The next generation GoPro Hero cameras are shipping, and the headline is they are exactly the same form factor as the previous cameras, and work perfectly in the Eagle360. They also bring some new features, and cause you to make some decisions. Which camera fits your needs? Here are some preliminary data points for you:First, there are two models that are relevant, the Hero 4 Silver Edition (we'll call it the H4SE) and the Hero 4 Black Edition (H4BE). The Hero 4 Silver Edition pretty much takes the place of the Hero 3+ Black Edition, in that it supports similar video modes, has similar battery consumption, costs $399 like the H3+BE did, and as a bonus has a built-in LCD touchscreen display on its back, even though it is the same depth as the Hero 3 models.
Some differences from the Hero 3+ include that the file sizes from 1080p30, one of the most popular video modes, are significantly larger with the Hero 4 Silver than the same resolution in the Hero 3+ Black Edition. If you are using a 64 GB memory card, with the Hero 3 family you could record for about 6 hours 30 minutes at 1080p30, and now you are down to ~4:35. While we have not yet tested it, if you need really long acquire times there are now 128 GB cards available that might solve that problem.
Subjectively, video from the Hero 4 Silver looks very crisp. There are some issues with the iOS app that are very likely to be fixed with a (hopefully soon) firmware update. Otherwise the camera is very capable, and is the likely choice for most Eagle360 users.
Two more notes about the Hero4 cameras: to really get their benefits make sure you follow the GoPro recommendations about memory cards: these new cameras require very high speed cards to do the best job:
The expected first firmware update has happened, and now that we have had the chance to put the Hero 4 Black and Silver edition cameras through their paces, here are some observations:
1) The Hero 4 cameras are extraordinarily sharp, noticeably better than the earlier cameras (which were excellent to start with). Images are crisp and sharp at infinity.
2) Some of this quality increase comes from storing larger files for the same time period: while the Hero 3/3+ series would run for 6 hours 45 minutes on a 64 gig card, the Hero 4 cameras will run just over 4 hours at the same 1080p30 setting. If you require long duration runtimes, just drop to 720p30 and you get 5 hours 52 minute runtime.
3) The Hero4 Silver edition has a built in LCD screen, which is handy when using the camera outside of the Eagle360. It also has higher (than Hero 3 series) resolution video modes that are quite useful with the Eagle360, like 2.7k30: you can crop into this level of video and still get full 1080 resolution on the screen. The silver edition does have a 4k15 mode (4096 pixels across and 15 frames per second) but that frame rate is likely too low to be useful for airborne video. For aerial work the old standby remains 1080p30, with the option of a smoother looking 1080p60 and the Silver edition does both. The Silver edition is $100 less than the Black Edition, and is a great choice if your needs are not super high resolution.
4) The Hero4 Black Edition (which recently had a free firmware upgrade) can shoot at 4k30, or 2.7k60, both of which are excellent super high aerial resolution modes. The Black Edition does not have the built in LCD screen, but due to a faster processor is very responsive. This is the camera to pick if you want ultra high resolution, or the ability to crop well into a frame and still have 1080p quality.
5) There are quite a few other improvements in the Hero4 series cameras, other shooting modes (including a super fast 720p240 mode which some people who have to capture fast events at altitude use). One minor difficulty is it is actually hard to identify the Hero 4 Silver from the Hero 4 Black from the front: you have to look at the back to see which one has the LCD screen to be sure!
GoPro cameras come with a standard 2.92mm lens, and the cameras have multiple video modes (Wide, Medium, Narrow are the primary ones) that in 1080 and most other modes allow you to "zoom" in to a tighter image without compromising video image quality (the sensor has many more pixels than needed for 1080p, so you can "illuminate" a smaller part of the sensor and still have full HD quality. As you all know,the standard lens exhibits noticeable curvature (a "fisheye" effect) when used in Wide mode, less so in Medium, and only a little in Narrow.
Some of you have asked about availability and performance of aftermarket lenses that are rectilinear (no curvature), or that allow for tighter images, or have some coverage in the infrared spectrum, and indeed there are companies that supply such lenses. We want to share with you some information about our experiences installing such lenses, and show you some comparison tests.
This shows the stock GoPro lens (2.92mm) set to Wide at left, and the aftermarket rectilinear (straight lines) 5.4 mm set to Wide on the right, with the shooting distance adjusted so the target board fills the frame. Clearly the 5.4 Rectilinear lens does a nice job straightening the edges, and the shooting distance is further away. The 5.4 mm lens is slightly tighter than the stock lens set to Medium. Also note the image is slightly softer at this close distance: wider lenses have more depth of field, meaning objects quite close and far away stay in focus (a desired design for the GoPro cameras). The longer the lens focal length, the more selective the focus, and the 5.4 mm lens was focused to ~150 feet (and covers to ~infinity) since that is a more useful region of focus for aerials.
