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Are Drones Allowed in Ethiopia? No they are not. Neither (Most) Binoculars- They will be confiscated
By the end of this story, you will know:
– At least some of the items to not try to bring to Ethiopia
– What happens when it is confiscated
– The process and expectations of getting it back
– How much you will pay to get it back
– Strangely, items that were similar, but were not confiscated (camera items)
On a recent aid deployment to Ethiopia (Oct 2023), it was required that I cover the media portion of our mission. This entails photography, videography, drone coverage , interviews and more. I also always bring a satellite phone for emergencies as many of the locations outside of Addis Ababa have very poor local cell reception and I always want to stay connected in these areas.
I did a quick internet search research about whether or not drones were legal, but they seemed outdated, and seemed to imply either the drone laws were not established or that they were fully ok to bring. (They are not allowed without explicit permission from INSA, Ethiopia’s Security Agency, which is not easy to get, so suffice it to say NO, they are not allowed.)
Another member of my team, we will call him Mark, was also bringing his drone and his photography gear as well just in case, though we were traveling separately.
I arrived first and waited in the baggage claim, with the rest of team arriving about an hour later. Together we all headed out of customs and I was asked to put all of my bags (2 check ins and a carry on) through the conveyor belt, while my remaining 3 companions, including Mark, his bags and gear, were waived through without being scanned.
Almost immediately I was asked about “a drone?” To which I replied, “yes I have a small drone, a DJI Mini 3 Pro.” To which they asked to see it.
“Do you have a permission letter from INSA?” They asked (Again, INSA is the security division of Ethiopia).
“I do not.”
“You cannot bring a drone into Ethiopia without express permission.” At this point I was separated from my drone.
I was then led to a side room where a customs inspector took my passport, filled out a form and long story short said “We will be holding your drone here in storage (pointing to another room across the exit). When you are ready to depart, come here 2-3 hours before your flight and you can pick up your drone.”
With more waiting and paperwork, I was eventually on my way, reunited with my team members. One of which was carrying the other drone in a dedicated, small pelican case in his hand.
We then proceeded to our Domestic Transfer and had to go through another security check, which included another scanner.
As I picked up my bag, the security agent asked “are you carrying binoculars?”
“No mam I am not” I answered grabbed my bag and went on my way.
The bag next to mine however, did have binoculars. And it was the carry-on of Mark, who then promptly also had them confiscated by the gate security agents, with similar delays and filling out of paperwork.
Mark explained that the agent said “Certain sizes of binoculars are not allowed’ – Unless I am mistaken, Mark had a set of 8 x 42mm, and they were too large, where 8 x 30 are allowed (I need to confirm these numbers with Mark and he is unavailable at this time, suffice it to say any decently sized set of binos will be problematic).
We then proceeded to spend the next several weeks doing our aid work, with my team members leaving before me. Mark left after a week and was not able to get his binoculars (they were about $1000 in value) and one of our other team members had to go pick it up for him.
This other team member reported “It was a nightmare. They had what seemed like hundreds of binoculars in there, but here is the important tip, when you are picking them up, go straight to arrivals, not departures. It is the same place where customs scans people for international flights arriving.”
I started making my way home yesterday, with Marks drone in my bag. That back up drone played a critical role in our mission, but now it was time to get it home, meaning I had to go through security again at the regional airport, with a drone.
Fortunately, I was able to get it checked in all the way from the regional airport, all the way through Addis to my home in Hawaii, so there wouldn’t be any more issues with that drone once it was in the airlines baggage system.
However, as we went through security to get on this first plane, low and behold the security agent asked “Please open your bag” and she immediately went for the Satellite Phone I always have with me.
She called over 3 more agents who then scrutinized it, asking for my passport and taking pictures of everything.
Luckily, the project we had been supporting was in partnership with INSA, so I referred the gate security agents to my contact at the agency, who then explained the situation. After a few moments my satellite phone was returned. My friend at INSA explained, “I had to vouch for you for them to give it back.” So, I just got lucky in this instance. Had we not been working on this project, that $1200 phone would have also been confiscated.
I was left wondering “Why didn’t they stop me all the other times I was putting this through the scanner machine?” In fact, I bring 2 sat phones. One in my check in and one in my carry on.
So yes, it appears there are many ways you may or might not get lucky getting through security if they don’t see it, but this doesn’t mean these items are allowed in Ethiopia, and if you go through security enough, they WILL find It eventually.
You might be wondering if/how I got my drone back. This is how it happened, and you should know these things if you are unfortunate enough to have to go through recovering your confiscated items.
