Next Upgrade: GoPro Hero 3+ Black

My next upgrade for the quadcopter is going to be a GoPro. Specifically, I’m looking to pick up a Hero 3+ Black (though if I find a great deal on the Silver, I might take that instead.)

A friend of mine joked the other day that he was disappointed in the quality of the shots from my quad; linking the video of flight in DC as what my video should look like. He was clearly just making a snarky comment, but I wanted to establish that there are two huge differences here: a gimbal mount and a GoPro.

A gimbal mount offers in-flight stabilization using a gyroscope, and typically also offers pitch control (looking up and down) via a 7th channel on the transmitter. A good gimbal (like the ZenMuse H3-3D) costs about $350 — and is also balanced around a particular type of camera (in this case, the GoPro), for both balance and placement. A gimbal is key for doing stable shots: a quadcopter stays in the air primarily through brute force, constantly adjusting its four motors to stay level, and shifting in moving air is constant. Without a gimbal, you will always have shake, especially when hovering or moving slowly. (With a strong lateral or forward movement, there tends to be less drift.) This YouTube video demonstrates two different types of gimbals, and is a good video of a gimbal in action.

But currently I’m shooting with a cheap 720p camera, and the more I shoot, the more I notice it (and see how it suffers). Upgrading to a GoPro — in addition to making the gimbal usable without hacky mounts — seems like it will have the following effects:

  1. Better color. Everything taken from a modern GoPro is just significantly more consistent in color, and that’s a huge problem, especially in low light, from the cheap FC40 cam.
  2. Better compression (or maybe none? I don’t know.) The FC40 cam does a shitton of compression on-device before you ever get to the video, which makes getting some types of video out of it (like my forest flight) impossible to get good quality out of. This is a real PITA for flying in a lot of places — even the river gets affected.
  3. Better consistency in light. The FC40 does do exposure adjustement, but it’s super jerky and ugly, especially in the evening. The GoPro footage I’ve seen doesn’t seem to have the same problems.
  4. Better base resolution. The black offers up to 2.7k video at 30 fps, or various different sizes (like the 1440p super-wide) that give you plenty of room to crop crap out while doing post-processing for things like image stabilization.

The reasons for choosing the Black over the Silver aren’t huge — the Silver doesn’t have the higher end resolutions (4k, 2k, 1440p), but is otherwise pretty similar. However, when you look at eBay, the price differential is < $50, rather than the $100 difference retail, and I think that the $50 is worth it.

I know that the video I'm producing isn't great yet, but that's okay. As time goes on and I can invest some more in my tools, and also learn better video editing techniques, I feel confident I'll be able to continue to improve in this area.

But step one is definitely a GoPro.

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