This set of frame grabs shows the stock 2.92 mm GoPro lens set to Wide at left, and the 5.4 mm Rectilinear lens set to Wide at right shot from the same location, giving you the framing difference due to the longer focal length of the aftermarket lens. Note that since the subjects are much further away, the focus on the 5.4 mm lens is nice and sharp.
Here we introduce a longer focal length aftermarket lens, and compare it to the 5.4 mm lens (set to Wide at left). Just to show you the telephoto capabilities with a longer aftermarket lens, the image at right is with an 8mm lens and the camera set to Narrow. Of course the big image size also means the camera has to be pointed with precision, and as we will discuss later, that is really hard to do without the ability to preview the camera coverage.
This pair of images shows one more 8mm lens shot set to Narrow, as well as something different on the right. It turns out that the sensors in GoPro (and many other cameras) are sensitive into the near infrared range, and somewhere in the optical path a filter is introduced to block unwanted IR light, so the camera only records visible light. Some aftermarket lenses are available without the IR Cut filter, and this is an example of one such 2.97mm rectilinear lens. As you can see, objects that reflect a lot of IR light, like the tree leaves, appear very bright, and there is a reddish cast to the entire image. This does not provide a "night vision" capability (for that you need infrared sensors with deeper IR sensitivity) but it may have some agricultural applications.
Now that we have seen what aftermarket lenses can do, there are three important followup discussions:
First, there is installing the lenses, which typically involves replacing both the lens and the tube assembly it threads into, and you need to get the right tube for your model of GoPro camera. Putting one of these lenses into a GoPro camera (in addition to likely voiding the warrantee) is not a trivial operation: basically you have to take the entire camera apart, and that requires having special tools ( a Torx 4 screwdriver among them), comfort using them and handling very small hardware. There are videos on the Internet, and several parts suppliers, but swapping lenses is not for the faint of heart, and the steps have to be carefully followed. Once the lens is installed it has to be focused, and for that you need a cable to feed the GoPro HDMI signal to a large screen HD TV while you adjust the lens, and then you need to secure the adjustment. Finally you have to block off any open areas to make the resulting camera/lens assembly resistant to dust and moisture.
Secondly, some of the lenses cost almost as much as the camera. We are investigating ways to bring that cost down.
As mentioned briefly earlier, you also have to consider (for longer than stock lenses set to anything other than Wide) how you are going to be confident you are putting the aircraft in the right position to video your desired target, either another aircraft or some feature on the ground. If you cannot directly preview what that camera is seeing, you need to have an mark on a side window, for example, to show you where to center the target, and there is some trial-and-error involved in positioning that mark. Due to some recent policy clarifications at FAA we are investigating options to allow such previews in the cockpit from the Eagle360, so stay tuned!
The Eagle360 gives you the provision for mounting up to 5 GoPro® cameras on the belly of your aircraft. The GoPro® cameras are very popular, rugged, and produce extremely high quality HD video (or up to 12 megapixel still photos) so you can do your flight, and when you land see incredible images of where you have been. Basically turn the cameras on, drop them into the pod section, attach them to the mounting plate on your aircraft with 4 twists of the 1/4 turn fasteners, and go fly. And when you get there, you can use the GoPro® cameras underwater when you snorkel or dive, on mountain bikes, skiing, or just strolling around!
Some of us were photojournalists, and we learned long ago the fewer things between the camera lens and the subject, the better. That means do not shoot through a pane of glass or a windshield or a spinning propeller: all you are doing is destroying resolution! Our goal was to select a camera with excellent resolution and reliability under strenuous conditions, and then make sure we do nothing to interfere with the designer’s optical path. Put the system on the outside of the aircraft, where nothing but air is between it and the subject. Then enjoy the great results.
Putting a camera on the outside of an aircraft presents a number of functional and regulatory challenges. Flying can present a hostile environment to a camera, including factors like temperatures (we tested down to -40 degrees C), fogging of optical systems, frosting of optical systems, and absorption of vibration, all of which had to be dealt with. Other challenges came from mounting a system safely, so there is no possibility of safety-of-flight issues, or damage to your aircraft or to people on the ground even under extreme circumstances: as just one part of that we had to select materials that do not degrade in the presence of avgas or Jet-A, or become brittle in extreme cold under stress. Finally, the effort required to earn STC approval taught us how diligently the FAA works to keep air travel as safe as possible, and we reflected that agenda in the design. Finally we needed to solve all these problems AND still keep the system very affordable!
