I am a grad student who is starting some basic research on UAV/Drone technology. I am looking for some insight on the best setup to buy. My budget is around $2500 for the whole setup.

I would like to produce quality aerial images/maps. This is my primary need. I would also (later) like to use this drone for Precision Agriculture, and so it needs to be something that I can fit an IR camera too (or be a camera that I can modify/set).  IR images can be used to determine crop health.

I have looked at the 3DR Iris+, and the DJI Phantom 2 Vision +.

The Iris+ looks to be something that I could repair myself, without needing to send the whole thing away. However, the gimbal does not seem to be as good as the DJI gimbal, and so the aerial images are not as good. Because of the gimbal, the Phantom seems to produce better images. Is this true?

I have been looking at mapsmadeeasy. com, and their dronesmadeeasy.com site.  I am currently also considering their Base Mapping Bundle. Link below.


As for software, I have been considering mapsmadeeasy.com, and I have seen a little but about Agisoft.  I prefer the idea of running the processing myself, but this is certainly not required.

My funding is very limited so I would HIGHLY appreciate any addition tips on saving some cash. I am willing to do some assembly/mods myself, but I do not have the confidence (or tools) to create one from scratch.


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  • For the sake of having all the info in one post I thought I would put down what I went with.

    I bought the:

    I have been using:

    • I have been setting the camera to 2sec shots with intervelometer.
    • Microsoft ICE to stitch the images, which seems to work pretty well.
    • AgiSoft PhotoScan Professional for attempts at 3D modeling, but it just takes SO LONG on my laptop.  
      (I have i7 4710QM cpu, 8 gigs ram, Nvidia 970m 6gigs ram)
    • 200 ft ceiling for shooting images.
    • Tower App (DP3)

    As processing takes so long, should I fly higher and take pictures at 3-4 seconds instead?  Sitching in MS ICE doesn't take very long, but anything is Photoscan does.  I am still VERY new to the program though, so maybe I just don't know what I'm doing.

    Canon S100, S110, S120, SX260, G9X, ELPH 110IS, 130IS, 180, 320HS & 330HS Fixed Mapping 3DP Mount &…
    Canon S100, S110, S120, SX260, G9X, ELPH 110IS, 130IS, 180, 320HS & 330HS Fixed Mapping 3DP Mount & Adapter for 3DR Iris, Solo & X8
    • The height of your flight depends on the resolution you need for your pictures. You can use mission planner to see the resolution in cm/pixel. For the S100 at 60 m  you get 2.19 cm/pixel.

      The shutter interval is also calculated by MP - at 60m height and 5 m/s speed 2,63 s for 80% overlap.

      When using the FC for triggering the camera you can arrange the pictures in a grid what helps the stitching software a lot.


      • New to this site, I've been working on the same thing.  I have the Iris+ w/ a GoPro set @ video + photo every 5 seconds.  Not really fast enough unless I fly it manually.  The GoPro has been fine.  I do have to upload it to the go pro software first and remove the fish eye.  After that, if I don't have enough photo's for a mesh, I put it through Picassa (a free software through google).  I run the movie through it and take it apart.  

        It takes a lot of practice, lighting conditions, how to shoot it, etc.  I use recap360 through autodesk that will render into a file to use in autocad.  They also have a beta of Momento and just added the measurement feature.  That's mostly for objects, you can still use it to edit.  I've been blogging my progress & frustrations... helleren.blogspot.com.  It's a personal blog, the last few months it's been all about getting this rolling.  


    • Moderator

      Put less photos into Agisoft and make sure nothing else is running on your laptop. Agisoft smokes MSICE try putting some in photosynth that can produce pleasing point clouds with the addition of point cloud extractor. Only choose crystal clear images to process anything else is just introducing noise.

  • Does anyone have any thoughts on the Canon S100 vs the S110?  I see that 3DR has released a script for the S100.

    I've settled on an Iris+, and am very happy so far!

    • I use the S100 on my 3dr Y6 for aerial mapping. The script used by 3dr is a chdk-script originally made for kites, but it works very well for aerial mapping. It also can be used on the S110, because chdk is also available for this camera. 

      The main differences between S100 and S110 are the WIFI function and the touchscreen, both not very useful for aerial images.

      The quality of the images is good when there is light enough to have shutter times around 1/1000s.

      There are quite a lot of users reporting blurry images because of the optical stabilization - the lens is "floating" and might be influenced by the vibrations of the UAV. I can´t confirm that, but perhaps the lens is less influenced by vibrations when the camera points straight down.

      I use the S100 (200g) with a servo gimbal (110g) controlled by the pixhawk. So perhaps you should test the payload capacity of the IRIS first. I use PTgui for stitching the Images and at least this program needs almost NADIR pictures for proper work. I know 3DR uses their mapping system without a gimbal, so perhaps it´s a proplem of my (much cheaper) software.


      • Thanks for the insight! I think I'm going to try a refurbished S100.

  • I would recommend a fixed wing aircraft. I use mine more often for aerial mapping than my copters. And, the airplane is cheaper than a copter, has a longer endurance and covers a lot more area.
    I use Sony Nex cameras and most customers are happy with a resolution of 3cm per pixel. I can process an area of 36 hectar with a picture overlap of 75% to all sides within 35 minutes in one flight. I dont know any multirotor platform for a reasonable price that can do this. And I have a maximum flight time of about 90 minutes and ca. 100km flightpath lenght.

    With regards
  • I built a DJI F550 around a Pixhawk for just under your budget. This included the entire build and support items like batteries, chargers and radios. The F550 was an ARTF kit including the frame, motors and props. 3DR supplied the Pixhawk, GPS/MAG Telemetry Radios and other electronics. I have a Canon 260SX for ortho imagery hung under the heli, no gimbal. The camera is CHDK'ed (firmware hack) and is triggered by an intervelometer script. I am working on getting the Pixhawk to trigger the shutter. For mapping, I haven't found a need to do this yet, but I'm still learning. I am learning that I practically need two of everything.

    The actual build was not difficult and the tools needed were already in the tool box except a nice soldering iron ($cheap). Building your own can save you a bunch of cash, but took me a few months to research and learn the systems before I had a RTF unit. You will break stuff and have to rebuild your aircraft. You will inevitably need to fully learn the systems: properly powering the system, how to update firmware, program settings, configurations, etc. I can say I did it myself and I am not tied to a manufacturer for support. If something goes wrong, I usually know what it is and can fix it quickly.

    The F550 is a good size heli and can lift the payload no problem. I am running 4S batteries and getting about 10-12 min. flight times. Not Ideal for mapping. I have considered running two 4S in series to extend the flight times but will probably need to upgrade the propulsion system. The nice thing about this size of heli is the motors and props are cheap. Step up to a bigger system and the price goes up a bunch. If mapping is what you want to do, I would be looking into a fixed wing platform. Fixed wings are getting 100+ min. flight times. The helis are great for the "hard to reach/confined" areas where the fixed wings have trouble. My next build is a fixed wing.

    Good luck!

    • Brian, I don't mean to hijack the thread but I am looking at doing exactly what you did with your dji F550. Is the pixhawk controller basically just plug and play with the other dji components or would I need to upgrade the power modual/distribution board? Do you have any documentation on how to set up the dji/ pixhawk hybrid?

      Thank you very much for your time. I've been scouring the web for an answer to this topic but have yet to find any results.



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