Making better video with your DJI Drone
You’ll probably agree that right out of the box your DJI Phantom 4 is already a good flying camera. Being able to shoot 4K video as well as being able to do slow motion is great. Being able to do it from the air is even better and those are just some of the reasons we believe the DJI Phantom 4 is the best drone on the market. At least in the consumer segment.
If you’re still trying to decide whether or not the Phantom 4 is for you, you can find our Phantom 4 review here.
That said though, there are some things we can do to make sure the quality of our footage remains good or even to improve it.
Read on and we’ll tell you exactly what we can do.
First of all, we will start with the obvious. Make sure your camera’s lens is clean. Fingerprints, dust, dried up water specks, etc. They will all degrade the quality of the footage. To clean the lens prefer Zeiss Lens cleaner. After all, Zeiss knows lenses so it makes sense they also know how to clean them. When we’re on the go we’ll often bring some Zeiss pre-moistened lens cleaning wipes instead. They are smaller and a lot more convenient to carry around. If you prefer other brands of lens cleaner then you can find a true treasure trove full of them on Amazon. And if you do indeed prefer another brand please share it with us in the comments so we can give it a try.
Next, after your done flying put the lens cap back on the lens. This will prevent dust collecting on the lens while you’re not using your Phantom. The lens cap will also protect the lens from getting scratched during (un)packing, transport and while in storage. Lens caps are quite easy to misplace so if you have lost your lens cap you can get a replacement lens cap for just a couple of dollars. We see no reason to skimp on something this cheap to help protect your investment.
If you want to know exactly how we clean our lenses, read this article: How to properly clean your drone lens.
The next thing we’ll want to do is tp decide whether we want a more cinematic look or a ‘sharper/more crisp’ (soap series) look. To achieve the more cinematic look we’ll set the camera to film at 24 fps in 4k. When you know you’ll always be watching the footage at 16:9 you can choose 24 fps in UHD instead. This will prevent the letterbox effect that you will get when watching 4k footage on a 16:9 screen.
If you want your footage to have a soap series (more crisp) look rather than a cinematic llok, shoot at 30 fps in UHD instead. These are the default frame rates. When you want to use slo-mo footage shooting at 60 or 120 fps and then playing back at the aforementioned rates will give still give you footage that crisp look.
There is another thing to look at, white balance. Some people think white balance only affects white. I guess I understand that the term “white balance” can be confusing and lead people to think something like that. White balance, however, affects all of the colors. So if it’s not set correctly, a red car could look pink, a blue couch could look turquoise and people could look like aliens. Especially the last one is what we generally try to avoid.
By default, the DJI Phantom 4 is set to “auto white balance”. This means the camera tries to figure out what the correct white balance setting is. Generally, it is pretty good at that but there are some issues with allowing the camera to do this.
First of all, the camera could be completely wrong. If that happens the entire video will have a strange color cast. That is not a big problem though as we can correct that when we edit the footage. Or rather, you probably can but if you’re colorblind like I am there is hardly any point even trying.
Second, and this is a bigger problem, the white balance can change throughout the video as the camera adjusts it to what it thinks the correct white balance should be at any given moment. At that point, it doesn’t matter if you are colorblind or not as it will be almost impossible to correct this afterward. And that, unfortunately, means we end up with unusable footage. What a waste.
So how do we avoid this? By setting the white balance manually. There are 2 ways we can do this. We can use the presets (sunny for a sunny day, cloudy for a cloudy day, etc) and they will be pretty accurate. Or we can set the white balance by setting the color temperature in Kelvin. This will be most accurate but it is also a bit more complicated. If you’re a pro photographer/videographer (or a serious hobbyist) you’ll already know all about Kelvin. If you’re not we suggest you use the presets for now. You can always
There are 2 ways we can do this. We can use the presets (sunny for a sunny day, cloudy for a cloudy day, etc) and they will be pretty accurate. Or we can set the white balance by setting the color temperature in Kelvin. This will be most accurate but it is also a bit more complicated. If you’re a pro photographer/videographer (or a serious hobbyist) you’ll already know all about Kelvin. If you’re not we suggest you use the presets for now. You can always
If you’re a pro photographer/videographer (or a serious hobbyist) you’ll likely already know all about Kelvin. If you’re not we suggest you use the presets for now. You can always learn about Kelvin temperatures later, if you want, to when you have some spare time on your hands.
