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Photography Techniques and Equipment This forum is for the discussion of technical details of how to take good pictures as well as discuss the equipment used in that pursuit.

Xiaomi Mi 4K drone
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Old 12-13-2017, 09:27 PM   #1
Rich Z
Xiaomi Mi 4K drone

So I finally decided to spring for a decent quality drone when I saw that video capabilities had reached a reasonable plateau for a reasonable price. Getting a GPS capable drone that can take 4K 30fps video for around $400 was the price point I was waiting for. Just couldn't convince myself that spending $2K on something that could wind up flying away or get stuck up in the top of a tall pine tree was a real wise decision for me to make. Not that I would be too thrilled with this thing biting the dust, mind you, but it certainly wouldn't be quite as painful, I think.

This is the first time I have taken it up into the air. I actually got it on Saturday, but with a brisk breeze taking place the past couple of days, I decided to just hold off on the launch date. Besides, I had a bunch of other stuff to do to get ready anyway. Firmware updates for all the hardware, calibrations for the compass and the video camera gimbal. Stuff like that.

Anyway, this was a flight with REAL modest goals. Just get it up in the air, use basic controller commands, test out the video camera system, and then land it in one piece where I wanted it to land. As long as the drone responded to the controller commands like it was supposed to, and nothing suffered any infant mortality, then this should have been easy to accomplish.

I have been practicing with some smaller drones I bought a few years ago, as well as spending some time on a flight simulator program on my PC. Honestly, this thing feels like a piece of cake to fly compared to the simulator and those smaller drones. With the small drones, if you take your hands off of the controls and your attention wanders for a bit, you might have a devil of a time finding where the blasted thing drifted off to. With this particular drone, because of the GPS capabilities, when you take your hands off of the controls, it just stays PUT where you left it. Which is great, because while taking video, it's almost like having the video camera sitting on an elevated tripod, it seems so stable. And of course the three axis gimbal helps a LOT with that too.

As you can see, very little room for error flying anything on my own property. Except for that little area around the garage, the entire rest of the property is heavily wooded. I'm not even sure I could safely land the thing near to the house, as there are some small clearings, but it would be kind of nerve wracking with all the tree branches all around. Even a small error could put the drone up into the top of a tall pine tree, with me having no way to recover it other than just waiting for it to fall out of the tree some day. Maybe I could hire some squirrels....

This drone also has the capability of recording in 1440p at 60fps, which I may try next time I take it for a flight. I think the 60fps might help a LOT with the obvious visual degradation when moving the camera. I wish this thing had come with 4K 60fps, but alas, not too many drones offering that yet, and those that do are a lot more expensive than this one. But maybe by next year things will change there too. There have been a LOT of improvements with this stuff since 2014 when I first looked into this stuff. Reliability has evidently taking a huge step in the right direction, which was a big influence in my decision to spend even this much money on a drone, modest as it is.

The tarps on the garage apron are because we covered some of the tender citrus trees last night and had the tarps sitting out to dry out before putting them away. Things should be warming up for the next week or so. As it turned out, helped somewhat when I was playing with one of the video adjustments.

Speaking of which, here are some adjustable settings for the video camera that I can play with, and early on in the video while right above the garage looking down at the tarps, I played around with the "saturation" setting on the camera. Might just be my eyes, but I could only really see a change in the blue of the tarps, and not much else. But something I guess I need to play with some other time.

I only have a single battery for the drone, so my flight time is limited to around 20 minutes. This flight was much less because about half of the juice in the battery got used up with all the calibrations and updates I had to do over the weekend. I have more batteries on order, but they are on a slow boat from China. Literally.

Anyway, this is kind of a boring video, but it will give you an idea of how well things have progressed with these flying video platforms lately. I think I am actually a bit excited about the potential of taking video from a completely new perspective for me.

The video is in 4K if you can view it at that resolution.
Old 12-14-2017, 05:07 AM   #2
Very cool! I'd love to have a drone some day.
Old 12-14-2017, 04:47 PM   #3
Is there any warning regarding how flying near power lines may disrupt the signal to the drone? A few years ago I was flying radio controlled airplanes and had one coming down for a landing at half throttle. I flew about 20 feet over a power line and the plane's motor quickly accelerated to full throttle and the rudder locked over to the right. It dug a 4 inch hole in the turf when it crashed. I wonder if the drones will react and crash?
Old 12-14-2017, 06:48 PM   #4
Rich Z
Unless the power lines are generating frequencies in the 2.4ghz and/or 5.8ghz bands, then there shouldn't be a problem with the drones being around them. Now there could be a danger in that the drone could actually physically contact a line and break a propeller, which would certainly lead to it tumbling down to the ground. And I have seen at least one video where a drone contacted a power line and sparks flew from the contact, so apparently that is a risk as well.

I believe each drone gets mated to it's specific controller, and apparently this is a narrow enough band that interference isn't often an issue. I have a wireless network set up at my house with repeaters that allow me to connect to some equipment in a building 150 ft. away. And I have wireless cameras set up, with two of the transmitters right on the garage in the video. There are four wireless cameras total, each with their own specific frequency. None of these signals have interfered with any of the drones I have been flying. And that doesn't even take into consideration all of the other bands of radio frequencies that I am sure are all over the place.

I think if these sorts of things were a substantial problem, all of the radio controlled devices would be rendered pretty much useless unless used way out in the boonies where there would be absolutely no interference at all.

Personally I wouldn't fly around power transmission towers at all, if for nothing else, the possibility of physical contact with all the lines involved and the fact that they will be VERY difficult to tell exactly how far away from the drone they really are. Proximity determination at long distance can be deceiving. Using FPV (first person viewing) is not going to be much help because of the narrow view and the fact that nearly all of the cameras use such a wide angled lens, that distances can be very difficult to determine. The best course of action from what I have seen is to always move ONLY in the direction the camera is pointing if you are anywhere near any sort of obstruction.

YouTube is chock full of drone crashes, and I've been watching as many as I can just to see what the most common causes of crashes are. Nearly all of them, especially lately, appear to be from pilot error. Either from mismanagement of the controls in a panic situation, or else just not paying attention to what is around the drone and especially in the direction it is heading, not where it is looking.

Probably one of the most problematical situations I have seen that crashes a drone is when some stupid bird attacks it and they both likely don't fare well after that encounter. I don't know of any way to avoid that if it happens, because unless the bird comes at the drone from the camera's point of view, you would never know what hit the drone to bring it down. Even seeing a bird coming, I don't think my reflexes would be faster than the bird's anyway.

Now that being said, I have found that the compass on this new drone is VERY sensitive to interference, especially magnetic in nature. When I was playing around with trying to calibrate the gimbal, I was using a battery powered level and I found that every time I put it near the drone, the controller would tell me that there was compass interference, and refuse to allow me to launch the drone. And I have heard of people having problems when especially strong magnetic solar storms were taking place.

FYI, I found a particularly interesting site that shows a lot of pertinent data concerning environmental factors that could affect flying radio controlled devices, and shows them all in a real easy to read format, along with a recommendation as to whether it is actually safe to fly a drone or not at any given time.

Hopefully I'll get to fly the drone again tomorrow. Supposed to be cloudy all day, but winds should be calm. Got two additional batteries I ordered finally, so I'll be able to charge them up and able to fly for a longer period of time. Not sure I have the confidence level yet to send the drone out over the woods over my property, but maybe. I might try to fly it above the house to see how that goes. Baby steps, I guess, until I'm sure of myself and this equipment.
Old 12-14-2017, 08:31 PM   #5

When I win the lottery, I'm ALL OVER THIS. Awesome footage, Rich.
Old 12-15-2017, 12:47 AM   #6
Rich Z
Originally Posted by SODERBERGD View Post
When I win the lottery, I'm ALL OVER THIS. Awesome footage, Rich.
Heck Don, this thing is relatively inexpensive. Truthfully I am astonished at the quality/cost equation. I was looking at DJI products that were easily 2 to 4 times more expensive. For $400 I really don't see anything out there even close in quality at that price point.

I read a LOT of reviews about this thing, and it gets high marks from just about everyone. Some noted a problem with the gimbal throwing the horizon off kilter sometimes, but even in those cases, the problem appears to be fixable. Honestly I think mine is a little off kilter too, but I don't think it is going to bother me any. At least not right away.

Hopefully longevity and related reliability will not be a factor down the road, but the technology with this stuff is moving pretty quickly, so I would imagine that when components wear out on this thing, there will be something newer and better available anyway.

Check out YouTube videos on the Xiaomi Mi 4K drone. I was pretty impressed with what I saw, obviously. I have a feeling that the company is blowing them out the door cheaply to get themselves established in the marketplace. So the attractive pricing might not last too long.

Unfortunately, the only places selling the thing are in China. But I got it delivered in just a hair over three weeks, so it isn't too bad. And shipping was for free.
Old 12-14-2017, 10:45 PM   #7
The first thing I thought, when hearing about your drone, was that it may be a great tool for locating corn snakes. LOL. You know how thick the vegetation is in southern Florida. You can't always force your way through the brush, or if you do it has to be a worthwhile venture.
Old 12-15-2017, 12:55 AM   #8
Rich Z
Originally Posted by Twolunger View Post
The first thing I thought, when hearing about your drone, was that it may be a great tool for locating corn snakes. LOL. You know how thick the vegetation is in southern Florida. You can't always force your way through the brush, or if you do it has to be a worthwhile venture.
Heck, not sure how well that would work for you. If the drone hits ANY of that vegetation, it is going down, and then you have to wade in after it. And likely have to replace one or more propellers. Having to change the battery every 20 or so minutes would likely get on your nerves, too. And then you could spot a beautiful, one of a kind, corn snake among the palmettos and watch as the snake, spotting the drone thinking it is some sort of predator bird, glides off into some hole among the palmettos.

I guess you could do it, but unless you are REAL good at controlling the thing, I suspect it wouldn't end well.

Now this did bring up an idea, though. I wonder if gopher tortoises sitting at the entrance their burrow, sunning themselves, would tolerate a drone flying up to them? I guess getting too close would have the downwash of the drone blowing sand in their faces, so that might not work. And it IS rather noisy. But maybe I'll have an opportunity some time to give that a try.
Old 12-15-2017, 05:15 AM   #9
I'll look into it. Thanks for the producdt review.
Old 12-15-2017, 07:58 AM   #10
You can't beat a drone for the perspective it brings you.

Like you I waited for prices to fall and was fortunate to come across the 3d robotics solo which went in fire sales for cheap. a $2000 drone for $180 I ended up with 2 so can keep one as a spare.


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