I was back in Addis around 2:30pm. My flight to London would board at midnight and leave at 1245am. When I tried to pick up my drone early, there were several long lines at windows that said “Document Inspector” but in reality there was a “boss man” walking around who had final say or approval on anything being released. There is no formal line to speak to this man, as he is mostly walking around and you have to get his attention.
If you are not an assertive person, expect many others to try to jump in front of you, pleading their cases to this gentleman, who is clearly the most busy guy in the airport. I felt bad for him, there was a woman from Europe screaming at him about a bag and a young many from South America going on and on about “Good samples and medium quality samples!”. It was like something out of a movie.
By the time I got his attention, he looked at my paperwork and asked when my flight was. I answered “Midnight”.
To which he replied “You are too early. Come back at 10pm”. The time now was 3pm.
Being that I had the same sat phone in my bag as I did earlier in the day, I didn’t want to take the chance of leaving a secure part of the airport and having to go through that hassle again. So, I opted to hang out for 7 hours.
When it came time, it was actually 945pm, not 10pm and the same gentleman was there. (Its possible this place is open all night, every day.)
He mentioned I was early, but I explained that boarding was in about 2 hours. He finally signed the paper and I took it to the storage location, whose employees were kind and engaging.
The storage facility will charge a storage fee, which is:
– 10 Birr, Per Kilo, Per Day
– There is a 300 birr handling fee.
My total storage fee was about 650 Birr, or $11 US Dollars
A few minutes after paying the bill, a young man emerged with my DJI Mini 3 Pro in hand. But he wouldn’t give it to me.
We literally walked together to the security / customs gate, where only then, when I was the next in line, did he hand me my drone.
They wanted to make sure I was actually leaving on my flight before they would let me have it back. I was still a little nervous the sat phone or drone might trigger another search as I made it through international security, followed by airline security (many international flights leaving Africa have their own security immediately before boarding the plane). But I didn’t have any problems.
Why all the fuss about binoculars and drones and sat phones? I felt frustrated, like I was trying to help Ethiopia, so why the hassle? There is a war going on in Northern Ethiopia (We hear nothing about it in mainstream media) and some of these devices could be used by those forces. This explains the why, so I do understand it.
We even brought 4 walkie talkies, to which one of our security friends on the project informed us “these are also not allowed”.
What about professional cameras?
It’s a good question, but here is what I would say: Bring only one camera per person, and it should NOT be in retail packaging. In fact, anything in retail packaging it may appear you are attempting to import it to sell. This is something I read about online, and it did appear to be accurate. I say a gentleman with a few boxes of mentos and apple ear pods having them confiscated, they were all in retail packaging.
As a pro photographer, I always like to have at least 2 camera bodies in case something goes wrong. For this reason, Mark brought a camera, and a third team member also brought a similar camera to mine. We brought 2 drones “just in case” and had we not, wow….we would not have been able to get the shots we needed.
What about Lenses?
They didn’t seem to care about the lenses I brought, including:
– Canon 14-35 f4 RF
– Canon 24-105 f4 RF
– Canon 70-200 2.8 RF
– Canon 100-500 RF
– Edlekrone slider rail
– Edlebrone Motorized unit
– LED light with diffuser
– Multiple Microphones.
Is there a way to get proper permission to bring binoculars and drones into Ethiopia for use without being confiscated?
Apparently, there is a way to get proper permission from INSA for bringing drones and certain types of binoculars in, but I am in still learning that process. When I have more information, I will update you here. Please leave a comment if this interests you.
In any event, I hope this information prepares you for your trip to Ethiopia. Do not risk it without the proper permissions. Best wishes! Michael
Also, Will the upcoming MAVEN Ultra Dark NDS be available for the upcoming Eclipses?
(TL/DR- We have some 15 Stop & 20 Stop beta units available as of today, but if you want them for the upcoming eclipse, you will need to act fast. Contact Adam to get on the Beta Testers program if you are not already, and he can ship them to you immediately: [email protected])
WARNING: Solar Photography is dangerous and if precautions are not taken, you WILL damage your eyes & your camera gear. Please read this article and the warnings below carefully).
We have many new ND filters coming in Wave 2. Keeping in line with our tradition of ultra-thin, light-weight, color-neutral magnetic ND filters, many are wondering:
1. Can these heavy density NDs also be safely used for Solar or Eclipse Photography, in addition to simply non-solar related long-exposures?
2. Many of you have also asked about the availability of these filters for use of the upcoming eclipses on October 14th 2023 (partial), as well as April 8th 2024 (Total)?
The first is a complex question. Whenever we make a filter, there are gives and takes.
We have achieved Tier 1 Neutrality for the upcoming 15, 18, 20 Stop filters, which is what our non-solar shooting customers want.
