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Evaluation of a UAV-mounted consumer grade camera with different spectral modifications and two handheld spectral sensors for rapeseed growth monitoring: performance and influencing factors

The objective of this study was to evaluate the crop monitoring performance of a consumer-grade camera with non-modified and modified spectral ranges which are commonly used in low-altitude unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) platforms. The camera was fixed sequentially with seven types of filters for collecting visible images and near-infrared (NIR) images with different center band locations and bandwidths. Meanwhile, field-based hyperspectral data and normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) measured by a GreenSeeker hand-held crop sensor (GS-NDVI) were collected to examine the accuracy of rapeseed growth monitoring in terms of vegetation indices (VIs) derived from UAV images. Results showed that the UAV-based RGB-VIs and optimal NIR-VIs had similar accuracy for predicting GS-NDVI. Moreover, similar results were achieved based on the hyperspectral data, indicating the importance of spectral characteristics for GS-NDVI estimation. However, the UAV-based results also indicated that the performance of VIs derived from the band combinations containing longer NIR center wavelengths and narrower bandwidths was obviously poorer than that of the RGB-VIs. The image quality of the NIR band was also found to be inferior to the visible band based on quantitative analysis, which also revealed that image quality had great impact on UAV-based results. Image quality was then related to the effects of camera exposure, spectral sensitivity, soil background and dark areas. The results from this study provide useful information for camera modifications by selecting appropriate filters that not only are sensitive to crop growth, but also ensure image quality.