Primary Camera Test

Previously I posted about the 360-degree camera I plan to use for mission flights. Back then I was using a Nikon KeyMission 360, which was state of the art in 2016. Unfortunately, I was never happy with the performance, and I've been searching for a better solution ever since.

I tried a constellation of six GoPro cameras, the footage from which I stitched into a 360 video in post-production using Autopano Video software. In theory this approach offers the best possible image quality. In practice it had a couple of fatal issues. First, as small as the GoPro HERO5 Session cameras are at 74 grams each, the six cameras together were too heavy, which means the HAPP would not attain its target altitude of greater than 30Km / 100K ft. Second, the HAPP structure has too much flexibility, and when I placed the cameras all around, they vibrated out of sync. This means I could not generate a clean stitch for the 360 video.

Enter the Garmin VIRB 360. This little monster is lighter and more capable than the KeyMission 360. As of July 2017, it's the most capable prosumer 360 camera vailable. Total weight of mount and camera (including the custom-machined aluminum portion shown below) went from 340 grams with the KeyMission to 208 grams with the VIRB. The VIRB shoots at 30 frames per second, not 24 fps, giving smoother video. Furthermore, the VIRB shoots in 5.7K resolution, not 4K, resulting in a superior image, especially after applying stabilization in post-production.

Here's a computer rendering I made after drawing the VIRB in my CAD software. All components must be modeled in CAD so I can use the model for accurate simulation of flight dynamics. This is much cheaper than crashing a few prototypes. While a simple block model would be sufficient for the dynamics, why stop there? Might as well make the rendering look sweet...

My VIRB 360 arrived yesterday, and what better way to celebrate than to strap it right onto the back of my DJI Mavic Pro drone (a.k.a. the HAPP chase plane) and send it up for a little test drive? Video is a little shaky as the drone is small and vibrates quite a bit. We'll get a smoother ride on the HAPP.

Check out the 360 video on YouTube and notice the heads-up display with live flight data. You might need to open the video link in YouTube for the 360 to render correctly (click here). Also be sure to select 4K video resolution at the bottom right of your YouTube player for the best experience. Enjoy!