You heard of drones already, I’m sure of it. As prices go down, once “mission impossible” is now a world spread phenomena.
But is it cheap enough for everyone? Let’s see !
Did you see a footage like this and it made you feel, you wanted to do it?
It sure did have such an impact on me, so I made “little” research on this topic, as I really want to develop in that direction. The goal was to find myself an affordable RPV (Remotely Piloted Vehicle).
Please read before going any further. This article is written in good will and it is my personal research. What you do and how you it up is your responsibility. This is huge topic and I could write about it for days.
Every single domain for aerial photography/videography could be a separate article. This is a general article to help you get started, nothing more, hope it helps.
Some terms that we will mention in the article:
RC – Remote Controlled
FPV – First Person View – term used for piloting RC aircraft or other RC vehicle, other common term used is RPV (Remotely Piloted Vehicle) – Wikipedia
RTF – Ready To Fly
ATF – Almost ready To Fly
DIY – Do It Yourself
I wrote a huge article about RTF + DIY for RPV, so I decided to split it up for easier reading into two separate articles.
RTF stands for Ready to Fly, meaning you buy it and you can fly.
Beginners – Start with Small – Learn to fly – Micro-copters
If you really made decision to go in aerial photo/video world, and you never flew, you should start small. One of the advantages of starting small especially if you didn’t fly before is simple: learn to fly.
Micro-copters are cheap and easy entrance into learning flying skills.
|Mini Beetle Quadcopter RTF||Hobby King||cca $40|
|X-DART Indoor Outdoor Micro Quad-Copter w/2.4Ghz Transmitter||Hobby King||cca $20|
|Hubsan X4 H107C 2.4G 4CH RC Quadcopter With Camera RTF||Amazon – Hobby Wing||cca $60|
|HobbyKing Mini X6 Micro Hexa-copter||Hobby King||cca $40|
Learn to fly
Though they look like toys, it’s easy to forget that operating a drone is an “art” that should be carried out by people that know how to fly. Like a Steady-Cam, you can’t just pick one up and expect cinematic results. Understanding how to balance and control these crafts is the difference between that perfect shot and ending up with a broken gear. If you don’t feel like you will get there, find somebody that will fly your craft, while you are one that controls the camera.
There are lots of instructions that can get you started.
Best practice would be to:
– Be careful where you fly (go to clear area, no people, trees, dogs, etc.)
– Don’t touch the craft if props are still spinning
– Start slow, have patience, don’t advance until you master one technique
– Watch instructions, videos, forums and sites to learn new skills
Your Budget will decide it for you
Basically it is simple. Lighter and smaller the multi-copter is, lower is the price.
Budget and camera size are proportional: Bigger the camera, bigger the multi-copter has to be, not to mention more advanced electronics. All that in the end means more money.
You can climb up from GoPro or similar small cameras up to entry level DSLR or even high end professional DSLR.
So forget about cheap multi-copter for Full Frame DSLR, even without many addons, because you don’t want your expensive gear to be carried with a cheap and unreliable drone.
When it comes to multi-rotors, you can lift off from small devices up to multiple cameras and other loads. Finding the sweet spot between weight and time of flight is what every professional aerial photographer/videographer aims for.
It would be best as said above > start small – less damage if anything goes wrong.
Quad, Hexa or Octo copter?
Smaller is lighter, lighter is better, but bigger is more stable and can lift more. It all comes down to your budget and requirements. There is not much philosophy about it. Check out simple pros and cons. If you know more, please let us know.
|Lighter||Harder to fly|
|Longer flights||In case of motor fault, you are probably going down hard|
|Can fly without 1 or even 2 working motors||More expensive than Quad|
|More stable than Quad||Without additional batteries less flight time|
|Can lift more than Quad|
|Can fly without 3 or 4 not working motors||More expensive than Hexa|
|Stability better than Hexa||Bigger weight|
|Can lift more equipment than Hexa||More power consumption (need more/stronger batteries)|
Do it yourself (DIY) vs (RTF) already made multi-copter?
In the end it all comes down to you. Maybe reason to get an already made solution is because you are afraid you will not make it as it should be. Maybe you are afraid you will miss something, or just don’t have time to spend on building one drone. Usually price is one that decides “already made vs diy projects” as with DIY; you can build your machine slowly, part by part.
