Drone with night vision [Best drones and buyers guide]

You may want to fly your drone at night. A lot of drones come with a camera which enable them to transmit a live first-person view of their flight to the remote control. However, these cameras are optimised for seeing in daylight. A camera that is typically attached to a drone takes much better footage and photos if there is plenty of light streaming into the lens. If you want to fly your drone in low light situations you need to use another version of seeing. Quite often this is using infrared and thermal imaging but can also include things like lidar which is a much newer technology in the drone space.

You can get night vision with the drone by using thermal imaging modules as well as other infrared sensing cameras. Some drones use a combination of both foreseeing in low light situations and newer lidar modules are able to also pick out features at night.

There are many uses for night vision on a drone. You can use it to take night-time photography, you can also use it for security and surveillance purposes, and there is a use in night vision and thermal imaging for rescue missions and monitoring wildlife in conservation and national parks.

But what is night vision on a drone? Let’s take a look at that question right now.

What is night vision on a drone?

When you first think of night vision you may think of the green photoluminescence binoculars that are used in the army.

For a drone that technology is not useful as the image is captured using a sensor which is then beamed electronically and wirelessly to the remote control and first person video screen.

Therefore, drones that have the ability to see at night typically use infrared and thermal imaging cameras as well as lidar for seeing in the dark.

Best drones with night vision

Walkera F210 Professional Deluxe Racer Quadcopter

If you’re looking for a drone which is awesome to fly that you can also use at night you should look no further than this drone. It has an adjustable angle and high definition night vision camera which enables real-time image transmission to the headset. It is able to see a detailed picture at night or low light situations.

It has a 120° visual range and the camera has 1 million pixels that consist of a highly vision lands and high-performance sensor. The photosensitive sensors can automatically adjust to the brightness of the light. When in dark places the chip can easily switch to the infrared surveillance mode to ensure that you can still see where you are flying. So, if you want to fly and race a drone at night this isn’t excellent option.

The drone is made of carbon fiber and every aspect of the drone’s body has been thought about. It has brushless motors and guards which means that it will survive even the roughest of landings or minor crashes.

Because it is a racing drone the receiver has been optimized to improve the speed of the response. It is able to respond in 5 ms and you can personalize the flight experience using their interface.

The high-speed data transmission is able to be transmitted via a mushroom antenna which has a transmission distance of over 800 m.

This drone is a fantastic option if you want a night vision and you are into drone racing.

ANAFI Thermal

If you do not want to play about in the DJI ecosystem the parrot Anafi is a fantastic drone which you can use to fly at night using their optional thermal module.

With a weight of only 320 g this is a very compact and portable drone. The Anafi can be set up in just a few seconds and the camera is stabilised on five axes which means that the optical sensor always picks up the best photo possible.

It has 25 minutes of battery life and a range of assisted flight modes which enable even the newest of drone pilots to fly with confidence.

There are plenty of packs including the extended, FPV and work packs which enable you to choose a bundle of accessories which will make your drone more suited to the way that you want to perform roof inspections.

The Anafi thermal is able to detect temperatures of between -10° and +400° and because of the way the drone processes the image you are able to see the temperature of each individual pixel. It also has up to 3 times digital zoom and a 4K camera.

To make the interpretation of the image is better, the parrot Anafi thermal is able to isolate the interesting area of the environment and give you an absolute temperature value. The great thing is that the colour palette of the video can be re-edited from the fly and which means that you can control the contrast of the thermal data to make it easier to find exactly what you are looking for. You don’t have to download the image and go through tricky post processing editing or refinement.

The thermal data can be used to explore your surroundings without having to rely on the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum for navigation.

There are plenty of other drones which use thermal imaging but the parrot Anafi is the best on the market right now due to its flight and imaging capabilities.

Here are the technical specifications of the Anafi thermal drone camera:

  • Sensor: FLIR Lepton 3.5 microbolometer (radiometric)
  • Sensor resolution: 160×120
  • HFOV: 57°
  • Pixel pitch: 12µm
  • Spectral band: 8-14µm
  • Thermal sensitivity: <50mK (0.050°C)
  • Photo format: JPEG
  • Photo resolution: 3264×2448 (4/3)
  • Photo modes: Single / Time-lapse / GPS Lapse
  • Video format: MP4 (H264)
  • Video recording resolution: 1440×1080, 9fps
  • Precision: ±5% max.(High-gain) or ±10% max.(Low-gain)
  • Scene Dynamic Range: -10° to +140°C (High-gain) or -10° to +400°C (Low-gain)
  • Video: MP4

Zenmuse L1

This drone was released by DJI in early 2021. It is a lidar aerial surveying module with a camera that contains a 1 inch sensor. The lidar solution can be used with the Matrice 300 RTK and any other DJI drone where you can change the payload such as the DJI Terra.

The module that it carries is able to collect real-time 3D data of complex structures to create 3D models for manipulation and viewing.

This drone is able to see at night because it does not rely on solely on the light in the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Essentially, the lidar is able to create a cloud point image of its surroundings. Lidar stands for light detection and ranging. It is a survey method which measures the distance to a target by ranging that target with a pulsed laser. It measures the reflected pulses with a sensor and creates a 3D cloud of data points which represent the 3D environment in which it is flying.

https://www.dji.com/au/zenmuse-l1

The module that the drone is carrying is able to record 240,000 points per second resulting in a very high definition image of the surroundings. Combined with the visible light spectrum you are able to get true colour models as long as you are flying during the daytime or nighttime with enough artificial light.

The drone module is also able to be flown in a wide range of adverse weather conditions including snow, smoke, and fog.

That is because the module is certified to the IP54 standard. You just have to make sure that the drone that you are using to carry this payload is also weather resistant and able to fly in the same conditions.

Using this module for flying at night means that you will be able to capture a 3D image of the surroundings without having to rely on visible light. The generated 3D image is also streamed live to the remote control which enables you to see where you are flying and the areas that you are passing without using light.

Drone with night vision buyers guide

If you are considering buying a drone with night vision here are the important factors to consider.

Flying a drone at night

Not all countries and jurisdictions allow you to fly a drone nights without special training. In many countries you need to undergo specific nighttime drone flying training in order to take off and fly at night legally.

Check local laws – are you allowed to fly drones at night?

Before you fly your drone you should check to see if you are actually allowed to fly your drone night according to your local laws.

For example, in Australia I need to land my drone before the official sunset time. This means that if I want to get some awesome footage of a sunset I should land my loan as soon as possible after the sun has actually set. If I want to fly my drone at night buying need to have a special license issued by Casa.

Can you fly DJI drone at night?

You can fly your drone at night as long as you are buying by all local regulations. For example, the FAA says that you should not fly your drone at night but for twilight you have to use lighting that allows you to know is location and orientation at all times.

This means that you would need at least three lights on your drone to know both its location and orientation. An a white light on top, a red navigation light on the left, and a green navigation light on the right – this is similar to what aircraft uses while flying at night too.

You can read more about the FAA’s rules here – click here.

Now that you know where to look for information about flying at night and you have the appropriate licenses and approvals you should then look into the type of drone technology that you want to use to see at night.

Camera type

the first consideration you need to make for flying your drone is the type of camera that you will be using to see past the visible spectrum of light.

Thermal camera

Drones are able to send up a load of cameras which capture different wavelengths of light. One of the most useful for seeing at night is the capturing of thermal data. You will be able to see people and hotspots on in the environment which could be people, wildlife, or other hot and infrared imaging structures.

Solar technology and other electrical infrastructure can make great use of thermal imaging for improving the efficiency of electronic transfer between wires and components.

The thermal data can also be thought of as infrared radiation if the source of the radiation have temperatures comparable to the room temperature. For cold and lukewarm objects the thermal radiation is mostly admitted in the infrared region. For much hotter objects thermal radiation may be dominated by the visible light but they are very close in the electromagnetic spectrum.

Lidar

lidar is a relatively new technology to be included in drone tech because it has only recently become light enough, and the drone is powerful enough, that they are able to be carried for any significant amount of time.

The best way to think of lidar is to think of it like sonar on a submarine but with light.

