Thursday, August 20, 2015

Short Review: Olympus Air as Drone Camera

As a dedicated Micro 4/3 Mirrorless camera user, I thought it would be great to try the new Olympus Air A01 camera.  This is similar to a product put out by Sony which attached a photo-quality lens to a Smartphone.  However, the unique ability of the Olympus Air is that it will take any interchangeable Micro 4/3 lenses.  Price is low: approximately $299 street price in USA for body only.

Olympus AIR A01

I received the AIR yesterday and rushed to get it charged (about 4 hours) and get it set up.  It is not a perfect product and there are a few warts, some of which could be fixed in future software.  The cylindrical body of the AIR is quite small and light, and it communicates with your IOS or Android device via Bluetooth and Wifi.  This has some issues as you disconnect from your home wifi to access the AIR wifi, as the AIR sets itself up as an access point.  You also have to download the correct Olympus AIR app, and set a few things up.  The normal mode of use is to clip your smartphone to the back of the AIR and use it as a viewfinder and remote control.  I tried this and it works as advertised.

The AIR has the following useful qualities for drones:

  • Professional quality sensor (16MP) and lenses, Full HD at 30 fps
  • No added functions, buttons, screens, & grips which are normally part of a photo quality camera - you don't have to lift a whole DSLR to get Photo quality
  • Tripod mount - invaluable as you can easily adapt it to existing gimbals and mounts
  • Interchangeable lenses
  • Autofocus, image stabilization, face detection, long list of DSLR type features
  • Ability to turn off wireless connections so they do not interfere with drone radio control
  • Built-in battery
  • Light - I measured 368 gm for the AIR with a Panasonic 14-42mm zoom lens, which is not the lightest 4/3 lens by any means.  The AIR alone is about 150 gm.
  • Open API interface so software could be written to control the camera and lens in flight
I rushed to get it installed on my test mule drone, an SK450 Deadcat.  I found a tripod mount that attached to my existing Gopro mount, but it was not ideal as it mounted the AIR too high and too far forward, but it sort of worked (see photos).

There are a few drawbacks to the AIR, which I will list below, mainly concentrating on drone-specific items:
  • The setup is complicated, you have to read the instructions carefully and follow them
  • The app is not intuitive, some updates needed here
  • Wifi video transfer to smartphone takes a long time for some unknown reason, about 10 minutes for a 3 minute video.  I recommend connecting the AIR via USB to your PC where the transfer took about a minute.
  • You have to keep your smartphone hooked up to the AIR by wifi and bluetooth, and the smartphone will try to go back to its home network if you turn off the AIR or connection is lost, causing you to have to go back to the setup menu and reselect the right networks again.
Olympus AIR with Panasonic 14-42mm lens

SK450 Deadcat with AIR

Closer View of Not-So-Great Mount

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Always Keep Two Quadcopters

I learned again that it is a good idea to have two quadcopters:

  1. One to fly
  2. One that you crashed and is being repaired
Another important lesson was not to fly near trees, as Quadcopters Love Trees.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Quanum Q-2D Brushless GoPro 3 Gimbal Test

Gimbal Mounted on S500 Quadcopter

Attached a 2D camera gimbal to the drone and did a quick test flight with my Gopro Hero3+ Black.

The included Gimbal mount on the S500 frame was not useable as there was only about 1-2 cm of clearance between the bottom of the gimbal and the ground and I was sure that the gimbal would be damaged in a hard landing (see previous review of the S500 frame).

The gimbal is the HobbyKing Quanum Q-2D Brushless GoPro 3 Gimbal.  I could not get it to work attaching the gimbal controls to the Pixhawk so I connected the servo cables to the FlySky i10 receiver directly.  The only adjustment was limiting the maximum throw on the transmitter for the gimbal controls to +/- 30%.  This makes the gimbal less sensitive to the movement of the rotary controls on the transmitter.

