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Latest Indulgence: Camera Drones

DJI Phanton 4 Unboxing, Setup and First Flight

Camera Drones are nothing new, they have been around for several years now and have become pretty cheap to own. DJI, a Chinese company, popularized the camera drone with their Phantom line of quadcopters. From that, many camera drone companies have spawned and create their own twist on the perfect flying camera.

I originally ignored my desire to have a flying camera because of one reason. Like most things, if I don’t think I have the chops to pick something up right away, I avoid it. I just don’t have the time to spend learning something new. I have time for a hobby, but I have to be good enough at it to enjoy it with limited time invested. I hope that this changes one day soon as I love nothing more than immersing myself in something new and learning everything there is to know about it.

Many of you know that I have a love of technology. Whether it be new cameras, phones, computers, or whatever, I love technology.


A month ago, I decided to purchase a camera drone. I wanted to be able to add a new element to the videos I create. It had to be something different than what I was doing or could do with the current gear I already had. I also wanted to be able to create footage on par with what I could capture with the cameras I currently use.

DJI came out with the Inspire 1 Pro, which is a camera drone that has a gimbal mounted micro four thirds camera on it. The camera can accept different lenses, which was what I wanted. Typical drone cameras are similar to a GoPro camera. They do not have an adjustable iris (aperture) and it is hard to get really good footage that looks dynamic and has depth to it. Prior to DJI’s Inspire 1 Pro, a comparable set up would cost over $10,000.

I’m one of those guys who gets into something and gets confident fast. I am a fast learner and can usually pick up on things. Within hours of owning the Inspire 1 Pro, I felt pretty confident at controlling it in the air. After a couple of flights, I got a little too close to a wall and crashed it. Thankfully there was minimal damage as only a prop and the foot of the landing gear was damaged. I quickly sent it in to have it repaired.

While I was waiting for my Inspire 1 Pro to be repaired, I was able to get my hands on a DJI Phantom 4. This is DJI’s latest Phantom camera drone that just came out spring of 2016. This camera drone is light weight and agile. It is simple to set up and get in the air. The camera is pretty decent so long as you are flying it in daylight. I have been pretty impressed with this drone, especially at the price point it comes in at. With my new found respect for solid objects, I have been more careful flying the Phantom and have spent a lot more time flying it than I have the Inspire 1 Pro, which is still out for repair.

Here is a video of the Phantom 4 setup and my first flight.

Here is a video of some flight testing I did up in the foothills in CA.

The Phantom 4 has this cool feature that helps it avoid obstacles. This would not have helped me with the Inspire 1 Pro because I simply got too close to a wall with the Inspire. The Phantom has sensors in the front and on the bottom of the device that do a good job keeping it out of trouble.

For me, the camera drone is new. It’s something that I can get excited about because it is different than what I am used to. I feel my best when I am challenged. Even though these drones are easy to fly compared to the typical hobby radio controlled drone, I have had a lot of fun learning about this platform. It’s new, and it makes me think. Now that I have my first crash taken care of, I feel more confident  (real confidence) and am ready to tackle new flight challenges.

If you want to see some of the video from my flights and future flights, check out my Instagram or my Youtube channel. I will be adding more content there as I have a chance to get out and fly.

Blog Photography

Ditch Auto is 35,000 Students Strong

Screenshot 2014-07-07 22.29.09

Ditch Auto: Start Shooting in Manual is a photography course that I put together and published online in January of 2013. I created the course because I often got asked what I did to make my photos look so good directly out of the camera. Most people shoot in auto mode on their cameras or in a mode that has the camera doing most of the work when it comes to exposing a photo properly. The problem with letting the camera do the work is that the photo turns out exposed right in terms of whatever kind of math the camera was doing to decide what was exposed and what was not. I prefer my eye because my eye is what is looking through the viewfinder. I don’t want the camera to do anything that I didn’t tell it to do and that is where the idea for this course came about.

The course took off from the start but I never imagined it would have reached 35,000+ students. When it broke 5,000 I was beside myself. I have big plans for Ditch Auto Part 2 and hope to start filming it shortly. I just have to get some client projects taken care of first.

It’s a free course and it’s free to sign up. If you know someone who has been wanting to learn more about their camera, send them a link to the course.

