Why is my drone footage wavy? The jello effect

Capturing amazing drone footage is becoming easier and easier. But, with all of the advances in technology sometimes things go wrong. Because the majority of drones are mass produced there are some tolerances in the manufacturing process which can result in footage issues. One of the most common in the DJI Mavic series of drones is the Jell-O effect. This results in drone footage that is wavy and has distortions on the sides or middle of the footage. It typically looks like waves progressing through the image from top to bottom but can also look more jagged than waves.

Typically, your drone footage is wavy because of vibrations coming from the propellers, the gimbal, or third-party accessories. Also, check that your shutter speed is twice the frame rate can help minimize the wavy footage. Checking the basics like memory card speed can help.

In this article, we are going to go over the 10 fixes that you should make and check before sending your drone back to the manufacturer to be repaired. Although the forums are full of advice sometimes the only fix is to ask for a replacement drone or get your drone repaired.

Here are some examples of what wavy drone footage looks like from people in forums with a variety of different drones.

Examples of the Jello effect from YouTube

You can see from these videos that each drone is affected to different extents. Sometimes it only happens while moving whilst other times the Jell-O effect is constant throughout the video.

One of the most common reasons your drone footage can look wavy is due to vibrations. Let’s have a look at some of the options for minimising this effect now.

Unbalanced props

The first thing that you should look at to fix any wavy footage is to check for unbalanced propellers. Even if you have not had an accident, propellers should be replaced every year. Also, you should check that they are sat properly in the motor housing.

Drone propeller direction

Check that the propellers are sat in the motor properly

The way that you check that the propellers are sat properly in the motor is to hold the brushless motor still with your thumb and finger on one hand, and with the other hand gently web or the propeller from the middle. There should be a little bit of play but not so much that the propeller turns a significantly.

Do this for each propeller

Check the integrity of each propeller

With your drone powered off you should run the pads of your thumb and finger over the entire surface of the drone propeller. Your fingers are going to be one of the best tools that you can use to check the integrity of the propellers.

After you have run your fingers and thumb across the surface of the propeller you should use your thumbnail to trace over the leading and trailing edges of the propeller. Are there any chips, bumps, or issues which could cause vibration during flight?

The fix

If you are in doubt, at all, you should swap out your drone propellers. They can be found relatively inexpensively online from a variety of marketplaces and are the only thing keeping your drone in the air. Replacing them every year whether or not you have used them extensively will be best practice.

They are typically made of plastic or a plastic composite which can decay over time if not kept in ideal conditions.

If the vibration is not fixed by looking at the propeller you should check the gimbal.

Check the gimbal plate

The gimbal is the camera’s first line of defence against any vibrations which are caused by the rotation of the propellers. In some models of drone the gimbal is dampened by elastic bands or rubber stoppers.

You should check the gimbal and its connection to the drone to make sure that the gimbal hasn’t popped over any of the corner stops and that it is sat comfortably and securely into the drone.

You can also recalibrate the gimbal if you have noticed that the waving us of the footage has increased over time.

Gimbal warnings

Some people have noticed that the wavy footage happens when the gimbal sends warnings to the remote controller. This can be removed with a gimbal calibration but regular gimbal overload warnings before a Jell-O effect can mean that you need to send it back to the manufacturer.

Double check that you have removed all of the stickers and thin films which plastic components of the DJI series of drones come with if it is brand-new. Sometimes these can get stuck in the gimbal’s movement causing Gimbal warnings.

Shadow Flutter

Another effect which you may be seeing is not due to vibration at all but is in fact the shadow of the propellers hitting the edges of the camera causing a slight strobing effect.

This strobe being effect can sometimes be confused with a wavy image and is called shadow flutter.

This happens when the drone is pointing towards the main source of light (typically the sun) and the propellers are in between the camera and the sun.

To check for this effect simply orientate your drone away from the light and see if you can remove the issue.

If you cannot remove the issue and you are confident that it is not vibration caused by the propellers or the gimbal it may be the environmental conditions in which you are flying.

Flying in high wind

Flying in high wind can cause a fair amount of vibration during flight.

I have flown in very high winds, only very recently. I had an error message which I had never had before which was that the motors had reached their maximum speed. Because the wind was so intense the drone was drifting uncontrollably and I could only maintain control when I descended to a lower altitude away from the wind.

One thing that I noticed during this flight is that the drone was very unstable and the drone footage had a small amount of vibration caused by wind gusts.

To test whether high winds is causing your wavy footage simply wait for a lower wind day and repeat the flight at the same time of day. Quite often, if the problem goes away, it can be environmental conditions which has caused the wavy footage.

Another reason your drone footage may be wavy is due to flying in cold weather.

Flying in cold weather

I live in Australia and it very rarely gets below freezing. However, drones are flown in every part of the world and flying in sub zero temperatures can cause errors with the electronics as well as stiffening up the rubber components in the gimbal resulting in higher vibration levels.

Drones should not be flown in temperatures less than about 4° C as the electronic components can become damaged and the gimbal materials can become hard and less effective at reducing vibrations.

If you need to fly in cold weather often I would recommend looking at a drone which does not rely on rubber or elastic materials to reduce vibration but rather has a more advanced gimbal stabilisation technology. Drones such as the DJI Mavic air 2 and the DJI Phantom series would be better than the DJI Mavic or the DJI Mavic mini.

Camera settings

Your camera settings are responsible for the quality of the drone footage that you are able to capture. Quite often simply learning how to use the camera settings properly and moving away from auto mode can help to reduce any Jell-O effects.

To find out more about your camera settings check out my other article – Drone photography for beginners [a complete guide] – click here to be taken to article.

drone photography for beginners

As a general rule of thumb, you should set the shutter speed to twice the frame rate. For example, if your frame rate is 30 frames per second your shutter speed should be sent to 1/60. This will give you the optimum shutter speed for capturing drone footage.

You should also check things like the ISO settings and exposure but these will have less of an effect than the shutter speed on any wavy artefacts in your footage.

Reset the camera

You can also reset the camera on a variety of drone models. To reset the camera you can head to the camera settings when you are in the live view and a software button will be available saying camera reset.

DJI also recommend trying the following button combinations to make sure that everything is communicating properly:

Reset the RC of any presets:
* Turn on the controller, and the aircraft should be off.
* Press C1, C2, and shutter on the controller then turn the controller off.
* Turn on both the aircraft and the controller and link the remote.

Manually relink the RC to the aircraft:
* Turn on both the aircraft and the controller.
* Press C1, C2, and the record button on the controller, then the controller will beep like D-DD. This may take a few seconds of holding it.
*While holding the buttons, press the wheel on the right side of the controller and then the first light of the controller will become blue and it will constantly beep DDDD.
* Use a pen to click the linking button on the aircraft and hold for 3-5 seconds, and then take the pen off the aircraft and wait, it will be linked soon.

This series of button combinations should only be used if you are certain that you want your camera to be reset.

Lower the camera settings from 4K to 1080 to test

Another method that is recommended by DJI is to lower the camera settings from 4K to 1080 to see if the solution lies with your memory card. Some memory cards are not fast enough to capture 4K footage and you will require a much faster memory card for 4K capture.

Also, lowering the camera settings from 4K to 1080 will also give you an indication on whether or not your wobbly drone footage is caused by camera settings rather than vibrational issues.

Here is what you need to know about using a good quality memory card with your drone.

Use a higher speed memory card

Many drones now have internal storage of up to 8 GB so that you can capture footage if you have forgotten your memory card.

Use the internal memory

You should use your internal memory (if your drone has it) to find out if the right speed of your SD card is high enough. The internal memory will be fast enough for the highest resolution that the drone can record in and therefore if your footage looks better using the internal memory you should consider upgrading your memory card.

The right memory card to use

Memory cards come in all shapes and sizes and drones typically use microSD cards. The thing is that the smaller the card the more expensive the technology is. Over the recent years the microSD card prices have come down dramatically but the higher speed cards can still be much more expensive than the lower speed SD cards.

No matter what you do, do not skimp out on the quality of your memory card.

If you are planning on recording in 4K remember that 4K video requires a 12.5MB/s write speed. And there only a few cards on the market which allow you to record 4K video smoothly.

The only thing you need to look for is a “U3” or “V30” symbol indicating that the minimum sustained write speed is30MB/s which is more than enough for many applications.

Make sure that you stick with known name brands such as Samsung, SanDisk, and Lexar. Sticking with recognisable brand names means that you can be assured the memory card is produced and manufactured with the highest level of quality in mind. Some of the cheaper, Chinese made, and memory cards may be a better deal but you will end up paying in the long run with frustration.

Remove third party accessories

One of the last checks that you can try is to remove any third party accessories that you have attached to the drone. These can include:

  • leg extenders – leg extenders are sometimes used to keep the drone off the floor in sand and grassy environment but if they become a little bit loose can result in vibration.
  • GPS tags – some drone users like to use GPS tags so they can find their drone if it gets lost. These can also add an imbalance to the drone.
  • Third-party propellers – sometimes you want to replace the propellers for increased power or to make the drone quieter. Replace the third-party propellers with manufacturer approved ones so that you can be sure the propellers perfectly sit within the motor and do not cause any vibration.

Removing third party accessories will mean that the drone is back to its factory condition which will give you the best opportunity for removing any vibration caused by additions to the drone body, legs, or camera.

Try a NDF

On the drone forums some people recommend using a neutral density filter on your camera.

The rationale behind using a neutral density filter on the camera is that it can add extra weight to the gimbal causing the vibrations to become dampened to a frequency that does not affect the image.

If you find that your gimbal is the source of the vibration buying a good quality neutral density filter which easily screws on or clips onto the front of your drone camera could be an easy fix which will also improve the quality of your footage.

Neutral density filters are like sunglasses for your drone which means that you can record in lower shutter speeds in highly illuminated areas – like full sun.

Send it back for repairs

Sometimes, no matter how many things you try you will not be able to get rid of the Jell-O effect from your video.

That isn’t to say that you have failed it’s just that drones are mass produced and sometimes the technology just fails.

Luckily, there are tons of manufacturers out there that understand the importance of customer service and you will probably be able to get a refund or a replacement drone very quickly.

Simply reach out to the manufacturer with the details of the error and they will inform you of the best course of action. If you have attempted to fix it yourself remember to list all of the things that you have done to try and improve the image so that you do not end up going around in circles with recommendations from the manufacturer that you have already tried.

Summary


Wavy drone footage is a common issue and can be cause for a variety, or combination, of reasons. In this article we have gone over all of the different steps that you should go through to make sure that your drone footage does not suffer from the Jell-O effect.

This includes, making sure that any source of vibration from the propellers, third-party accessories, or gimbal have been reduced and that the electronic and software settings have been recalibrated and optimised for the sort of drone footage that you are capturing.

No matter what approaches you take make sure that you will be able to resolve your issue.

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!