I've actually started writing this blog twice already, and both times I got too buried in the technical bits and pieces that would literally interest only a true geek like me. In the first one I started writing about how 4K isn't really 4K, it's called UHD-1 which is slightly less resolution but it's still generally referred to as 4K in the consumer market, as true 4K is typically only used for cinematic purposes. In the second version, I pulled out most of the technical stuff but was getting too far away from the actual topic. I stopped writing and I started to think, what questions were people going to ask us? Most likely they will want to know by what factor is 4K better than HD?
While there is a slight difference between true cinematic 4K (4096x2160) and UHD-1 (3840x2160), they are all interchangeably referred to as 4K. UHD-1 is what you will find on many consumer televisions, while true 4K is found on most drones, including our Phantoms and Typhoons. The amount of data needed is quadruple what we need for HD, since 4K is four times the spatial resolution of HD. (Think about seeing 4 football fields on the screen instead of 1). (read more)
4K is quite advantageous, as up until recently, you haven't been able to find many drones offering a zoom feature. This has been because the drones haven't been able to overcome the vibration issue that allows for a clear zoom shot while hanging from a drone platform. This is quite a challenge because, let's face it, no matter how stable the platform is, it's still an aircraft subject to ambient conditions such as wind and automatic maneuvering to keep geographically positioned. 4K has allowed amazing detail in shots that can be zoomed digitally in software and still maintain a good resolution.
As the drone hardware market matures, we are starting to see some amazing improvements in platform stability due to a number of factors such as dampening systems and gimbals, which would allow for a zoom system. Neither of our training platforms offer a zoom feature as of yet, but I wouldn't rule it out as an upcoming feature. Aeryon is offering a new camera (imaging payload as they call it) called the HDZOOM30 which attaches to it's SkyRanger platform, offering 30x optical and 60x digital zoom, an impressive offering to say the least. Check out this video and you can still see a fair amount of vibration when zoomed but it appears highly usable for certain industries.
Another interesting topic that may or may not quite fit the 4K topic but goes along with the general scheme of camera features, is upward-facing cameras. Researching the topic has brought me to the SenseFly drone called the eXom. When dealing with civil inspections such as bridges where the camera needs to look straight up, we would be out of luck with our current drones lol. Drones with upward facing cameras are out there however, take a look here.
It truly is an exciting time in the UAV hardware market!