Our top camera picks for Drones and upcoming releases to look out for !

This episode, I want to go through cameras that we are excited to use, or are already using! Generally we look at certain qualities in cameras, some that I highlighted in my previous post - cutting edge image quality and hi-spec codecs for video and most importantly a light-weight package.

I would like to disclaim that we are not Sony fanbois and we are not sponsored by them, but somehow Sony is producing a magic formula, many of their cameras are going to appear below. 

In my weight calculations, I will factor in the lightest wide angle (20-28mm equiv) native brand lenses. Some prefer to use manual-focus adapted vintage lenses - but not us, because we require robust autofocus for our different types of operations.

We will not necessary always pick the best (biggest/heaviest) large aperture lenses. This is because low light operations are not the most important requirement for us, as we typically work in bright daylight. Sometimes using cheaper smaller lenses makes sense, as at f/8 in bright daylight, most optical weakness can be overcome.

Check out http://www.photozone.de/ for great comprehensive camera and lens review.


The Fullframe camera pick : Sony A7R Mark II

 Credit : Sony.com

Credit : Sony.com

The first generations of A7R were sexy to us drone operators, high megapixel count in a relatively compact and light full frame body. All seemed well, but, the cold shower came with the need to strap a big external recorder in order to get 4K videos.

But with the new A7RII, just released. They have rectified that with full internal 4k recording with a XAVC-S 50 m/bit codec. BOOM! The only trade off would be that moire and aliasing seems to be a issue still, but easily forgiven imo.

Weight with our lens pick SEL28F20 : 825grams


The APS-C pick : Sony A5100

  Credit : Sony.com

Credit : Sony.com

This camera is a true anomaly (perhaps because it is a newer model? ) This is because it actually surpases its supposedly upper tiered stablemates, suchs as the A6000 (even the early A7 models!) in having the XASC-50 codec and its internal processing handles moire very very well.

This is strange because it is targeted as a consumer camera - by having no viewfinder and lack of physical controls- which is actually a bonus for us drone operators! These features are useless for us and removing them saves considerable weight.

This is currently our workhorse camera with solid 24 megapixel APS-C sensor for photographs! Truly a steal. No 4K video, but not too pertinent as not 4k video has not hit the mainstream, just yet at least.

Weight with our lens pick SEL16F28 : 473grams


The really small camera : RX100 Mark III/IV

 Credit : Sony.com

Credit : Sony.com

Ok, this seems to be an embarrassing trend, but ITS SONY AGAIN! I think I have to give some company background info below to explain why they have so many strong cameras.

Uses a 1 inch sensor with great optical quality. Generally, anything with Zeiss on it is bound to be good.

But, caveats with going this small - poor battery life. You have to monitor it well as it might die halfway into flight, this has happened to us before! Also, only usable only in daylight ops, as small sensor noise performance not comparable to it's larger brethren.  

The new RX100 Mark IV has just been released, we have no experience with it yet, it seems to have 4k video XAVS-C - insane - but apparently curtailed to 5mins of recording, so keep that in mind.

Weight with Intergrated lens : 240grams


ULTRA TINY : GoPro Cameras

 Credit : GoPro.com

Credit : GoPro.com

Its GoPro, need I really say more? The Xiaomi action cam that came out to try and compete at a much lower price point was a disappointment with poor visual quality. No one seems to be able to knock off this fella of its roost, you can almost imagine the three of them pictured above prancing to "Can't touch this".

But its only for video though, no camera at this sensor size can do a really good job for photography. Even for video has some trade offs, but at that weight and price, not to mention it even has 4k (though with limited codecs) no real complaints.

Sony has come out to challenge them with the ASV100, but I would still stick with GoPro, as the action camera is their main and only product line and their niche.

Weight: 73 odd grams (!!!)


Company information time : Sony

Sony provides sensors for major camera manufacturers : Nikon, Fuji, Olympus, Panasonic, I believe even Apple - which is one of the top camera phones in the market now!

So Sony really has considerable camera tech muscle. They continuously work on new sensor tech such as stacked/backlit sensors which allow for more cleaner images at ISO.

Sony's camera division have been a boon for its flagging parent company, and they have supported/rewarded with funding I would guess.  They have been releasing hit after hit since, and blazing the trail for the mirrorless camera market.

The drawback for the typical user is that Sony is not optically that strong, as their lens picks are slim - that is more a weakness for traditional ground photographers who need specialty lenses (I believe they are trying to rectify this) but for us, they do cater the landscape lenses we need for drone use.





Black Magic Micro line

Many a time we lamented in the office, why can't someone make a dedicated drone camera? Totally strip out the non-essentials, such as dials, metal body (plastic is fine for us thank you), viewfinder and even rear LCD! Just pack a big quality sensor on it in a simple box with just the ports we need?

Well, Introducing BlackMagic Micro:

 Credit : Blackmagicdesign.com

Credit : Blackmagicdesign.com

By the almost 'indie' camera company BlackMagic with a cult-following  from pro cinematographers -  Small with 4K RAW and global shutter. Though only drawback its a pure video shooter.

Though I only heard that the company is not so strong software wise, but they are dedicated to releasing updates to rectify bugs and implement improvements. One to watch for sure.

Estimated weight with body with lens ? : 500 grams 


Sensor Technology

Fujifilm/Panasonic organic sensor technology.

Despite what you read above with Sony taking top spots, I am actually a Fujifilm fan -  they have digital cameras too - and I have one for my personal camera.  I enjoy their optical quality and nice retro looks and rugged build ( they are not suitable for drone use though! )

So I am really excited to hear that they have teamed up with Panasonic to develop a potentially game changing sensor that would allow quality boost for smaller sensors. Reportedly with 29.2 stops EV dynamic range and 1.2 times the light sensitivity of typical sensors. It is supposedly undergoing final testing and may appear soon over the horizon. Some speculate that if successful, will allows for better images in smaller packages. Possibly making APS-C the 'new' Full-frame format. We shall see?