Going either way, you should find optimum weight / power ratio to get longer and stable flights. Finding best components for your DIY RPV could be really time consuming, cause every gram counts and there are so many choices that make it even harder to find what you need.
Obvious advantages of RTF vs DIY multi-copters:
– You can make your first flights in matter of minutes after unpacking your copter
– No worries about components as they all already fit with each other
– Instructions – you get instructions specifically for your drone
– No hassle programming your board controller – it is programmed to work with your RC vehicle
– Warranty for whole thing, in case anything goes wrong – except physical damage
Some obvious disadvantages of RTF compared to DIY RPV:
– Not able to pick same quality components that are cheaper elsewhere
– In some cases not able to upgrade, add modules, change parts as desired, limited options
– You pay for brand and setup in whole, could be bigger price than making it on your own
No matter what is your choice, you should first fly in safe environment without your photo gear mounted on, just in case.
When it comes to photography and especially videography, you need calm, steady flights, which are almost impossible. For best results you should use camera gimbal. You can mount your camera on a static mount (holder) or on gimbal that has stabilization controller and servo motors to keep your camera steady or to move pan-tilt-rotate in desired direction. For example: if you have your setup with static camera holder, how would you shoot from above, straight down (90°)? It’s not impossible, but you should point your whole vehicle down, flying directly towards ground which is not smart.
Un-stabilized amateur BAD flying copter:
You really don’t want to fly unprepared resulting that to happen to your footage and drone.
Gimbals are whole separate science. You can see various designs for hand held setups and more advanced 3 axes for drones.
Bigger the camera stronger the servos and finally heavier the gimbal itself.
How does professional and stabilized flight look?
Gimbal does a couple of tasks:
– Absorb vibrations
– Move your camera in various directions
– Keeps your camera steady while your drone tilts and shakes
With RTF solutions you will always get recommendation for supported gimbals, just make sure that one that you choose can handle your camera.
Post process – Digital stabilization
It is not end of the world, if your footage is not stabilized as you wanted, as you can always stabilize it more in software of your choice. After Effects has great ability to stabilize footage.
Example of before and after software stabilization:
Ready to Fly (RTF) Multi Rotors
For professionals that have no time into DIY projects or just for people that have cash, there are many already made solutions. You have so many options, with or without gimbal, auto pilot, video link, folding legs, etc. Some well known products are:
– DJI Phantom With GoPro Mount there are many DJI Phantom RTF packages that could cost above $2.000 for whole setups (live-video link, camera, gimbal, extras …)
– Walkera QR X350 PRO FPV GPS RC Quadcopter with G-2D Gimbal and DEVO
– Arris M680-4S Carbon W/NAZA-M Lite RTF
– 2014 SteadiDrone QU4D X – For Professionals ($15.000)
– FY680 W/Naza-M Lite RTF
– DJI S800 EVO Spreading Wings Hexacopter – cca $3.000
– AD6 XM-6 Droidworx Aerial Photography Ready To Fly – cca $10.000 (not cheapest, but professional service and build quality)
– DJI S1000 Octo (search for best price) around $3.500-$4.000
– DJI S1000 Octo Premium With A2 and Zenuse Camera gimbal (RTF) – cca $12.000
– Cinestar 8 Octocopter RTF or Professionals ($13.000)
Even in RTF, finding best solution could be really time consuming and money wasting. If you have any questions and if you are not sure about anything you should contact official company or store that produce/sells drones or post on RC forums, better safe than sorry.
For example DJI Phantom which is only 350mm diagonal wide, can’t actually lift of entry level DSLR but only if you hold it while taking off, it could fly with it. You should not try it cause it’s not meant to fly with a DSLR, but I found YouTube video where guys put T2i on it and it flew. When buying RTF multi-copter you should really check few must options: can it lift your camera + lens + gimbal = payload and can it mount your camera at all (does it support gimbal for your camera).
Enjoy your flights, fly safe and wait for our DIY article where we will setup complete list + explanations on components for Hexa-copter that can carry professional DSLR camera.