Photography in 3 dimensions

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3-D pho­tog­ra­phy is out­dat­ed, the hype is long gone…

But that is not the point here. In my pho­tog­ra­phy so far, I could usu­al­ly only influ­ence the images in two dimen­sions by the cho­sen cam­era posi­tion. When I found a pos­si­ble motif, I could move clos­er, fur­ther away, or to the left and right - as far as allowed by the ter­rain and the sit­u­a­tion. In the hor­i­zon­tal dimen­sion, on the oth­er hand, most pic­tures are tak­en from the famil­iar per­spec­tive of the eye. But unfor­tu­nate­ly, famil­iar also often means boring.

Even posi­tion­ing the cam­era close to the ground or pho­tograph­ing with the cam­era held above the head often yields more inter­est­ing results (see e.g. here). As a flight-inca­pable indi­vid­ual, how­ev­er, my hor­i­zon­tal degrees of free­dom are lim­it­ed by my phys­i­cal size and the ter­rain. There­fore, when look­ing for new pho­to­graph­ic per­spec­tives, I often wish I could “fly in the air”.

Only flying is nicer

This year I have now made the step into the third dimen­sion and bought a pho­to / video capa­ble drone. In the mean­time I even already have two of them 😉 . I have pre­vi­ous­ly dealt exten­sive­ly with the tech­ni­cal and legal fac­tors of drone fly­ing and would like to report here about my first expe­ri­ences so far.

For years, I’ve been gaz­ing at the newest pho­to and video drone mod­els. On the one hand, I’m inter­est­ed in the tech­ni­cal com­plex­i­ty of these small fly­ing objects, and on the oth­er hand, of course, they open up com­plete­ly new pho­to­graph­ic possibilities.

Until now, the avail­able drones for my pho­to­graph­ic needs were either too com­pli­cat­ed, large or expen­sive, or did not offer suf­fi­cient image qual­i­ty. With the release of the DJI Mini 2, I now had a drone for the first time that seemed very com­pact and light (249 g), inex­pen­sive (under 500€) and at least rea­son­ably usable in the video range (up to 4k/30P). All in all, ide­al to get a taste of the new possibilities.

DJI Mini 2

In a deal at ama­zon in April 2021, I have there­fore snapped up a “has­sle free” DJI Mini 2 Fly More Com­bo* com­plete set with a total of 3 bat­ter­ies, a 3-fold charg­er, spare pro­pellers and a prac­ti­cal car­ry­ing bag in which every­thing fits ready for use.

Better safe than sorry…

By the way, I opt­ed for the pack­age includ­ing the “Care-Refresh” insur­ance, which is, so to speak, a all-risk insur­ance for the drone. The insur­ance is valid for 12 months and pro­vides a full replace­ment twice for a small fee if dam­age occurs to the drone dur­ing nor­mal use. For a new­bie drone own­er, I think this is a rea­son­able and very afford­able offer (cur­rent sur­charge only 45€).

But before the first flight in the wild, there were still two hur­dles to over­come. Due to its low weight, the DJI Mini 2 is free of reg­is­tra­tion accord­ing to cur­rent EU leg­is­la­tion, but you must

  1. reg­is­ter (in Ger­many with the Luft­fahrt­bun­de­samt) as a drone pilot. This is cur­rent­ly pos­si­ble free of charge. For this you still need
  2. a drone insur­ance pol­i­cy (I signed up online via the mobile app GETSAVE for 3,38€ per month) and a scan of the ID card. After a short time of wait­ing, you get an elec­tron­ic E-ID (UAS oper­a­tor ID), which you have to attach to the drone and you are ready to fly.
DJI Mini 2 - a hand­ful of drone…

When I held it in my hand for the first time, I just thought: such a small toy - and it should be able to fly? And yes, it can, and amaz­ing­ly well.

