Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   


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Picture This: Eye in the Sky

Drones are grabbing the buzz in the photo and film worlds.

By Earl Nottingham

For a few days each year, Las Vegas becomes the center of the techno-geek universe during the National Association of Broadcasters Show. It’s a crossroads of broadcast, photographic and filmmaking technology where the latest and greatest of all things digital are showcased in one massive trade show to more than 100,000 visitors.

Although NAB was originally formed to be an industry voice for radio and television broadcasters and engineers, it has evolved to now include those who produce and deliver high-quality digital content using the latest still and video cameras, computer hardware and software. And each year — as products morph into new, useful and creative tools to create and deliver images — one product generally stands out and grabs the rapt attention of the NAB masses.

There was a buzz in the air at the 2015 NAB Show ... literally! The flying devices known as unmanned aerial vehicles, quadcopters or drones were drawing show attendees by the thousands to the Drone Pavilion, where participants could not only practice flying them but also see the quality of the video and still images that they are now capable of producing — most notably ultrahigh-definition 4K video and 12-megapixel still photos from even the entry-level models. The high-resolution imagery and the camera stabilization found on most models allow photographers and filmmakers to obtain previously difficult or unattainable angles from which a story can be told.

They allow viewers to see the world in a whole new way.

Along with the proliferation of drones goes the need for information and education regarding drone safety and regulations. Unfortunately, the jury (or, more precisely, the Federal Aviation Administration) is still out on finalizing regulations regarding both the personal and commercial use of drones. Texas has restrictions on drone use, so make sure you know the rules before you fly. State parks don’t allow drones to be flown without park permission.

Although drones in every size and shape could be found at NAB, the overall trend was higher resolution cameras, longer range (distance and battery), greater autonomy and connectivity to personal mobile devices. Two models stood out based on their innovations and capabilities.


3D Robotics Solo

The Solo supports 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 video directly to your device’s camera roll. The Solo has a number of “intelligent” features that give the drone greater autonomy — enabling it to fly designated routes automatically or handle camera controls on its own. A Smart Shot feature lets operators set up a shot that the Solo will then execute on its own.

The Cable Cam and Orbit settings allow you to create a flight path along a “virtual track” in space. The Solo will then fly while you focus strictly on the camera. With Cable Cam, pick two points in space and the drone will move smoothly between them. With Orbit, point at an object, and the drone will fly a circle around it. A Follow mode programs the Solo to track the camera operator’s movements by locking into the operator’s mobile device.


DJI Phantom 3

Perhaps the most recognized name in drone technology, DJI has steadily improved its Phantom and Inspire series of quadcopters. The latest Phantom 3 raises the bar with several great features, beginning with its Vision Positioning technology that provides accurate position holding even indoors when GPS is unavailable. Visual and ultrasonic sensors scan the ground beneath the Phantom 3 for patterns, enabling it to identify its position and move accurately.

Two proprietary DJI camera options are available. The Phantom 3 Professional comes with a 4K camera, while the Phantom 3 Advanced shoots 1080p HD video. Live HD View lets operators record images up to 1.2 miles away by using a mobile device or tablet with DJI’s mobile app. Camera and flight settings can be changed remotely. Operators using the newly redesigned controller can perform remote camera functions such as starting/stopping video and shooting stills.


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For more on TP&W magazine photography, go to our Photography page


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