“Using a Phase One Industrial solution can improve the quality and speed up your work”
Inspection from Above
Although some traditional on-foot inspection methods will always hold some merit, the benefits of fitting a camera onto a drone or UAV are plentiful. The core tenets of this are essentially a substantial ROI in terms of time, money, safety and often improved data, where variable sensors (multispectral, thermal, LIDAR etc.) can mean you collate far more information than you perhaps need at the time, but could be no less valuable at a later date.
The speed and flexibility of the craft can transform a process that previously takes days into a matter of a few hours. By operating at height and using high-quality imagery, a drone can cover large areas quickly and efficiently, taking thousands of photos that can be analysed and combined in a variety of ways – whether it’s for general surveying, 3D mapping or close-up inspection work.
Being able to do the same inspections in a fraction of the time means vast savings in man-hours – time that can be spent maximising the data for improved maintenance or enhanced crop yields, for example. Similarly, an aerial solution reduces the risk to those employees, negating the need for scaffolding, ladders, ropes and other alternatives; alternatives that often require the site be closed down during the inspection process.
Whether that’s a bridge, a wind turbine or a power line, that can cost a lot of money – while a drone operator can work safely from a great distance while the site remains operational (unless you specifically want to inspect those turbine blades, etc.). All in all an aerial inspection solution should more than pay for itself within just a few flights!
How is a medium format camera different?
The majority of cameras being used for both drones and general DSLR photography are small format, so typically a 24x36mm sensor that shoots 35mm images. By keeping things small and compact they reduce the size and weight of the camera, and subsequently the price – but this comes at a cost in terms of their capacity. By contrast a medium format camera will have a sensor that’s at least twice the size.
The Phase One iXM-100 we’ll be looking at is 2.5 times larger than a traditional DSLR sensor (33x44mm), and can shoot 100MP images compared to the likes of the DJI Phantom 4 RTK which delivers 20MP stills. Combined with some other key features we’ll come to shortly, a medium format camera can typically boast better colours, greater clarity and sharpness, improved depth of field and overall a more natural and realistic feel – making them a popular choice with professional photographers.
However, medium format cameras can also excel in the field of aerial inspections and here are just a few of the reasons why…
1) More and Bigger Pixels
Obviously shooting a bigger image means more pixels and these in turn are larger than those of small format cameras. While smaller pixels might sound preferable, larger ones allow more light to be gathered offering a far greater dynamic range. In addition this means that the camera is able to preserve detail that might be lost in bright lights or the darker shadows, ensuring that nothing is missed during an aerial inspection that could prove costly down the line.
2) A Wider Field of View
Another perk of shooting a larger image is that you can capture the same area with a single shot that might take a standard camera several shots to cover – and at a similar, if not notably greater, resolution. The IXM-100 also comes with a choice of lenses, from 35mm to 150mm which can also dramatically change the amount of detail captured in a single image, and/or the height or distance you need to operate at.
If you need to take fewer images to cover the same area, then that means fewer flights and again saves you time and money. Not only does this apply in the field, but also back in the office when you need to process all those images on a computer and maybe stitch them together in something like Pix4D for a 3D map or a wider orthomosaic of the entire site.
3) Keeping a Safe Distance
A combination of the previous two points, the larger images and wider view means that a drone equipped with a medium format can operate at a greater distance than its small format counterparts, and, as mentioned, while still delivering even better quality images. For example, while a standard camera might require you to fly at around 30ft from your target, a medium format solution could be working more than 100ft away – which doubles down on the safety aspect of aerial inspections as you can work even further away from the risk of a train rumbling along the tracks you’re inspecting, or traffic passing along a busy road.
See the Phase One iXM in action:
|Phase One Camera|
Who are Phase One?
Phase One Industrial, the company behind the iXM-100, its 50MP sibling the iXM-50 and a wealth of other great aerial imaging solutions, is a division of Phase One A/S which was founded back in 1993 and based in Copenhagen, Denmark. The company has offices and R&D centres around the world, including the USA, Japan, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Israel and Germany, plus more than 50 distribution and service partners – including COPTRZ here in the UK.
While other camera manufacturers were targeting the general photography and videography markets, Phase One recognised the potential for drone applications early on, releasing its first 60MP solution for UAVs in 2012, building up to the iXM-100 which was launched last year (along with the iXM-RS150F model shooting a whopping 150MP images!).