Up in the air

The first test flights with the small drone then thrilled me. The han­dling is intu­itive, the flight time with about 30 min­utes per bat­tery very good. I was amazed at the speed of the small drone and how reli­ably it could hold its posi­tion even in windy con­di­tions. The oper­a­tion is fool­proof. If the bat­tery runs low or radio con­tact is lost, the DJI Mini auto­mat­i­cal­ly finds its way back to the take­off posi­tion and lands there. The results of the first test videos and pic­tures sur­prised me very pos­i­tive­ly - although I am still an absolute begin­ner when it comes to video.

Of course, there were no mir­a­cles to be expect­ed in terms of pho­tog­ra­phy. With a 1/2.3″ sen­sor and 12 megapix­els of res­o­lu­tion, the DJI Mini 2 offers rough­ly the image qual­i­ty of a cell phone, but it can at least already record RAW files in DNG for­mat. Over­all, how­ev­er, the results were much bet­ter than I had ini­tial­ly expected:

Fields in War­burg, DJI Mini 2, f/2.8, 1/60, ISO100

Thanks to the inte­grat­ed panora­ma mode of the DJI Mini 2, how­ev­er, it is also easy to cre­ate high­er-res­o­lu­tion panora­mas that are quite usable, at least in good light and with some post-pro­cess­ing. As an exam­ple, here’s a panora­ma of 9 images from the DJI Mini 2 cre­at­ed using the 3x3 panora­ma mode. Using Adobe Light­room, I then com­bined the DNG files to cre­ate a wide-angle panora­ma. In the end, the image has a total res­o­lu­tion of 36 megapixels:

Lake Staz, Engadin,Switzerland, panora­ma from 9 shots of the DJI Mini 2 , f/2.8, 1/200, ISO 100

As a Switzer­land vaca­tion was planned this year, I looked around for the cur­rent guide­lines in Switzer­land and found that in our planned vaca­tion area (Engadin) it is large­ly free to fly with drones. A map of the allowed flight zones in Switzer­land is avail­able here. Espe­cial­ly the small drones with a weight below 500g are cur­rent­ly still sub­ject to very few restric­tions in Switzer­land. More detailed infor­ma­tion can be found on the pages of the Fed­er­al Office of Civ­il Avi­a­tion (FOCA)

I want more!

After some prac­tice with the small drone and edit­ing the first pic­tures, panora­mas and videos, I want­ed more. Accus­tomed to the high pho­to res­o­lu­tion of my Canon EOS cam­eras, the res­o­lu­tion in the pho­to area in par­tic­u­lar was no longer suf­fi­cient for me.

In addi­tion, I also want­ed to be able to post-process the videos more exten­sive­ly, as I am used to doing with the RAW files from my still cam­eras. The DJI Mini 2 only sup­ports video record­ings in 8bit col­or depth, which, sim­i­lar to JPEG pho­tos, only have a low dynam­ic range and allow only minor post-processing.

After first exper­i­ments with the video for­mats of my Canon EOS R5, I want­ed to be able to at least record videos in a log for­mat that allows a sig­nif­i­cant­ly high­er dynam­ic range. Post-pro­cess­ing for me is then planned with DaVin­ci Resolve.

DJI Air 2S

Both points are met by the new DJI Air 2S, which was intro­duced in April 2021 as the suc­ces­sor to the Mav­ic Air 2. It has a cam­era that offers a res­o­lu­tion of 20 megapix­els with RAW/DNG files using a 1″ sen­sor. This is on par with the quite usable res­o­lu­tion of high­er-end com­pact cam­eras such as the Sony RX100 series. Even the cur­rent EOS R6, for exam­ple, does not offer a high­er resolution.

In terms of video, the Air 2S can even record up to 5.4k/30P or 4k 60P in 10-bit with its pro­pri­etary D-Log for­mat. In addi­tion, the expo­sure (ISO, shut­ter speed, white bal­ance) can be set man­u­al­ly much more exten­sive­ly than with the Mini 2, which expands the pos­si­bil­i­ties once again.

The DJI Air 2S in action

In order to use this larg­er drone mod­el, how­ev­er, the so-called “small drone license” is cur­rent­ly required in the EU, which can cur­rent­ly still be com­plet­ed free of charge online at the Fed­er­al Avi­a­tion Office in Germany.

