Bio: Mike specializes in high-speed, 4K, MoVI, Steadicam as a freelancer and offers consulting services and training to individuals and companies nationwide. His vast experience as a shooter/editor combined with his extensive technical and hands on knowledge of cameras, lensing, support, accessories and workflows provides a comprehensive understanding of production and post-production solutions.
Posts by MNS1974:
- A beautifully machined roll bar with built in 25mm clamps replaced a carbon fiber tube, but it weighs the same. This roll bar provides a solid support structure for the roll and tilt mechanism, significantly improving rigidity of the overall unit.
- A new camera stage that allows for tool-free fore, aft, side-to-side and height adjustment. This greatly saves time setting up tilt balance and camera placement, as well as retaining the integrity of the camera stage with slick snap lock adjustments.
- New 25mm clamps which save a lot of tuning time, making it significantly easier to adjust with less points of contact and require half the amount of M3 screws.
- Electronics have been refined with tidy cabling and plenty of slack for adjustment.
- Smaller batteries, yielding a greater capacity, lasting a good 3 hours +. Amazing for their size.
Today I got the Freefly Systems MoVI M5. As an M10 owner I was not quite sure what to expect since this is a lower cost model. I had seen a progression from prototype form to the final version online but never had it in my hands to judge in person. When I first opened the box I was very surprised to see how well built and thoughtful the M5 was. I do a fair amount of advising for shoots, owners and people who are considering buying so I like to be fully immersed and educated as to all the features, rigging options etc. When advising or shooting with the M10 there is a lot of considerations that come into play and often I am called in or emailed to help provide answers as to why a rig isn’t working properly. 100% of the time it is user error. Usually the M10 was not properly balanced or the software settings were changed to the wrong values etc. With all that said it usually takes a good 45 minutes of proper prep on a MoVI shoot with a properly trained operator or tech. Fine tuning is essential with the M10 as you are dealing mostly with 8-12lbs payloads, wireless gear etc. Enter the MoVI M5. I literally took the M5 out of the box and immediately threw a camera on it and was ready to run. I did the most fundemental of balancing with a slight left to right, fore to aft camera balance and I was good to go. Could this be I thought? I then flipped the camera backward and inverted the handles and used the rig in inverted mode. Again it was good to go. Simple. The M5 has simplicity on its side.
The first thing I noticed is that unlike the M10 (which I am not bashing, its fantastic and carries higher payloads) the M5 is 95% tools in setup. The yaw (pan) balance now has two quick release latches and is keyed so you can easily adjust the center of gravity of the rig on pan within seconds. You need a 2.5 hex driver for that on the M10. Mind you the M10 is not keyed as you may need to make more adjustments to find the CG of a heavier payload. This is one less step for the M5. The other thing that stands out on the M5 is that it features a carbon fiber camera cage system that has a clamping shoe mount. The reason for this is that the M5 is primarily for DSLR and lighter cameras. These often only have one 1/4-20 screw on the bottom. This can cause the camera to move (turn) which intern throws off balance. The shoe clamp keeps the camera locked into position and provides a great amount of rigidity that would otherwise not be present. You can remove this top piece to allow for a stripped down C100 or 1Dc etc if needed. Mind you if you use a camera like a 1Dc or camera in the albs range you have to keep in mind your lens weight and any accessories you use. You can rule out a wireless FF for example with a 1Dc, but it is doable with a C100. If you plan on using a 1Dc, C300, etc its best to go with a MoVI M10 as it will accommodate cine glass and the other glue that you will need to be effective on a shoot. If you stick with a 5D MKIII, GH4, 70D, etc you will have plenty of leeway with the M5 which is what this rig is really built for.
The M5 retains a lot of the M10 features. A GPS, quality carbon fiber construction, same great warranty, same level of customer support, the ability to pair with a RC transmitter, the same balance / docking stand, same charger. Even the software (which has been updated) offers the same functions as the M10. You can adjust the window (degrees) and smoothness of each axis, tuned majestic tilt and pan, check the voltage, temperature, you name it, its all in there. This is for Mac, PC or Android currently.
Another difference between the M10 and the M5 is that the M5 has a tighter camera stage footprint. Keep this in mind if you have cables etc sticking out of your camera as it can be a problem. The M10 stage is much wider and give you plenty of room for AKS like wireless FF motors, converters, etc. You will have plenty of stage room with a DSLR however. The roll bar does not have side to side adjustment on the M5 so side to side balance on the rig must be well though out when it comes to accessorizing your setup. Keep this in mind if using a camera that may be heavier on one side than the other. You may need to place a focus motor on the other side to keep it balanced. The camera stage also has a new wider camera plate which will still accept the 15mm LWS option.
The cables on the M5 are handled slightly different as well. On my M10 it was possible to accidentally disconnect or affect a motor drive cable. The M5 has the connectors nicely protected which prevents this issue.
