This post was last updated on: September 1, 2021
A drone is more than just a fun device to play with; it is also a remarkable tool for capturing aerial footage - the first of its kind on the mass market.
With a relatively inexpensive model, you can produce incredible videos or photos - but only during the daytime. If you wish to do so at night, you will need to equip your drone with night vision.
Luckily for you, doing this is not a big hassle, and in today’s article, I will explain how to add night vision to a drone in a few simple steps.
The Different Kinds Of Night Vision Cameras
Drones use three types of cameras to film at night - Infrared, thermal, and low light cameras.
The first two are considered to be “true” night vision since they have the ability to film even in pitch-black conditions.
However, most drones do not have such cameras built into them by default. So, if you want to use them, you’ll have to mount them yourself—more on this in a bit.
Now, let’s see what the differences between the three types of cameras are:
These cameras can detect and capture infrared light, which is invisible to the human eye. An IR camera does this by emitting infrared light from an LED and then picking it up.
Keep in mind that this technology usually only captures grayscale images.
Thermal cameras do not require light to take photos. As the name implies, they can detect thermal emissivity - or heat - that objects radiate and use it to render an image.
Most drones with high-quality cameras, such as 4K drones, have something called a CMOS chip. The latter enables these cameras to utilize whatever light is available to the fullest and thus create an HQ image.
Pictures captured with such a camera in very low light require some post-processing to get the best result, though.
How To Add Night Vision To A Drone
In this section, you can read about the process of mounting night vision cameras to your drone.
1. Pick A Very Stable Drone
Before purchasing a night vision camera, you need to make sure that the drone you have is stable. That is of utmost importance as the addition of the camera will put some strain on the drone.
A very light or unstable device might not be able to fly smoothly with this extra load. Add wind to the equation, and it may lead to a disaster.
Do some research and try to get your hands on a highly stable model if you want hassle-free night vision filming.
2. Choose A Night Vision Camera
As mentioned earlier, infrared and thermal are the types of night vision cameras that have to be mounted. Luckily, such devices are plentiful, and you can easily find both kinds.
The two cameras use vastly different technologies and thus capture very different images.
The infrared camera produces grayscale footage, very similar to what soldiers see through their night vision goggles - which I’m sure you’ve seen in movies.
On the other hand, thermal cameras produce pictures and videos with bright colors - the entire spectrum, from bright red to dark blue. They can also switch to grayscale mode if you happen to prefer that.
Once you’ve decided which one would work better for you, it’s time to find a model that you like.
3. Mount The Camera
The cameras come already attached to a gimbal, and your job will be to mount them.
That shouldn’t be an issue as long as the camera is compatible with your drone. Your best bet would be to purchase both products from the same manufacturer.
For instance, the drone giant DJI makes night vision cameras, as well.
As for the mounting process, it usually involves just a few screws. Make sure to follow the instructions closely, though.
Is It Legal To Fly Drones At Night?
Yes, flying drones at night requires approval from the authorities. Since this technology is relatively new, regulations are still being made. So, certain countries might not have clear rules on this topic.
All in all, consult with the proper authorities, and they will instruct you on what to do to avoid potential legal troubles.
A Few Tips For Flying At Night
Know The Area Well
Before flying your drone in the dark, inspect the area where you intend to do it while it’s still daytime. Look for safe locations for takeoff and landing, and map the object that might get in the way - like trees, power lines, buildings, etc.
Wait For Perfect Weather Conditions
Do not fly your drone at night in bad weather; at least don’t do it the first time. Flying at night is challenging as is, so the addition of wind, rain, or snow may cause you a lot of difficulties.
Also, avoid doing this in extremely low temperatures.
Choose The Right Specifications For The Purpose
Night vision cameras come with different specifications, and the one most commonly talked about is resolution - which is usually 336×256 px or 640×512 px.
However, a higher resolution doesn’t necessarily mean better quality footage. It is, therefore, crucial to consider other specs when determining which camera will suit your purposes the best.
For example, a 336×256 px with a 350 x 270 field of view can reproduce a clear picture of a person from a distance of 1830 feet. However, a 640×512 px camera with a broader FOV - specifically, 690 x 560 - can do the same from a distance of 1095 ft.
Make sure to understand the impact of different features on the image quality before buying a camera.
There are many things to consider when adding a night vision camera to your drone, so it’s advisable to take your time and do it right. I hope that the simple guidelines on how to add night vision to a drone presented in this article will help you out during this process.