Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Shooting Still Images with a GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition and a DJI Phantom Vision I Quadcopter in FPV

Quick summary:
If you, like me, purchased a Phantom Vision I Quadcopter and wish to shoot high-quality still images with it using a GoPro Hero 3 camera using First Person View (FPV), then this post is for you.  The below post describes how to set up a GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition camera on a DJI Phantom Vision I Quadcopter to take still images while you see what you are shooting, in real time.  The gear, settings, and solutions that I describe may or may not apply to other GoPro models and Phantom quadcopters.

Longer summary:
You'd think that taking still images with a GoPro Hero 3 camera mounted on a Phantom Vision quadcopter would be easy.  If you aren't ambitious, it can be pretty easy.  I started off by setting the GoPro to take a still image every 0.5 seconds and flying the Phantom around, without seeing what I was shooting.  This worked OK, but I really wanted to see what I was photographing in real time.  I thought that this would be easy, but it was far more complicated than I initially thought.  Of course.

First, to see what you are shooting in real-time, which is called First Person View (FPV), you need to buy some gear and do some soldering of connectors.  I bought (thanks to Eric Cheng's recommendations at skypixel.org) a Boscam 353 400mw transmitter ($60) and a Pearl Diversity monitor ($229).  I also bought a USB-video out cable (on Ebay for $5) which attaches to the USB port on the GoPro and has a connector on the other end which outputs the video signal.




Pictured are the Boscam transmitter, GoPro USB video out cable and plugs, and 9V battery to power the transmitter



The Boscam 353 transmitter is a small, light electronic box (with an antenna on it) that takes a video signal from the GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition camera and transmits it to a receiver (such as a Boscam RC805 receiver, $30).  The receiver then inputs that video signal into a monitor.  You can buy a separate receiver and monitor, but the Pearl Diversity monitor has the receiver and monitor, along with a battery to power everything, all in one package.


You will need to buy a cable (I found mine on Ebay for $5) that fits into the USB port on the GoPro and provides wires for video and audio out.  I used a standard 9V transistor battery (Duracell, for instance) with a standard connector that you can buy at Radio Shack, to power the transmitter.  By my calculations, a 9V battery should power this transistor for a couple of hours. I used Eric Cheng's recommendations at skypixel.org and bought a bunch of male and female JST connectors and pre-wired JST connectors at hobbyking.  By buying a bunch of connectors at once, I saved several trips to the local electronic store.


 



Here's where things got more complicated.  Details are below, and here is a fairly quick summary.  The GoPro won't transmit a video out signal if you set it to take still images every 0.5 seconds -- or if you set it to take stills.  It will work fine and will transmit a video out signal if you set it to take videos.  But if you are like me, you are experimenting with this first fairly inexpensive ($479) Phantom Vision 1 model and you don't have a gimbal, which is just about compulsory to shoot decent video.  You just want to shoot still images.

After much trial and error, I found that the only way to get decent still images from the GoPro is to use it at the following settings.  These settings ensure the highest quality stills but only take one still image every five seconds.  The video is not interrupted when the GoPro shoots still images, but you can't use the highest quality video settings in this mode.

Set the GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition camera as follows:
My settings were as follows: set video to 1080p 30fps.  Set the camera to shoot video and take a still images every 5 seconds ("video plus still mode").  Turn off ProTune mode.


Here are the gory details:

I have a DJI Phantom Vision I quadcopter.  It does not have a gimbal, which stabilizes the camera for steady video shots.  I am more interested in practicing with this quadcopter, and taking still photographs with it, rather than getting smooth video at this time.  I wanted the best stills possible, and this meant using a GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition camera.

Here's what I discovered.  I wanted FPV (first person view) so I could see what the camera was seeing.  I didn't necessarily want to see through the camera, but the GoPro does allow viewing of what the camera is seeing through its USB port.  You need to buy a USB-video out cable (on Ebay for $5) which attaches to the USB port on the GoPro and has a connector on the other end which contains the video signal.  I fed that video-out signal to a Boscam 353 400mw transmitter (thanks, Eric Cheng from skypixel.org) which transmits the image to a receiver.

