We acquired the Autel X-Star recently and before we take it out for a project we want to make sure we get the most out of it. So we have decided to put this drone through almost all the settings combination possible and select the best one.
So we did the test in 2 parts. First, we created a controllable test environment indoor where we could compare apples to apples. Out of that test, we created our shortlist of settings and tested them in the real world to see which one was the best.
Part 1 – Test Environment Testing
The very first step in this test was to compare the “None” color profile to the LOG profile and see if there is actually a difference.
The findings came with a few surprises. Mainly is that, at the time of writing, the Autel Starlink app histogram seems to be slightly off. When we pulled up the “None” color profile on-screen it seemed a little bit-underexposed while the histogram on the app was slightly different using the whole band from 0 to 255. As for the LOG profile, we didn’t change any settings between the two shots, the histogram on the app was compressed and exposed to the right (about 1/3 to the right) but with plenty of room before clipping, and regardless it created some hot spots on the image. Nothing we haven’t seen on lower end cameras but it is good to know we can’t ETTR with this drone.
Regardless, the LOG profile appears to have a slight edge to the standard “None” color profile. This will be our choice.
Color Saturation Setting
Next, we will start with the color saturation setting.
So we put them all next to each other to quickly weed out the bad ones.
From this comparison, we can see right away that +1, +2 and +3 are over-saturated, so we don’t want to go with those ones.
Which leaves us -2,-1 and 0 to compare to each other. When we quickly color correct them in post, we can see which one seems more suitable. In this case, -1 seems to have the best tones, color rendition, and range.
Now let’s move to the contrast. This test can be approached a little bit differently by comparing the highest and lowest setting. From there we can see if there is an actual difference between the lowest and highest, and from our test, there is.
The lowest setting, -3, seems to render a better image detail-wise than +3, but +3 may have a slightly better noise pattern. Which at that point we need to investigate where would be the happy medium, and, from our tests, the image quality really changes around 0. -2 would be our happy medium, but -3 could also work.
Now onto the sharpness test. The method is similar to the contrast test, we take the highest and lowest settings and compare the range. We are trying to get the most range to sharpness ratio. Since sharpness is easy to add in post-production we preferably want something on the softer side that can be brought back in post with a better sharpening effect/plug-in.
So comparing -3 and +3, we can see that there is a big difference between both and even with a maximum of sharpness in post, we can’t achieve the detail level of +3.
Which, bring us to gradually try the other settings and see which one is our candidate. In the test, we found that with added sharpness, -1, 0 and +1 are good candidates with a decent amount of detail.
Now with all that info, we have a shortlist of what we want to try with our “real world” testing.
There are a few candidates we want to try: +1 -2 -1, 0 -2 -1 and -1 -3 -1. For the last one, we want to test -3 contrast to see if there is a difference in the real world or if it will just make it harder for us.
Part 2 – Real World Testing
Alright, now that we have our settings we want to test, we can do a somewhat repeatable flight and see which one stands out.
From the get-go, +1 -2 -1 is clearly over-sharpened and the noise is pretty high. That is something we do not want. Then we are left with 0 -2 -1 and -1 -3 -1. The -1 sharpness -3 contrast lacks detail but the image smoother with less color fringing, and 0 -2 -1 seems to slightly over-saturated and does a bit of color fringing. It’s like we are missing a half-step between the two where -0.5 sharpness would be the sweet spot.
So let’s do another test with -1 -2 -1 and 0 -2 -1. We can discard -3 contrast, it doesn’t do anything significant and make the screen harder to read while piloting the drone.
0 -2 -1 and -1 -2 -1 are two viable options. I would say -1 -2 -1 look smoother (without ND filter) and lacks detail a bit BUT if you are using the drone footage to edit with DSLR footage like a Canon 5D, this is the settings you want to use. Be aware that this setting does not export well on low bitrate codec so you will have to use something like DNxHD or ProRes to get the most of it. If you can work around all of that, it is a viable option. Otherwise, 0 -2 -1 is the best setting combination to use. It will give you the most detail you can get from the drone, it exports fine on h.264 and doesn’t have to much noise.
The best settings for the Autel X-Star are 0 -2 -1.
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