Holystone F181G Drone Infrared (IR) Camera Hack

It has been a while since I have messed with my Holystone F181G quadcopter, aside from a failed experiment of attempting to rig an analog “follow me” mode for the drone (using fishing line and rubber bands…do not ask).

If nothing else, the experiment was a testament to the F181G’s durability - it survived multiple crashes where the drone was ripped from the sky (from 10 feet or 4.5 meters in the air) onto the unforgiving asphalt of Albuquerque streets.

Back to business. I started down the IR photography path because I reasoned (incorrectly) that it might allow me to fly the F181 G at night with an IR illuminator. Further testing proved this was not feasible so I figured I would try my hand at daytime IR photography instead. I was inspired by the stunning IR photography work here.

As it turns out, my IR camera hack was a success and I was able to capture some unique photos and videos with the F181G quadcopter. Keep in mind, this is an economy drone with an economy camera so the quality does not touch the works represented in the Smashing Magazine article. Also, my photography skills and subject matter selection are lacking!

In this post, I will first showcase some content captured with and without the IR camera hack (for comparison), then describe the details of the F181G camera modification.

Example photos

These sample photos (showcasing the effect of the infrared camera on the drone) were taken at my home and Bel-Air Park in Albuquerque, New Mexico. These are undoctored photos, aside from minor cropping.

4 burners on gase stove, photographed with the standard Holystone F181G camera 4 burners on gase stove, photographed with the IR modified Holystone F181G camera

The first image was captured with the standard (unmodified) Holystone F181G camera. The second image was captured with the infrared (IR) camera. Note the change in effect from the IR emissions from my gas stove.

Neil's front yard, photographed with the standard Holystone F181G camera Neil's front yard, photographed with the IR modified Holystone F181G camera

Similarly to the above, here is a view of my front yard with the standard camera (first) and the IR camera (second).

Bel-Air park in Albuquerque, NM, facing west, photographed with the standard Holystone F181G camera Bel-Air park in Albuquerque, NM, facing west, photographed with the IR modified Holystone F181G camera

These photos showcase the foliage at Bel-Air Park, as captured through the standard camera (first) and the IR camera (second). The grass looks a lot better in infrared and the shadows and clouds are much more defined. The IR setup certainly produces better contrast.

Example videos

Here are examples of motion shots (drone in action) both without and with the IR camera. Apologies for the jerkiness - it was a windy day at Bel-Air Park.

In my opinion, the IR camera produces a “winter wonderland” effect, even on a warm, late-spring day in Albuquerque.

The drone camera modification

Removing the IR filter from the Holystone F181G’s camera was easier than I expected. It was a matter of removing 4 screws, scoring off a little adhesive on the camera/lens assembly, unscrewing the lens from the CCD, and removing the filter from the lens assembly. This may be a good time to point out, this is a one-way conversion unless you are VERY meticulous (unlike me). Once the IR filter is removed from the camera, it would be difficult to replace it and restore the original configuration.

Image showing location of 4 screws that hold the camera module together Remove the 4 phillips screws holding the camera module together. The screwdriver provided with the drone works perfectly for this.

Image showing camera module halves separated and PCB and lens assembly removed Separate the halves of the camera module and the PCB and lens assembly can be removed.

Image showing adhesive on the lens assembly Scrape off the adhesive on both sides of the lens assembly to free it. I used a knife (carefully).

Image showing lens unscrewed and IR filter location - in this case, the filter was already removed Unscrew the lens assembly. The IR filter is located right inside the lens assembly (not on the CCD side). I attempted to remove the glass filter gently but ended up shattering it anyway.

Once the infrared filter is removed, a visible light filter should be installed. I used a 720 nm visible light filter from Edmund Optics and crudely adhered it to the front of the camera:

Imaging showing visible light filter installed on the front of the Holystone F181G's camera  module