You can either buy a separate receiver unit like the Boscam RC805, which has a video-out port that you can attach to a video monitor like the Prism (DIGITAL PRISM ATSC-710 7" 480I EDTV-READY LCD TELEVISION, on Ebay for $55 to $100 -- I am selling mine if anyone is interested), or you can buy (again, thanks to Eric) this cool monitor: Black Pearl Diversity Monitor, $229 on Amazon.  The Black Pearl is a monitor that has a receiver built in to it.


The GoPro Hero 3 Black edition has a USB-out port for video out, among other things.  I connected the video out signal on this port to a transmitter, and this worked well.  I had to fiddle with the settings on the Boscam transmitter and the Pearl monitor, until I got a stable video picture on the receiving monitor.  The Boscam transmitter has four DIP switches which select what channel (frequency) the transmitter will send out.  The Pearl monitor can be set to different bands and channels.  I found the following settings to work for me and did not experiment further.  For some reason, the Boscam's printed frequences at the settings did not match the Pearl Monitor's supposed receiving frequencies, but hey -- this worked.

Boscam transmitter: DIP switches 1 and 2 in the UP position, 3 and 4 in the down position.  Binary 1100 -- Channel 4 (5645 Mhz) according to the above diagram - but the above diagram is for the Boscam TS352 transmitter.

Pearl Diversity Monitor: set to Mode: DIV; Band: E; channel: 5

Note in the above diagram that the white represents the setting of the DIP switch.  So I had my transmitter set to Channel 4.  I also saw later that the Boscam 353 transmitter is a Band E transmitter.  I have no idea what that means, other than other transmitters might be Band A and therefore not the same.

Here's what I found about the exact channel frequencies being set:
Boscam - TS353 5.8G 400mW AV Transmitter Transmitter frequency: Amateur
Radio Band, 5865M, 5845M, 5825M, 5805M, 5785M, 5765M, 5745M, 5725M;8CH
Not frequency-compatible with FatShark, ImmersionRC, Airwave based
equipment

Now that I had my FPV gear in place, it was time to take still images.  Not so fast!  Simply setting the GoPro to take images every 0.5 seconds, as I had done in the past, did not work with my FPV setup.  No picture was being transmitted by the GoPro.

Here's what I discovered: If you are using FPV with a GoPro and you want to take still images, then the only way to take stills that are the highest resolution possible (about 3900 pixels on the wide side) is to set the GoPro to take video and stills.  There's a setting in the camera to do this -- it's called the "video plus still" mode.  You can't shoot at 720p, 120 fps (which is my preferred GoPro video setting).  You only have a limited selection of video settings that also allow you to shoot stills.   I settled on 1080p 30fps.  The resulting still images were a bit less than the largest resolution images possible with the GoPro, but they were acceptably large.

Here are the still image resolutions for the GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition:

The Hero 3+ Black Edition also has a maximum still image resolution of 12MP and 30fps burst rate

BLACK Edition
12MP Wide: 4000x3000 pixels
7MP Wide: 3000x2250 pixels
7MP Medium: 3000x2250 pixels
5MP Medium: 2560x1920 pixels

I am getting 3920 x 2160 in the "video plus still" mode.  The largest possible would be 4000x3000 pixels.


I found this on a forum, and this writer posts the issue better than I have: "I had this question, too, until I did some research.  There is no way to remotely control the GoPro from the ground.  What you have to do is enable the GoPro to take photos and video SIMULTANEOUSLY.  When you do that, you can set the GoPro to take a picture at a regular interval while it is also taking video.  I always set it for every 5 seconds.  The only thing to remember is that doing this will limit your possible resolution settings for the video. "

After much trial and error, I found that the only way to get decent still images from the GoPro is to use it at the following settings.  These settings ensure the highest quality stills but only take one still image every five seconds.  The video is not interrupted when the GoPro shoots still images, but you can't use the highest quality video settings in this mode.

