Repurposing an old Lumia as... a drone camera!

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What's a guy to do? Sent a drone to review and needing an OIS-equipped camera to sling underneath it, I realised that I had numerous Windows Phones from the last few years that had both OIS, decent frame quality, and were err... disposable if the worst happened. As it happened, there were no disasters, but the Lumia 830 seemed to fit the bill across the board.

So, in case you'd ever wondered what would happen if your own Windows Phone was hoisted aloft then here's a pretty big data point.

The Lumia 830 isn't a phone in my daily rotation anymore, so in that sense it wouldn't be the end of the world if there was (due to my inept flying) a major crash, for example landing on a concrete path at a high vertical speed. It's also one of the lighter of the recent Windows Phones, so should present a manageable weight for the drone to carry. And its camera should be capable of some decent footage.

So onwards and (literally) upwards. The drone itself is a Blue Bugs 3 and I've reviewed it here on my blog - in short, it's powerful and fast and not too expensive (around £100?) It's designed to carry a GoPro action camera, in that it comes with a harness to slot this into. But its undercarriage has a mount that I DIYed a standard tripod adapter for. Meaning that I could use any standard phone camera mount, in this case my trusty Shoulderpod S1 (still available on Amazon UK for about £20-ish), with the Lumia 830 mounted upside down, relative to the S1.

The mount/hinge was deliberately kept loose because the phone ended up 'deeper' than the drone's landing legs, so it would need to 'fold back' when the drone was on the ground.

It all worked rather well, have a look at this video I shot earlier today: (as usual, maximise it and increase the 'quality' to 1080p)

Plenty to note, of course - and to add caveats and lower expectations(!):

  • As expected, although the drone isn't super-noisy (brushless motors, yay!), the propellor noise is still easily enough to dominate the soundtrack of the Lumia 830's video - I've lowered it by 50% here to save your ears!
  • The jellovision wobbling in the frame, especially when climbing, isn't - for once - down to digital stabilisation, since that was turned off. What you're looking at there is optical distortions in the turbulent air under the four props. I think. Either that or the Lumia 830's hardware OIS was misbehaving under the extreme circumstances? Theories welcomed!
  • All the usual drone camera use cases - panoramic shots of waterfalls, famous landmarks, even your own house and back garden, aren't recommended, due to danger to the drone or to people or vehicles - in the UK, at least, there are laws about drone flying and 50m clear in all directions on flat land is the norm. Sorry - it's not as exciting as in the drone adverts!!
  • I could have gone higher and further, but this was just a quick test run. The range of the drone is about 400m in any direction, though I start to get nervous at 200m, since it's very hard to see what the drone is doing from that distance - and then there's the risk of losing control and even losing the drone.
  • There's no gentle way to land, given that the Lumia 830 was slung under the drone. So even the tamest landing feels - on camera - like a crash! Don't worry, the Lumia 830 was just fine afterwards.

Comments welcome - have you ever done anything like this? How could I improve results? Maybe my Lumia 950 needs an aerial outing?...