Aerial photography and filming from drones has been around for a few years. It’s really exploding and for action sports or outside activities drones give a perspective that was once saved for those that could afford to call in a chopper. These days, drones can do some of the heavy lifting at a fraction of the cost.
I recently decided to venture into the drone world and purchase a small and maneuverable four-prop system. I did a fair amount of research and found Steadidrone based in South Africa. I called up their American counter part out in Colorado and ordered one up. I was on a time crunch and they did their best to get it to California before I jumped on a plane to Switzerland. It arrived but I didn’t get a chance to fly it before I was packed and on the plane to Europe.
Having flown RC helicopters in the past I was able to adapt to flying and working on the drone rather quickly. Although different, the fundamentals of hovering, stick control and orientation are the same.
I bought Steadidrone’s RTF kit, or ready to fly, and also upgraded to the HiTech Aurora 9 radio to control the pitch and roll of the gimbal with the spare channels. I decided to also purchase the SDBG4 gimbal made by Steadidrone to go on the Quad. The main reason that I went with this system was primarily based on my desire to not fiddle with building and setting up the drone. I just wanted to start flying and filming right away. The US affiliate also helped me figure out what I need to get for an FPV setup and prepare the drone for point of view flight.
I spent a ton of time figuring the drone out. I’ve had two major crashes with the drone. Both crashes had to do with electrical interference and me being dumb about where and when I was flying the thing. The first flight I took off next to an electric train track in Switzerland and BOOM, the drone took off into a wall. Smart!
The build quality is better now that they are not using the 3D printed parts. I was able to get some of the injected molded inner mounts before I left and replaced most of the parts before I started flying. Parts for these drones are extremely hard to get and they are very expensive compared to the competitors out there. Other drones are not made out of carbon fiber and are not designed to this spec but you pay a premium for what you get. Be prepared to wait or buy enough parts in advance to have a hobby shop at home if you plan on learning to fly with this thing.
SDBG 4 Gimbal
The gimbal works but needed to be adjusted out of the box. Adjusting the settings was a huge undertaking for me. I’m not a computer scientist so it took me a while to understand installing the GUI and firmware to get the gimbal connected to my computer. Once connected, I struggled to find information on adjusting it and when I did the information was for other gimbals that also use the PID. There is no information about this gimbal on the web. You have to figure out the board type and the software, it’s a big undertaking.
I run OS X on a Mac and after purchasing the drone I now run Windows on that machine also. It is a must to have a machine setup for installing and working on the drone configuration. Getting a Mac to run parallel and getting the right drivers is a puzzle. Good luck! Just by a PC laptop and save yourself days of headache. I didn’t have the cash so I took the low road.
With the new APM GPS unit the Quad is rock solid in the air. You can maneuver the copter easily and it has plenty of power. I’m currently running 12” props for more lift and it flies great with a Gopro. It has no lag and I can chase bikes down ridges just fine.
This copter is not a professional rig however. It will fly very small cameras like the Gopro but if you really need something that will be stable in light wind or needs to fly a larger camera I would suggest getting some thing larger like the Hex or Octo.
My intention was to start small and see if I could use this type of camera system within my production company. I found that it is useful but at this level it’s still more of a hobby and not a full on rig.
It’s important to realize that flying this quad and filming can be done with one operator. With a larger rig a 2 man team is more desirable. It’s important to think about your intended use and go with that.
If your looking to get into drones and have no experience I’d have trouble recommending this drone. It’s difficult to get parts and they are very expensive and can take weeks to arrive here in the US. That said, it’s a very high quality product and really shines for its light weight package and the ability to customize it.
The gimbal is expensive as well and I’d opt for another option with a 3-axis setup if you have the money.
The guys in SA are really into their stuff. They answer questions quickly and the guys in the US are good fellows. Remember, your not only buying the drone, your buying the service also.
Last year was a huge success and another year that we saw the world through the lens. It’s always been our goal to create the highest quality video and still images possible while maintaining our light and agile crew. Today we are taking that one step further with our new RED Epic 5K camera. Yes, we have made the jump up to what we think will bring the next level of content to our work.
We have more exciting news coming later this month and we hope to get out and start using this beast ASAP.
Here’s to an awesome year!
I’ve owned and operated the Sony FS700 for over a year now. I adopted the technology early because I felt that the “future proof” upgradability to 4K made this camera particularly interesting – and then there was also the 240 FPS slow motion feature that really sealed the deal for me. For the work that I do and like doing, shooting at 240 is really cool and affordable at this price if your looking to own and not rent.
I had planned on upgrading the camera with the Sony Firmware update and the Odyssey Q7 monitor and recorder after this summer of shooting action sports and run & gun in Europe. I still haven’t done the upgrade – explanation below.
The Camera Feel
Like the previous camera in the line the FS100 the FS700 is an awkward beast. It’s a size 10 shoe with a handle on top. The small screen is in a bad position for handheld shooting and I much preferred the location of the Sony EX1’s monitor. Although, it’s not totally unmanageable the loupe that comes with the camera is a joke. I opted for an EVF to work with the camera. The EVF didn’t last long on the camera and mostly took up space in the pelican case or backpack on shoots. Usually, I prefer to have the smallest camera setup that I can get away with for a given shot or project.
For those looking to get away from the Frankenstein effect of the DSLR movement, where everything is hanging off of the camera and tripod, then this camera addresses some of those issues. The integrated ND filters are a huge plus and XLR audio inputs take this camera back to video camera land where the sun is out and things just feel good again.
Just a few years ago when you bought into a camera system you where stuck with that system’s lenses. Not anymore. The FS700 can use almost any lens with the right adapter. I used the Metabones adapter on this camera and I found it flawless, up until they came out with the SpeedBooster and then I wanted that one. With this adapter and others you can control the aperture as well as keep the stabilization feature of lenses that have it. I mostly shot with the Canon L series and found them to have good results but I still wanted more from the camera. I found that the Sony E mount lenses actually looked better than my Canon L glass. Even though they are much less expensive. I think this is because of the adapter and the distance of the lens from the sensor. I’m no scientist or engineer but that’s why. I would recommend the SpeedBooster to go with this camera if you plan on using EF glass.
Picture Profiles are your friend. The FS700 allows the user to input or create custom profiles and save them. I found several picture profiles on the Internet, namely from, Abel Cine. For shooting in bright conditions or scenes with high dynamic range it’s good to use something that will allow a flat image. I found some of those picture profile presets out there and they worked well for mixed conditions. There are limitations to this camera’s range and the highlights tend to suffer the most. My recommendation is to use the picture profiles to adjust the elbow / shoulder and maintain the highlights. This is difficult when shooting run and gun and will easily backfire if not monitored for effect.
240 Oh So Nice!
It’s easy to over due the slow motion and with the launch of this camera there is a lot more of it out there. I even had a client tell me that slow motion was “old” and wanted me to cut almost all of it. The most important thing I learned about slow motion on the FS700 was to expose correctly and even over expose. I found that the camera lost range when shooting at high frame rates. It’s hard to quantify how much but there was a noticeable loss in shadow detail as a result of switching to awesome mode.
Here is a sample of a project shot on the Sony FS700 for DZR this summer in Italy.
4K and Future Proof
It’s a killer camera, period. You can shoot anything with it and it gives you a range of creativity, which was saved for the big boy cameras that proceeded it. That said, as I explored the future of the camera in 4K it started to look less appealing to continue investing in the system. Buying the Sony recorder is out of the question due to price and size, have you seen the size of that thing?! The Odyssey Q7 makes it manageable however and I would still consider this option if your sticking with the system for a while. I’ve done the math and I opted for the RED EPIC to upgrade to 4K / 5K. More on the new system in a later post!
For the money I dare you to find me a better camera! If this is where you are, and I was, then you can’t go wrong with this rig. It’s versatile. It shoots great footage and allows for a vast amount of creativity. It will pair with almost any lens and it’s easy to use. It’s as simple as that.
How a Video Gets Made
Making a video can seem like a black box. You put an idea in one end and out the other side comes a visual representation of creative conversations. Usually there is a big unknown as to how the video will turn out. Working with new people and expanding beyond the usual media types into a more in-depth video production can be perplexing. Here are the key things that make a video better, more relevant and ultimately will have everyone celebrating when the final product is done.
The creative process that takes place before the video even starts shooting, can be the most important part of the video. Exploring the “space,” letting ideas flow and really dialing down what the video needs to accomplish are crucial to creating a targeted and effective video. This is true from the largest movie production down to the 10 second YouTube video.
Know Your Audience
This is a one of the most basic things to establish when working out the type of video, the style and the message of your content. What are you trying to tell them? Break through the noise of all the ideas, feelings, and messages and distill them down so that the key themes are the components of the video.
The more organized the production is the more time you can spend being creative in front and behind the camera when the production is actually happening. Getting the key shots and scenes help create a good video but being organized gives you time to really be creative with b-roll ideas, lens angles and macro shots. And THAT can make the video amazing!
“Be like water,” Bruce Lee.
By incorporating what’s happening around the production you can use the environment, people and equipment to elevate the production. Run and gun shooting, sets, studios all have their drawbacks and advantages. Scout the area and know your subject before you shoot.
Making the Cut
Put it on the table and put the rest on the floor. Editing is where the vision takes its form. If the production has been properly planned the editing room becomes a place of inspiration not an ER room for half- cocked concepts. This is where “happy accidents” happen; where pieces fit together in a way that never occurred to the crew.
Just like a good joke, it’s all in the delivery.
Getting the project done on time and in a state that meets and exceeds the client’s expectations is paramount to satisfaction. Putting the highest skill and thought into the video will only produce better results for this video and the next. No matter what the budget, time constraint or struggle, success can only be judged by the amount of effort put forth.
The North American Ski Training Center is one of the best ski training programs in the world. With the snow just starting to fall in the mountains they wanted to have a video to get people motivated for their preseason training programs that they offer worldwide. Our goal was to show the type of training and group dynamic of their courses and how these classes help to progress clients to the next level.
“Working with James on this multi-company project was a total pleasure. He keeps it simple, is super smart about getting to the bottom of each company’s goals, and is very professional during the creative process. James has a gift and has found his calling for sure! Its was easy and a complete success.” NASTC
Special thanks to Squaw Valley, Sugar Bowl and the athletes that helped put this thing together. Pray for snow!
This summer we spent time in Europe shooting a series of videos and photos for ACRE / Mission Workshop. ACRE is a new mountain bike brand that our long time friends and clients over at Mission Workshop have launched this year and they really wanted to show the brand and do RND work while riding some of the most pristine and rugged terrain on earth in the European Alps.
Wander represents the photography work of Dan Barham and the new brand ACRE. While we rode in Switzerland and on the Trans Provence in the south of France I captured riding video and interviews with the crew about the product samples, photographs and riding.
You can see the excellent work that everyone has done from start to finish on this project here on the ACRE website.
Patron’s Secret Dining Society has taken place in many cities throughout its history. There have been many videos made by other teams about the events as well. Our team wanted to make sure that people really remembered San Francisco’s dinner. We wanted to represent our hometown with a well-produced and executed video for Patron.
Our team, consisting of James Adamson, Noe Chavez, Matt Baker, Luke Abiol, created the video and photo content for the event. Bespoke Events partnered up with us for this one and Katy Higgins lead the way for the event by planning and preparing everything for the guest to concentrate on having a good time at San Francisco’s City Hall.
Here’s what Katy had to say about our team:
I have produced over 1000 events and I have had many videos made -this event video blows them all away. Your creativity and eye for design leaps from the screen. The way in which you told the story of our evening and captured the heart and soul of the city was perfect. I cannot thank you enough!
Here’s some of the media that we created:
I am often approached about commercial concepts for products or people and I need to come up with a vision for the story, the script and the visuals that are going to convey the concept with the richest media we can create with our timeline and budget.
I use several tools to help flush out the vision from the client and from my mind on how best to capture the attention of our target audience. Recently, AR teamed up with Jhonathan Florez to create a promotional video and to tell his story as a skydiving wing-suit-flying maniac.
The first step was to figure out “who” we would be speaking to. Jhonathan is attempting to set three Guinness world records in the coming months and he is seeking sponsorship and promotion of the jumps he will be making from 32,000 ft. To capture that audience we need to express his passion for what he does, his drive and give him some credibility as he goes out and attempts something that has never been done before.
Find videos that work. Jhonathan sent me several videos that he thought captured the environment that we would be shooting in. Airplanes, parachutes and wingsuits, all these would be new to me as far as shooting and we needed to get a baseline for what we would be trying to accomplish.
Secondly, I always need to visualize how the story might play out when we deliver it. For this I use the classic storyboard method. This is nothing new but it works wonders for getting the ideas for shots down on paper and to show the client what you are thinking visually. Here is a basic time lapse of the storyboard that I did for JF.
As the production went on I created another storyboard to help organize the production into sections with bookends to help categorize our scenes and too create transitions. With this specific project we needed to shoot plenty of b-roll footage because the interviews of JF where not scripted so ultimately it would be told documentary style with the voice over leading the editing. Considering that we had three production days to complete the shooting we needed to be shooting any chance we had to get the quality of shots we were going for. Those shots included time lapses of the airstrip, the clouds and people, while at the same time capturing shots from the air on Go Pro cameras and with DSLR’s from the plane and on the ground.
We were fortunate to have Brain Drake, JF’s wingman, to shoot the footage of JF from the air. We used the new GoPro HD2 for this shooting and the shots turned out to have great color and resolution especially compared to the older Go Pro Hero HD camera.
While having access to the airstrip was great we had scripted a base jump into our storyboard and we needed to shoot that in very low light as to not attract attention. This we unique for the AR crew and we decided to bring Isaac in with an RC quad copter to fly up next to JF while he was on the tower. This provided an angle of view that helped tell the story of commitment and establish JF as a professional flyer.
While on the ground we used a 5ft Kessler CineSlider to give movement to the shots and help emphasize the environment while on the ground. We ended up using the slider inside of an old airplane in the “bone yard” with a great effect. Having a monitor for these shot was essential. We used a 7” Marshal that helped me frame shots and check focus which was important for the racking shots.
Overall, we had a great time and the last few days have been working on the editing process and creating a rhythm that will keep the audience engaged and connected to JF would is a worthy entertainer and athelete with great promise.
Stay tuned for the release of our short on Adventure Refugee TV.