Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Using the DJI Phantom 3 Advanced for the First Time, Updating Firmware

Bottom Line: DJI Phantom 3 Advanced is AWESOME. 


I flew a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced in Papua New Guinea.  I flew it over water about two dozen times and recovered it every time. 

All I can say is WOW.  Right out of the box, I got the Phantom 3 up and running, with the ability to control the camera angle, take videos or stills, and see first-person view (FPV) on my tablet (a Nexus 7 Gen 2, which costs only $100 now).  Here's an image from the trip.

I highly recommend Lowepro's great DroneGuard CS 400, which makes traveling and using DJI's Phantom 3 and other quadcopter models easy. 

Here's a photo of my DroneGuard CS 400, packed with a Phantom 3 Advanced quadcopter.   The case accommodates a drone with the propellers on.  This allows you to hike to a destination and unpack the drone, ready to go. 

Here are some hints if you are getting started with a Phantom 3. 

I bought a Phantom 3 Advanced recently.  I started off with a Phantom 1, and ended up drowning it in Puget Sound.  I think that a propeller may have loosened and fallen off.  I spent a lot of time and energy trying to make that Phantom 1 do what I wanted, which was to take still images with a GoPro Hero 3+ Black camera.  It was a lot of work.  I ended up having to do way too many steps before each (very short, 5 minute) flight: connect the 9V add-on battery to the Boscam 5.8Ghz transmitter; connect the battery to the actual Phantom (their design, and problematic); connect all the wires to the GoPro camera; turn on the GoPro and start recording; and the list goes on.  I did a few flights where I forgot one thing or another, and ended up with nothing.  It was frustrating.  I have always been more of a stills photographer than a videographer, and attempting to take still images rather than video with a GoPro remotely was very difficult. 

I bought a Phantom 2 (non-Vision), thinking that I'd solder up some wires again and put on a GoPro camera for best quality.  I was not looking forward to it because of all the time and troubleshooting that this would involve.  I am really tired of soldering stuff and having wires all over the place too -- I did plenty of this as a college student. 

When a Phantom 3 Advanced model came out at a good price, I decided to buy one.  I did not realize what a great machine this was.  Everything is thought out well and I have everything I need out of the box.  The Phantom 3 Advanced is the same as the Phantom 3 Professional, except the camera shoots 1080 video rather than 4K (a new firmware upgrade allows the Advanced to shoot 2.7K). 

Right out of the box, I have a DJI camera on a gimbal, which gives incredibly steady video shots.  It takes videos and stills.  Right out of the box, I have first-person view (FPV), which lets me see what the camera on the drone is seeing.  I have control of the camera, the gimbal (which lets the camera shoot straight down or level to the horizon), and the drone itself with the DJI transmitter (again, right out of the box).

To see what the camera on the Phantom 3 sees (FPV), you need to supply a smartphone or tablet that uses the DJI Go app (it used to be the DJI Pilot app, which is no longer available).  I tried a Nexus 5 phone and a Nexus 7 second generation tablet with the DJI Go app.  The Nexus 5 phone did not work well at all with the Phantom 3 -- I kept losing the signal to the drone, and had to fly it blind.  The Nexus 7 II, on the other hand, has worked near-perfectly with the Phantom 3 and DJI Go app.  I can turn video recording on and off from the tablet, and I can see what the camera sees -- almost perfectly. 

DJI specifies the following as being very compatible with their DJI Go App:

iOS Version v2.2.0. Requires iOS 8.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPad Air, iPad Air Wi-Fi + Cellular, iPad mini 2, iPad mini 2 Wi-Fi + Cellular, iPad Air 2, iPad Air 2 Wi-Fi + Cellular, iPad mini 3, and iPad mini 3 Wi-Fi + Cellular. This app is optimized for iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, and iPhone 6 Plus.

Android Version v2.1.0. Requires Android 4.1.2 or later. Compatible with Samsung tab s 705c, Samsung S6, Samsung S5, Samsung NOTE4, Samsung NOTE3, Google Nexus 9, Google Nexus 7 II, Ascend Mate7, Nubia Z7 mini, SONY Z3 EXPERIA, MI 3, MI PAD.

If you are starting out with a Phantom 3, I would bet that using one of the above specified smartphones or tablets will give you far better results than using a phone that is not in the above list.  I have an iPad 3rd generation tablet also, and I simply could not install the DJI Go app (not sure why -- wouldn't the OS of the app be the determining factor rather than the model of tablet?). 

I've flown the Phantom 3 twice now, upgraded the firmware to version 1.342, and it's all worked out great.  I will wait a bit and then upgrade to the newest firmware, which offers some exciting flight modes, which you can see on the DJI site.  I'm always cautious about updating to the newest firmware or OS on any machine, and one friend has told me that his Phantom 2 worked fine until he updated the firmware -- upon which his Phantom 2 never again worked well. 

For my initial flights, I can say that the video is just outstanding.  It is steady and sharp.  I have not been as impressed with the still images, but I am sure that I will get there. 

For the first time, taking good videos is easier than taking stills. 

