How would you like to take fully spherical aerial 360 photos automatically? You can with Skydio 2 or Skydio 2+ . Here is a sample.
ABOUT SKYDIO 2
Skydio 2 (which was later succeeded by Skydio 2+) is a self-flying drone that is known for its best-in-class obstacle avoidance, enabling it track and follow a subject through challenging environments such as forests. Skydio 2 also has an option to unlock its unique ability to autonomously take photogrammetric photos of buildings or interiors even where GPS is not available.
Earlier this year, Skydio updated the firmware to add the ability to capture panoramas — 180 horizontal, 180 vertical, or fully spherical. Although there are many drones that can capture 360 photos, most of them have a large blind spot at the zenith. However, Skydio 2 has a camera that can tilt upward or downward a full 90 degrees, and therefore can take a fully spherical 360 photo without any blind spot.
Last month, Skydio announced that they would be focusing on enterprise customers, but Skydio 2+ Enterprise Edition remains available for purchase (and of course you can also buy a used one) and they are still fully supporting their consumer customers. I bought my Skydio 2 in 2019 and when I sent a voicemail inquiry this morning, they responded via email in 2 hours.
SKYDIO 2 SPHERICAL PANORAMA SPECIFICATIONS
Skydio 2 uses its main camera, which is an f/2.8 wide angle lens with 20mm equivalent focal length paired with a 12.3 megapixel 1/2.3 inch Sony IMX577 sensor. It takes 26 shots to capture the fully spherical 360 photo (1 zenith, 3 rows of 8 shots each, and 1 nadir).
You have the option to shoot in JPG only or JPG + DNG. Exposure is automatic and can be set either globally (“Smart Capture”) or individually with a different exposure for each photo. There is no option to bracket the shots.
After you land, Skydio 2 begins stitching the panoramas but must remain connected to the app. The panoramas are stitched in JPG with a 72mp resolution (12000 x 6000). However, the DNG photos can be stitched in PTGui to yield a resolution of about 116mp (approximately 15242 x 7621).
Here is an unedited sample of the photo stitched by Skydio’s app:
You can see it is underexposed because it attempted to preserve the highlights. If you click on the second thumbnail above, you can see a version automatically edited by Windows Photo app with normalized exposure.
The photo looks reasonably detailed with good color and white balance. The stitching is not perfect, with a few stitching errors here and there, but it looks passable for an automatically stitched photo.
You can stitch and edit the photo using third party software such as PTGui. Here is a version edited using simple editing methods from HQ Lite and uploaded to Google Street View:
The Skydio 2’s photo quality is quite good. Not as good as Mavic 3, but it has the convenience of being fully spherical. Compared to other drones capable of fully spherical aerial 360 photos:
- vs. DJI Mavic Air 2 with Insta360 Sphere: Skydio 2 is far more detailed and has better image quality.
- vs. Parrot Anafi: Skydio 2 is more detailed and has far better image quality because Anafi can only take JPG photos. Moreover, Anafi is relatively unstable in flight and therefore its panoramas can have more stitching errors. Finally, Skydio 2 is more convenient because it can stitch panoramas automatically whereas Anafi cannot stitch 360 photos.
- vs. DJI Mini 3 or Mini 3 Pro: DJI Mini 3 or Mini 3 Pro has much better image quality because it has a significantly larger 1/1.3 inch sensor, and much higher resolution panorama (161 megapixels). However, Skydio 2 is more convenient because it takes fully spherical 360 photos reliably, whereas with Mini 3 Pro, strong winds can prevent the Mini 3 from being able to tilt up its camera sufficiently to cover the zenith. Skydio 2 can also be operated indoors even when there is no GPS signal, as long as there is adequate light for its sensors to see the environment.
For American customers, another consideration is privacy and security. Skydio is an American company whereas there are allegations that DJI has ties to the Chinese government, and it is not allowed to be used by the U.S. Department of State and some government entities.
HOW TO UPDATE SKYDIO 2 FIRMWARE
To use the spherical panorama feature, you must have firmware 21.1.106 or above installed. To update your firmware, first download the update to your phone:
- In the Skydio phone app, tap on “info” on the lower right corner
- Under Devices, tap on your Skydio. In the next screen, tap on “Check for Update.” If a new firmware is available, it will download it to your phone.
After downloading the update, make sure that your drone is either connected to a USB power source, or ensure that it has adequate battery. Also make sure there’s space on its micro SD card. Then connect your app to the drone by tapping on “Connect to Drone” to install the new firmware. Do not interrupt the update process. It is done when you see a popup message on your app asking to reconnect to the drone’s Wi-Fi network.
HOW TO USE THE SPHERICAL PANORAMA FEATURE
- Connect your app to Skydio 2 and launch your Skydio 2
- Tap on the skills button. Under “General” skills (to the left of “Cinematic” skills), look for the new Panorama skill.
- Tap on the three lines next to the shutter to show the options for the Panorama skill. You can choose the type of panorama: horizontal, vertical or spherical. You can also choose the exposure — whether “Smart Capture” (the same exposure for all the shots) or “Customized Capture” (exposure for each shot set independently).
- Press the shutter to start capturing the 360 photo.
How to stitch Skydio panoramas
After you land, Skydio will begin stitching each of the panoramas automatically. A nifty touch is that the stitched panorama will be added to any auto-recorded video of your flight.
However, if you have PTGui, you can get higher resolution and better stitching by stitching the DNG photos in PTGui. Here is a stitching template for Virtual Tour Edge members.