Next, we’ll take a look at colors. Now that we have the white balance set properly the colors will be recorded as they should be. However, there could still be something that causes the colors to be blocked out or to be completely saturated if we leave the camera in control. So rather than running that risk we’ll take control of that as well by changing the color setting t0 “LOG”. This will make the footage seem flatter but we can adjust that again when we edit the video later on.
Now that we have set up color we will move on and change Style. Change “sharpening” to “-2”, “contrast” to “-3” and “saturation” to “-2” as well. This will make your footage look even more dull while you are recording but, don’t worry about that. It gives you a lot more possibilities and control during post-processing.
Next, we’ll look at something else, shutter speed and filters. And in particular, ND (Neutral Density) filters and how they affect shutter speed. To get the best result for our video we want to set the shutter speed to (about) 2 times the frame rate. This is a time tested technique used by pro film makers for eternity (Google is your friend if you want to know more about how and why). That means we will want the shutter speed to be 50 if we shoot 24fps and 60 if we shoot 30fps.
However, when we set that shutter speed we will often see that the image is overexposed. Clearly this is something we don’t want to happen. We can reduce the overexposure a bit by bringing the ISO down to the lowest value(100) but, especially on sunny days, that still may not be enough. And that is where ND filters come in.
DJI offers a set of 3 filters (they are also for sale seperately (ND4, ND8, ND16)) that have been specifically designed for the Phantom’s camera. Other brands also sell ND filters and often, although not always, at a lower price. The quality of these 3rd party ND filters unfortunately varies. For our opinion on which are best, read our review of ND filters for the DJI Phantom.
PolarPro has recently released3 new sets of filters, specifically designed for the DJI Phantom 4. Especially the Cinema Series filters offers great value for their price. You can find out more about them here.
You may be wondering why we’ve been talking about sets of ND filters rather than individual ND filters. Just like sunglasses, ND filters come in different strengths. So to take full advantage of them we need several ones that we can use depending on how bright it is where we’re filming. We have to select the proper filter based on the circumstances.
(You can’t use the same filters for the Phantom 3 Standard as you can for the other Phantom 3 models. If you’ need filters for the Phantom 3 Standard, click here.)
Finally, always shoot in the highest quality you can. Even if you don’t need 4K footage (right now) because 1080P is enough for what you are planning to do, shoot 4K anyway.
By shooting 4K and downsampling to 1080P you can often keep more detail in your video and you can improve some of the colors in the footage as well. And not only that, you’ll also be able to digitally zoom in on parts of the footage, if you want to do so, without compromising the quality of the final product.
And there is another advantage. 4K may not be the standard yet but it’s moving to be. When it becomes the standard you’ll be happy that you have 4K footage laying around that you can re-use for projects. Especially if you use your drone commercially. And storage is cheap these days anyway so that’s not something we really have to worry about.
Now that you have the best possible base footage you can take it into your favorite editor and tweak it till you get the best result.
And what if you don’t want to do any post-processing?
Follow the steps here anyway but with 2 changes. 1) Don’t set the color settings to “LOG” but instead, choose the preset you like best. The preview will help you decide. 2) Don’t blindly change the Style settings to the recommended negative settings. Instead, change them up and down until you get to the point where you like the preview best.
There you have it, our tips to help you improve your footage and to get the most out of your Phantom / Inspire. If this post helped you or gave you some ideas, please share it with your friends as well. Perhaps it can help them too. After all, what are friends for if not to help each other. To make it easier to do this we’ve included social media sharing buttons at the bottom of the article.
As always, use the comments to let us know what you think. What are your favorite settings and/or favorite post-processing techniques, etc. And of course, if you haven’t done so already, subscribe to our newsletter to stay updated.
Oh, before you leave, check out “10 must have accessories for your drone” recommendations. Perhaps it can give you some ideas of things that can help you enjoy your flight time/experience. Also, you can find out how we scout new locations to shoot, before we even arrive at our destination.
Edit: several people have reported problems with LOG on the Phantom 4. This is suspected to be a firmware issue as the sensor is the same as on the Phantom 3. If you are experience quality problems when shooting in LOG then try “none” instead and use -2, -2, -2 for the other settings. Also, if you are running into trouble editing 4K footage, check out this article where we list the parts to build a 4K video editing PC under $1400. At least your new PC will be cheaper than a new Phantom 4.