Screenshot 2014-07-07 22.29.09

Check out the course here:

Blog Photography

PetaPixel Featured my Ditch Auto Photography course!

The Best Free Online Photography Courses and Tutorials

PetaPixel is a popular photography blog that showcases news, products, tips, tricks and all sorts of other photography related information. I have been a follower of the site for a number of years. A couple of days ago, they included my course, “Ditch Auto: Start Shooting in Manual,” in a post titled “The Best Free Online Photography Courses and Tutorials.” I would have discovered this sooner but I had fallen behind in my blog reading and had not been paying attention to my Google Alerts I had set. This is a huge accomplishment to me because PetaPixel is viewed by a lot of people. It is one of the most popular Photography Blogs on the web. PetaPixel had also featured my April Fools joke I played earlier this year on Facebook (link). Ditch Auto: Start Shooting in Manual now has over 35,000 students. Pretty amazing.

The Best Free Online Photography Courses and Tutorials

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Visit PetaPixel:

Blog Photography Technology

I’m in a Google GLASS Slump

2014-04-17 10.42.12When I first received Google GLASS I was pretty excited about it. I loved using it, the only problem was that it was hard for me to use without prescription lenses. I have posted before about my journey through finding a way to use GLASS while needing prescription lenses to see at distance. Once Google made frames available for Google GLASS that could accept prescription lenses, I ordered them and had lenses made right away. You would think that I would have used Google GLASS every day since. The reality is quite opposite. My best guess is that I have used GLASS less than 5% of the time since I first had prescription lenses to see through.

People always ask me if I like Google GLASS or find it useful. I always respond with an optimistic answer suggesting that I have found ways in which it is useful to me. The issue is that GLASS is not useful most of the time. As I write this, GLASS is in it’s case, in the center console of my truck. It has sat there for the last 3 days. I had planned to wear GLASS during a dental procedure yesterday, that didn’t happen. I just have yet to desire to have GLASS on my face all day. Even when I wear GLASS, I take my regular glasses with me so I can switch back if I need to.

The best use case for Google GLASS is with those who have a more active work day. I spend about 7 of my 8 hour work day behind a computer. GLASS just becomes a distraction when I am trying to work. There is nothing to take photos of at my desk. I can’t listen to music with GLASS all day because the battery would go dead after a few hours. There is no reason to wear it at work. When I leave for lunch or to a meeting, I occasionally put on GLASS, depending on who I am going to meet with. It is a conversation piece and I like being viewed as someone who is on the bleeding edge of technology, because I often am.

I don’t like wearing it at home because my wife and kids often look at it rather than at me as if GLASS is doing something. Besides that, there is nothing going on that I would need GLASS for. I prefer most calls to go to voicemail after work hours. I don’t care as much about notifications or SMS after work either. I like to be there for my wife and kids. I do put on GLASS occasionally if I am going to do some sort of activity with my kids and I want to be able to easily take photos and video without pulling out my phone.

Photo and Video quality is not quite there either. I would like to be able to use the video from GLASS for more than just posting directly to social media. When I film things with my phone, I often end up using some of that footage in a project that I post later. Google GLASS only shoots in 720p and the quality of the footage is not that good. If I want useful footage, I’m better off using a GoPro camera.

I guess I feel like GLASS would be more useful if I led a more active lifestyle. I don’t make it to the gym often at all and lately my weekends have been filled with family events and little kid birthday parties. These things don’t make for interesting content for my social media followers.

Google GLASS was awesome to have when I was in the pits at Daytona 500 this year. When a lot is going on around you, Google GLASS is the best. It beats pulling out your phone and taking photos. I like the first person perspective Google GLASS gives you. It’s exactly what I was looking at. My problem is that it is not that often that I am looking at something interesting enough that I want to take photos with GLASS. When I was at NAB a couple of weeks ago, it was great. Capturing photos of what I was experiencing was a huge plus.

I have worked out with GLASS using fitness apps and trackers. That was a neat feature, but at the gym, it really draws attention to you. People don’t want to see a camera pointing in their direction while they work out. I normally take my glasses off altogether while I work out anyways.