So, done, fin­ished and passed the test!

After a short time, I received a con­fir­ma­tion via email in the form of a PDF file, which must be kept with you and shown at all times if required. I always have the scan with me on my cell phone. Then I ordered again at ama­zon the DJI Air 2S Fly More Com­bo* and the deliv­ery was already on the next day.

The design of the drone with the fold­ing mech­a­nism of the arms is essen­tial­ly iden­ti­cal to the Mini 2. Every­thing is just a bit big­ger. Unlike the small drone, how­ev­er, the Air 2S also has front, rear and top-fac­ing prox­im­i­ty sen­sors. These allow the drone to auto­mat­i­cal­ly fol­low peo­ple or objects or fly routes while avoid­ing obsta­cles. Of course, this fea­ture is espe­cial­ly use­ful in video, but it also sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduces the risk of col­lid­ing with an obsta­cle in photography.

How­ev­er, the larg­er bat­ter­ies are now charged via an includ­ed pro­pri­etary charg­er with a wider spe­cial plug. Nev­er­the­less, I liked the charg­ing via a USB-C pow­er adapter with the Mini much more, since I could also use an exist­ing pow­er adapter of my lap­top for this pur­pose. In addi­tion, the bat­tery in the Air 2S can no longer be charged direct­ly in the drone, it must always be removed.

For the DJI Mini 2, I had already ordered the manda­to­ry E-ID badges in three copies with fore­sight, so I could attach one of them direct­ly to the Air 2S. The oper­a­tion of the Air 2s is iden­ti­cal to the mini 2, the con­troller is the same, so that I could start imme­di­ate­ly after the first charg­ing of the batteries.

Some sample photos with the DJI Air 2S

Pic­tures are worth a thou­sand words. To test the pho­to­graph­ic capa­bil­i­ties of the new drone, it had to get into the air For the first test flight, I vis­it­ed the Desen­berg with the cas­tle ruins of the same name near War­burg at sunset:

Desen­berg cas­tle ruins, DJI Air 2S, f/2.8, 1/40, ISO 100

Like the Mini 2, the Air 2S also offers sev­er­al dif­fer­ent panora­ma modes. Here is a panora­ma from 9 indi­vid­ual shots, again com­bined using Adobe Light­room. The result has a res­o­lu­tion of 59 megapixels:

Lake Sils with Chasté penin­su­la, Engadin, Switzer­land, DJI Air 2S, f/2.8, ND 16PL, 1/160

In addi­tion to the panora­mas with 9 indi­vid­ual shots, DJI also sup­ports the so-called spher­i­cal panora­mas with a 360° panoram­ic view. These are lim­it­ed in that the drone can only be tilt­ed upwards to a lim­it­ed extent due to the posi­tion of the cam­era below the rotors. Thus, an upper part of the panora­ma is always miss­ing. In this mode, the drone auto­mat­i­cal­ly takes a total of 26 indi­vid­ual shots in suc­ces­sion, which can be com­bined with suit­able soft­ware (I use PTGui), to cre­ate a so-called “Lit­tle Plan­et” panora­ma, for example:

Lake Cavloc, “Lit­tle Plan­et” Panora­ma, DJI Air 2S

Accessories for the DJI Air 2S

While the DJI Fly More com­bos already come with a wide range of acces­sories, there are still a few extras that make a lot of sense. The fol­low­ing acces­sories have proven them­selves to me in the meantime:

Memory cards

The DJI Air 2S has a Micro SD slot, which sup­ports accord­ing to DJI cards up to a size of 256GB. Although the drone should also be able to han­dle even larg­er cards based on indi­vid­ual state­ments on the Inter­net, but I have no per­son­al expe­ri­ence with this. The 256GB is enough for sev­er­al hours of video and thou­sands of pho­tos, even in the high­est resolution.