If you fly an experimental aircraft, perhaps you can do something like this yourself, although when you think about hanging a camera outside on your aircraft you might consider how much impact something as small as a 1/2” tall vortex generator can have on airflow, and how much vibration most mounts will put into your video. If you fly a certificated aircraft, you should consider the level of risk you impose on yourself, your passengers, and people on the ground by using a temporary mount. We have even seen people post videos on YouTube from cameras mounted on their rudders, a balanced control surface! We put a lot of faith in the great designs of the plane we fly, but no one designed a plane to survive flutter from a foreign object being inserted in the airflow!
For certified aircraft owners there are three main reasons: safety, legality, and financial common sense.
Safety: people who attach cameras to the outside of an aircraft with a suction cup, tape, or even a non-STC'd metal mount can be endangering themselves, their passengers, and people on the ground. At shows numerous people have told us stories like "I had the camera on the plane, took off, had a terrific flight, but when I landed the camera wasn't there anymore", which means it fell off their aircraft and there is always the possibility it could hit someone. Impromptu mounting also means little thought was given to the aerodynamic impact, and just a little research (try Rich Stowell's book The Light Airplane Pilot's Guide to Stall/Spin Awareness) shows how NASA found just a small change in body shape could make a GA aircraft unrecoverable. A lot of the work involved in an STC goes into determining what additional stresses an external object adds to an airframe, and how to distribute those load into the airframe without causing cracks, failures, interfering with control surfaces and the like. A lot of the work goes into asking what happens when things like fasteners fail, and this requires any proposed design to be reviewed critically multiple times. Add it all together and an STC means serious work has been done by experts to keep you and your passengers, as well as people on the ground, safe. Look critically at the video from non-STC'd externally mounted cameras and you will see significant camera shake (even when their manufacturer claims there is none: I guess jets just naturally flex like that?), and what do you think will have to absorb that energy? Your aircraft. Do you know enough about failures of materials and structures to make decisions like that, or are you rolling dice?
Legal (FAR's): Certified aircraft go thru a very rigorous process to earn a Type Certificate. Any change to that aircraft can violate that Type Certificate, unless covered by an FAA granted Supplemental Type Certificate. So if something bad happens after installing an impromptu camera on the outside of an aircraft it could lead to an enforcement action against you. Worth the risk?
Financial: You have liability insurance on your aircraft, so if there is an accident you are covered, right? If you have installed non-STC'd equipment on your aircraft, turns out the answer is "not so much". Any such modification violates your Type Certificate, and without a valid Type Certificate there is no way you should be flying, and your insurance coverage is very questionable. That means you become personally liable for any mishap to other people's persons or property, so you may be putting your life's savings on the line. With STC'd equipment, you have preserved the legality of your aircraft, and your insurance is in force.
Finally, that we went through the STC process saves you money on your install. If your aircraft is on our Approved Model List you can buy an Eagle360 and in the package you will receive a copy of the STC. When you take the package to your installer the first thing they will do is check that the STC is enclosed, that it pertains to your aircraft, and then they will go about installing it, using the instructions, templates, and drawings we enclose with the Eagle360. Once installed they will make an entry in your logbook, and you are done. There will be no other interaction with the FAA involved. Without an STC you would have to pay for engineering drawings specific to your airframe, which would cost you $$ and likely take months.
We tested available cameras for image quality, ruggedness, underlying technology, and the GoPro cameras impressed us at every level. We have been flying with them for years now, and have seen them improve, and new features added all the time. See the writeup at the top of the page for the Hero4 cameras.
There are three models of the Hero3+ cameras: in order of price White, Silver, and the Black Edition, and there is about $100 difference between the White and Silver Editions, and the same between the Silver and Black Editions. All three Editions have built-in WiFi capabilities. The White Edition does not deliver HD level resolution, so we would suggest you limit your choices to the Silver or Black Edition.
The Silver Edition delivers full HD resolution, has many modes you can use (some are used for slow motion, some for lower than HD resolution) but for this application you will likely set it to a mode called "1080p @ 30fps".
The Hero 3+Black Edition actually delivers resolution beyond HD, up towards the kind of resolution movie theater productions use. What this means is you could"crop into" a higher than HD resolution video and STILL have HD resolution. The Black Edition also can be set so that while you are shooting video, the camera will also periodically grab a still image at the same time. The Black Edition also has some extreme slow motion modes, improved battery and improved WiFi systems.
With the recent improvements, the Hero 3+ Black Edition is the best choice. It comes with a WiFi remote ocntrol that may work in your aircraft too!
