Why is my drone footage choppy? [SOLVED]

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The reason many people buy a drone is to get cinematic footage that will impress your friends and online subscribers or followers. Some people love the simple ability to capture some incredible footage of their trips and their local beautiful places. However, sometimes the drone footage doesn’t come out as you expect. There are a number of software and hardware features in a drone which interplay to create amazing footage but get one of these settings or features calibrated incorrectly you can quickly create very choppy drone footage. In this article we going to cover exactly what is causing your drone footage to be choppy and all of the simple steps that you can take for capturing amazingly smooth drone footage.

Drone footage is typically choppy due to the high shutter speed of the recording. If your shutter speed is too high you will get a jerky looking video which reduces the amount of motion blur seen in the video. Reducing your shutter speed and using a neutral density filter will solve this issue.

I was simply amazed at how easy it was to use neutral density filters for minimizing my choppy footage. You can find really cost-effective filters for nearly all drones…check them out here!

Although this is one of the most common reasons why your drone footage looks choppy there are also other reasons such as a phenomenon known as the judder effect and also the hardware specifications on your computer combined with the video player that you are using.

A lot of people think that the memory card that you are using has a significant impact on the drone footage and could be causing jitteriness. This is not the case. As long as you have a high speed memory card which has been recommended by DJI you will certainly not have any issues and it is much more likely that one of the other issues in this article is the true cause.

Let’s take a look at what choppy footage looks like and all of the reasons why your drone is capturing choppy footage.

What does choppy footage look like?

Firstly, let’s take a look at what choppy footage looks like. Below, is an example of choppy footage that is captured by a DJI Mavic air 2.

YouTube has its own compression and cleanup routine that goes through with videos so the raw footage looks even worse than is conveyed by the YouTube video.

Choppy footage typically occurs when someone is panning the drone from left to right or right to left. This is no coincidence. The fact that it only happens during panning the drone means that there is an underlying reason and it comes down to limitations of technology combined with the increased shutter speed and image quality able to be captured by a consumer-level drone.

Before you try to change loads of different types of settings on your drone you need to be familiar with the judder effect. We will have a look at the judder effect in the next section.

The judder effect

The term judder refers to a jerky movement which is seen on a screen when a camera pans quickly and the TV cannot keep up. The TV or the viewing device such as a TV monitor cannot smooth out the fast movement of the camera given its high frame rate.

The judder effect can also be caused by the difference in frame rates between the drone footage and the refresh rate of the TV or monitor that you are viewing the footage on. The standard frame rate for a drone is about 24 frames per second. However, many televisions are now approximately 60 Hz. The TV needs to fill in the difference in the number of frames and its refresh rate by repeating frames that have already been shown on the television.

Even if each 24 frames of the drone footage are shown twice there are still 12 frames which are missing. To ensure that there will be 60 frames per second on the TV the TV decides to show that the first frame three times and the second frame twice. This is known as the 3:2 pulldown. This happens throughout the entire drone footage and is particularly obvious and noticeable when the drone is moving quickly and panning from left to right is one of the quickest movements the drone can do.

Because alternating frame times from 3 repeats to 2 repeats throughout the film and is not a consistent matter the picture on the television screen can end up being a little bit choppy. This is the essence of judder.

Although judder can help explain some of the reasons why drone footage is choppy it cannot explain everything. If you suspect that it is judder causing your drone footage to look choppy look at your footage on a smart device or other monitor with a different refresh rate to check that it is truly due to the 3:2 pulldown.

The next most common reason why your drone footage is choppy is because the frame rate of the exported video doesn’t match the original recording frame rate.

Not exporting in in original frame rate

Not exporting the final video file in the original frame rate (the one drone footage was captured with) can cause a serious amount jitteriness in the footage. The frame rate is the amount of still images that the drone captures per second.

Drones come with a whole range of different frame rates. Commercially available drones can have a frame rate from 24 frames per second up to 60 frames per second and beyond. This raw footage will determine the maximum frame rate that you can export your final video without experiencing significant jitteriness in the final cut.

24 frames per second is universally accepted as the normal frame rate for cinematic footage. So, unless you are doing slow motion pans a frame rate of approximately 24 frames per second will be good enough for a variety of different platforms and outputs.

You can use a high frame rate and reduce the frame rate of the exported final video without experiencing any issue with choppy footage.

Ultimately, the best type of frame rate for your footage will depend on the type of content you’re creating stop if you’re filming travel vlogs and want to capture your surroundings you may want to run with 24/25 frames per second. If you are vlogging or you’re shooting more fast-paced subjects you may want to run with a much higher frame rate. Play about with the frame rates and the exported frame rates until you find the best options for your content.

Shutter speed is too high

The shutter speed of your drone’s camera can have a dramatic impact on the look and feel of your video stop the shutter speed is the speed at which the shutter of the camera opens and closes. A fast shutter speed creates a shorter exposure and creates sharp images. A slower shutter speed causes the aperture to open up for a longer amount of time, causes motion blur in the image if the camera or the subject are moving, and allows much more light into the sensor.

In photography, the shutter speed is used to give a sense of motion or to freeze motion to tell a particular story about what is being photographed. If your drone footage is looking particularly choppy it may be that the shutter speed is set to high.

The shutter speed can sometimes be set too high if you are not using a neutral density filter. The neutral density filter is like your sunglasses for your drone and will reduce the amount of light that enters the sensor and will stop you from over exposing the video (making it to white).

The thing is that our eyes are used to seeing motion blur. Motion blur is something that gives the footage a sense of flow and smoothness. If you are capturing drone footage at a very high shutter speed each individual frame is going to be incredibly sharp and defined. Because our eyes are not used to seeing very sharp and defined movement it can look choppy.

If you think that this is part of the reason why your drone is capturing choppy footage have a look at the individual frames of the video and check for motion blur. If each frame is perfectly in focus and none of them are blurry during fast movements you may want to reduce the shutter speed. There is also another option for you.

Slow the speed of the pan

The simplest solution to stopping any panning effects from looking choppy is to slow down the speed of the pan. You can always speed up again in postprocessing and add a motion blur effect. However, one of the best ways to get around the effect of shutter speed on choppy footage is to use a neutral density filter and reduce the speed of the shutter.

Use NDF and reduce shutter speed

Using neutral density filters reduces the amount of light that is getting into the sensor. This allows you to use slower shutter speeds which can help improve the feel of fast-moving drone panning by adding a certain amount of motion blur.

Play about with the shutter speeds and the neutral density filters for your drone until you can get the perfect amount of exposure at a slower shutter speed. It may take a little bit of trial and error early on but using an ND16 filter is a great place to start.

There is a relatively complex interaction between the iso, frame rate, shutter speed and fstop which you will need to understand to perfect the footage that you are capturing.

Slow computer

Many people buy a top of the range drone which is capable of capturing some incredible footage but then they take the footage home and uploaded to a computer which has not got the processing power or the graphic card capability for processing super high-quality footage.

This is particularly evident when editing footage. Editing high definition drone footage takes up a lot of resources on even the fastest of computers. However, these days this is not too much of an issue as during the editing process you can use proxy footage.

Editing – use proxy footage

Proxy footage is a low definition version of your original high definition footage which the editing software is able to process faster. Then, when it comes to exporting your video the software automatically replaces the low definition, proxy, footage with the original high definition version which means that you do not lose out on the quality of the original footage.

Proxy video editing is a fantastic option if the computer you are using for editing as a small amount of RAM or if the processor is not powerful enough to support high-definition footage. This may result in significantly less jitteriness during playback while editing your footage.

Try a different video player

There are a multitude of different video players for computers. Some of these video players do not provide enough power for smooth playback of high definition drone footage.

On some forums there has been the recommendation that you try to play your drone footage through a different video player to see if there is a significant improvement in the smoothness of the footage.

How do I smooth out my drone footage?

Smoothing out your drone footage is relatively easy as long as you are willing to practice and experiment with different solutions for different problems. Drone footage can be jittery for a variety of reasons and so keeping with the basics mentioned, below, you’ll be able to achieve cinematic footage easily.

For more information about how to create awesome professional level drone cinematography check out my other article – practice for better footage – click here to be taken to article.

Select the right shutter speed

As we have mentioned above, the shutter speed can significantly impact how choppy the footage is. If you’re finding that your current shutter speed is causing significant jitteriness you should reduce the shutter speed but also play about with the iso so that you do not over expose the image. If you are unable to get the proper exposure by reducing the iso you will need to invest in some neutral density filters.

Neutral Density Filters reduce the amount of light entering your camera without affecting the colour tones. And, due to reduced exposure value, you can make full use of slow shutter speeds bringing a natural feeling to your drone videos. 

Start with a ND16 filter when filming while flying your drone during daylight.

You will need to buy packs that are specifically made for your drone model. You’d hate for them to come off during a flight. They also need to be well fitted and quality construction so that you don’t get any light leakage into the camera!

Use the right frame rate

Getting used to your drone manual camera settings are going to be one of your best ways to achieve cinematic smoothness and realistic motion blur. This has to do primarily with the shutter speed and frame rate than anything else. A really fast shutter rate will not give an even blur and can cause choppiness in the image.

You also need to understand where the footage is going to end up and published. You need to match the frame rate to the local settings – if your footages can end up on TV. For example, the United States of America uses NTSC and so your frame rate should be set to 30 or 60. If you are broadcasting your drone footage in England, Australia, or Africa they use PAL which needs a frame rate of 25 or 50 frames per second. It also depends on the TV set or monitor and how compliant it is with the frame rates that you have chosen. Computer displays such as smart phones and tablets are generally driven at 60 Hz and are not able to provide smooth video at different frame rates.

The basic rule of thumb is that the shutter speed should be two times the frame rate.

If you find that the shutter speed results in an overexposed image then you should invest in some neutral density filters that will keep the image from being overexposed whilst also allowing you to maintain this simple rule of thumb.

Slow down the pan

Slow down the movement of your drone during flight. Getting smooth footage relies on you been able to control your drone reproducibly and stop the jitteriness which can be encountered at the end of movements as you are changing the direction of the joysticks.

One of the easiest things to do is to use a cinematic smart capture mode such as tripod mode on DJI drones which will automatically limit how fast you can move and will smooth out the movements of the joysticks automatically.

Alternatively, you can change the joystick sensitivity settings so that it results in a smoother footage.

Change the joystick response

Changing your EXPO settings on your drone is one of the quickest ways to get smoother drone footage and have much greater control over your drone. These settings interprets your controller stick movements and translate that to the movement of the drone. They essentially control how much and how quickly the drone will move given the movement of the joysticks.

Access them by going here: Main Controller Settings > Advanced Settings > EXP

in the settings you will see three grafts with exponential curves on them. You can change the fraction below each of the graphs to change the shape. You can also use your finger to manually change the shape of the graph by moving the curve. Try changing the settings to a lower value for example, 0.15 to see how that changes the joystick response.


Your drone footage looks choppy for a variety of reasons and a complicated interplay between the original raw footage, how it is exported, the frame rate and shutter speeds of the drone, and the type of technology that you are using to view the footage.

Go through each of the issues, above, and trial each one until you find the issue which was causing your drone footage to be so choppy. Good luck and I hope that you are able to capture the cinematic footage of your dreams!

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton is a Drone pilot, Writer and YouTuber with a PhD in science. His drone footage has been featured on TV (ABC Documentary) and he has written and/or produced videos for Science Alert, COSMOS magazine, and Australia's Science Channel among others. He has been a drone pilot for many years and has flown many types of drones.