The use of small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) to acquire very high-resolution multispectral imagery has attracted growing attention recently; however, no systematic, feasible, and convenient radiometric calibration method has been specifically developed for sUAS remote sensing. In this research, we used a modified color infrared (CIR) digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera as the sensor and the DJI S800 hexacopter sUAS as the platform to collect imagery. Results show that the relationship between the natural logarithm of measured surface reflectance and image raw, unprocessed digital numbers (DNs) is linear and the y-intercept of the linear equation can be theoretically interpreted as the minimal possible surface reflectance that can be detected by each sensor waveband.
The empirical line calibration equation for every single band image can be built using the y-intercept as one data point, and the natural log-transformed measured reflectance and image DNs of a gray calibration target as another point in the coordinate system. Image raw DNs are therefore converted to reflectance using the calibration equation. The Mann-Whitney U test results suggest that the difference between the measured and the predicted reflectance values of 13 tallgrass sampling quadrats is not statistically significant. The method theory developed in this study can be employed for other sUAS-based remote sensing applications.