Flying Multirotors and FPV is very addictive, but with the cold winter settling in and the days growing shorter, when exactly do we have the time to fly our toys? How does flying at night sound?
This article is written by Carlos Costa, a member of Multicopter International.
FPV Cameras For Night Flying
Nowadays you low light capable FPV camera are becoming affordable, here are some of the latest options for FPV cameras for night flying:
- Runcam Night Eagle 2 (probably the best performer at the moment for low light, our review)
- Foxeer Night Wolf V2 (We have not tested this one but it’s a cheaper alternative)
- Runcam Eagle 2 (Excellent day time camera, decent for low light flying too but not the best, our review)
Here is an example of how well these camera can perform at night.
This is how dark the play ground actually is.
And through our low flight capable FPV camera, we can see a lot better without using any additional light source.
However, unless you are lucky enough to have a clear sky and a full moon, or some street lights nearby, your camera might still struggle a bit to give you a clear image.
Although these low light cameras do a pretty good job in taking advantage of every bit of light available (min 0.00001lux in black and white), the less light you have the worse the processed image will be, to an extent the image might look very noisy and blurry, It’s very hard to discern anything in the footage you see and fly with that.
Fear not, there is a simple solution, read on.
Enhance Low Light Visibility
We can improve visibility in dark environment by adding a flashlight to the quadcopter, but that will take away the quiet pleasures of flying at night. Not only will your multirotor look like an UFO but you will also blind anyone that gets in front of your quad – including yourself if you are flying LOS.
A much better, light conservative option is to use IR LED’s (Infra-red). Due to the interesting nature of IR (which is invisible to human eyes, but only visible through digital cameras), it doesn’t annoy anyone and you will be able to see the same as you do with a flashlight, if not better!
The best option I found so far was a 48 IR LED illuminator for around £8 (US$12), I’m sure you can find these even cheaper if you can be bothered to look.
If you don’t have a GoPro mount, try this way provided by Konrad Stepanajtys. He basically mounted the LED panel on a cardboard box, which then goes on top of the quad.
The only modification I needed to do was to solder a male balance plug connector to my LED, so I can connect it directly to my 3s flight battery.
Remember to keep it away from the camera lens, so as not to cause any glare. I simply added a Gopro mount to the top front of my quad and attached the LED board there.
The results are surprisingly good.
It’s not as strong as a flashlight which is not bad all together, meaning you WON’T have a big white spot aiming at the centre of wherever you are looking at, but instead a nice, even, big glow in front of you. This is the result:
Is it worth it then?
If you are considering using this method for some midnight racing in the dark I wouldn’t recommend it. Because while you can see what is in front of you, it won’t be quite enough for you to keep up with fast speeds. As you get closer to the floor you will be blinded by the glare from the floor.
Then again if you can afford it you could get some bigger IR LED arrays and place them around in the field where you are flying, but wouldn’t it be easier to fly somewhere where there is already some light? :)
On the other hand if you are an explorer and want to go flying around at every given time, slowly exploring all the small gaps in between the trees and hidden paths, the night can truly be both a wonderful and terrifying experience.
If you are as scared as me of losing a quad in the middle of nowhere be sure to attach a tracker. I use a nut (goggle nut smart tag) which gives me around 50m range from the current location of the craft.
Key things to remember
- Check local regulation if you are actually allowed to do night FPV flying.
- Your FPV camera must NOT have IR filter in order to see the IR light.
- On your FPV Camera, change the Day/Night setting to auto or to black and white. You will be able to see a lot better!
- Don’t get the illuminators too close to your camera. It will cause glare in the lens and you won’t be able to see anything.
- Always check the voltage required by the IR illuminator. Mine uses 12v and I can connect it directly to my 3s main lipo battery (balance port).
- For lasting protection add some liquid electrical tape at the back part of both the board camera and the LED board or get some proper cases for both.
- Consider adding a tracker to your quad – easier to find when crashed in the dark
- Night flight – you will be super cold! Dress warm
- Dec 2015 – Article created
- Dec 2017 – Updated Night FPV camera options