Set the GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition camera as follows:
My settings were as follows: set video to 1080p 30fps.  Set the camera to shoot video and take a still images every 5 seconds ("video plus still" mode).  Turn off ProTune mode.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Trip to See and Photograph Great Hammerhead Sharks This February 2015

-->
Hi Diving Friends:

I would like you to know that I will be participating (as part of the trip group, not as a trip leader) on a trip to see and photograph great hammerhead sharks.  The trip dates are  February 15-21, 2015.  Trip participants will fly into and stay on Bimini Island and going out on a boat by day.  Contact Joe Romeiro for more information about the trip at info@joeromeiro.com. 

I've seen images of great hammerhead sharks from this area, and they are stunning.  These are big sharks, stunningly bizarre and beautiful up close.  Here's a tip from one of my underwater photographer friends, “If you want great great hammerhead images, go with Joe Romeiro.  The others cannot deliver what he can.  That is my advice.” 

I'll be on the trip as a “regular” diver and will be happy to give scathing criticism of other divers' photos and to incessantly show my images and talk about them in favorable terms as well.  Just joking.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Clear and Warm, Schools of Jack Mackerel: Catalina Island This Summer Was Awesome


I dove Catalina Island for a week this September with my friend and rebreather guru Alan Studley, aboard the very nice Scuba Luv day boat.  The water was warm and clear (74 degrees!).  Schools of jack mackerel were everywhere.  The garibaldi were out in their full orange splendor.  I could dive for hours with just a thin tropical wetsuit.  Heaven on earth!



Seastacks, Olympic National Park Coastline, Washington State



In search of tidepools, I took a series of images to create this panoramic shot of a beach in the Olympic National Park, Washington State, last week.  No great tidepools here so far, but awesome beach scenes.  I'll be back for more low tides. 

This was a series of handheld shots which were then merged by Photoshop into this panoramic image.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Panoramic Image of Swimming Hole in the Smith River, California


I've not posted new photos for my blog in a while; been on a road trip with my old friend Andy Day.  I've become enamored with finding nice swimming holes; I highly recommend an iPad app called "Oregon's Swimming Holes."

Here's a recent panoramic image of a beautiful swimming hole in the Smith River, which is near the California and Oregon border.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

USPS is Pretty Good for Packages, But....

I use USPS.com to ship packages a lot.  I like using USPS.com to ship packages.  It gives me the rate, I pay for it, I put the package in my mailbox, and the service generally provides tracking.  I use Priority Mail a lot for packages, which does provide tracking.  I don't have to take the package to another location, like the horribly customer-unfriendly Kinko's a few miles away.  I don't get suprised by charges later, such as "rural delivery surcharge" and fuel surcharges, like Fedex loves to charge -- after they've quoted me a rate! 

But, still, USPS can improve.  For one thing, you choose a day for your package to go out.  If you choose a date, then your package HAS to go out that day.  If it doesn't go out that day, then you have to void your label that you printed, ask for a refund (which takes 3 weeks), and print out another label.  So why, when the USPS site gives you a choice of days to send your package out, can't they tell you that "Monday is Columbus Day, so you should not choose this date."  Why can't they not offer a postal holiday as a choice when you are shipping a package?  It sure would make things easier for their customers. 

Here's something that just came up today when I tried to order shipping supplies from USPS.com.  Why can't they just let you know upfront that you can't order more than one of these boxes?  Why allow that quantity box to be set by the customer if you aren't going to let him order more than one? 




Monday, October 27, 2014

A Hotel Booking Site That Makes It Difficult to Cancel

I am planning a trip to Las Vegas for a diving show. 

I use the website Kayak a lot for planning my air travel.  They own a website called Jetsetter which sends emails about nice hotels in nice destinations, and supposedly great deals.  I started getting their emails and tried them out, booking a hotel in Vegas through them.  I was not impressed with them and cannot recommend them (I do highly recommend booking.com and tripadvisor, both of whom I use regularly to book hotels). 

Jetsetter takes your money immediately after you reserve your hotel room -- in full.  They not offer any way to cancel your hotel room on their website. You have to send an email or call, which I always find suspicious (it's just too easy for a company that has your money to not return emails or calls).  Because they take your money immediately,  there's no recourse of filing a credit card dispute if you want your money back. Being forced to call or email to cancel a reservation is 50% of the problem in my book: they only answer phones from 9am-6pm EST. I have also found that the prices on Jetsetter are not great deals -- other booking sites had lower prices. 

It's too bad.