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Cal Mitchener Takes His Elevated Photography To The Next Level

In: ,
Published: 30/07/2015
By: larry

DJIS1000Cal Mitchener, a successful real estate shooter in Charlotte, NC that we've featured several times here on the PFRE blog, has been providing elevated real estate shots for many years. Cal started with a WonderPole, then in 2011 he moved up to a Gitzo giant tripod. Last week he described his planned move up to a DJI S1000:

UAV photography & videography is getting big in my area, but most vendors are flying GoPro’s or DJI Inspire 1’s. I find the still images from both of these to be lacking, and am researching stepping up to a heavy lift octocopter. I am leaning towards a DJI S1000 with a ZenMuse Gimbal.

As the gimbals are set up for specific camera/lens combinations, I am trying to determine which will give the best results. I am going to purchase the body and lens specifically for this use, so I am not tied to a given manufacturer.

I want to know which lens is the best, as I place highest priority on the glass. I can use a Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM, Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12mm f/2.0, or a Sony FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA Carl Zeiss Sonnar T.

If I could use Canon “L” glass, I would go that route, but that isn’t an option. I would prefer a full frame sensor, so I am leaning towards the Sony or Canon setup. The Oly lens is for a 4/3 sensor body.

Sounds like you are going to jump way beyond Pole Aerial Photography with this great rig that you have planned. Others have pointed out that quality is the best when you are flying with something better than a GoPro or the camera that comes with the quadcopter DJIs.

As to which lens is best, the authority for that is Here is their comparison. As this shows, the Sony FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA lens is clearly the best. There is another advantage when using the Sony lens and a Sony A7R on a UAV and that is the Sony A7R (1.03lbs) is about half the weight of either the 5DMKII (1.8lbs) or 5DMKIII (2.09 lbs).

Does anyone else have more ideas for Cal?

15 comments on “Cal Mitchener Takes His Elevated Photography To The Next Level”

  1. +1 for Stephen. Flying a full size drone is a definite commitment with a solid learning curve. If I were you, pick the most flare resistant lens you can - thats your major challenge with aerial work.

  2. Cal, when I use my 40' Elevated pneumatic pole, I use a Fuji X-E2, radio trigger and 12mm lens, which is equal to about an 18mm on a full frame. This seems to be a great all around focal length, especially if you cant back up too far, and not too much distortion. Before that, I used a Nikon D-70 with a 10.5mm fisheye on my pole. the view was not bad, but people didn't love the distortion, even after correcting in software.

    since many of the homes I shoot are on the water or golf courses, I needed to get views higher and invested in a drone. I had no idea how expensive an investment it was (especially when you crash a few times while learning). I have a 6 blade Tarot 810 multi rotor drone with a GoPro hero 3+Black. The still images are fair at best and I have complained many times to GoPro about the terrible image quality and the distorted images, perhaps the new GoPro 4 is better.

    My drone has a heavy lift and I was going to get a Sony Nex-7 with a 12mm lens, which I heard was excellent for both video and stills. But, the gimbal mount alone, was more than my drone. The investment with the Sony, wide lens and gimbal was way too expensive as are the batteries to power the drone.

    In the past year the DJI drones (and other new companies) with the new cameras and Gimbals have come down drastically in price and is a great way to start.

  3. Stephen,
    I own a Phantom II with a GoPro Hero 3+ now, so I am familiar with multirotors...
    I am Leaning towards a full frame Sony a7r with the Sony/Zeiss 35mm lens.
    Thanks for all the comments!

  4. How are you guys "managing" the FAA rules about needing a license (and must be a pilot as I understand it) to be able to fly these things for commercial purposes???

  5. Eric,
    I was considering a pneumatic mast, but decided it was too cumbersome to haul around. It really limits where u can shoot from as well.
    I am concentrating on stills, & the gopro line (including hero 4), just doesn't get it...
    I realize it's a big investment, but I know it will pay off in the long run...
    My main concern is the 35mm (full frane) focal length. I would prefer a 24mm, but thats not an option with Sony body.
    Does anyone have experience flying this paticular combination?

  6. On November 10, 2014, the NAR Board of Directors approved the following official policy statement on unmanned aerial vehicles:

    The National Association of REALTORS® advises members that the use of unmanned aerial vehicles for real estate marketing is currently prohibited by the Federal Aviation Administration. Such prohibited use of unmanned aerial vehicles may lead to the assessment of substantial fines and penalties.

    That said...

    Despite what you might have seen, heard or read to the contrary; despite the FAA’s claim that it has authority over Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles; despite the FAA having sent several cease and desist letters to people who were operating Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for commercial purposes, there exists not a single federal statute, not a single federal regulation and no case law that in any way regulates the operation of Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.


    Federal statutes, regulations and case law concerning personal Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles do not exist.

    Nothing is illegal solely because a government agency claims that it’s illegal. The FAA cannot just make up regulations as it goes along, to enforce activities that it simply wishes to enforce. There must exist an actual statute or regulation for the FAA to enforce. The FARs are the only federal regulations that exist pertaining to aviation, and are the only regulations that are legally enforceable. You'll not find any that concern Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. You will see regulations that apply to other craft, such as balloons, rockets and even kites. So the FAA clearly contemplated flight-capable craft other than airplanes and helicopters when it adopted the current regulations. If the FAA had intended to regulate Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles as well, it would have done so. It didn’t.