GLASS does not yet replace the need to have your phone in front of you. Though you can have some notifications pushed to GLASS, you can’t simply leave your phone in your back pocket all day. You have to have it with you for the internet connection and ability to make/receive phone calls and text messages. You can’t use navigation on GLASS without your phone. GLASS is just another device you have to carry on you.

I have had people suggest that GLASS would be easier for me to get used to because I have worn glasses for the last 15 years of my life. I actually think that the opposite is true. I have always been a fan of thin framed glasses. I don’t like anything getting in the way of my view. I am not sure why. Perhaps I distract easily. Though I have gotten used to GLASS being in my line of sight, it is still a distraction and if I wear it for long periods of time while working on the computer, I get a headache.

I do believe that augmented reality is some form of the future. We can’t go on walking around with phones in our hands looking down from the world in front of us. GLASS gets our line of sight back up with the horizon. It allows us to get some notifications without going to our phones. I have also recently compared it to the smartwatch by Pebble. The Pebble Watch allows you to get notifications to your wrist so it’s out of the way until you get the notification. The prism that is in front of your right eye with Google GLASS is a bit of a distraction even when there is nothing to display. Though the watch had very limited functionality compared to GLASS, it held a batter charge for almost a full week. There really is no comparison between the two though, GLASS is in a different class as far as devices go.

I am still passionate about Google GLASS and enjoy wearing it. I need to find a way to make it more useful in the line of work I am in. I don’t want it to simply be something I wear to show people how technologically advanced I am. I want it to be useful and meaningful as a tool in my life that helps me stay connected to and share what is going on around me. Perhaps I just need to quit regular glasses cold turkey and not give myself the option to wear anything else. I will have to wear GLASS because that is all I will have with me.

Once again, time will tell as to what I will continue to use GLASS for.

Blog Photography Technology

30 Days with Google Glass

Google Glass Prescription Shield

Google Glass Jerad HillGoogle Glass has became much more useful to me since I had a custom prescription shield made. Now that I can wear Google Glass with out having to strap them to my Ray-Ban glasses, they are more functional and easy to use. This became very apparent to me this weekend when I took my family to the snow. I wore Glass which allowed me to take photos and video of my kids with out having to use a hand to hold a camera or smartphone. As a Professional Photographer who wants to capture everything, it is hard for me to put the camera down and enjoy my kids with out a lens in front of my face. In the future, when features such as crop and zoom come into play on Glass, it will become a very cool tool for capturing daily life and sharing it on the web.

Google Glass still has a lot of bugs that I have been experiencing. To date, here are the issues I am currently experiencing that are a source of frustration when using Glass.

  • Disconnecting from Bluetooth: I am not yet 100% sure that this is a Google Glass issue or an issue with my Google Nexus 5, however I am constantly having to either restart my phone to get Glass to reconnect or restore Glass to it’s factory default settings to get it to connect.
  • Locked out of Wifi Connections: A couple of times each week I have to remove Wifi connections from Glass and set them up again to connect. This typically happens at my office or home where I spend most of my time.
  • Photo and Video Backup: It is not entirely convenient to share photos and video from Glass. You have to speak your post out loud and you don’t really want to do that in public settings, especially when you should not be talking. You have to wait until Glass feels like uploading the images or video to your Google+ which will make them available to share through your phone. There should be an option to upload it and then post it from your phone. What I do now is post an image with no description, then edit the post in Google+ or Facebook. The issue with that is that many will see the image before I get to add the description.
  • Wonky GPS: This could be the Nexus 5, but GPS is a little weird and will bump around at times. When using the Strava app to track a run, GPS went crazy and logged a 3.28 second mile. Looking at the trail map logged by Strava, I could see the issue and why Strava thought I covered that much ground. My Nexus 5 does not seem to have this problem by itself as I have logged many runs in the same area with out Google Glass.
  • Content Feed/Timeline: Though there are few apps that you can have add content to your display feed, I find the process in which you view it not very useful. Hopefully Google will make it easier to customize the feed. There is also no way to hide items you want to remove from that feed. Of course you can remove the feed altogether but there is no way to dismiss notifications. I like to clear notifications after I have seen them. Maybe it’s OCD…

I have been getting the question, “Is it worth it,” a lot lately. It is hard for me to answer that question. At first I would say, “well I am an early adopter and I like where it is going.” Now I feel like giving people a little bit more of an explanation. I don’t want somebody to shell out the money for Glass if they are not going to have a good experience. I thought it would be best to list the top features that I find make Glass useful for me.

