I have been toying with the idea of purchasing/bowrrowing a UAV and attempting to capture my own aerial imagery. I have pretty good DSLR Canon gear and several lenses but I am wondering what lens, focal length and camera settings, including capture intervals, vehicle speed, etc. are recommended.

  • I personally don't know enough about this topic to provide an answer at all, but, to get the most applicable answer, you might consider editing the question and including anything you can about the type/class of UAV you're looking into &/or general altitude info you're looking at. I've seen some really small UAV's that fly pretty low to ground that I would think would need a lot less zoom for detailed shots than a higher flying UAV. Just a thought... – John Apr 16 '14 at 20:35

All of the specific answers I can come up with would have likely already occurred to you as a photographer. A low distortion lens with a shorter focal length (based on your prospective altitude). High shutter speed to minimize motion/vibration impacts. Interval and speed are something of a function of your flight plan and altitude - I don't know if there are specific numbers to follow vs it being a equation to be solved for each flight since you want to ensure sufficient for in- and cross-track overlap. Generally speaking, from a camera settings standpoint you can just think of it as another type of panoramic stitching scenario.

Your best bet might be talking to DroneMapper. They are software as a service that aims to process images collected by UAVs, and as such offer recommendations on equipment and procedures - very generally in their FAQ, more specific on their Guidelines page, and several very specific PDF guides and informational papers under Documentation (all under Support on the nav menu). From various areas of that site:

For best results: Shutter Speed >= 1/1000th, Auto ISO, White Balance setting fixed to 'Sunlight', 'Day' or 'Cloudy' depending on sky conditions. We've also seen great results with a fixed ISO setting.

...a good rule of thumb to use is the camera shutter speed should be set at no lower than the time to move one half of a pixel...

We recommend > 60% in-track overlap (75% is a good target #). So for this example let's say you fly at a nominal 13 m/sec. 75% overlap in-track means that you move 52 m relative to the ground (75% of 209 m = 157 m; 209-157 m = 52m) and take a photo. At 13m/sec you need to take a photo every 4 sec. Depending on expected wind conditions and the actual UAV ground speed you may want to adjust your photo interval faster to maintain adequate overlap.

Other links: Two commercial companies developing in this field are SkySight Aerial Imaging and Falcon UAV; they might be willing to talk with you about some of your questions. Two other websites that may have some good info are DIY Drones and a section of the Virtual Terrain Project on collecting your own imagery.

  • Thanks for your input Chris. I don't think it's off topic. I am asking about setting up equipment for remote sensing. Data will be used in GIS. I am in Canada and where I am no license is required to operate UVA up to 400 ft; license is needed for higher altitudes. In any case right not I am only interested in the camera-lens setup and how it can be used to collect the data. – Jakub Sisak GeoGraphics Apr 17 '14 at 3:33
  • @Jakub You're right, that was a poor answer. My opinion was just that, and why I didn't flag it off-topic. It should have been a comment if anything. Nor were the 'considerations' really relevant to what you asked. Hopefully my revision is more on track. – Chris W Apr 17 '14 at 5:55
  • Thanks @Chris! That's good information. I will poke around the sites you linked. The info you provided makes sense. I am curious about focal length now and its relationship to capture interval. Will try to find some tables for this. Software and post processing will not be a problem; seems there are options out there for photogrametry dem, stitching, etc. – Jakub Sisak GeoGraphics Apr 17 '14 at 12:54
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    @Jakub I don't know you'll find tables, but a dimensional FoV calculator as on this page can help and you may be able to set up a spreadsheet to calc your own table. Focal length and your specific sensor size/resolution combined with altitude gives you your groundplane FoV. FoV combined with your flight speed and accounting for overlap as above sets your interval. This paper and this page may help. – Chris W Apr 17 '14 at 17:21

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