Monthly Archives: July 2015

Things to know if you plan to buy a Cheerson CX-20

This is a shopping list if you are interested to buy an affordable (best price/features) Cheerson CX-20 drone and related accessories for more fun.

This was my 1st choice when I decided to buy a drone (from a beginners perspective) back in March 2015. Then I “modded” it to get the feeling on how it is to cultivate this hobby and of course to capture better footage (the gimbal was the first priority, as the videos taken with the standard gimbal were trembling a bit). I crashed it several times, not only in the first days but also months later and you know what? It still flies well! It’s really a good machine to start a drone adventure and little crashes don’t ruin it too much. Just the shell.

For more options check also this post: Cheap drones under 300 USD to attach your GoPro

Cheerson_CX-20_Mt_Pelerin_Lac_Leman

Note: I own a Cheerson CX-20 and bought everything from bangood. Banggood is an excellent online shop. Free shipping for most of the items (for big items like the drone you may pay a little fee, but all accessories are sent for free) and they arrive in Switzerland in around 2-3 weeks, exceptionally in 4 weeks.

I recently did a compilation of my adventures and stupid, funny things done with my 1st drone in summer and autumn 2015. I can tell you one thing: you wanna do your experiments with a cheap drone. Besides some bad crashes that ruined the body and the legs of the Cheerson CX-20 (which can be replaced) I’m quite happy that it is still in good conditions.

Mandatory things to buy

Note: prices checked and updated on 2016-12-28.

Recommended to buy

1 or 2 extra batteries are recommended. A 2800 mAh (already included in the RTF package) battery has an autonomy of around 15 minutes. I have a 2200 mAh battery with a broken cell and it can fly for around 8 minutes + 2 minutes “beeping” reserve.

If you want a bigger battery you’ll need to adjust the battery tray (DIY). See this video on Youtube to get an idea: CX20 Battery tray conversion for High Capacity battery. I did it but honestly I don’t think it’s worth it: extending the plastic to make the compartment higher for the battery to fit makes it harder to close the shell, and also it creates a lot of tension in the structure. Buy 2 more batteries instead, trust me.

Optional to buy

The 1st thing I bought with my drone is the imax recharger and I’m quite happy I did so. It is much faster then the original minimalistic charger included with the drone. It has also functions to discharge batteries, or putting them in storage mode. This can make batteries last longer.

  • Imax B6-AC battery recharger: 33 USD (this is a cloned version of the skyrc. It works perfectly for me. Buy the original if you want the best quality).
  • SKYRC iMAX B6AC V2 Professional: 56 USD (this is the original, better quality imax)
  • Lipo Bag: 6 USD (if a battery short circuits and starts to burn you may want it inside of a lipo bag and not on your floor, or in your bag… so for you safety you may want one of those).
  • Li-Po Battery Balance Charging Extension Wire Cable 20cm: 1 USD (take for 3S: this is useful if you wanna recharge your battery inside a lipo bag. The battery balance cable is too short, this extension makes it easier & safer).
  • A metallic box (like those you buy to put some money in it, or ammunition boxes) to store your batteries. Same: if the batteries explode you may want them in a metal box. A lipo bag helps a bit but is not 100% effective.
  • Propellers protectors: 11 USD (it’s not recommended to fly with these, but especially when you are a newbie, your first 10 flights are crucial. Trust me: I already had some experience with other smaller drones, but in my first 10 flights with this class (a bit heavier and quite sensitive controls) I had 4 crashes and broke 2 propellers. Buy and use these protectors for your first flights and you won’t regret it). If you break the protectors it’s not a tragedy, you can fix them with some super glue and they can protect your drone again.
  • DJI Phantom / Cheerson CX-20 backpack: 66 USD (this is a must for bikers or city pilots. I use a 35l Dakine backpack for my CX-20 but this is much better because it has several compartments to keep everything safe, plus it can be opened like a trolley)
  • 2 sets of CX-20/DJI Phantom propellers: 4 USD each

After some crashes

After some crashes I personally realized that the material of this drone is quite fragile… the body was the first to get smashed. I could duct tape it together but after every consecutive crash I had to do the duct tape job again and again… the legs got broken as well thus:

Accessories for cool videos

If you are into videography you may already have a GoPro. GoPro is like the iPhone of the drones. You pay much more for the brand, and have of course the best quality. But you may consider a cheaper action camera.