    When the FAA Enforcement and Compliance division sends a civil penalty letter to a person charged with a violation, the civil penalty letter will contain a statement of the charges, the applicable law, rule, regulation, or order. To the best of my knowledge, no commercial drone operator has received a Civil Penalty Letter. No one has been able to tell me what law, rule, regulation or order would be indicated on the letter for commercial flight of a small drone.

    That said...

    I am petitioning for a Section 333 exemption to fly my drone commercially. Why? It makes it easier to approach realtors and RE photographers to offer my services, and my insurance company looks favorably toward 333 exemption holders when setting liability rates. An airman's certificate is required for all Section 333 exemptions, but I am a commercial pilot, so that step is out of the way.

  7. Yes, there MAY be issues with the FAA's ability to prosecute cases against commercial operators of UAV's. The reality is that if they do issue you a citation, you will have to pay an attorney thousands of dollars to fight it. To me, the win would still be a loss.

    Closer to home and more likely is a city or county ordinance prohibiting flights. The way city's and county's seem to work, unless you faithfully attend council meetings, an ordinance restricting RCMA's might be moderately secret. Back when we had newspapers, there might have been a small story about it. There is grumbling in Los Angeles over the use of RCMA's by real estate agents from the movie industry. Movie companies would like to be using them a lot, but filming is watched very carefully and they can't get away with it. Cities and counties can pass ordinances with much less fuss than what the FAA has to go through and many have and are. Many states have passed or are considering laws with regard to RCMA's. It's a risk if you want to be a maverick. Just don't walk blindly into something without doing the research. The reward might not be worth it.

  8. I have been doing my research. said that to the best of my knowledge, no commercial drone operator has received a Civil Penalty Letter. No one has been able to tell me what law, rule, regulation or order would be indicated on the letter for commercial flight of a small drone.

    On the local laws: State and local governments have considered legislation to regulate drone flight, but if challenged in court, any such laws would be considered preempted by the federal government's intent to "occupy the field," and therefore be invalid. By federal statute, the United States Government has exclusive sovereignty of airspace of the United States (49 U.S. Code § 40103(a)(1)). The passage of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, confirms the federal government's intent to continue to "occupy the field" of flight, thereby invalidating (through preemption) any state or local laws that purport to regulate it.

    Title 49 of the United States Code gives the FAA exclusive responsibility for the National Airspace System which starts as soon as the aircraft is airborne. Only the FAA may create a no-fly zone. Your local town can control where you may take off and land, but flight is the exclusive jurisdicton to the FAA.

  9. @Stephen Mann, what I am trying to emphasize is that winning in court is still a loss. You don't want to have to have to defend yourself in front of a judge who may decide against you. It may also be a ticket for $500 and fighting it will cost more than that to hire an attorney.

    Many cities have bans on all sorts of things: RC aircraft, model rockets, lawn darts, etc at local parks. Some communities regulate how long you can have your garage door open and require that your trash cans cannot be seen from the street except on trash pick up day. Your city may have a ban against parking an RV over a certain length overnight on a residential street. Whether a city ordinance is silly or not, they can still pass and enforce them. David may have defeated Goliath, but the book had the odds in the other direction.

  10. Hi Cal

    Regarding camera size and being able to go for a less costly and lighter drone setup, I can definitely recommend the Olympus M.Zuiko 12mm F2 lens - you truly won't be wanting for better image quality.
    I do ALL of my real estate and architectural photography with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and the li'l Oly 12mm F2 lens. ( )

    And with the superb 5-axis stabilisation of the E-M1, I think it could make for a killer combo with a drone.

    Let us know what you decided and what the results are !

    Also seriously contemplating expanding into drone territory down here in South Africa...

  11. Ken, everything you listed is a state or local jurisdiction. Simply put, a town or state may not regulate flight. Period.
    Local model aircraft and model rocket laws are mostly well thought out to control where they may take off or land, but they usually do not attempt to regulate the flight.

    So, by your logic, paying a fine every time you do a drone shoot is the cost of doing business?

    If anyone reading this thread is facing this scenario, I know a couple of drone lawyers who would be able to help your lawyer to become a drone legal expert. These are passionate drone hobbyists who are also lawyers.

  12. @Stephen Mann, "So, by your logic, paying a fine every time you do a drone shoot is the cost of doing business?" What? I'm not sure where you pulled that one from.

    By your logic, everyone should pay their attorney $300/hr to become an expert on RCMA's.

    @Cal If you are going to be using the camera for exterior photos during the day, you can get very good quality from a MFD or higher end mirrorless cameras. I've seen some truly stunning landscape photos made with a MFD using good glass. The weight savings will give you more air time and it won't hit the ground so hard when the battery fails. I wonder if there is any market for my redundant battery e-switch. It works great on suborbital rockets.

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