Lidar is a fantastic and affordable technology which means that not only are you able to capture 3D representations of the construction site but, with addition of the data from the camera it can produce real colour representations of the construction site.

Because of the increased resolution you get with lidar it can be used for stockpile measurement, topographical mapping, tracking resources, and also measuring the full 3D environment of overhanging objects such as underground mining and the underside of bridges or caves. It truly is a powerful addition to nearly every construction site.

Lidar can also be used to keep the drone safer than the on-board sensors allow. Lidar can create a quick 3D environment and therefore create a protection bubble around itself by knowing exactly where everything is in the environment. This is a similar technology that self driving cars used to keep themselves safe while on the roads.

Low light camera

Lastly, the camera that you are using may use a combination of thermal and infrared imaging and very sensitive cameras.

A low light camera is able to artificially boost the signal of light landing on the sensor. For example some cameras have the ability to increase the sensitivity (known as ISO) to the point where they can quite literally see in the dark.

ISO settings in a drone

In basic terms “ISO” means how bright or dark a video is. It does this by changing the sensitivity of the sensor to light. As with everything in photography, there is a trade-off. You can’t just increase the ISO to brighten an image – you will add unnecessary noise. Rather you have to balance the ISO settings with the exposure settings to achieve the brightest low noise image you can.

ISO stands for “International Organization for Standardization” and is a historical term that was used to rate the film sensitivity. Nowadays, it is used to describe the sensitivity of sensors in digital cameras.

Standard ISO values will vary a little from manufacturer to manufacturer but all will have what they call a “Base ISO”. This is the lowest sensitivity setting on the camera and will give you the best image.

A base ISO for most drone cameras is 100 – always try to use this if you have enough light.

If your image is too dark (like in low light conditions) you can increase the ISO – but go too far and your image will get very grainy. Where possible stick to the base ISO as much as possible.

 

Why use a night vision drone?

There are a variety of reasons why you may want a night vision drone. And it’s not just because you want to take photos of people and use it for surveillance. Here are some popular and common uses of night vision drones.

Search and rescue

Search and rescue missions often involve looking for people and animals. Luckily, people and animals give off a distinct infrared signal as they are significantly warmer than the surroundings. They can use this information to pinpoint the lost person or animal in a cold environment very easily.

There are a variety of drones able to also use the zoom so that they can zoom in on an object in the distance. Given the perfect height advantage as well as infrared capabilities finding someone has never been easier. Even in very dense vegetation.

Security

One of the first applications of this type of technology can be to protect any security assets or military bases. Flying a drone at night enables you to see far and wide and the thermal imaging will also make people objects stand out very easily so that you can detect any threats or issues which you may have to solve.

Wildlife

Wildlife photography and monitoring are also other great use of thermal imaging and night-time vision cameras. Once again, the animals are perfectly distinct from the environment due to their unique infrared signal which can be picked up by infrared cameras. Animals literally popped out of the image because they are so warm (obviously only warm-blooded animals) compared to their surroundings.

Asset inspection

You can use infrared images and lidar imaging in construction – if you want to know more about this check out my other article where I go through all of the types of drones used in construction – click here for more.

As well as construction you can use night-time vision cameras and thermal imaging modules to do roof inspections where you are looking for any heat escaping from a roof or use it to look on top of people’s houses and inspect their roof. Click here to be taken to more information about using drones for roof inspections.

Photography

Lastly, photography and night-time imaging can be used to collect some interesting art and unique perspectives on your surroundings.

Using a combination of lidar, thermal imaging, and real colour photography you would be able to capture some very interesting and unique perspectives that would be very hard for other people to replicate.

Summary

In this article we have gone through all of the different aspects of night vision for drones. We have looked at the best drone with night vision and looked at all of the aspects that you should consider if you want to extend your drone photography and tool capability.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton is a writer and YouTuber with a PhD in science. He has written and/or produced videos for Science Alert, COSMOS magazine, and Australia's Science Channel among others. Andy started droneflyingpro.com to share his love and the research of all things drone! He has been a drone pilot for many years and has flown many types of drone. His favorite is still the DJI Mavic Air for the portability and functionality packed into a small and portable drone!