Action camera

If you have a GoPro and you are afraid to destroy/lose it you may buy a cheaper alternative for the drone, till you get more confident. But generally speaking, check in youtube comparison videos for those cameras and judge yourself. The quality is quite ok, you may even not need a gopro at all: one of those cams can be good enough for you.

Gimbal

If you buy a camera you may want to have it stabilized with a gimbal. I bought the Walkera G 2D and can recommend it. It’s almost plug and play: you attach a slider to the CX-20 bottom and you slide the gimbal in. There is a cheaper gimbal, for 50 USD, but you need to drill the drone and other modifications to make it work. Spend 20 bucks more and save time and hassle. Check this video on youtube to see how it’s easy (with some considerations about the length of the tripod) to mount the Walkera G-2D: Cheerson CX20 FPV Setup Part 1.

cables-male-to-male-for-gimbal-power

FPV

The final pimp for my drone was the FPV kit.

Check my review and HOWTO about the Cheerson CX-20 FPV kit.

Minimal FPV Setup

UPDATE February 2016: if you don’t care about filming, so if you don’t need a gimbal and you don’t need a gopro or another action camera, but you want to have a minimal FPV setup, check this kit containing a lightweight camera, antennas and a monitor:

JJRC H16 YiZhan Tarantula X6 Camera With Monitor: 52 USD

With little effort you can adapt the YiZhan FPV kit for the Cheerson CX-20 (youtube video).

Yes, it is allowed to fly a drone in Zurich. Here the rules.

This article sums up (in English) the rules for flying a drone in Switzerland, with a particular note about Zurich.

Disclaimer

As laws and rules may change and may not be available in English I may not update this post fast enough. I don’t take any responsibility for anything written here.

You are the only responsible for your actions and you are the one who must check the (updated) rules, the laws and situation (always use common sense) before flying your drone. So go and check the official links and ask more questions to the authorities if you are unsure about something written here.

Checklist to check before taking off your drone

Inspired from paragliding, here a checklist to check before flying your drone.

  • Is the wind* good enough for a safe flight? Check the wind before leaving home. If the wind is strong your little drone may tilt and crash.
  • Is the drone in good conditions? If it just crashed before, you may have to reset/re-calibrate it before attempting another flight. I mean bring it home, fix it and do a little test, don’t just try to fly it after a crash.
  • Risks analysis: what can go wrong? E.g. if you see trees nearby, or a big building the answer could be “1) possible crash in the trees if I fly too close to them 2) possible loss of signal if the drone goes behind the building”. If I see more then 20 people I change location or fly 100m away from them as precaution.
  • Are all the transmitter switches in the proper initial positions? I think one of my first crashes happened because I took off the drone with in a different mode than the one I wanted. The wind did the rest…

Create your own checklist. Every pilot has his own checklist. If it’s easy to remember it’s even better, you just mentally check the most important points every time you wanna fly. Remember that a drone is not a toy: it can cause damages and even injure a person in case of an accident.

*About the wind: I personally had several crashes with my 1st drone (Cheerson CX-20) because of strong wind. Some people lost their drone in the trees because of strong wind. To sum up: do not fly with strong wind. “Strong” can be subjective, but common sense or your “guts” should tell you if it’s ok or not to fly. Strong wind and trees are a bad combination. If you wanna test how your drone flies with strong wind, at least try it in a place without trees and without obstacles, like a large field.

Rules in Switzerland

When I was still a newbie I met another drone passionate and in our discussion a point came out: everyone has a different answer about if it’s allowed or not to fly in Zurich.

To be sure, I sent a message to Stadtpolizei Zurich (Facebook Page) and they kindly sent me a PDF with the regulations:

Merkblatt: Einsatz von Luftfahrzeugen besonderer Kategorien (Mini-Drohnen oder Multicopter) in der Stadt Zürich (In English: Fact sheet: use of aircraft of special categories (Mini-drones or Multicopter) in Zurich). Source: Formulare & Brochüren – Stadt Zürich.

The PDF contains many links and resources. The most important one you wanna check is the BAZL (Bundesamt für Zivilluftfahrt BAZL). In English: Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA).

BAZL > Gut zu wissen > Drohnen und Flugmodelle (unluckily the English translation is incomplete so I’ll try to translate the most important points for you, as well with an explanation for dummies in Italic):

These rules apply for drones weighting less than 30 kg. For more than 30 kg you need a permission.

You don’t need a permission, but you must always have eye contact with your drone. This means: if you wanna fly it far away and use “FPV” telemetry to see, but you can’t see it with your eyes, you are not allowed to fly it.

For FPV glasses you need a permission, unless you (pilot) use them in the eye sight area and you have somebody (operator) checking the drone and being able to interrupt/control it as well in case of need. Pilot and operator must be in the same place. This means: unless you have 2 transmitters being able to control the same drone, you can’t use FPV, which to me seems quite impossible. Basically it means that FPV is not allowed. If you fly FPV on your own you are flying it illegally. Be careful.

Auto-pilot is allowed but only if you can in any moment (in case of need) take control of the drone. E.g. the Parrot Bebop drone has a Flight Plan feature. I used it several times, it’s awesome. In any moment I could interrupt it and take control of the drone. Test it first in some large field if unsure.

Taking videos/photos is allowed but you have to respect military rules and privacy rules.

Over groups of people, or within 100m from them it’s not allowed to fly a drone. In Zuich, “groups of people” means more than 24 people.

If your drone weight (including the battery, of course) is more than 500g, then you need a liability insurance to cover up to 1 million CHF in damages. Check with your house insurance or any other insurance you have, you may already be covered. If not, ask to upgrade it.

In proximity of an airport there is usually a no fly zone within 5 km from the runways. For an helipad, the radius is 2.5 kmThis means: unless you call somebody at the airport and ask the permission to fly, you are not allowed to fly. (This rule applies also for paragliding pilots and it’s really possible to give a call to an helipad/small airports and get the authorization… so if you really wanna fly in a particular place in this radius, you may try to call and ask, if you are lucky you get your authorization! Maybe try to e-mail them so you get a written proof or ask the name of the person and note date/time for reference). The distance is measured from the runway, not from the middle of the airport. So if you wanna measure this, you can take the nearest runway point from your desired place to fly. Of course you can contact the airport tower (good luck finding the phone, but it’s possible: for paragliding this happens quite often) and ask them the permission to fly over or near the airport. If they say yes, you are good to do. Aerial shots over an airport are awesome. If you can take them legally it’s better for you. Be sure to have proof that you got the permission… maybe record the phone call and ask the name of the person who granted you the permission.

Cantons and towns/villages may have their own additional rules to override the rules above.

Public events for drones or RC models are not subject to these rules. This means if you participate to a drones event, the organizers already asked all the necessary permissions, you may check with them.

Please check this official map with restrictions for drones. It shows not only the restrictions like in Zurich, where it’s allowed to fly, but only till 150m, it shows this special restriction in many other places in Switzerland.

Rules in Zurich

Now, coming back to Zurich, the important part is the following (see PDF I linked above):

“Innerhalb der Kontrollzonen (CTR) der grösseren Flugplätze, aber ausserhalb der 5-km-Zone, gilt eine Höhenbeschränkung von 150 Metern über Grund. Grosse Teile der Stadt Zürich liegen in den Kontrollzonen der Flughäfen Kloten und Dübendorf.”

The CTR (control zone) in Zurich is huge. Check Segelflugkarte Schweiz.

ctr-zurich

As you can see in the map (screenshot above added just for your convenience + I added a circle with 5 km radius), the CTR goes down till Bahnhof Zürich Enge. You may think that only from there till Oberrieden you can fly, near the lake. But if you read well above, it’s written that out of the standard 5 km no fly zone you can fly your drone till 150m of altitude! Again if you put a camera you must respect various privacy rules. So e.g. you can’t fly a drone and spy your neighbor. But if you go near a public monument, or a tourist attraction, and film it with your drone, if you respect all the above rules you are ok.

In Google Maps you can right click a point and select “Measure Distance”, then you right click another point and select “Distance to here”.

google-maps-measure-distance

You will see a segment showing the distance as in the following screenshots.

You can fly in Höngg, near ETH:

airport-zrh-eth-hoengg

You can even fly in Irchelpark (but not over groups of people or within 100m from them):

airport-zrh-irchelpark

To avoid trouble, try to avoid flying near people, especially kids. Kids are attracted by flying things. I’ve read in some RC forums that kids may even try to get your transmitter to try the drone! It’s also handy to have the BAZL rules and the Merkblatt in your pocket. In case a genius wants to teach you if you are allowed or not to fly there, you may show him the printed rules. If a cop stops you, you may wanna be polite… in case you did fly your drone where it was not allowed, you may get a warning or a fine, so try to respect the rules.

If you really do an epic fail and it goes public, we may read about your story in the newspapers and more people may begin to hate drone or drone pilots. So don’t mess things up, please!

That said, happy and safe flying.

P.S. If you believe I’m wrong in anything written here, you are welcome to leave a comment. Thank you.

How to easily make a long GoPro video more interesting?

YouTube Timelapse vs. Microsoft Hyperlapse. Which one is best for you?

This article shows you how to edit in an easy way, with an easy program, your videos you collected and didn’t dare yet to post, maybe because you have no time for cutting, or simply you don’t find them interesting enough.

During the skiing season I’ve seen many people wearing a GoPro over their helmet. Yet I search information about slopes on youtube and I hardly find videos about the slopes.

I think that sharing is caring: if you film something you can easily cut it and publish a video on youtube. Your videos can potentially help other people who haven’t been in the same place and would like to see something from the first person perspective.

In this little guide I show you how to publish some videos, without losing too much time. Because cutting a nice video can take really a huge amount of your free time, which for some of you is a no-go.

[This article is still work in progress. Please come back for updates or at least don’t complain that it’s incomplete. I wanted to publish fast some of my experiments and then add more in my free time.]

GoPro Studio

Recently a friend of mine, also owning a GoPro, told me that he uses GoPro Studio to edit his videos. Go Pro Studio is easy to use and available for free and it’s available for both Windows and for Mac. Here an introduction on how GoPro Studio works.

Step 1: View & Trim

gopro-studio-step-1-convert

You have to import your gopro videos (it won’t make a copy, it just open them), you have to convert them before you can actually do something with them. In the Advanced Settings you can choose “High Quality” and select AVI/MOV (it doesn’t really matter which format you choose. It’s just a container and the resulting file will wight the same), as well as defining where to save them. You can also resize them, change frame rate, remove fish eye effect and speed them up.

gopro-studio-step-1-advanced-settings

Step 2: Edit

gopro-studio-editing

When your videos are converted you can select them and add them in a timeline (like iMovie or Final Cut) and cut them further. You can add also the same video multiple times if you wanna cut some parts in it. Final Cut is better for this. But say you wanna just cut a bit of the beginning and a bit of the end, it’s very practical.

gopro-studio-step-2-playback-pane

Step 3: Export

Here you can select some presets for exporting. The one I use most of the time is YouTube. You can also select “Custom” and define what you want.

Notes about GoPro Studio

(to be updated) As this chapter needs some updated I just added the user manual for reference. There you find all you need: GoPro Studio User Manual (for Windows) If the link doesn’t work, try here (you find even the Mac version): GoPro Product Manuals

What you can do with GoPro Studio: add videos, select beginning and end, add a fade in and fade out effect,

What it missing: transition effects (Final Cut Pro X has a collection of much better and nicer transition effects). When you add multiple videos in your timeline, gopro studio connects them with a “+”, which means no transition effect. If you click that “+” it creates a default transition effect that sometimes you may not like.

Example/test of video lightly edited and exported with GoPro Studio

As reference, see screenshots above.

My source GoPro file: 1.54 GB. 1080p, 50 fps. I did this video by wearing the GoPro head strap. Probably it would have been better to use the bike mount for GoPro but I didn’t have it (if you buy such accessories from Banggood.com instead of buying the originals from gopro, you save a bunch of money).

In Step 1 I opened it with GoPro Studio and in the Step 1 I added it to my conversion list, then I clicked convert. 1-2 minutes later the file was ready. The resulting file can’t be opened with VLC. It’s an intermediary file for GoPro Studio and the AVI weights 10.8 GB.

In Step 2 I chose the standard blank template, then I dragged 2 times the same video in the timeline. Then I selected the beginning/ending for the 1st video and n the playback pane I set a fade in effect of 1.5 seconds. I selected a nice 5 seconds ending for the 2nd video and finally added a fade out effect. This process, without counting the waiting of the conversion, costed me around 5 minutes (I didn’t want to lose too much time).

In Step 3 I exported the video, leaving “YouTube” the default option, and finally published it on YouTube. I got an MP4  file weighting 419 MB.

Then I went to my YouTube channel and uploaded it. Here the result:

Attempt 1) original


As you can see, the video is long (7 minutes of boring biking in the city of Zurich) and it’s even shaky. In a few words: it sucks. If you publish a sucking video like this, please at least put in the description -in the 1st sentence- that its boring so at least you save yourself from many bad comments. Actually you can even disable comments, even better 😉

How to make a boring video a bit more interesting in YouTube

As initially promised, I’ll revel a few tricks to enhance a video that sucks. Actually YouTube helps doing so.

Attempt 2) YouTube stabilized

YouTube can detect a shaky video and stabilize it. I abbreviate Stabilize with “s” in my videos, for reference. I also save the enhancement as a new video, so I can keep the original for comparison purposes, or enhance it later with different options.


As you can see, the video is still boring because it’s damn long. Who will lose 7 minutes of his life to watch this, unless really interested in this particular route by bike and its dangers?

Attempt 3) YouTube stabilized and Timelapse 2x

I was thinking, to save people’s time I could speed up the video. I actually tried directly 4x but here you can see the result 2x:


The video is a bit faster, but still too slow and still boring. But at least it suck a bit less, which means we are going to the right direction.

Attempt 4) YouTube stabilized and Timelapse 4x


Personally I was quite happy with this result. 4x makes the video look like a race in the city and it’s quite fun (and funny) to watch. You can put probably something like a Charlie Chaplin movie song, or one of these funny piano tunes to make it really look funny. Since I had no time I skipped the music. I guess that for the music it’s personal taste: often I watch videos while ‘m already listening my music, in that case I always have to turn the youtube audio off, but that’s me, obviously a video with a cool soundtrack is nice. Be careful: most of the “cool songs” are copyrighted, so if you make a really cool movie with lots of views you can’t even monetize it because you are using copyrighted material. So better keep it silent and the copyrights are all yours.

Attempt 4 b) YouTube stabilized and Timelapse 6x


I did this video for just for testing and comparison purposes after generating the hyperlapse videos (see next chapter). I guess 6x would make sense on a boat or on a plane or so… for this video it’s too fast. 4x for me was the perfect result.

Conclusion

Without being an expert in cutting videos and without a big amount of time I managed to generate 1 video, upload it on youtube, then try a few options. The most valuable one is for sure the stabilize option combined with Timelapse. I had to try different timelapse speeds and in a total of 3 attempts after uploading the original I managed to get a decent video.

Be careful, the stabilize option alone can give you weird results. Here an example:

Crap Sogn Gion, Pise 49 (stabilized)


As you can see, in this video the stabilization creates some weirdness… see some zoom-in and zoom-outs during the video? Or the sky moving strangely?

