent article

Saving my cash for one of these from B&H Photo

You can run Windows on an Intel Mac using virtualbox, it’s a free download from Sun - virtualbox.org

You’ll have to source a copy of Windows but that’s easy

I use it on my Macs to check websites in IE and other Windows browsers - my other job is PM for a web development company

Seanchandler067: | March, 01, 2013

There seems to be some type of wave distortion in the middle of the frame when the quadcopter is moving forwards

Is that something that’s fixable as well?

Otherwise the video looks very good

lightprismtv: | March, 01, 2013

I like you have been searching around and experimenting on methods to improve stability and remove rolling shutter from the Phantom/GoProBlack/Premiere 6 combo.
Some things that have worked for me so far:

-Used rubber washers and O-rings between Phantom body and GoPro mount - big help
-used cork between GoPro and and it’s own original housing - will try softer foam to isolate camera from housing even further
-tried all kinds of frame rates/resolution tradeoffs - so far, the best combo is 720 at 120fps. When Warp Stabilized in Premiere and played back on a 24p timeline it becomes very smooth. Very nice and the 720 res is ok. Problem with Warp Stabilizer is that once it is applied, you cannot change the clip speed to suit what you really want - so you are left only with a slow motion. And Warp Stabilizer is painfully slo o o ww!
-sanding the leading and trailing edges of the props after any “incident”. Have ordered the graphite upgrade props from DSLRPros and spare props but they are not in stock. Am trying to get a prop balancer too.

-Have read that flying in “Attitude” mode gives smoother motion over the constantly adjusting “GPS” mode. However between only having one battery (10-15mins flight time), low wind days in Tahoe, and work I don’t yet have the confidence to spend a lot of time in the harder “Attitude” mode. Are you flying in Attitude mode yet. You look like you are flying very well.

Got admit just flying the Phantom is highly addictive - lots of fun. So much so that I have a couple more batteries coming from DSLRPros.
Someone needs to come up with a gimbal attachment for the GoPro.
Thanks much for taking the time to post these articles!
Once warning - the laws regarding using these for photography and video are heating up. I find it strange that the safety issues and proposed relating laws only seem to apply when a camera is attached - there seems to be no concerns when flying without a camera. Either way, learn to fly in wide open areas without people and at lower altitudes. Keep your eyes open and do not fly in any congested areas. And learn the laws and follow them.

Jeff Foster: | March, 01, 2013

Thanks for everyone’s comments!

I’m looking into my Windows emulation options.

I will also be checking out some kind of gimbal to balance the GoPro which will solve the distortion issue with swinging/movement in flight. Most of the test units I’ve seen so far reveal way too much of the Phantom arms/rotors though, rendering the video pretty useless unless severely cropped.

Yes, stabilization in Premiere or After Effects is painfully slow indeed - so best to eliminate the need for it as much as possible on the front end. wink

And yes - http://DSLRPros.com has most everything you need to upgrade - some stuff is on backorder but just contact them and make sure they know what you’re looking for!

As I stated in my Part 1 review, there are laws regarding the use of UAVs - especially with a camera attached, so check before flying - the risk/responsibility is with the individual.

lightprismtv: | March, 02, 2013

WARNING ___ The Phantom communication between remote and chopper runs on the same frequency as the communication between GoPro WiFi to iPhone and keyfob.

The Phantom maker warns NOT to use the GoPro WiFi while flying as it interferes with control of the Phantom from the remote. Dji says if you use the WiFi whilst flying the Phantom, be prepared to buy a new Phantom.

I find the WiFi to iPhone useful to setup the angle of the GoPro before flying to ensure that the legs are not in-frame. But after than, the WiFi is shutdown. Be careful when handling the GoPro that you don’t accidentally push the side button which starts up the WiFi. Make sure there is never any blue flashing light on the front of the GoPro indicating that WiFi is on.

