Thursday, August 20, 2015

Short Review: Olympus Air as Drone Camera

As a dedicated Micro 4/3 Mirrorless camera user, I thought it would be great to try the new Olympus Air A01 camera.  This is similar to a product put out by Sony which attached a photo-quality lens to a Smartphone.  However, the unique ability of the Olympus Air is that it will take any interchangeable Micro 4/3 lenses.  Price is low: approximately $299 street price in USA for body only.

Olympus AIR A01

I received the AIR yesterday and rushed to get it charged (about 4 hours) and get it set up.  It is not a perfect product and there are a few warts, some of which could be fixed in future software.  The cylindrical body of the AIR is quite small and light, and it communicates with your IOS or Android device via Bluetooth and Wifi.  This has some issues as you disconnect from your home wifi to access the AIR wifi, as the AIR sets itself up as an access point.  You also have to download the correct Olympus AIR app, and set a few things up.  The normal mode of use is to clip your smartphone to the back of the AIR and use it as a viewfinder and remote control.  I tried this and it works as advertised.

The AIR has the following useful qualities for drones:

  • Professional quality sensor (16MP) and lenses, Full HD at 30 fps
  • No added functions, buttons, screens, & grips which are normally part of a photo quality camera - you don't have to lift a whole DSLR to get Photo quality
  • Tripod mount - invaluable as you can easily adapt it to existing gimbals and mounts
  • Interchangeable lenses
  • Autofocus, image stabilization, face detection, long list of DSLR type features
  • Ability to turn off wireless connections so they do not interfere with drone radio control
  • Built-in battery
  • Light - I measured 368 gm for the AIR with a Panasonic 14-42mm zoom lens, which is not the lightest 4/3 lens by any means.  The AIR alone is about 150 gm.
  • Open API interface so software could be written to control the camera and lens in flight
I rushed to get it installed on my test mule drone, an SK450 Deadcat.  I found a tripod mount that attached to my existing Gopro mount, but it was not ideal as it mounted the AIR too high and too far forward, but it sort of worked (see photos).

There are a few drawbacks to the AIR, which I will list below, mainly concentrating on drone-specific items:
  • The setup is complicated, you have to read the instructions carefully and follow them
  • The app is not intuitive, some updates needed here
  • Wifi video transfer to smartphone takes a long time for some unknown reason, about 10 minutes for a 3 minute video.  I recommend connecting the AIR via USB to your PC where the transfer took about a minute.
  • You have to keep your smartphone hooked up to the AIR by wifi and bluetooth, and the smartphone will try to go back to its home network if you turn off the AIR or connection is lost, causing you to have to go back to the setup menu and reselect the right networks again.
Olympus AIR with Panasonic 14-42mm lens

SK450 Deadcat with AIR

Closer View of Not-So-Great Mount


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