This was a special project for me. I tried to make amateur gear travel video. The idea was that vacation was a priority. I didn’t go on purpose to make this video and I had gear that amateurs would be OK to buy and bring to vacation. As a result of this size, weight and money saving, all the gear was able to be fit in a small 10L backpack. This backpack only costs a few euros in Decathlon stores.
Watch out this two minutes video and below you can find a story about making this video and used gear.
List of the gear:
Zhiyun Smooth Q
Canon G7 X
Andoer 360 timelapse head
iPhone 8 & Zhiyun Smooth Q
I am putting these two together because I used the phone only with the gimbal to make this amateur gear travel video. My wife’s phone was a choice, but I will get same results with mine iPhone 6S Plus. iPhone 8 has 4K 60p while iPhone 6S Plus “only” shots 30 frames at 4K. I needed 60p to slow down footage and make it more stable. Because other cameras are 1080p I planned to export 1080p and iPhone 6S Plus would be equal with 60 frames at 1080p.
There is almost no difference between iPhone 6S Plus and iPhone 8 during daylight. 1mm of focal length with minimal saturation and colour difference. iPhone 6S without Plus would do this job much, much better. Even better than the iPhone 8. Which is strange, because one of the differences between 6S and 6S Plus is the camera. To be specific, the optical image stabilization (OIS) of the Plus model.
Better without OIS
But the OIS is the problem in this case. Stabilization of the iPhone is not used to work with gimbals and that makes video jitter. Sometimes less and sometimes more. You cannot turn off stabilization on the iPhone. I wasn’t aware of this problem while making this video. I used iPhone on Zhiyun Smooth Q a couple of times before and I found some jittery video. But never thought stabilization of the lens is the problem. After making this travel video, I am aware that it is not smart to use iPhone with lens stabilization on gimbals. If you need longs clips. I was good with a couple good seconds per clip.
Some apps have an option for turning off lens stabilization. But it is questionable if this option works. If a path to turning off lens stabilization is not left open by Apple, there is nothing you can do. Except to jailbreak iPhone. But nobody uses jailbreak on their iOS devices these days. There is why iPhone 6S (without Plus) would be the best choice in this case. It is the latest iPhone without lens stabilization. After 6S generation, even regular non-Plus models have optical image stabilization (OIS).
iPhone 8 & Zhiyun Smooth Q
HEVC is good for storage, (still) bad for editing
I used 4K 60p and HEVC with iPhone 8. It is impressive that you can get so many frames and details inside 50mbps file. But the Final Cut Pro X didn’t handle these files very well. To be more specific, my mid-range 2012 iMac. This computer still holds enough power. It can handle 800mbps MJPEG files from 1D X Mark II using FCP X. But new codec was a problem. Future CPUs and GPUs will have better H.265 decoding. But now I ended up making proxy files and that is not what I often have to do. The better idea from this point of view is to use 1080p 60p with regular, older, H.264 compression. I needed to have smooth playback and skimming of these files. Because I got so much jitter caused by OIS and gimbal combination.
DJI Spark is still a smallest serious drone in the world. It doesn’t look so serious, but it is. It can replace more expensive DJI drones up to Phantom 4 Pro, most of the time. I am not saying this drone is better or equal to Phantom 4 Pro. I am saying that if you don’t have more space or money for expensive DJI drone, you will be fine using Spark.
Smallest serious drone
It is super stable during the flight even during strong winds. It holds horizon level better than most previous DJI drones. DJI Spark has a very good range, especially for the price. The camera records a nice amount of details into the 1080p footage. Many people will say the lack of 4K is the problem. For me, that is not an issue. Not only for this kind of video but generally. Most of the clients still not care about resolution if you are going to give them the cinematic video.
Other people will say that a lack of log profiles is also a problem and I can agree with that. To be precise I don’t need log profiles. But I need some control over sharpness, saturation and contrast. DJI Spark only has one profile with kinda strong contrast, saturation and sharpness. Good news is that you can often correct this footage to match with some serious cameras. It is like colour correcting in reverse. This works most of the time because clipping highlights and shadows are rare in aerial shots. Even with this vivid profile. Other cameras from this project didn’t have log profiles, so mixing Spark footage was easy.