The handlebars on the MoVI M5 are fantastic and I hope this feature is offered in the future on the M10. The M5 has two quick latches that allow you to rotate the handlebars for inversion mode or adjust left to right placement. If you remove one hand grip you can quickly remove the handle bar for quick and easy packing of the rig. I can see this rig being put into backpacks etc to be used on documentaries all over the world so quick set up and break down is great feature.
The MoVI M5 batteries are about half the size of the M10 yet they are still 14.8v 4S batteries. They seem to give at least a good 2 hours of use even when the rig is maxed out and doing a fair amount of inversion mode. This is great as you can carry two to four and get by on almost any shoot. The batteries charge fairly quickly as well.
You can buy the MoVI with or without an RC transmitter. The transmitter version is approx $300 more and worth every penny. You can also use the MoVI M10 and M5 as a remote head so consider this when or if you buy one.
The M5 is clearly a winner with its ease of use and a quality company to back it up. Once you get your hands on one you will see why this system is so great and why producers and directors ask for the Freefly brand. Quality, reliability and performance. Its as simple as that.
To learn more about the Freefly MoVI M5 or M10 you can visit there website at www.freeflysystems.com
follow me on twitter at: @MNS1974
For those who already follow me on twitter or have seen some of my high-speed work in the past few months know I am a big fan of the Zylight F8 LED fresnel. There are tons of LED panels on the market currently and more and more popping up everyday. There are however a select few LED fresnel lights on the market and even fewer that actual are feature rich, hold color temp and offer remote operation.
I first saw a prototype of the F8 in late 2012 and a functioning unit at NAB last year. Here was an American company (already making high quality LED lighting with the Z90 and iS3) showing a LED with the punch of an HMI light. Not only did its size and weight appeal to me but also the fact you could run it off an Anton Bauer battery or V-mount and still get a large throw. I was lucky enough to wrangle one for the TS3Cine high-speed camera booth and for a test I fired the light up to the ceiling which is pretty high (at the Las Vegas Convention Center) and it filled a large area. Several people came over to our booth to ask what the new light was and “how was it possible for an LED to have such a powerful throw and spread”. These have a sweep of 16 – 70° which is pretty amazing. That’s 20 degrees more than an Arri L7-C and the F8 is also half of the L7′s weight as well. I knew right away I had to have these in my kit.
Like all other Zylight’s the F8 has wireless capability built in. You can use a Zylight Remote to control on/off and dimming of the F8 or multiple Zylights including Z90 and iS3 as long as they are on the same channel. This is very handy especially if you have them rigged to a grid or in an inconvenient location on set. There is also also DMX built in so you can go the traditional route if you prefer using a lighting console. The wireless option for me is key as I might have a kicker 20 feet in the air on a mount or stand that would require lowering and adjusting, meaning more man power. I often do my own lighting so being able to use a remote is handy and also lets you dim or kill a light during a shot. I can do this from camera position or anywhere I want and linking lights means one controller instead of having to use one per light.
The F8 comes in two flavors. Tungsten and Daylight. The daylight version has more output and for myself is the more desirable of the two since a lot of what I shoot is outdoor. This means I am supplementing, complimenting, countering or replicating what would be appear as much as possible to be natural daylight. The F8 does this perfectly as its spotting and flooding range is exactly what I need to get the shot without the need for multiple models of lighting. The F8 has enough punch to go though several layers of diffusion and scrims and still cast a nice controllable spread of constant light.
Another fantastic feature of the light is that its portable. Not only in that it can be battery operated but Zylight put Arri rosettes onto each side so you can literally attach handles to it. This is handy for example if I am operating a steadicam or MoVi and I need a grip to walk next to me filling operator shadow or to give some light tracking to the subject. Its a smart design and I haven’t seen anyone else think of this ingenious idea. The rosettes also allow for more rigging options and as we all know the more options for placement or attachment the better.
The Zylight F8 is weather resistant which is not something I can saw for most lights out in the market. Although not waterproof, I literally buried an operating F8 in the snow with just the glass of the fresnel exposed to get a shot I needed from the ground. I had it in the wet snow for approximately 45 minutes without any issues. After the shoot I wiped it down and put it in the case and used it for an indoor shoot the next day. Everything was solid. The bellows of the light are rubber and sealed on each end. The light does not put off much heat so I was able to put it in a bag immediately after a long day of shooting. The light is also durable. The one thing I always hated about my HMI’s is when someone dropped one my my Joker 400′s and the bulb broke. Not once but twice. The Joker 400 is a great light but at $250 a bulb it adds up. The F8 does not burn out or need a bulb change. This is piece of mind for me as I have enough crap to deal with on a shoot the last thing I need is a light to go down and to be without a spare lamp. I don’t have that worry anymore. I also would have to wait for the lights to cool down before breaking down which in some cases added a lot more time to the shoot schedule. The F8 features passive cooling so no fans are required to keep it cool, therefore it is mechanically and electronically silent. With LED lights we can move on to the next shot immediately. They can go into a bag and into a trunk right away. Also not having a potential burn hazard is important. Not just for people but equipment cases, etc.
