It’s no secret that multirotor models are ideal platforms for shooting photos and videos from the sky. An increasing percentage of the videos that we see on the Internet and even on our favorite TV shows are captured using all types of multirotor rigs.
Although some of this equipment can be large and expensive, there are a handful of affordable options that fit within AMA’s Park Pilot Program size and performance guidelines. I’ll review two quadcopter setups that bookend the weight and cost ranges, while sharing some tips to get the most out of their respective capabilities.
Heli-Max 1SQ V-Cam
At the low end of the weight and cost range is the Heli-Max 1SQ V-Cam. This little marvel of modern technology weighs less than 1.5 ounces—including its built-in, high-definition camera—and is small enough to hide behind a cereal bowl. As I write this, the RTF (ready-to-fly) 1SQ V-Cam sells for approximately $130, while the Tx-R (transmitter-ready) version is $100.
Heli-Max 1SQ V-Cam footage.
The upper end of the scale is represented by the DJI Phantom—perhaps the most popular quadcopter on the market today. When paired with a popular action camera such as the GoPro HERO3, you have an extremely capable aerial photography rig weighing just shy of the Park Pilot Program’s 2-pound limit. Depending on which version of the HERO3 you choose, expect to spend $700-$900 to get this combination airborne.
Footage using a HERO2 (now discontinued)
Abridged Article Highlights
The nemesis of good aerial photography is image distortion, also known as rolling-shutter or Jello effect. Rigs that suffer from this ailment produce wavy video images that resemble a Salvador Dali painting. Assuming that your aerial photography ambitions do not lean toward the surreal, this issue must be addressed.
The cause of rolling shutter is vibration that can typically be traced to unbalanced propellers. It is impractical for most of us to balance the tiny propellers on the 1SQ. In my experience, they run true right from the package. It is a good idea, however, to periodically inspect propellers and replace any that are chipped or show signs of damage.
The Phantom’s included camera mount is designed for the larger GoPro HERO2 camera (now discontinued). With a HERO3 in the mount, cushioning is necessary and advantageous. I placed slivers of Moongel anywhere that the camera would come in direct contact with the mount. Scraps of foam rubber were used to take up the remaining empty space and ensure a snug fit of the camera in the mount.
The number-one rule for aerial photography piloting is to be smooth. Every nudge of the control sticks could translate into sudden changes in the camera’s field of view. The more gradual the quadcopter’s movements, the clearer the video will be.
One aerial photography challenge is not having a viewfinder to see at what the camera is pointing. The HERO3’s fisheye lens virtually guarantees that you’ll capture nearly everything in front of the quadcopter. This makes for dramatic landscape shots. The tradeoff is that you have to get close if you want detailed shots.
After you have captured footage, you can upload it to your computer. What you have likely created is something similar to vacation photos—you may want to keep every photo and watch the videos several times because you were there for the actual moment of capture. Consequently, this media has deeper meaning for you than anyone else.
If you are the only intended audience, then you are done—enjoy the fruits of your labor. If, however, you intend to share your photos or videos with others, they will appreciate a little post-production effort.
The key to making presentable videos is cutting out the dead time, even if that simply means chopping out the opening and closing moments of your video. There are few things more boring than a 5-minute video where the first minute is nothing but the aircraft setting on the runway while the pilot walks back to the pilot box. Cut to the chase! Trimming a movie file is easy and worth the effort.
Read the entire article including more photography and post-production tips on page 10 of the Summer 2014 issue.