Jeff Foster: | March, 02, 2013

Thank you @lightprismtv - yes, I did cover that already in my first (Part 1) review for the Phantom as well… as I learned from experience. Luckily the Phantom returned by itself after it lost connection with the controller. Follow the link here: http://provideocoalition.com/jfoster/story/product-review-dji-phantom-quadcopter-for-gopro

Cheers,
Jeff

DR: | March, 03, 2013

Just a couple of additional thoughts… first and foremost, I also have been working with Don Scott at DSLRPros, and cannot recommend them highly enough. Their support, patience, and knowledge is absolutely stellar.

I have found that a better approach than boring out the Gaupner (high performance) props, is to use a 6mm tap which works perfectly to pre-thread them to just screw right on the Phantom. This way, the props are snug and tight and have no rotation even with the nuts screwed back on. (which can happen with bored props… then you have to use lockwashers to insure a snug fit)

Practice a LOT before using the Gaupners though…. they are very, very rigid and not at all forgiving with hard landings and the too-close tree branch! I’m looking forward to seeing what people come up with for isolating the vibration. I’m currently using sorbothane and a ‘sled’ mounted with rubber gaskets which also allows for a second battery for longer flight times. I may be imagining this, but the extra weight of the batter seems to help reduce vibration and makes it a little smoother flying, too. (the sled comes from DSLRPros) Jello is greatly reduced, but not completely gone. Sooner or later the perfect solution will present itself.

ddvideo: | March, 15, 2013

Do you record upside down with GoPro (due to original casing) and then correct in post?

Jeff Foster: | March, 15, 2013

@ddvideo - no, the GoPro has a 180º record option, so when it’s mounted upside-down, it still records in the correct orientation.

@DR - thanks for your tips on tapping the Graupner props, but as I mentioned in my review, the hole I bored out to is slightly undersized, so the material becomes “self-tapping” and you force-screw then on.

Cheers,
Jeff

SteveMann: | March, 17, 2013

LightPrisnTV:  “Once warning - the laws regarding using these for photography and video are heating up. I find it strange that the safety issues and proposed relating laws only seem to apply when a camera is attached - there seems to be no concerns when flying without a camera. Either way, learn to fly in wide open areas without people and at lower altitudes. Keep your eyes open and do not fly in any congested areas. And learn the laws and follow them.”

In the US, there are few FAA restrictions on recreational use of model aircraft, including multirotor aircraft (See FAA Advisory Circular 91-57).  Cameras have nothing to the FAA rules, but some local legislative wannabes who get all their information from Fox News are overreacting to the growth of small multirotor aircraft capabilities.  I seriously doubt that any of the local restrictions of flight will survive court review.  (They never have in the long antagonistic history of restrictions of flight by light aircraft imposed by local city councils, etc.)  However, as soon as the flight becomes commercial in nature, camera or no camera, it becomes illegal in the eyes of the FAA.  But I can’t think of any way to commercialize the flight without cameras except to deliver beer.  Under current FAA rules, flight for compensation requires a commercial pilot’s license and certified aircraft.  Since the FAA has no rules to certify small AUV’s or to license AUV pilots, they consider their commercial operation illegal.

Jeff Foster: | March, 17, 2013

@SteveMann - if they ban the cameras, then there is still one more option!

http://tacocopter.com/

paul h: | August, 25, 2013

jeff, do you know of a knowledgeable dealer who can help me with getting my phantom set up.  i live in los angeles and purchased one through filmtools.  i’ve been able to calibrate the the gps successfully, but the copter just won’t turn on.  any suggestions and thanks for your great article.

Jeff Foster: | August, 26, 2013

Thanks Paul -

If you don’t have any success in reaching DJI’s tech support (they’ve got lots of videos for setting up on YouTube and their website: http://www.dji.com/tutorial/phantom-tutorial/

As far as dealers go, I would contact DSLRPros: http://www.dslrpros.com - they are the premiere upgrade source as you will see!

Good luck and happy flying! ~ Jeff

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