Flying Cameras On a Budget — My First Flight With Affordable Drone Helicopter + GoPro

Because there are few establishing shots that can compete with the one you get above 250 feet, I frequently take my shoots airborne. Whether it’s yanking the doors off a Bell Ranger traditional style or the…ahem…new school way of sending an 8-bladed octo-copter to do the dirty work, if it’s outdoors these days, aerial footage is, well, the new black.

Neither option mentioned above is cheap, however. I’ve been paying thru the mega-schnoz to rent A-Stars ($2000 + per hour) and such for years. And then was superduper excited in 2010 to go remote aerial at about half the cost of a real heli for this project launching the Nikon D7000 (here’s some more BTS with the same flight crew from a commercial i shot in Telluride…). But it’s still pricey. $2k – $5,000 per DAY or more. And although going the R/C route is the lesser of two budget busters, it’s still a rough lump to swallow, particularly if you’re just getting in the game.

ENTER the DJI Phantom, (picked mine up at Dronefly.com) the out-of-the-box R/C quadcopter.

Now before y’all jump into a tizzy that this thing isn’t close to the same quality – doesn’t do X and Y…I know those things. It’s ok that it can’t fly an Arri Alexa or do this or that other thing. BUT damn this is a great entry product that A) allows budget conscious folks the ability to fly a camera; B) makes some pretty solid footy for web videos and such; and C) is a helluva lot of fun to fly. All at fraction of the cost of any previously mentioned option.

Designed to fly the GoPro (you know I love ‘em in this video), this little rig comes in at under $700. Nothing to sneeze at, but chump change compared to what was available just 5 years ago. My crew has two of these little buggers now — and within 5 minutes I had achieved a comfort level great enough to try the stunt at 0:45, terrorize the other people at the GasWorks park in Seattle, and even chase a seaplane.

Although it’s not suitable for high end work (yet?), this is a nice budget breakthru. And truth be told it’s a fricking blast — I’ll be doing more soon. Perhaps…ahem… even on my next photo shoot in Iceland…

Alan Marston says:

Won’t be long before the government tries to ban or at least stop drones in many places. I bought a quadcopter from http://bestquadcopterhq.com/ and absolutely love it, yet I often get people asking me why i need a camera on mine.

Nice put article and a bunch of it still holds true 18 months later. The Parrot Bebop was released a few months ago and has a fairly solid inbuilt 14MP camera which I can recommend as a budget drone. Since you’ve been in the drone game for a while I would definitely recommend an upgrade to a DJI Inspire 1, but I’m sure you’re already aware of this by now!

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Great article Chase! You seem to be getting a good handle on your rc piloting skills. Flying quadcopters is a great hobby to get started with. Good Luck!

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I have little experience in controlling big quadcopter models such as Dji Phantom Vision 2+ since the navigation is a bit hard for first-time RC Flyer. However, I find it very difficult to fly a mini size model such as Hubsan X4 which is very easy to control and you don’t have to be a expert pilot. I agree that flying a quadcopter with GoPro camera is more enjoyable indeed. Anyways, your article is well written and I just bookmarked the site too.

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David Wang says:

Chase, how’s the support at dronefly? I’m compiling a list of places to get the DJI Phantom 2 Vision (at http://bestquadcopter.info) and wanted to know what your thoughts were with them. They seem to be legit, but i’m not sure.

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Mervin says:

I wonder if DJI will release the “DJI Phantom 3″ in the near future!

Neat way to show the river out back, the location of local high school, down town, shopping and then descend for a fly by to show the neat neighborhood a home is located in before the pull them through the property listing. They work so well.

DJIPF says:

The Phantom is a mixed bag in a sense that it provides the average (and even less than average) consumer with some pretty sophisticated gear that allows them to take aerial footage. Granted, any r/c snob will decry the “China made” parts but at the end of the day, you are flying surveillance equipment. I won’t bother preaching safety because of all the Youtube videos out there of careless Phantom owners flying in crowded urban areas and near bystanders, I’m sure the sting of a broken $500-$700 “toy” is enough. I would however want to draw attention to the care needed for the batteries … yup the batteries. Simply google “lipo fire” and you’ll see what I mean and hopefully that will be enough to get people to take these things more seriously. To be better in the know of all things Phantom, join the community at http://djiphantomforum.net/

DJIPF says:

Great write up. This is case in point of how accessible the DJI Phantom is to the general consumer population. What I’d warn a new Phantom owner of is the inherent danger in the lipo batteries. These batteries are prone to catch fire during charging if not handled properly which resulted in the loss of property, car, home. A simple Youtube video will blow your mind. http://www.djiphantomforum.net/

Tony Lee says:

Great video man! I’m pretty stoked about the latest DJI vision coming out. It’s going to be fricking awesome!

Paul Santos says:

Man, that looks like serious fun. I know that’s not the point of it though. However, being honest, I’m not sure I’d trust my abilities as an amateur pilot but really admire those who can fly them.

Oliver Kraus says:

Hi Chase,
love the video !
I got a phantom too for about 3 months now and it’s really easy to fly.
But, please -before i go nuts – where is the music from, in your video ????
Tried to find it , but no results.
Would be great if you would share this.
Thank you
Oliver

MikeD says:

Hey Chase-I just got the Phantom and the Zen Muse gimbal, pretty amazing. A ND filter helps a lot in cleaning out the jello effect.
The legal thing is a problem but who enforces FAA regulations when you are out on a photo shoot and do some flybys? The local sheriff? I
It’s funny that as a hobby you can do pretty much what you want but if you charge for it there’s a lot of laws and permits involved and afaik the only permits are issued to other gov’t agencies. So the guys flying them for car commercials and major motion pictures are in the same boat as Phantom “pilots”.
The regulations are probably 20 years old and the newfangled flying machines are about 5 years old (Phantom, less than a year) so the authorites and laws are a little behind the technology.
Bad thing is the paparazzi have discovered them and it won’t be long until the LAPD gets some anti aircraft weapons.

Danny Bailey says:

OK…. The swig of beer and kissing the lens sold me.

I went right from your video and bought my own phantom.

This is very exciting. Thanks Chase.

faisal says:

Not available globally, a big issue.

shawn says:

Chase,

I would consider looking into the zenmuse hero stabalized gimble from DJI. I have raw vid of it on my phantom and it’s damm impressive for the price. Nothing can compare at this price level. Let me know if you want to check out the raw footage. I will send you a link.

Tom says:

Chase, you do realise that it is illegal to use unmanned aircraft (including RC quadcopters) for commercial aerial photography in the US. In places like Australia, Singapore you will need to get licensed by the local Air Safety Authority.

For example in Australia you will need to do basic training with the CAAS that is similar to what you need to do for a single engine aircraft. In addition, you need to to a practical flight test and all commercial shoots need to be cleared with CAAS. In addition you can’t fly in restricted airspace without getting clearance first. In places like Sydney this can be a real pain.

Of course no one stops you from flying it commercially anyway. But bear in mind that you will do so without any insurance. So let’s say your aircraft crashes and as a result someone gets injured or worse you’d have serious problem that in some cases could result in lengthy jail time.

Personally I think that’s over the top but then again so are many other laws we find in todays society.

Chase says:

see my note above. that said, i have not put anyone in jeopardy in my flying to speak of … usually quite a distance from any / all onlookers.

i understand your point, but i’m also a good citizen who is prudent in my flying of toys and such.

maybe i’ll crash it into myself as a test ? (preserving my right eye and right index finger of course)

tom says:

I know what you are saying… and obviously you are not selling the footage or are using it in any commercial productions.

shawn says:

its not that bad it gives you a welt but doesnt break skin if on stock props. I had an incident on my first flight. :) The owner of the company stuck his hand in the props during nab when people asked if it hurt. lol

Wes Coughlin says:

Its against FAA’s policy to use UAVs for commercial purposes at the moment. However the FAA does not control the right to sell photography or video services such as editing. So as long as your not getting paid to operate a UAV, your not flying for commercial applications. .