The company describes itself as a “world-leading provider of medium format digital imaging systems and solutions for industrial applications and professional photographers.” By focusing on aerial applications targeted towards the professional market, from your core image acquisition to areas such as machine vision and even digital heritage preservation, everything Phase One Industrial manufactures is designed with the professional aerial operator in mind.
Introducing the PhaseOne iXM-100 & iXM-50
Designed specifically for aerial inspections and precision mapping, the iXM-100 and the iXM-50 were launched last year as breakthrough camera solutions that pushed the boundaries of the technology. Great on their own, either model could also serve as an ideal companion to a thermal or LIDAR solution in a dual-camera set-up.
Key Selling Points
- Backside-Illuminated Sensors: The first medium format sensor to implement this technology, it gives the IXM cameras enhanced light sensitivity and an extended dynamic range.
- High-Quality RSM Lenses: These high-resolution lenses contain no moving parts and come with the option for a 35mm or 80mm fixed focus (80mm being the standard choice) along with an 80mm and 150mm motorised focus, opening up a variety of potential use cases in aerial inspections.
- New Leaf Shutter Technology: This enables the IXM-100 to capture up to 3 frames per second, with an exposure time down as low as 1/2500 of a second. Phase One also guarantees the camera for 500,000 actuations – that’s a lot of pictures!
- IP53 Compliant: Lightweight and robust, the cameras offer high resistance to vibrations and the effects of dust and water. After all, it’s not like aerial inspections always take place in perfect flying conditions…
The iXM-100 and iXM-50 are compatible with a wide variety of drones and UAVs. Principally the models are targeted to DJIs M600 platform, with an integration package that makes them highly compatible with a range of other DJI models.
This doesn’t mean that the cameras aren’t compatible with a range of other manufacturers, only that Phase One isn’t currently providing the means to do so, but if you know your way around a custom build or two, then the iXM models could well be used with a number of other craft.
The cameras come with good connectivity to facilitate that wider integration, with USB-C, two Lemo ports, HDMI video output and a 10G Ethernet connector. So if that sounds like something you can work with (or you know a company that can), then the iXM-100 and iXM-50 could well be worth a look!
What other inspection cameras are there?
There are plenty of other great cameras out there, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The higher-quality images of the iXM-100 and other medium format cameras can come at a higher price, but in the inspection industry being able to gather data with inch-perfect precision can quickly pay for itself. That said, the likes of DJI could quite rightly argue a case that its own cameras are perfectly suitable for a wealth of surveying and inspection work, applied to models such as the M200 Series and M600, along with its other less specialised craft such as the Inspire 2.
We’ve also seen industry giants such as Hasselblad and Sony making notable leaps – Hasselblad teaming up with DJI recently for the Mavic 2 Pro, along with the 100MP H6D-100C solution for the M600 before that. However, the likes of Phase One would argue that the majority of those cameras have grown from a production line optimised for studio or landscape photography, whereas its own products are all purpose-built for professional and industrial aerial applications.
As with most UAV technology, it ultimately comes down to finding a solution that is right for own specific needs and the quality of results that you’re after. If cheap and cheerful is all you need then there’s no point in spending thousands on something you won’t truly benefit from; but if you’re working in a field where high-quality inspections delivering highly accurate data truly can make a sizeable difference to your overall efficiency, then a medium format solution is well worth your consideration.
Use Cases for Medium Format Cameras
We’ve already mentioned a few examples of where a medium format camera can be used to deliver high-quality results but there are few limitations for where a wide 100MP image can be beneficial. Phase One itself offers examples in railway inspections, power lines, wind turbines, pipelines and other civil engineering or infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges – with case studies showing a photo of a bridge taken from 130ft on the horizontal that can be zoomed in to see each nut and bolt, or a railway line shot from 60ft up where the serial number on each sleeper can be easily picked out on closer inspection.
In short, a medium format camera such as the iXM-100 is great for aerial inspection work in all manner of fields. It can operate faster than a traditional camera by taking fewer images. Those images, in turn, are of a higher quality meaning that you’ll typically be getting better results and even greater accuracy to your final inspection analysis. It’s an option, not a necessity, but certainly one worthy of consideration for all operating in a professional inspection environment.
Phase One Demo Day
If you missed our PhaseOne iXM product demonstration then why not watch the highlights reel below.