Many dedicated Solar filters are not designed for general photography use, and therefore we do not classify these MAVEN NDs as “solar” filters. They are ultra dark NDs.
Let’s bullet point the important safety items and then get into the details:
1. Never look through an ND filter at the Sun. Ever. No Matter its rating. Even if it is for only a few seconds. Especially through lenses or optical viewfinders which essentially act as magnifiers of the sun’s harmful rays. Always look at the back monitor only. If you do this without protection, assume you will badly damage your eyes at some point. We cannot feel IR light burning our retinas until after the fact. There are very specific glasses & filters made for solar viewing & others for telescopes, MAVEN ND filters are not those.
2. Avoid aiming a naked (non-filtered) Zoom lens at the sun. Its like combining a few hundred lasers together. Even just few seconds can be enough to melt your aperture blades, if you have a telephoto zoom with a wide aperture. Always have your filter on first. Do a quick safety heat test (described below) with any new filter before actually shooting. This test can save your camera!
3. Never Use ND filters for zoomed in Solar Photography (anything over 24mm) unless the manufacturer has published the spectrometry performance charts from visible at least through 1500nm and if possible higher. There are greater risks the more you zoom in or the wider the aperture lens.
Different manufacturers use different types of dyes when creating their NDs, and some types of organic dyes will allow more Infrared Light to pass through. I have no idea what other manufacturers are using, but I know it is safe to say there are a number of suspect ND filters out there.
For the sake of this discussion, The 3 main spectral wavelength ranges we are concerned with:
UV Light – 120-400nm
Visible Light – 400-750
Near Infrared – 750 – 2500nm
Along with Infrared Light is also a lot of heat. If a manufacturer posts a spectrometry chart up to 700nm, it doesn’t tell us anything about what is happening in the near IR range (750-2500), and you might be literally cooking your camera as you shoot without knowing it, even with a filter they claim should be ok. If there are no spectrometry charts for that filter into at least the 1500 range, do not use it.
This is why we see blanket statements that say “do not use ND filters for Solar Photography” because for the most part, NDs Infrared Performance are unknowns without spectrometry data and you should not rely on an unknown filter when shooting the sun.
MAVEN filters uses Titanium, a metal, as our darkening agent in its magnetic filters and we spend a lot of time trying to get these ND filters to be color neutral. Regardless, it became necessary to answer the question of their performance in the near IR range and that chart is published below (with some explanations as to how these data were obtained).
4. Typically 16.6 Stops is widely considered the minimal filtration needed for solar photography. The sun is VERY bright, and yes, while you could lower your ISO, use a smaller aperture with a faster shutter speed to get to that ideal 16.6 Stops, but there are still limits in regards to light entering the lens as you are previewing it. I have done solar tests with our MAVEN 15 stop at 600mm on an APSC camera (or 900mm Equiv), and it works fine, just be aware – Your camera might get warm, and it could get warm faster or slower depending on a number of other variables. If you are only shooting for 20-30 minutes, you should be ok with a 15 stop. If you are going to be shooting for hours, you will want to be in that 16.6-17 Stop Range.
5. Can I stack multiple NDs to achieve the recommended 16.6-17 Stop Range? We believe this will be mostly ok. Again, it will also depend on the focal length of your lens and its aperture. We use very high-quality, high-definition optical glass, which means even 2-3 layers won’t see much sharpness distortion, however fewer filters are better. Adding a 2-3 Stop ND to a 15 Stop would get you into the 17-18 Stop range.
6. Will any of the new filters be ready and shipping before mid-October? Not for Kickstarter Wave 2 Backers or normal customers. However, and this is important: we do have a beta-testers program available today. If you are not already signed up for it, contact Adam at [email protected] – Sign the NDA, and not only can we make the new 2, 4, 15, & 20 Stop NDs available to you, but some of the other new products as well and your feedback can help answer many of the in field testing questions we have.
Doing beta tests helps us get more data about the filters, with what lenses, and how to improve them before mass production. We should be able to get the new filters to Beta testers in the USA before October 14th 2023.
7. Will you make a dedicated Solar Filter that isn’t defined as an ND? We are looking at all options in the near future, we wanted to have ultra-dark NDs for the sake of long exposures, but the truth is, dedicated solar filters are designed to eliminate ALL IR and protect vision, typically looking through a telescope for example. This is beyond the scope of what we are trying to do right now.
8. Will MAVEN have 16.6 or 18 Stop Filters in the Near Future? The 18 stop is not yet available, but it will be part of Wave 2 Kickstarter.
General Heat Build Up – Regardless of which lens, focal length or filter you use, shooting into direct sunlight, even leaving the camera on with a lens cap, will warm your camera up. This is simply because the camera body is also absorbing heat. More so in warm places.