  1. Photography: Glass allows me to take photos and videos with out the use of my hands. Of course you can do this with GoPro style action cameras but they still require some form of touch to turn them on and use them. Google Glass is a completely hands free solution. It allows me to stay connected with what is going on in front of me instead of putting something between me and my experiences. This has been great with my kids as I mentioned above.
  2. Phone & SMS: I have enjoyed having a bluetooth device in my ear at all times. Perhaps because it did nothing other than let me talk during calls. Google Glass allows me to make, answer and respond to calls and text messages completely hands free. If I had to touch a bluetooth ear piece or the phone to answer a call, I might as well just use the phone and forgo having a device stuck in my ear all day. With Glass, it is hands-free and so much more.
  3. GPS Navigation: Though I have not yet used it much, I love having turn-by-turn navigation in Google Glass. I never use the built in navigation in my truck because it is out of date. I use my phone, but it is a distraction as it is hard to place conveniently in my vehicle so I can still access it for calls and view it for navigation directions. With Google Glass, I can leave my phone in the center console charging.
  4. Search: It is nice having search built in, especially music search. Though you can easily do most of this from your phone, being able to initiate search through Glass makes it more convenient and faster.

Having now shared that, would I purchase Google Glass again if I had to do it all over again? Yes. I would purchase Glass because I love being on the bleeding edge of technology and trying new things. Am I used to paying for the experience, not always, but in this case Google Glass is so unique and new, I wanted to experience it.

I would find Google Glass even more useful if I lived in a bigger city. I am from Modesto, CA and know this area pretty well. In the near future I hope to have some out of town trips that will allow me to use Glass in a whole new way.

Ultimately, the true killer feature of Google Glass for me, is getting my phone out of my hands so I can experience life with available eyes and hands that are not fixed to a device. I see some form of Google Glass being as common as the Smartphone in the next 5 years. Google Glass makes being connected less intrusive to your daily organic experiences. That is the true value and why I love it.

Blog Photography Technology

10 Days with Google Glass

jeradgoogleglass-6I recently was invited to take part in the Google Glass Explorer Program. For those of you who do not know what this is, it’s basically a beta testing program that Google has offered a small group of people to test out their wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display (OHMD). Google Glass is essentially a pair of glasses that has a built in computer and display. Google Glass works in conjunction with your smartphone truly make phone and internet connectivity hands free. Unfortunately, I was unable to secure a pair before my third child was born. That would have been awesome to use Google Glass during the birth of one of my children.

When Google Glass was first launched, I passed at the opportunity to purchase a it because I require prescription lenses in my glasses and there were no options available at the time. At the moment, I do not have prescription lenses, but I do have them on order from a optometrist in Pennsylvania who custom makes a prescription lens that adapts to Google Glass. There is a company that plans to make prescription lenses available to all sometime in January of 2014. A couple of days ago, I attempted to modify an older pair of my Rx glasses to fit in Google Glass, but I have always had minimal style frames, which do not have the stability to support the added weight of Google Glass.

Google Glass intrigues me because it gets my phone out of my hand. I often find myself holding my phone and looking down at it as I scroll through emails and anything else that I feel might need my attention. It takes my eyes off of the world and I know I am missing things. There have also been many times when I have wanted to take a picture of video of something and my phone or camera was not easily accessible. My reaction time is improving as I get more used to Google Glass and how fast it is to take a photo of something.

I currently wear glass about 50% of the time and my prescription glasses the other 50%. When I am driving or doing something that requires me to see distance, I need my glasses. I can place Google Glass over my glasses but it is not comfortable and I fear that they will fall off of my face and hit the ground. There is something cool about sharing in first person. When you take a picture with a camera you usually are holding the camera in a way that is not the same as you would be seeing it with your eye. As a Photographer, when I take a picture with a camera, I frame it up and try to make it look most appealing as a photo. When I use Glass, I am sharing from my perspective.

My life this last few weeks has not been very eventful as I have been home a lot doing as much as I can so my wife can rest. Emerson was delivered by cesarean, which of course has a longer recovery time. As much as I want to play with Glass, family is first.