You can use GoPro cameras you already own, you can buy them elsewhere, or we would very much appreciate your patronage if you chose to buy them from us! With few exceptions (someone going out of business) pricing on GoPro products is very uniform across sales channels
The Eagle360 can be ordered with no cameras, or you can add cameras into your purchase. We would suggest getting Battery BacPacs for your cameras at the same time: the Eagle360 can handle them as well.
You might have only 1 camera, and on one flight you may be checking out a mountain on your left side, and on another flight the forward position will work best. We wanted to give you the most flexibility possible (but if you are like us you may find yourself packing the Eagle360 with 4 cameras, because you never know which will end up being the best angle). We recently got approved to add a 5th camera bay to the Eagle360, pointing straight down. This is useful for people with commercial applications for their Eagle360.
No, the video clips you see on this site are all from individual cameras! While it is possible to do a 360 degree view with third party software, the reason for the 4 cameras is that for any given location, you may not be able to guess the best angle of view, given the lighting, clouds, geography at that moment. We found that, once you got over the initial expense, flying with 4 cameras always gave you a great choice of angles, and all you are burning is extra electrons to power the cameras!
One of the main design goals was ease of use. Turn on your GoPro® camera and place it in the bay you desire, then place a specially constructed support wedge behind it in the same bay. Repeat if you have additional cameras. Bend down, place the Eagle360 over the mounting plate towers, and using a Phillips head screwdriver (or our FastTool which makes it much easier), push and give each fastener a 1/4 turn. Confirm all 4 fasteners are engaged (when the red camloc head is no longer visible, it is engaged). Go fly! Once you are used to it, this operation takes way under a minute. When you land, remove the pod by twisting the fasteners 1/4 turn counterclockwise, turn the cameras off, and enjoy the video.
Not when installed as directed. We used flight tests (up to FL 250, at various speeds and angles of attack)
and computer analysis to determine the lift and drag characteristics as part of the FAA approval process.
Including the doubler and 4 cameras the system weighs under 5 pounds! Drag is dependent on airspeed but is very low, about 3 pounds at 100 knots.
That was the whole point of the exercise: to give you a safe, legal way to get amazing video (without putting your life and the lives of others in the hands of suction cups or duct tape). The FAA STC process is very rigorous: every material used has to be approved, and both the individual parts and the installation has to pass structural substantiation testing. We even did several Finite Element Analysis runs to identify and beef up areas where stresses could concentrate. Our analysis was done for 408 KEAS (Knots Equivalent Airspeed, basically airspeed at sea level) and all analysis was done to that level of performance. FYI 250 knots is the maximum legal speed at sea level in the US! If your airplane goes faster than that, we should talk!
You bet, You can use any resolution choice the camera makes available for either stills or video. One of the reasons we selected the GoPro® camera was the wide range of resolutions and fields-of-view it makes possible. The Hero3+ Black Edition can actually do stills and video at the same time.
There are three answers to this:
Our suggestion is to get the GoPro additional Battery BacPac, which will give you over 3 hours runtime, and turn the cameras on before mounting the pod on your aircraft for the flight. If you fly with a GPS logger, or use an iPhone app, then use our brand-new GeoRef software to give you an awesome presentation fo your flight with a map view where you can instantly see the video from anyplace you drag the map marker to! The only “cost” to you is the electrons you burn when you recharge the battery after the flight.
GoPro Hero3+ cameras have WiFi capability built in. This allows remote turning on and off of the camera, and selection of which mode to shoot them in, using either the GoPro Remote that comes with Black Edition cameras, or an iPad/iPhone/Android app that GoPro supplies for free. On some aircraft this will provide a link to the cameras in your Eagle360, and on other aircraft the WiFi signal does not penetrate the hull, and we cannot predict how it will work on your specific aircraft. If the iPad/iPhone/Android app does work, you will be able to see the video from a camera in your cockpit.
Finally, we are working on a totally reliable, designed specifically for aviation, remote control system with some great feature enhancements, and we will keep you posted as that moves forward.
The battery power is the limiting factor of the GoPro camera systems for aviation. With a 64 GB SDHC card (the largest that will work currently) the Hero3 camera will record 1080p30 HD for over 6 hours. Battery life is another story: the built-in battery will run for about 1-1/2 to 2 hours, and with the additional GoPro Battery BacPac the camera will run about 3+ hours at ambient temperatures above -20C (and we have a solution for even lower temperatures at altitude). Use of WiFi reduces those times somewhat.
The cameras are mounted in fixed positions, and in a normal installation are pointed exactly forwards, backwards, left and right. We did it this way to keep the system affordable and totally reliable: we never want anyone to fly their special flight with an Eagle360 and land only to find out their video failed (unless you forget to turn on the cameras!). Steering gimbals for a camera introduce a host of components that can fail, freeze, jam or otherwise ruin your day, especially given the temperature and environmental ranges we fly in, and they typically cost about 10X what the Eagle360 costs. With 4 cameras you can get more than 360 degree coverage, so you never miss anything visible from the aircraft.
For certificated aircraft, the mounting plate is riveted to your aircraft (just like your COM, NAV and GPS antennas), but otherwise there is no interaction with any aircraft system. We supply very detailed installation guidance with every system. Your mileage may vary but it should take your A&P under a day to install it, depending on whether they have done one before, and the nature of your specific airplane. We supply the Eagle360 in its native material color, and you may want to paint it to match your aircraft.
Initially we have only applied for aluminum fuselage certificated aircraft: we are working on an approved mounting system for composite aircraft, and if you fly an experimental aircraft you have considerable latitude in how you install the system.
The GoPro team did an excellent job designing the optical path for their cameras, and when we designed the Eagle360 we went to lengths to preserve it. The lens used for each camera position in the Eagle360 is exactly the same lens GoPro uses in its “water case”, the plastic case you get with the camera (we purchase the lenses directly from GoPro). They provide a low cost protective surface so the lens mounted in the camera is not damaged if your nose wheel kicks up a rock at the pod. You can buy replacements in many stores: GoPro packages a pack of two replacement lenses for under $20, and our manuals tell you the easy process to replace one in the field if that becomes necessary.
There are no wires in the Eagle360. Turn the cameras on, drop them in, drop in the wedges, attach it to the aircraft, and go fly.
The system comes with 4 caps with camloc fasteners built in: when you do not have the pod mounted, just ¼ turn these into the towers on the mounting plate to protect them from foreign object damage. The aircraft can be flown in this configuration.
The price for the Hero3 Eagle360 is $1725 for 4 camera positions and $1845 for the 5 position pod. Cameras and Installation costs are not included.
Thanks to your requests we have added, and had approved, a 5th camera bay, facing straight down.
Job #1 was getting the Eagle360 physical structure designed, tested and approved. The next step is to add on additional functionality to make your video even more fun and exciting, and we have a list of very cool enhancements we will be rolling out. Stay tuned!
The Eagle360 team consists of people who have spent their careers in digital imaging, aerodynamics, and software, all working together to create a simple, elegant, reliable product we can all be proud of. The people involved have been photojournalists, passionate pilots, designers of civilian and military aircraft, regulatory experts, constructors of space-borne systems, and software experts, a real coming-together of a special team of professionals. When we thought up this project we realized we had all the areas of expertise to do a truly great job, and we could not resist the challenge. We hope you enjoy our product!
Be Sure you read this when you purchase memory cards for your GoPro Hero4 series camera! Not all memory cards are created equally, and if you intend to use higher resolutions than 1080p, you MUST use one of the cards listed here:
1) If your normal shooting mode is 1080p30, and you want your side facing video to look even smoother, try 1080p60, which shoots at 60 frames per second instead of 30. It does use more memory space on your card, so keep that in mind, but it looks very smooth, particularly if you are low and flying quickly, and it lets you "slow down" really interesting parts of your video by playing it back at 30 fps. That is how all the dramatic skateboarding and mountain biking slow motion video is done: you shoot at a high frame rate but play back at a "normal" frame rate.
2) When putting a camera in the downward facing bay of the Eagle360 5-bay model, if possible avoid using an older Hero3 series camera, and instead use a Hero3+ or Hero 4 model. The older Hero3 Black Edition cameras are prone to overheat, and the more recent generations are not.
3) Want to learn more about the Hero 4 series of cameras, or of GoPro cameras in general? The excellent postings by GoPro professional Abe Kislevitz can be found here:
If you have no clue about all the settings and options, or how to do some of the amazing things you see on YouTube or the GoPro site, this is the place to go to learn!
4) Want more depth on using the cameras and video production in general? Try this new book, also by two top GoPro professionals:
5) Want an inexpensive, handy case to transport your Eagle360 to and from your aircraft? We use the PLANO PROTECTOR SERIES FOUR PISTOL CASE, which has room for a charger, the FastTool, and lots of other stuff. Just cut out an 8.5” diameter circle from the middle foam piece to fit the base of the Eagle360. The case is available from a variety of sources on the Internet, and can be had for around $20.
6) Ever wonder what the story is behind the “rolling shutter” that does weird things to video of aircraft propellers? Eagle360 user and accomplished aerial photographer Richard Verdier was kind enough to pass along this site: