Outfitting the Gaui 500X for FPV and Aerial Photography

Unafraid to Crash

Several months ago I picked up a Gaui 500X Quad Flyer kit.  I wanted an inexpensive platform for learning FPV (first person view) flying and light aerial photography.  I have several larger multicopters for professional photography.  But I wanted a small practice aircraft that would be cheap to fix.  I didn’t want to be afraid to crash it, while improving my piloting skills.  This article takes a look at the Gaui 500X for this purpose.

Gaui 500X First Impressions

When I first opened the box, I was impressed with the engineering quality of the whole package.  For example, the ESC’s are amazingly tiny.  They fit inside the quad’s arms, so both wires and ESC’s are hidden.   Very nice.  The wiring harness is an extremely small and simple design, constructed from bullet connectors soldered together.  Reliable.  There’s a very light weight blade guard to prevent blade strikes should the copter bump into something.  The arms of the quad are foldable, so you can pack the whole thing in a small canvas bag (included in some kits).  And there’s an optional lighting kit with LED’s for each motor mount.  This makes day flying easier and night flying possible.

Good Motors, Good Electronics

In case you’re wondering whether there might be overheating problems with internally mounted ESC’s, the motors and ESC’s run warm, but never hot.  Even with heavy loads (over 1600 grams but under the 2200 gram limit), I’ve never had overheating (unlike my larger multicopters).    The Scorpion motors are small, but efficient and ample for the quad plus a small camera.

Gaui 500X Motors and Electronics in an AGL Hobbies frame

Gaui 500X Motors and Electronics in an AGL Hobbies frame

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Aerial Photography: The Essential How-To Guide

Aerial Photography: The Essential How-To Guide by Greg McNair

Aerial Photography: The Essential How-To Guide by Greg McNair

The Bird’s Eye View

Have you ever wondered what the world looks like from a bird’s perspective?  Have you wondered how you might get a small, or maybe not so small, camera airborn to find out?     The book Aerial Photography: The Essential How-To Guide by Greg McNair shows you how to get started with remote controlled (unmanned) aircraft capable of carrying cameras.    I recently bought a copy, which I ordered from his website www.aerialphotobook.com for $49.95.  This post is a brief review of McNair’s book.

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PhotoPlus Expo 2009 Review

About Photo Plus Expo

photoplus2009PhotoPlus Expo is an international photography conference and tradeshow sponsored by PDN. It is held each fall at the Jacob Javits Center in New York city. The show usually has hundreds of exhibitors and over 100 seminars on every aspect of photography. What was most surprising this year about PhotoPlus was the absence of many major and minor exhibitors, whom we’ve come to expect from years past.  The weakened world economy had its effect.  Among the absentees were Fuji, Pentax, Panasonic, Mamiya, Broncolor, Sinar, Adobe, and Apple.  On the other hand, several manufacturers, who most recently introduced particularly innovative products, had a substantial presence. In particular, Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Sony, Epson, HP and Leica were there in force.  I’m not going to review the new camera and printer models here, since all were announced before the show, and all have been covered extensively on the web (e.g. see www.dpreview.com, www.imaging-resource.com or www.luminous-landscape.com). Instead, I’m going to focus on those products and services that get less attention, but nevertheless offer considerable value to photographers. I’m only covering items that caught my attention. I apologize in advance for those items I’ve missed that equally deserve attention.

The Unexpected: AeriCam

Radio-Controlled Helicopter with Camera or Video

Radio-Controlled Helicopter with Camera or Video

Certainly the most surprising product at the show was the AeriCam (see www.skyshutter.com). The AeriCam is a battery operated, radio-controlled helicopter capable of carrying 7 pounds of camera or video equipment on board.  What’s most amazing is that the still or video camera is mounted in a harness that allows the camera to be controlled separately from the helicopter (10 channel R/C).  Full remote control of the camera’s functions is provided. The camera harness has 360 degree pan, tilt and roll capability.   In other words, the camera can pan 360 degrees or tilt or roll relative to the helicopter which is controlled independently.  The harness can be positioned under the helicopter, so you the helicopter itself won’t be in a 360 degree pan. A live view from the helicopter is sent to the operator by radio, so you can see the world from the camera’s perspective as you are flying.  The helicopter and the camera harness have separate multi-channel radios.  Flying and photographing requires two people: one person operates the camera controls and harness, and a second person is needed to fly the helicopter.  It is recommended that you hire someone who is an experienced RC helicopter flyer.  The AeriCam helicopter, camera harness and radio gear (everything you need for basic use) costs approximately $9,000 as a kit.  Assembled units are in the neighborhood of $12k depending on options.  Fully charged batteries give you a flight time of around 6 minutes under maximum load.  SkyShutter also offers Aerial Photography services.  Check out their website for some amazing videos.

Simply Canvas

Gallery Wrap with Black Edge

Gallery Wrap with Black Edge

For several years, we have been printing on canvas, using an Epson 7600 printer.  After printing, each canvas needs to be stretched tightly on a wooden frame composed of 4 “stretcher bars.”   The stretched print is flat without wrinkles and can be hung as-is, or mounted in a picture frame.  The stretching process is the same as used by oil painters to prepare a canvas for painting.  However, a printed canvas is far more delicate than a painted canvas.  The reason is that a printed canvas is stretched after the pigment is applied, while a painted canvas is stretched before the paint is applied.  If you stretch the print too tightly, the pigment separates (flakes) from the canvas.  If you don’t stretch it tightly enough, the canvas will sag.  We usually have our canvases stretched on one inch deep bars and stapled on the back.  This gives a nice solid, clean look to the piece even if it’s hung as-is.  Usually, we print a thick black border around the image so we end up with black edges when the canvas is stretched on it’s frame.  You can also wrap the image around the bars so that it continues on the sides of the stretched piece.

The cost of hiring a framer to stretch the canvas with high quality stretcher bars can be quite high.  We usually pay around $130 or more for a 20 x 30 inch canvas print.  This cost is in addition to our printing costs (ink, canvas, and the amortized cost of the printer).  This also involves coating the canvas with a protective finish, which we have been doing ourselves.

At their booth, we discovered that Simply Canvas will take your image file and color correct it, retouch it, print it on canvas, spray the canvas, stretch it onto custom cut bars,  and ship it to you.  You can imagine my surprise when I learned that Simply Canvas can do all this for about what we’ve been paying for the stretching alone!  In addition, they’ll color correct the image if they see that it needs it.  All we have to do is send them the file.  They have a profile for their printer that you install on your computer so the colors you see on your screen will be the colors that come out on their printer. This assumes that you have a calibrated monitor. Since they are using an Epson 11880 printer, we know that getting the same look that we get with our Epson printers should be relatively easy.  Simply Canvas can handle image sizes from 6 x 6 inches to 60 x 100 inches with frame depths up to 2 1/2 inches.  They also have a variety of edge treatments, for the “gallery wrap.”  You can have your image wrap around the edges of the stretcher frame, or you can have a solid color on the edge (as in the picture), or several other creative options.  As you can imagine, I inspected their sample wraps (there were many) very carefully.   Having done this for several years, I’ve seen every possible mistake, subtle or otherwise.  For example, it is particularly hard to keep the ink from flaking off the corners.  The reason is that the corner is folded which makes the ink separate thus showing the white canvas at the crease.  Even experienced framers don’t always get the corners perfect.   All of the Simply Canvas samples I inspected were perfect at the corners and along the edges.  I was very impressed and a little stunned.  Clearly, they’re doing a very meticulous job.  Needless to say, I’m going to try them out.  I’ll let you know how it goes in another post.  Simply Canvas is a service for professional photographers only.

More to Come

We will review more products and a seminars in subsequent posts this week.  Please stay tuned.