For this reason, I strongly recommend making a shade shield for the rest of your camera. In the tests that I did, one of the test cameras, a Canon R8 began to overheat after about 40 minutes of being directly in the sun. I didnt see this on the Fuji XH2s.
The heat shield / shade break I made from an empty Dr Pepper case, did the trick to keep temperatures stable:
Testing 15 & 20 Stop ND filters was not as straightforward as we wanted. Because they are so dark, the spectrometry machines do not have enough power to measure them as a single filter. So we had to create single sided filters during the same process of making a double sided ND filter. Suffice it to say, we broke it up into 2 halves instead of one filter. For the 15 Stop filter, we really tested one side at 7.5 stops, and for the 20 Stop, we tested one side at 10 Stops.
Let’s take a look at the Spectrometry charts:
UV Light – 120-400nm
Visible Light – 400-750
Near Infrared – 750 – 2500nm
We get good filtration of 350-400 UV, and you will notice a flatness of visible light from 400-700 (This flatness in the visible range is a strong indicator of color neutrality) followed by an increasing ramp from 750nm – 2400nm.
For the 20 Stop Filter (Orange), we can see that at about 2400nm, we get about 1.8% coming through. Or .018. But remember, this is only one side, so .018 x .018 = .000324, or .0324% at 2400nm. For the 15 Stop ND we get .035 x .035 = .1225% at 2400nm
Suffice it to say, there is a very small amount of Near IR coming through the filter itself on a spectrometry machine, for both of these filters, but as we zoom in more and more, we are essentially using a bigger light catching bucket, which is also increasing the total amount of IR entering the lens.
A few Important Caveats:
A. Nearly all modern photographic cameras today have IR filters on the sensors (unless they have been modified). So with the transmission data in mind, and including the IR filter we know is on modern sensors, its safe to say that virtually no IR will be captured by the sensor. There is still the heat to be considered at the filter of the sensor, however.
B. The more you zoom in, the more it magnifies the light, including the near IR. So even if you have .0324% of light coming in with a 20-Stop, if you put a 2000mm lens on it, the actual total volume of IR light coming in increases. For this reason, we are saying if precautions are taken (you are careful & don’t look at the sun through them) the dark NDs should be fine for photography purposes up to 800mm on FF and 600mm on APSC (900mm Equivalent). This is what I have tested personally without issues.
If you are going with a modified telescope in use with photography, we recommend getting a telescopic filter specifically designed for the purpose of solar viewing or shooting.
C. Roger Clark, (a world expert on light emitted from celestial bodies) has a good, easy test to help you know if your filter is bad for the lens you are using (Very deep article but highly recommended), it amounts to putting your hand at the focal plane on a lens focused on the sun. If you can feel heat, it’s a bad filter. This won’t tell you how good the filter is, but it might save you from burning your camera with a bad quality filter.
D. Even after all this theoretical testing, consulting, and testing on our own, ultimately we need skilled photographers to do more field tests. I have personally used both the 15 & 20 Stop MAVENs on a Fuji 150-600mm zoomed in to 600mm. I did have my camera heat up on one of the tests, but it was 87 Degrees out, and it was more related to the camera body getting hot, not so much the filters.
I would still like to get more data before saying everything is fine and dandy for any photographic lens, (More tests between 600- 800mm FF). I am just trying to do my due diligence to make sure our customers can maximize the use of their ND filters safely.
I hope this answers at least some of the questions you have about using the new 15, 18 & 20 Stop ND filter for Solar photography. We will get more data and continue to update you as we learn.
Thank you again for your continued support!
Photographer Nick Page has a new course teaching Photoshop for landscape photography.
Here are some of the topics covered:
Covered in this course
- Setting up photoshop
- Round tripping between Lightroom and Photoshop
- Setting up and saving a workspace
- Utilizing Smart objects
- Using Adjustment Layers
- Using Layer Masks
- Using Pixel Layers
- Using Luminosity Masks
- Using Luminosity Selections
- Cleaning up images
- Exposure Blending
- Focus Stacking
- Dual Processing
- and much much more.
See a preview of the course HERE
Ive been a fan of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles since the time they were first released in comic books (I had some of the very early ones) and had some high hopes for this one.
First let me say, the animation was really incredible and well done. I think with the new animated full length movies like the 2 Spiderverse films, are really setting up a new genre. Hats off to the animators and director on this. Just wow.
That said, I could not stay awake during the film. This is a bad sign about the storyline and plot. I know it has high ratings on Rotten Tomatoes right now, but any movie that I give a fair chance to and am asleep within 10 minutes, is not a “must see” in theaters. This process of waking up, trying to get back into it and falling back asleep happened several times.
This is one you are going to want to skip.