There are a few resources to guide you through updating your firmware.  I found that DJI's video tutorial was pretty good -- but their PDF guide was really lacking in some essential information.  Here are some tips when updating firmware:

Follow the instructions on other sites.  Be sure you have enough battery power and that you give this whole firmware update process a good 40 minutes.  The firmware update should take 25 minutes. 

Here were some useful tips from a couple of websites, that offered more detail than the DJI tutorials (especially their not-so-great PDF instructions):
After the minute it will beep in a pattern such as “Beep-Beep-Beep-Beep-Pause” and this will be repeated during the whole firmware upgrade. ...It’s much quieter than the startup beeps. During the process the front LED indicators are solid red, and the Aircraft Status Indicator LED’s flash yellow. [I was pretty concerned about seeing my LEDs flash yellow for several minutes until I read this].

(Updating to 1.4.0010 i got the normal standard bootup beeps four times around the 13th, 14th, 15th and 17th minute into the process) After each it just continued it’s normal “Beep-Beep-Beep-Beep-Pause” sounds.
(Updating to 1.4.0010 at 31min the beeps got a bit distorted for a few seconds then returned to normal)
After about (13 minutes in my case for 1.1.0006 and 32 minutes for 1.4.0010) The beeps will change to a “Beeeeeeeep-Beep-Beep-ShortPause” tune. This means the firmware upgrade is complete.  [Yep, the beeps changed.  I was not at all sure what to do after 38 minutes had passed, since the Phantom 3 was still beeping.  After reading this and the other blurb below, I realized that the process had ended]. 
Shut down your Phantom 3 Note: The Camera Processing Board, Gimbal and Camera can be hot to the touch, happens to me too. Just be sure to let it properly cool before flying or putting it away.


Phantom 3 Firmware Beeping Sounds

With the Phantom 3 firmware update,  you have to pay attention to the beeps the quadcopter gimbal and remote controller are emitting during the upgrade.  Here is some information on these beeping sounds.  I have videos below which will also take you step by step through the update process.

Ready to update sound from the gimbal similar to D-D-D-D  D-D-D-D.  You don’t have to do anything at this point.
Fast beeping noise indicates the firmware is updating. This can take up to 25 minutes. Sound is  similar to DDDD DDDD.
Slow beeping sound when firmware update is complete.  Similar sound to  D—DD D–DD.  At this point you would restart the Phantom 3 manually.
NOTE: A long beeping sound means the update has failed.

Updating the firmware in your remote controller (RC):
After updating the firmware in your Phantom 3 drone, you may have to update the firmware in your remote controller (RC).  Or you may not. 

I spent a good hour trying to figure out the various instructions on updating the RC.  It appears that you can link the RC to your smartphone and DJI Go app, and then update the firmware on your RC that way. 

However, if your RC has older firmware (I am not sure what is considered old), then you need to put the new firmware (the newest for your RC is version 1.3.20 as of today) on a USB flash drive, then put that USB flash drive on the RC itself.  I tried this with various flash drives.  It never worked.  That's when I discovered this forum post:

I had the same problem (RC never updates with USB flash drive). Talked with support and was told if you have the GL300B version control it was sent with the latest update. The GL300B not A is the newest version and it will update wirelessly at a later time. I have flown my drone 16 times and it has worked perfectly.

In other words: Look on the bottom of your RC.  If you have the GL300B, then it is the newest version.  Here's what I think.  I think that the GL300B RCs already have v1.3.20 firmware on them.  If you have a GL300B RC, then trying to update it with a USB flash won't work. 

The DJI website states this:
The All-in-One firmware v1.4.0010 does not include remote controller update package. However, for the best user experience, it is recommended that the users who are using the firmware that older than v1.3.20 to update the firmware to v1.3.20 before updating the aircraft.

Here's what I think: if you desire to update your Phontom 3 to v1.4.0010 (which I plan to do in a few weeks, because it seems to have some awesome features like "follow me" and "point of interest"), then update it FIRST to v1.3.20.  Make sure your RC is also update to v1.3.20.  THEN AND ONLY THEN, update again to v1.4.0010. 

Like I said, I am holding off on updating to the very newest firmware until a few weeks have passed, to be safe. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Great Hammerhead Shark Trip, Bimini, January 2016; and Tiger Beach (Tiger Sharks, other sharks), November 2016

I would like to let interested divers and photographers know that I will be on two trips, with the focus on getting close to sharks, with Epic Diving in the coming months. I'm excited to go diving again with Epic Diving's Vince and Debra Canabal, who are super-smart and super-nice people.  Of course, I am also excited to be going back to these destinations, which offer opportunities to see really cool sharks up close. 

Here are the trip dates.

Great hammerhead sharks, Bimini: Jan 29, 2016 to February 4, 2016: I believe that there's only one spot left.

Tiger Beach (tiger, reef, lemon, and other sharks): November 6-12th, 2016.

These trips are land-based, which is something I really prefer. I will be on these trips as a “regular diver” (I am not the trip leader) and as such will be happy to engage in informal chats about photography and to point out how much better my photographs and gear are to others' on the trip. Just joking.

If you want more information, feel free to message me here or contact Epic Diving. Their website is: