Like sports cars, drones seem to beg for custom modifications. If you're a keen aerial photographer, many mods can be made to get better shots. If you're a clumsy flyer, you can extend the life of your drone with some durability DIY. Here are 11 hacks to consider.
Abraham Joffe is an award-winning Australian cinematographer specialising in documentaries and nature videos. His expertise in drone imaging recently landed him a producing role on Tales by Light; a six-part television series by Canon and National Geographic which kicked off last week. We asked Joffe to share his tips for flying drones and taking photos with them.
#1 Antenna Booster
This is a controller modification that reduces signal interference. Having a cleaner transmission signal increases flight range. It also reduces battery use that, in turn, extends flight time.
This can be very useful if the drone must fly quite a long distance before getting close enough to the subject to take a good photo or to record video. An antenna booster can help reduce the likelihood of flyaways, which can be dangerous and costly. You can find some online options for various drone models here.
<h3?#2 Camera Upgrades
When upgrading your camera, there are two factors to consider: the resolution for still photographs and the video capture quality. A camera with 12-megapixels resolution is becoming standard for drone photography. For video capture, ultra high-definition (AKA 4K) resolution is what most pilots shoot for.
Some drones work well with optional cameras, such as the GoPro line. This may offer an upgrade possibility for those who do not have a high-quality camera. One advantage of owning a GoPro camera is that it can be affixed to other things, such as a headband when racing on a mountain bike or when participating in extreme sports. This gives videographers more interesting shots to work with and mix with their drone footage.
#3 Camera Filters
Photos and videos can be upgraded by using camera filters. Common filters for drones include protective UV filters, neutral density (ND) filters, and circular polarizer (CP) filters. ND filters reduce light levels but do not change colors. CP filters reduce glare and improve image quality.
Using a filter on a camera also helps protect the lens from damage. PolarPro is a popular brand that makes ND, CP, and hybrid ND/CP filters. Colored filters can be used for special effects shots, such as deep blue filters that change daylight shots to appear to be shot at night.
#4 Gimbal Stabilisation
One of the most helpful items for improving image capture is to have gimbal stabilization. This helps you get smooth, crisp images and videos. Depending on the drone model, gimbal stabilization can be added as a modification if the drone design allows for it.
Consider getting a gimbal lock to protect the gimbal mount and its damper during drone transport. This lock holds the camera along with the gimbal in place to protect them both when traveling.
#5 Carbon Fiber Propellers
If your drone does not come with carbon fiber propellers, consider buying some and swapping them in. Plastic propellers can break easily. Just hitting one propeller that breaks can cause the drone to fly out of control and smash into something. This may cause significant further damage.
When replacing propellers with new ones built of stronger materials, also look for propellers that have a design that is made for your needs. Drones designed for image capture do not need to be flown for racing speed.
Instead, the propellers need to help the drone hover in place with stability in order to capture great shots. Propellers designed for strong wind resistance are good designs for these purposes.
Consider getting two pairs of the same durable propellers in different colors. Mount each color together so that the drone has two of the same-colored propellers in the front and two of a different color in the back.
As an alternative, you can hand paint two of the propellers in a different color than the other two. This makes it easier to see the direction the drone is flying.
#6 Propeller Guards
Propeller guards protect propellers from damage in a collision. A collision may happen unexpectedly, such as when a strong wind suddenly comes up and blows your drone off course.
Guards can keep the propellers from breaking and reduce the chance of something being caught in the blades.
#7 Portable Landing Pad and Leg Extenders
Using a portable landing pad makes it easier to have a level surface and guide the drone to a soft landing that doesn’t kick up dust and debris. Dust may cause damage to a drone when it gets into the motor or drone housing where the electronics are located.
Get leg extenders if you plan on landing your drone in high grass. This keeps its propellers from getting caught and potentially damaged.
Increased motor strength improves the flight characteristics of a drone. You may not want it to fly faster but you may want more rotor power to hold a drone in position against any wind.
A stronger motor will use more battery power, so consider upgrading the batteries as well.
When buying a new drone it may come with lower-quality batteries. Upgraded batteries can massively improve your flight sessions.
For example, a drone may come with a 550 mAh standard battery but be capable of using a 1200 mAh upgraded battery. This battery upgrade can increase the flight time by up to double and provide sufficient power for an upgraded motor.
#10 Battery Charger and LiPo Safety Bag
Charging lithium-ion (LiPo) batteries using a USB connection results in poor battery performance. It is better to use a high-quality, balanced battery charger that plugs directly into a power socket.
Also, a fireproof LiPo safety bag when charging and storing batteries is recommended. Batteries catching fire does not happen often; however, it is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to re-charging LiPo batteries.
#11. GPS Tracker
If your drone does not come with GPS navigation/location capabilities, it is a good idea to attach a GPS tracking device.
You can use this to locate your drone if it gets lost due to a sudden flyaway caused by a broken signal from the drone to its controller.
Adding customized modifications to your drone is fun and can improve the flying experience and its image capture capabilities. Swapping out lower quality parts with higher quality replacement parts can also increase its lifespan and durability.
Mark Sheehan started My Drone Authority to share his knowledge and help people get the most out of this amazing hobby and profession.