Why a Quadcopter and What to Get
Photography and Videography are very rewarding and worthwhile uses for a Quadcopter
- Quadcopters can easily take pictures and videos from interesting perspectives that are otherwise unobtainable.
- From a photo and video viewpoint a quadcopter is an infinitely positionable "tripod", or even a "three dimensional camera dolly"
- Autopilots have advanced sufficiently to maintain a precise position or to move from one point to another as commanded.
- Quadcopter video used to suffer from vibration and "jello" but brushless stabilizing gimbals have greatly alleviated that problem.
- "Sport" cameras like the GoPro Hero permit both high quality photos and 1080P HD video to be taken from small quadcopters.
- Larger cameras are supported by larger quad and multicopters, but the greatest interest (and market) is for the smaller ones.
- In fact, as cameras continue to get smaller we will likely be using smaller and smaller quadcopter / camera combinations.
- Aside from simple miniaturization driven economics the improved safety of using smaller, lighter copters is very important.
- The quadcopter is rapidly becoming the most useful photographic accessory of all time.
- It is important to understand the options and capabilities to select the best Quadcopter for your photographic use.
- You can get "toy" RTF (Ready To Fly) quadcopters with built in cameras that will take nice photos and video.
- The RTF UDI U818A for about $75.00 has a camera, can be flown in or outdoors and will produce 640x480 video.
- The RTF Heli-max 1SQ at $110.00 is smaller but has a 720P HD (1280x720) video camera and is very easy to fly.
- Helimax, Blade and several Chinese companies manufacture RTF Quadcopters with cameras in the $100.00 plus range.
Copters With A GoPro Camera Mount
- The primary entry quadcopter in this category is the RTF DJI Phantom for about $480.00 with a GoPro mount (not gimbal).
- For $20.00 less you can get a Phantom with a built in camera and FPV wifi streaming that can alternately mount a GoPro.
- For $300.00 you can get the new Quanum Nova from Hobby King which has an APM controller, GPS and a GoPro mount.
- These quadcopters don't include a brushless gimbal so video is not ideal, but inexpensive GoPro gimbals are available.
GoPro and Sport Cameras
- In order to acheive high quality results you will really need a quadcopter that can carry a Sport Camera.
- There are other small high quality "Sport" cameras but the wide acceptance of the GoPro makes it the normal choice.
- Quadcopter accessories, mounts and brushless gimbals are most often specifically designed to accomodate the GoPro.
- The $400.00 GoPro Hero 3+ Black takes high quality 1080P video at 3 no loss zoom settings and up to 12 megapixel photos.
- Currently there are 2 other Sport cameras that could be considered because they feature really good built in stabilization.
- The Sony AS100V and the JVC ADIXXION GC-XA2 but you will need to customize how they mount to the copter or gimbal.
- The GoPro 4 is expected some time this year and should have full 4K HD video and high speed stabilization on 1080P.
- The Sport camera does not come with the copter and will need to be purchased separately.
- Quadcopters produce 2 kinds of deleterious visual effects, especially noticeable in Video footage.
- Quadcopter vibration causes jitter and a rolling shutter effect referred to as "jello".
- Rolling and pitching from maneuvering or wind stabilization response can cause the video to be jerky or jump around.
- Vibration can be mostly tamed with proper rubber shock isolation mounting of the camera.
- Manuvering and wind response pitch and roll compensation really benefit from a brushless gimbal for optimal footage.
- Both effects can be somewhat alleviated by high speed camera stabilization as in the Sony and JVC cameras above.
- However camera stabilization will not entirely fix the problem and some cameras stabilizing systems actually make it worse.
- The best solution for vibration is an appropriate rubber vibration mount (as shown on top of the brushless gimbals below).
- The best solution for normal copter flying pitch and roll is a stabilizing brushless gimbal like the ones shown below.
- A brushless gimbal automatically stabilizes (levels) your camera dynamically in real time.
- A stabilizing brushless gimbal for a GoPro camera is an absolute requirement for high quality video footage.
- A brushless gimbal may be fitted to many quadcopters or a quadcopter can be purchased with one already installed.
- A built in computer controller rapidly and continuously auto-levels a gyro sensor on the camera holder itself.
- Brushless gimbals provide automatic leveling and stabilization in roll (side to side tilt) and pitch (front to back tilt).
- They also accept manual or automatic setting of the camera pitch angle (up and down tilt) while remaining stabilized.
- Yaw (horizontal rotation of the camera) is controlled by rotating the entire copter to the right or left.
- Some larger copters provide yaw camera control, but they often require retractable landing gear and are beyond our scope.
- Current brushless gimbals won't accomodate the GoPros protective housing, greatly compromising the cameras surviveability.
- The excellent $380.00 Zenmuse brushless gimbal below comes on the $1000.00 Phantom 2 above.
Quadcopters With Brushless Gimbals
- In this category we have more specialized copter designs like the Hoverthings FLIP FPV Pro shown below.
- The Flip FPV Pro is a "Dead Cat" named for a German enthusiast who immortalized his stuffed dead cat as a quadcopter.
- The Dead Cat design features an extended back bone with the front and rear props further apart than the side to side ones.
- This design permits a front mounted camera to have visual prop clearance while maintaining a flat profile and low weight.
- This copter is using an inexpensive Chinese brushless stabilizing gimbal and produces perfect rock steady 1080P video.
- The low profile and light weight reduces negative wind and gust effects and increases flight times.
- You can buy this ready to fly as well as the similar TBS Discovery but more commonly they are built up from "frame" kits.
- One of these can be built for the same or less money than the Phantom at the top and will provide professional capabilities.
- This copter has a Pixhawk flight controller which provides semi and fully automated motion sequences useful for filming.
- The 3DR Iris can be configured with a GoPro camera and Tarot brushless gimbal and it is available ready to fly.
- It comes with the top of the line Pixhawk flight controller and is a relatively inexpensive and easy to use copter.
- The traditional carbon fiber tube design Tarot 650 Quadcopter can even carry a larger camera and gimbal if desired.
- This is purchased as a frame kit and then configured and assembled by the user.
- The one shown here has a GoPro with brushless gimbal, FPV and larger motors, props and batteries for longer flight times.
FPV for Photographic Use
- FPV (First Person View) for photo or video preview use is also an important consideration.
- FPV is important for photo and video use because it allows you to see your pictures or video footage while you are shooting.
- The GoPro itself actually has built in FPV WiFi preview capability which can be useful but it has significant limitations.
- The GoPro's Wifi broadcasts at the same frequency as the RC transmitter / receiver and can cause signal interference.
- For various reasons a parallel mounted FPV video camera and transmitter can provide superior utility.
- In addition to a brushless Gimbal and GoPro, the TBS Discovery Pro below has a parallel mounted FPV video camera.