Greg says:

This is pretty sweet… but is there any reason you wouldn’t go with a hexacopter with the same gps system if it cost the same money?

http://www.helipal.com/storm-drone-6-gps-flying-platform.html

Mike Calabro says:

Does anyone have an answer to Greg’s question? I can’t find much info out there on the Storm Drone 6, but it looks pretty awesome. Any experienced flyers out there want to chime in on this?

shawn says:

I imagine cause it’s smaller, easy to travel with and he may have ordered it with a case like an all in one deal. I never heard of this “storm drone” although it’s from the same company the phantom is it’s all dji parts from the flamewheel (550) just rebranded w/ optional tarrot gimble same flight control system from dji as well etc. Those gimbles requires tons of tuning to get right not the dji zenmuse hero for the phantom though. Once set up power wise no tuning is needed perfect stable go pro footy from the get go 2axis only though.

Mike Calabro says:

Thanks for the tip. I guess that I will go with a Phantom or wait for the next version to come out.

Oscar Lopez says:

On a serious note, do you have an explanation for the shake/weird stuff happening on the edges? Or is it just me..

Oscar Lopez says:

PBR for the win. :D

Eric says:

How much prior RC experience do you have? I want one but I’m only an expert at crashing RC planes right now. Haven’t quite mastered the non-crash flight mode. ;)

Chase says:

i have next to zero RC experience except for those little $50 helicopters. This is literally my experience straight outta the box, first charge, no practice.

it’s damn easy.

Matt Timmons says:

Pabst Blue Ribbon? That copter must be expensive, not much money left for beer. Anyway, was hoping you’d review this. Thanks for the info, might get one and fly it around the Brooklyn Bridge.

erin says:

@Pabst Blue Ribbon – could be a Seattle thing. Chase does display a dusting of hipster attributes, but he more than makes up for it by being genuinely cool and talented.

Wes Coughlin says:

Great Chase! Your pretty good for just starting out. I filmed this with my quadcopter and GoPro last Sunday night in the Cascade Mountains – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N4u0KWSsir8

Dave Ellis says:

Isn’t it against FAA regulations and therefore illegal to use drones for commercial and editorial work?

Dave Ellis says:

Not trying to be a wet blanket, but just wondering if you knew of a work around.

Chase says:

those laws are continually being revised and reworked by my understanding. i’ve flown them all over the place – with film commission permits and without.

The jury is still out and from what i know the challenge is really around the definition and the size / less about flying a cheap camera. ‘

but i’m no lawyer (phew.)

Here in Australia the jury isn’t out.. it’s illegal to use them for commercial purposes unless you are certified by our Civil Aviation Safety Authority.. so many photographers are using them without the right permits though.

Dave Ellis says:

Thanks for the reply Chase.

Morse says:

Same in UK … Have to do CAA qual. You may say boring but 1. Can be very dangerous ….(a bit boring) 2. Cant get insurance without it and that could be curtains ….

Pay up and do it

Cheers

go and cry says:

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Jeremy Hall says:

Throw a nice gimbal on there and you’ll get rid of the jello and get some smooth stabilization.

Have you seen the new model they are supposed to release this year? All in one with camera and live FPV and controls to your iPhone. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rht-QarvEM4

Chase says:

Glad to see you get on board! Thats copter is awesome, and Im jealous of my old stomping grounds, Gas Works.

Between you and your crew, I know you probably have done all the research, but here anyhow:

Balance the blades, go to a hobby shop and get a blade balancer for $10 – that will help with the vibration. A TON. (reduce the jelly affect on the footage)

If you can, fly without the GPS on. I know its a great safety catch, but the Phantom (and all gps guided self flyers) are sending thousands of adjustment signals per second to the rotor motors and it causes a bunch of vibration on the footage. Shutting the GPS off will cut down on that as well.

You can also bye gimbals and tons of other sweet things for the Phantom now too:
http://phantomguide.com/

Not my site, just sharing. Thanks man for throwing this up!

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