Crap Sogn Gion, Pise 49 (original)


…and the original shaky version is not better 😉

Crap Sogn Gion, Pise 49 (stabilized, Timelapse 2x)


Wih 2x timelapse the weridness in the sky doesn’t go away. It’s still there but faster. Also in skiing note if you do many turns the video will be always boring anyway, with the timelapse, turns look even faster, thus if you are like my wanna vomit by watching the video if the turns are too fast 🙂

Crap Sogn Gion, Pise 49 (stabilized, Timelapse 4x)


Skiing in timelapse 4x is too damn fast, I don’t like it at all. See what I mean that it always depends on the kind of video you have? Biking in the city, 4s was ok, but not for skiing.

Note about YouTube

Please add accurate meta information in your videos, at least a few tags that make sense. In English and/or in your native language. Add also a description. If you feel like sharing the location, do that too. Finally if your video gets many views you can even get some money for your work by monetizing them with skippable ads or overlay ones. I prefer skippable ads so at least I don’t need still to close the various overlays during the video. I hate those.

How to make a video more interesting with Hyperlapse

Hyperlapse is a new technology developed by some Microsoft employees. Check this article out: First-Person Hyperlapse Videos. Check also: Introducing Hyperlapse from Instagram.

I was waiting since a long time the availability of the Hyperlapse software for the public. You can apply as tester for the Android app, get the Windows phone app or download the Windows Preview release here: Microsoft Hyperlapse.

Unluckily, the Hyperlapse editor doesn’t allow to put together more than 1 clip so I just took my initial GoPro file and cut the beginning and the end, without adding myself in the end as I did in my first GoPro Studio cut.

Another limitation of Hyperlapse for Windows is that it’s adding a watermark in your bottom right part of your videos. I searched some forums and this happens because it’s in Preview release. I believe they do it to advertize this new amazing technology and probably they want to sell the software. Let’s see…

In Hyperlapse I opened my 419 MB file exported by GoProStudio. By default the timelapse is set to 8x, so I just tested it with the advanced option. The result is quite an OK video: too fast, but somehow it doesn’t look like a crazy race/funny like in the normal timelapse 4x, so hyperlapse can be a good option if you don’t want your video to look too funny.  Also it’s quite good to speed up a long video without losing too much. The file was a 56 MB MP4 and I could see some compression artifacts. Probably you won’t notice them in YouTube, because all youtube videos have compression artifacts

Hyperlapse 8x, advanced


As previously said, not happy with the compression artifacts, I opened my initial high quality (hq) file recorded with the GoPro (1.54 GB) and tried to generate the timelapse using that one. The result had a much better quality, and the size was 203 MB. Here the final result:

Hyperlapse 8x, advanced (hq)


I wonder if you can tell that this video has a better quality than the previous, because YouTube applies a massive compression on your uploads, so for me they both show heavy compression… but I’ll upload the 203 MB file somewhere so you can see the file before being processed by youtube. Let me know what you think.

For the sake of comparison purposes, I generated also 4x and 6x:

Hyperlapse 4x, advanced (hq)


The 4x hyperlapse looks too slow for me, but maybe because I liked the 4x timelapse from youtube, which looks more frenetic (so this one in comparison looks slow). What do you think?

Hyperlapse 6x, advanced (hq)


I think that this 6x hyperlapse video is ok, fast but not too much, maybe the best of the hyperlapse series. The 8x is really too fast. What do you think?

Conclusion

If you read the entire article or at least clicked the various videos and checked my comment under each one of the, you get an idea on what I like and dislike. Objectively I can only say that depending on your time availability, your computer type (e.g. on a Mac Hyperlapse is not available yet) and the type of video you did (gopro mounbted on a bike, skiing, car, flying?) one technique could be better than the other. Just try them out and judge yourself.

What do you think? Which video is your favorite and why? Please comment!

Hope this articled helped a bit and made you want to publish some of your skiing videos one time or another. With hyperlapse, or timelapse, whatever. If you want you can share your results in the comments!

Cheers, Paolo