Successful indoor Test Flight is shown below:

Unsuccessful outdoor test flight (gimbal worked, quadcopter not so much) is also below:

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Hobbyking S500 Frame Review

S500 Quadcopter
I am building a new quadcopter for higher quality photography using the hobbyking s500 frame, which is similar to the sk450, but slightly larger.  It is now flying and I can comment on its pros and cons.


  • Slightly stiffer arms than Sk450
  • Plenty of space for electronics
  • Higher landing gear to allow for camera gimbal
  • Adjustable mount for gimbal - can shift gimbal forward and backward 
  • Integrated pcb for power distribution 
  • Spare parts available
  • Low cost 


  • Landing gear not too sturdy 
  • Landing gear too low to use included adjustable mount with 2 axis gimbal, have to hard mount to pcb
Note Top of Landing Gear, too flexible, not well attached to frame

I used sunnysky 2212 motors and they are much better than the turnigy motors on the SK450 - powerful, quiet, less vibration, smaller. I was also able to use my pixhawk controller which would not interface properly to the turnigy plush ESCs when I tried it on the SK450. For the S500 build, I used low cost Spider ESCs with SimonK firmware, which worked well with the pixhawk. Carbon fiber props and the previously reviewed Flysky i10 radio rounded out the build. 

First outdoor test flight is shown below. 


The S500 is a good frame for a camera quadcopter, but it is not recommended for a beginner builder. Modifications are needed for camera mounting, the landing gear, and perhaps for power wiring so it helps if you have some experience with building  quads. 

S500 fully assembled with Gimbal, Telemetry

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Flysky i10 Review

I recently bought the Flysky i10 radio for my latest quadcopter project.  I love this RC unit.

The system, as delivered, includes the transmitter with rechargeable battery, receiver, external voltage sensor, rpm sensor, and temperature sensor along with a useful manual on CD.  The manual is actually well written and useful, unlike many Chinese radios.  Build quality seems good, no obvious cheap parts or poor assembly.


The transmitter has a touch screen interface, somewhat Android-like, and it is easier to use than the older text menu driven systems.  You can set up almost anything through the interface: limits, mixes, switch assignments, delays, failsafes, etc.  The transmitter itself is slim, with rubberized grips, making it easy to hold.  There are many different switches and knobs which can be attached to any channel.  This was great for the quadcopter as you could get 2, 3, or more flight modes on one switch or knob without using cumbersome control mixing.   Camera gimbal control is also easy with the two variable control knobs on the top corners of the transmitter, easily manipulated by your index fingers while your thumbs work the joysticks. Joystick feel is good.  The transmitter can also be programmed via USB, which I have not tried yet, and it also has an SD card for storage.  Telemetry data from the receiver and sensors is shown on the transmitter LCD display.
Home screen
Icons for customizing transmitter


The ia10 receiver has 10 channel ports which work well with my Pixhawk and standard servos.  It also has an "Ibus" which can be used to output PPM (I have not figured this out yet), or take inputs from the telemetry sensors.  Ibus documentation is not great, so check back in a while and see if I can figure out how to use it for PPM and other purposes.  Range seems very good in my experience.
Receiver as installed on my Quadcopter


I installed the system on an S500 quadcopter and used a generic PPM converter to generate PPM for my Pixhawk controller.  It was relatively simple to set up the control functions, map the flight modes to a three position switch, and range check the system.  Performance during test flights and a long hot outdoor flying session was excellent.


I highly recommend this radio for quadcopters and believe it will also be an excellent choice for airplanes, traditional helicopters, and other vehicles.  The price, about $200 US, is unbeatable for the value received.
Sensors included with the System

Monday, August 3, 2015

First Successful Quadcopter Autonomous Mission

After all the adjustments to the Deadcat SK450, I took it out to the local "park" (remote muddy field) to try a mission.  It was a simple mission, fly to a few waypoints, circle at one waypoint, return to launch, then land.  It actually worked!  Here is the video: