Budget Aerial Photography
Usually an article like this would find its way onto my educational site at http://cameradojo.com but it’s here on my personal blog because it is very much a work in progress versus a completed project. Put simply, I have been experimenting with different platforms that can carry different size camera platforms. For light weight cameras, its hard to beat the GoPro HD Hero. The Hero takes such good video that you will see them used on TV shows such as Mythbusters, Deadliest Catch, SurvivorMan, and many, many other shows.
What I like about the GoPro is that it is very lightweight so it shouldn’t be too hard to get something to be able to lift it up to do aerial photos and videos. Down the road, I want to have much higher end gear and offer aerial photography as a service.
My first attempt to loft the GoPro used a Blade 450, a 450 sized electric helicopter. The main problem is with vibrations. Using the GoPro’s mount attached to the helicopter’s chassis, the vibrations cause a “jello effect” rendering the video pretty much useless. In order for this to be a viable solution, I need to come up with some kind of mount that absorbs the vibrations Secondly, a 450 heli is not the easiest thing in the world to fly. While I am quite capable, the added weight does make it more unstable making it quite a chore to fly well. A much more suitable helicopter would be a 600 size or bigger. While I like flying helicopters, their unstable nature and potential problems in a crash is simply too dangerous to fly anywhere near people. Add in the fact they even the electrics are not very quiet and you have a flying platform that you would never use near a group of people like a wedding reception or party.
Over the holiday season I decided to try out theParrot AR Drone. While the AR Drone is considered a toy, many people have successfully flown it with a GoPro attached. With the four rotors, the AR Drone is very stable and is super easy to fly and you control it with either an iPhone/iPad or Android device. I use my Motorola XOOM Tablet. The AR Drone broadcasts a WiFi signal that your device connects to, and then an app on your device allows you to control the drone.
While the drone flew great and stable, the camera angle was not ideal as it was pointed down too much. Even though the video didn’t turn out as good as I wanted, as a proof of concept, it was a complete success. The reason I say this is that attaching the GoPro via a foam block would certainly help vibrations, the foam block was attached to the bottom navigation plate which itself has vibration damping so the footage is not great from a subject matter point of view, but there is no visible jello effect.
Next on the agenda is to redesign the camera mount so it points more forward than down but the problem is that even with my ping pong ball leg extensions, the GoPro will hang down too far. The solution will either be a way to extend the legs further, which is problematic as that will make it easier for them to show up in the shot, or find a different landing system. The latter may be a better solution since the GoPro is facing backwards, a different landing leg on the front might be easier to fabricate.
Stay tuned for more progress on this project as it evolves and I figure out ways to make it work better. When its all finished, then the final build article will be posted at CameraDojo.com, until then, all of the progress and testing will be posted here.