Thinking about how to add night vision to drones? Here is a complete guide about it. Check it out!
Drones have opened up new opportunities in recreation and a wide range of commercial applications. Piloting these UAV at night is an exciting idea to capture night photos and videos for different reasons.
If you want to add night vision to your drone, I am penning this article to assist you in your mission.
Adding an exclusively chosen camera can help widen the night vision capabilities of your drone. The three options in front of you are a low light camera, an infrared camera and a thermal camera.
The choice of the right camera depends on what you expect your drone to do under low light.
In this article, you will learn the night vision capabilities of regular drones, why it is important to add night vision to your drone, the different camera options you must know and how to add night vision to your drone.
- Related: Flying Drones At Night
How To Add Night Vision To Drones
How far can my drone see at night?
Drones come with fairly good cameras to pick up the scenes at a distance of up to a mile or even more. However, low light conditions severely impair their vision. They can’t see anything well from very far under the shadow, in dim light, or at night.
To be picked up by the light emitted by the camera, it is necessary that the objects are closer to the lens. For instance, even infrared night vision cameras have a limited coverage range of 5 yards from the camera.
Thermal cameras have a bit better vision range as they can see objects at a distance of several hundred feet. Their ability to read the given image depends on the differences in thermal emissivity and not the brightness of the light source.
Why must I add night vision to my drone?
The majority of drones featuring a mid-level commercial camera can see comfortably in low light conditions. While capturing photos at night, they pick up enough ambient light and give out images that can be post-processed into readable pictures.
The number of details that a standard camera of a drone can pick up in low light conditions or at night will be invariably lower than what it would during daytime. While capturing pictures in low light, you will need to deal with graininess due to the lack of enough light for the sensors to capture clear images.
The reasons why you can expand the night vision capabilities of your drone include photography, security, inspections, and search and rescue. To augment the night vision of your drone, you will have to go for a special type of camera that is fitted to the drone as an add-on.
Is it possible to add night vision to my drone?
The latest advancements in camera technology mean you can definitely add certain kinds of night vision abilities to your drone. To do this, you will have to attach a specialized light and camera to your drone’s frame and gimbal.
To include an infrared setup as an add-on, you can attach a small infrared camera to your drone’s frame. Since these add-ons will not have their own inbuilt batteries, you will need to provide a power source to them by plugging them into a port on the drone.
Whatever you add to your drone in this way is going to add to its weight, which will impact its battery life and flight time. Therefore, work with these enhancements judiciously so as not to compromise your drone’s performance.
What are the different night vision camera options for my drone?
Researching the technologies available to augment the night vision capabilities of your drone, we can shortlist three different options. It is necessary that you understand them fairly well to be able to make the right choice to fulfill your purpose.
- Low light camera
Most drones fitted with high-quality cameras feature large-sized lenses and CMOS chips that enhance the camera’s capability to use the available light to produce an image.
While recording these images in RAW, it is possible to apply post-processing procedures to create a decent quality video or photo of the images captured in night or low light conditions.
- Infrared (IR) Camera
Infrared cameras have the ability to pick up infrared light which the human eye cannot see as this light’s wavelength is longer than the visible light.
Infrared cameras have infrared LEDs adjacent to the camera that can emit infrared light that the camera can pick up. In most cases, the images captured with the infrared camera are outputted in grayscale.
- Thermal Camera
A thermal camera needs no visible or infrared light source. On the other hand, it depends on the thermal emissivity of different materials and objects for forming an image.
Thermal cameras come to fulfill several robust applications in drones and most of them are commercial purposes. A thermal camera has a definite advantage in adding night vision to your drone.
How do I set up a thermal camera for my drone?
While looking for quality build in night-flight drones, you will come across different options like DJI Mavic Pro, Phantom 4, and many others. If you feel the drone lacks stability, you can improve the same using a carbon propeller.
Before selling a thermal camera, find out its range, charge time, flight time, working temperature, resolution and other important aspects. Remember that only with high-resolution cameras you can ensure the crispiness and clarity of the footage you shoot with your camera.
Once you have picked up a good thermal camera, you can attach the same with a good quality gimbal with the drone. The gimbal will work to stabilize the camera’s motion on 3-axis.
The gimbal and camera will work in coordination with each other in the air to deliver stable and steady pictures. Do not forget to position your camera at a small angle that is lesser than 15-degrees.
Before flying your drone at night, inspect the area during the daytime. You must choose a safe takeoff and landing location beforehand. Large buildings and trees can affect your drone’s flight.
Since environmental situations can affect night shooting, it is very important to keep track of them. Never fly your drone in weather conditions like too much or very low temperature, rain, and snow.
Before flying your drone, you must also adjust the camera settings. Though the DJI and Parrot drone features remote camera options, quadcopters lack such facilities. While there are several options, you can configure them based on your expectations.
It is possible to get some excellent shots by changing the frame rate. While most people go by the idea that higher resolutions are always better, this need not be true always.
The two popular resolutions in FLIR and DJI thermal cameras are 336×256 and 640×512 pixels. For general inspection, the 336×256 pixels resolution can be a better option. For tasks such as search, rescue, public safety, and wildlife management, the resolution recommended is 640×512 pixels. The latter one comes with a larger field view.
If you look for a greater dynamic image, you must set the image format as RAW (DNG). For brighter pictures, you need to set the ISO value to as low as possible. Generally, ISO values lesser than 100 will look good. Set the shutter speed between 5 to 8 seconds if you want maximum light dragging.
Turn off the front LEDs if you do not want to see any red marks on the pictures. You can also manually adjust the white balance through the camera.
Before beginning flights, never forget to recharge your batteries fully. You must command the drone to return home when the battery shows a 20% charge remaining.
When the battery charge reaches 10%, the drone starts landing automatically irrespective of where you are. Always carry a spare battery for emergencies.
If you are new to flying drones, you might find it difficult to operate one. In this case, it is advisable to seek expert help. Also, it is necessary to find out if your local law permits you to fly a drone in your region.
After this groundwork is done, you can plot the plan to decide what you are going to do. If the drone will get out of sight, ensure you know where it can be.
It is good to run one or two trial runs before the actual flight so that you will understand if everything is alright.
Am I allowed to fly drones during nights?
If you want to fly your drone at night, you will have to get the approval of the concerned authority. Though a waiver can fly the drone at night, most times, the drone must have lights that can be seen from not less than 3 miles away.
Regulations are now easing with regard to night vision drones. To avoid any legal issues, stay up to date with the local laws and regulations to fly them at night.
There is a greater degree of flexibility with night time flying when you want to fly only for recreational purposes. As long as you will not make money from your flight, you will not need a license or waiver. However, it is expected that your drone has the lights to guide the drone’s orientation and direction.
If you want to fly your drone for commercial purposes during nights, FAA required you to have a waiver for night time operations. This is however changing and waiver might not be required in the near future. However, you will need to prove your knowledge of safety procedures during your training and testing.
Jon is a passionate photographer and videographer who has been flying DJI drones for over 5 years. He loves the freedom and creativity that comes with capturing aerial footage and the unique perspective it provides. Jon is always on the lookout for new locations to explore and capture with his DJI drones. His favorite DJI drone is the Mavic 2 Pro, which he uses to capture stunning 4K footage with its Hasselblad camera. Jon is always eager to share his knowledge and experience with other drone enthusiasts and is a member of several online drone communities. When he’s not flying his DJI drone, Jon enjoys hiking, camping, and spending time with his family.