I went up to 500m altitude and over 1km in distance (not at the same time) and everything went smooth. Lack of interference every time you go out of the city is a nice to experience. But I managed to lose this drone. It was 100% my fault. The plan was to shoot a lonely island near the beach. I could take off from coastline road and that would mean about 1km before I reach the island. I planed video going to the island, one angle over the island and the video back. So even the 15 or fewer minutes battery on Spark is OK for that. In good weather.
The other option was driving on the unpaved sharp rocky road to the beach and then fly only 200-300m to the island. Glad I didn’t choose the second option because I had to drive my family back home that day for 700km. I didn’t want to risk any damage on my tires, brakes and suspension. I had brake line cut on the similar road before, only with small bumper damage.
Place of landing
Do not be too sporty
I took off from coastline road and put Spark in Sport mode to get faster to the island. That was the first mistake. Because Sport mode is the fastest way to get to some point, but it is not most battery efficient. Which is more important if you want your drone to get back to you. The strong wind was obvious. Red alert for me should be the speed of the flight. Spark in Sport mode flys around 36 km/h. I went to the island with over 50 km/h most of the time.
Now it is easy to figure out that wind in the back of the drone was very strong. But over there I was too happy to get faster to the island. You should not fly if you achieve more than 36-37 km/h in Sport mode. That would mean that winds are too strong in the back of the drone and you will not have enough battery for the return. When I got to the centre of the island I started to receive serious warning messages.
Wind is manageable if you don’t go far away
I saw strong wind warnings before on every DJI drone but I never got a message that I have to land drone right away. I decided to go back and I believed the best solution is to engage return to home. Little Spark tried to get back to me but the wind was too strong. RTH speed should be around 25 km/h without strong wind and I never saw speed faster than 12 km/h this time. This means slower comeback and enormous battery draining flying against the wind.
To be clear I was inside the window of getting back to a home shown at the top of the app. I am not even sure that you can overturn the app. The drone will go home with enough battery even if you are careless. The RTH plan is dynamic and includes current data. But app calculation wasn’t right during the strong winds.
I lost my drone about 300m from the home point, in the bushes and sharp rocks. Spark left enough battery to land slow and safe. Without any damage. Now I know that in this situation is better to find some accessible place and start landing. Rather than letting drone with Return to Home option enabled. Because RTH is going to land the drone somewhere on the line to home when it gets around 10% of battery. This landing place wasn’t near any car or pedestrian road. I had to be Bear Grylls for about 45 minutes. Now when I know terrain I would recover drone in 10 minutes.
But I tried to play safe and find a route with not much rocks and bushes. After 20 minutes I forgot about my prehistoric fear of reptiles. And after 40 minutes I decided to go straight line to the point where drone landed. Not thinking about unfamiliar rocks, vegetation and maybe animals. Because I lost too much time trying to find an easy path to my drone which didn’t exist.
Found – thanks to technology
You have enough info in DJI app to find your drone. If you didn’t lose signal before landing. You have lower resolution reference video on the phone. You can compare that footage with the Google Maps satellite view. Remember to put camera 90 degrees down before landing. To get an even precise position, you have travel data in the DJI app. There you can find GPS coordinates. You also can see satellite view in the DJI app. But you will get a better view and get more detail if you copy GPS coordinates into Google Maps. It is easier to locate a drone if you combine video, coordinates and satellite view in Google Maps.
Stronger drones will be better. But Spark was heroic and survives unhurt.
I said that DJI Spark could replace stronger drones in almost any situations. But this situation is not a good example. Drone with a larger battery and power will have more chance to get to the home point. Although similar wrong DJI app calculation would be wrong with any drone. In this situation. I had enough warnings not to fly Spark in this situation and even with my ignorance I was able to recover drone. Thanks to the technology inside the DJI app and drone. I used the drone making this video on two occasions before that day and everything went perfectly. This was my first incident with DJI Spark in almost 9 months.
Canon G7 X
This is the great small camera. It is the best combo of small dimensions and separating background from the subject in the world. With 100mm f2.8 it is better than any RX100 camera in this category. You have this and this blog posts on my website showing why G7 X is great for separating background. Even better than DSLR or MILC camera with kit lens.
Canon G7 X
Video resolution of this camera is 1920 x 1080 with 60p. You have enough control of contrast, sharpness and saturation. Using manual focus is not practical, but autofocus is good enough. Especially for regular video use. There is even built-in ND filter, although this filter is not enough to make 1/60 shutter during the sunny day at f1.8 or f2.8.
The lens makes the difference
The greatest advantage of the G7 X compared to most used amateur travel camera – cell phone, is a zoom lens. Telephoto is the easiest way to differentiate your footage from phone video. Even the wide end at 24mm is different compared to iPhones footage, which is around “boring” 29-30mm. Canon G7 X is great family and travel stills and video camera and it is an easy way to spice up this kind of video. I also made a couple rotating time-lapse videos at 100mm. Which is very different compared to time-lapse out of action cameras or phones.
When the legs of the tripod are wider than surface
I used a custom profile to turn down contrast, saturation and sharpness. This wasn’t necessary, because I had vivid footage from DJI Spark and iPhone anyway. So I made an unnecessary job in the post. At low ISO this camera has a bit of pleasant noise. Almost filmish. Which helps to make footage from this camera a bit “retro.” Speaking of noise, this dated camera is still better in low light compared to any phone. This wasn’t important for this video shot during daylight.
Xiaomi Yi Action Camera
This is the cheapest action camera that you should buy. There are less expensive cameras but most of them are wasting money. I would say Xiaomi Yi Action Camera is responsible for half of the downfall of GoPro company. Nothing special to say about this camera. It is an amazing value, reliable most of the time and you can use most of the GoPro accessories. And even if you need a special accessory you can find it online, including cheap batteries.
Footage out of this camera was great two years ago and now is above average. Considering improvements of phone cameras and other action cameras. Footage compared to the price of the camera is still great, which is around 60-70 $/€. You can get 2.3k footage up to 30p and 1080p up to 60p. Resolution of stills is 12MP.
I used this camera only for time-lapse videos. I made one timelapse out of stills and 5-6 to video file in camera. It is obvious that you will get better results if you make stills during timelapse. That way you will get a 4K resolution because of photos as big as 4K video. The advantage of making time-lapse into the video file is that you can check the video on phone. It was more important to me to know that I made a proper angle and movement after time-lapse. As you know, whole this project was about small footprint and making things simple. And making time-lapse videos immediately was the right choice. Especially because this was a 1080p project from the start.
Andoer 360 timelapse head
For making rotated time-lapses I use Andoer 360 head with both G7 X and Xiaomi Yi. It is a simple head like an egg timer. You can dial this head in one direction and the whole circle is 60 minutes move. You need 15-30 minutes of rotation most of the time. This head is the cheapest ways to give you production value if you record timelapse. It is sturdy and can handle action cameras, phones, G7 X and I am pretty sure even medium sizes DSLR would be OK.
Xioami Yi, Manfrotto Pixi and Andoer 360 time-lapse head
I had many Manfrotto products over years and never been a fan of this company. This is not fair of me. The newest additions to this list are amazing Xume magnetic filter adapters. Not used for this video for obvious reasons. I should be a fan of Manfrotto. Every Manfrotto product I had was very, very good. Most of them with the acceptable price compared to quality and usability.
Pixi is a typical Manfrotto product. Not so cheap, not so expensive, very usable. It can even handle small DSLR, like Canon 800D, with most of the lenses usually found on entry-level DSLR. This small tripod I was using only for shooting time-lapse. Both supporting Canon G7 X and Xiaomi Yi. It is very useful during travelling thanks to the weight and size. Even for serious production, this tripod can be useful. Because it can handle lights, microphones, phones, etc.
I get into the strange situation. I planed 25p video and 3 out of 4 cameras only have NTSC framerates. That mean 30p for Spark and 60p for iPhone 8 and G7 X. This wasn’t a problem because I wanted to slow footage anyway. You can get an app for iPhone and get Pal framerates but I wanted to use default app. I make a lot handheld or rushing gimbal footage so I need higher framerates to make the video more stable. I didn’t shoot any artificial lighting. It is common for lighting connected to the 50Hz grid to flicker on NTSC video. Especially with higher shutter speeds.
Amateur gear travel video conclusion
Well, this was longer text than I expected. There is no smart conclusion to this story. There is no perfect equipment. Only adequate equipment for a specific situation. For me, this was perfect equipment for this amateur gear travel video. I was on vacation and wanted to have some nice photos and videos of my family. To relax and not to bring any kind of big bag for camera gear.
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