Those of you who know anything about me know that I am mildly addicted to mobile technology. I mean I started a company that helps feed my addiction. Though I truly love Apple products, I know that there is a whole other world of innovation out there and I definitely moonlight in it. Since Google’s Android platform was launched, I have loved using it. Until recently, it has never been able to replace my iPhone but in 2013, it has. I currently use the Google Nexus 5 with Google Glass as my mobile tools of choice. I do have an iPhone 5S, which I purchased on launch day, but I am not very excited about what Apple is doing at the moment. I know that Apple will surprise us again next year, but not in 2013. Google has been doing some fun things with Android that I truly enjoy. Their current devices are beautiful and more useful to me than Apple’s current iPhone and iPad.

Google Glass however, is not perfect. Though I have enjoyed having it and the look other techies give me when they see it, it has came with many frustrations. My frustrations are inline with what others have shared, however I may be slightly more annoyed by them because I don’t have the time these days to deal with setbacks. I am always in production mode and when I’m not, I am at home with 3 kids. Life is busy, so I tend to get frustrated when things are not snappy.

  • Constantly Disconnecting – Google Glass connects to your smartphone and uses it’s internet through a bluetooth connection. This often drops which requires you to setup your Google Glass again. This is not a long process but it is an annoying process to have to go through. You typically notice it right when you want to do something with Glass. Today, I was in the middle of a run using the Strava Run app for Glass and it disconnected out of nowhere and I had to stop running to reconnect it.
  • Photo & Video Sharing Doesn’t Always Work – I don’t like to spend much time on tasks so when I take a photo or video that I want to share online, I want it to post fast. I have had about a 60% success rate with posting photos and a 20% success rate posting video. I am not sure if it is my phone or Glass that has the problem, but I would assume that Google Glass and the Google Nexus 5 would be able to communicate better than another manufacturer’s device.
  • Battery Life – Smartphones these days can usually last a full day on a charge without the need to plugin. Google Glass however can not last that long on a charge. If you are using Glass to answer calls, respond to text messages, take the occasional photo and do the occasional Google search, you will run out of battery before the afternoon. For many, that is not an issue because they can take Glass off and charge it while they don’t need it. For people like me, who plan to put Rx lenses in Glass and wear glasses all day, I will have to have another pair of Rx glasses on me so I can wear them while Google Glass is on the charger. I don’t plan to run the charging cable to my head so I can continue to wear Glass while the battery restores.
  • The Timeline – Google Glass presents updates to you on a Timeline. That timeline can get clogged over time as updates come in. If you connect a lot of Glassware apps, get a lot of text messages and calls, it will become a little overwhelming to find older notifications. I don’t believe that Google was intending for people to have tons of notifications in their Google Glass timeline but it can get a little overwhelming. You can delete items out of the timeline, but it takes more time than it should to delete something and then do something else.

Though there are other things about Glass that fall short from my expectations I have to keep reminding myself that this is technically an Alpha product and an invention none-the-less. Google Glass is something that has only existed in science fiction movies and now I wear it on my face.

The best feature of Google Glass is being able to take photos from your own perspective. There is no zoom, so you are limited to what you are looking at. There is something freeing about that, especially as a photographer. I am typically worried about crop, exposure, angles and a number of other things because of my professional background. With Glass, I can just share what I see. I also like the ability to overlay your screen onto a photo. Google calls this a Vignette (See the Kettle Kickoff photo below).

Google Glass obviously works best with the Google+ social network, but with the Facebook and Twitter app, it becomes a pretty powerful sharing tool. Google has recently opened up the Glass API which means a lot of developers have more access to develop apps for Google Glass. It will be cool to see what people come up with.

I feel like my Google Glass experience will become much more interesting after I get prescription lenses. At that point, I will be able to experience the world as I normally do through prescription lenses and Google Glass. I won’t have to either go semi-blind or wear Glass with my prescription glasses which is a bit too nerdy for me.

I will continue to share my experiences with Glass. If you want to head over to my Google+ page, you can see more that I have shared using Google Glass.

Salvation Army Kettle Kickoff 2013 Modesto #ThroughGlass

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