Because of the rel­a­tive­ly high max­i­mum write rate of the Air 2S in video mode(150MBit/s), the micro SD card should at least meet the spec­i­fi­ca­tion U3 / V30. Because of my pre­vi­ous pos­i­tive expe­ri­ences with the man­u­fac­tur­er, I again opt­ed for cards from San­Disk (San­Disk Extreme Pro 256GB MicroS­DXC*). These come with an SD adapter, so I can use them direct­ly in the SD card slot of my laptop.

Although the DJI Air 2S has an inte­grat­ed stor­age of 8GB, this can only be con­sid­ered as an emer­gency solu­tion in case the micro SD card is left behind or full. In addi­tion, it is very cum­ber­some to access it via the USB-C port of the Air 2S. The drone has to be turned on for this to work.

ND / Polarizing Filter

An indis­pens­able fil­ter in my ground-based land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy so far is a polar­iz­ing fil­ter. I use it vir­tu­al­ly all the time when the sun is shin­ing to achieve bluer skies, rich­er green foliage, and improved long-range vision. It also reduces reflec­tions on water sur­faces or glass.

Since I had also become a bit more famil­iar with video tech­nol­o­gy using drones in the mean­time, it was also clear that gray fil­ters would also be nec­es­sary. The lens of the AIS 2S has a fixed aper­ture of f/2.8, stop­ping down is not pos­si­ble. The result­ing fast shut­ter speeds required in bright day­light lead to quite vis­i­ble image jerks in videos. In order to get the shut­ter speed into the opti­mal range (1/2x frame rate, i.e. 1/60s at 30P), ND fil­ters are there­fore nec­es­sary. Although 4 ND fil­ters (ND4 to ND32) are already includ­ed in the Fly More Com­bo Set, I want­ed a com­bi­na­tion with a polar­iz­ing fil­ter, so I also ordered the com­bined All Day Pol/ND Kit* from Freewell.

DJI Air 2S in flight with mount­ed Frewell ND16PL filter

Adjust­ing the pre­ferred rota­tion of the polar­iz­ing fil­ter is a bit awk­ward, though. Nat­u­ral­ly, this has to be done when the drone is still on the ground. To do this, you can either hold the polar­iz­ing fil­ter hor­i­zon­tal­ly in front of your eye, look through it at the desired sub­ject and set the desired rota­tion, or attach it to the drone and rotate it to the desired posi­tion on the ground while watch­ing the effect on the phone screen.

In flight, the phone with the DJI Fly app serves as a dis­play screen for drone con­trol and live video. The phone clips into the top of the remote and con­nects with one of the includ­ed cables (Apple Light­ning, USB-C and Mini USB cables are included).

Sun hood

This also worked with my iPhone 12Pro right away and with­out any prob­lems, but the pic­ture is rel­a­tive­ly dark in bright sun­light and there­fore dif­fi­cult to use. It there­fore makes sense to use a shad­ing mask. I ordered the STARTRC Sun Hood* for this pur­pose, which works well for me.

Carrying strap

Anoth­er use­ful acces­so­ry is a neck strap for the remote con­trol. I can­not under­stand why DJI has not made any pro­vi­sions for attach­ing a strap. I there­fore use the strap from Hensych*. So you can safe­ly sling it with the attached remote con­trol around your neck, which sim­pli­fies the oper­a­tion very much.

Propeller holder

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, unlike the Mini 2, the DJI Air 2S does not come with a hold­er to fix the pro­pellers to the drone when not in use and to pro­tect them when stowed in the bag. I there­fore ordered the pro­peller hold­ers from PGYTECH*, which serve their pur­pose well.

Car charger

And, if you are trav­el­ing by car, as we did this time in Switzer­land, a bat­tery charg­ing option in the car is also very use­ful. The orig­i­nal acces­sories from DJI are very expen­sive and only charge one bat­tery at a time. I there­fore ordered a replace­ment car charg­er* from ama­zon, which can charge two bat­ter­ies at the same time and also has a USB port to charge a cell phone or the remote con­trol. I used it sev­er­al times in Switzer­land. The charg­ing process is extreme­ly fast and it has been very effective.

More tips and sam­ple pic­tures will fol­low soon in anoth­er article.

* = Affil­i­ate Link

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