The power usage on the light is great if you are considering operating with battery power. I tried three different two year old Anton Bauer Hytron 140 batteries and each yielded between 45- 58Minutes each at 100% power (high 95+ CRI rating on daylight and 97+ on tungsten). A second test at 50% yielded almost 90 minutes. That is pretty amazing considering how much light is pounding out of the fixture. I should mention the light is silent as well. Some lights I have used in the past have had a buzzing sound or a high-pitch tone. These emit no noise.
I shoot high-speed and having a F8 daylight fresnel has been a dream as it does not flicker when set at 100% output at over 5500fps. Yes 5500 frames per second. This is important as most lights will kill your high-speed shot with rolling bars and bands of light or high pulse flickering. Most will also mess with the color at higher frame rates or adjusted shutter angles. The Zylight F8 does not have these effects. I can without question bring one, two, four or more F8′s on a high-speed shoot and without worry know I can get almost any frame rate I need without flicker or color shifts. It is my go to light for shooting. Not just high-speed for almost everything. Its versatile, powerful, durable, efficient and affordable. If you are going to NAB this year I highly suggest you stop by the Zylight booth to check it out in person at Booth# C5209 next to the Belgian Pavilion. Zylight
This is part 1 of a 2-part post. The second post will be linked with sample videos and frame grabs of 1080-4K samples
What is an anamorphic lens? An anamorphic lens squeezes a widescreen image onto a non-widescreen aspect ratio. Why would you want to do this? It allows you to retain as much resolution as possible to achieve a cinematic widescreen aspect ratio, negating the need to crop the top and bottom of the frame. Basically it squeezes the image (vertically) and in post production or presentation, you de-squeeze (horizontally) to achieve a wider aspect ratio than origination. The traditional anamorphic aspect ratio is 2.40:1 (technically 2.39:1) and used to be achieved by shooting with very expensive anamorphic lenses. This was primarily done in 35mm standard motion picture film (academy). This was before 2 perf 35 stocks/movements were available in cameras.
Back in the day Panavision and other companies made attachments to the front of there lenses that would anamorphasize a spherical lens. This was the most traditional method used and to a degree became the standard method. Other companies down the line got creative (at a high price) and put the anamorphic elements inside the center of the lens and not p front. The point of this was to reduce flare.
Most anamorphic lenses inherently streak light across the horizontal axis due to the barrel shape that the glass has combined with its coating. Anamorphic glass as always had been an expensive proposition in rental and ownership. The costs are prohibitive for most and traditionally anamorphic lenses have been heavy and slow in transmission. Most rental houses do not own anamorphic glass as the costs are approx. 42K – 50K per lens (for Arri Master Anamorphics) and have a very long wait list (6-12 months).With the advent of widescreen digital most filmmakers sort of gave up on shooting anamorphic, as it was not practical or cost effective.
Unless you were a big time filmmaker you probably would never have the opportunity to see an anamorphic lens, never mind using one. However within the past two years things have changed. Filmmakers started to revisit the idea of 2:40:1 as the resolution of cameras increased but number of pixels wasted on the top and bottom of a 16:9 image (to make a 2.40:1 widescreen frame) did not. Everyone was throwing away resolution that could be retained by squeezing the image into the same area.
Companies like Arri decided to make a 4:3 version of the Alexa (M and Studio) which also added an anamorphic De-squeezing finder option. For 16:9 sensors you would use a 1.3X anamorphic lens instead of 2x, which is used on 4:3 sensors. I imagine some cameras will offer a 4:3 windowed mode, which will not help with resolution retention but will allow for a 1 to 1 match with 2x anamorphic glass.
Enter the Letus 35 Anamorphx adapter. Letus saw the trend towards the resurgence of Anamorphic shooting and decided to put out their own adapter that exceeds almost any other converter / adapter I have seen on the market (sub 20K $) Not only that but they also were smart to capitalize on the much sought after flare look that has become popular over the past two years. Mind you they took this to a different level by offering a low, medium and high flare version of the adapter. The price is very reasonable which makes it appealing to anyone who wants to shoot wide without paying crazy prices. You can buy the setup for a base price of $1,695 USD and can built it up with a matte-box, flags, filter tray, lens support and various lens adapters. This kit is clever in that they geared the near / far adjustment with a standard .8 pitch gear built in so you can use a follow focus or lens motor with it. The snap on filter tray option is very cleaver. Instead of trying to figure out a way to rear filter the system they simple put it in front of the lens, which gives you more options and quality control of your image. The filter tray snaps in and out very simply and has a Patent pending design. You can stack two filters if you buy two trays. I highly recommend the lens support and matte-box with tray options.
The Anamorphx works with almost any lens due to the large 138mm clamping back design. You can use 114mm fronts like CP.2s or Canon Cinema primes or keep it really simple and use Canon L Series glass to keep the costs down. There are adapter rings available on their site for all the standard front sizes like 114mm, 110mm, 95mm, 82mm and 77mm. I am sure you can use a step down ring if you need two (except on wide lenses).
I have tried the Anamorphx with the Canon 1Dc in 4K, S35 1080 and Full Frame 1080. All seemed to work fairly well considering this adapter is rated for 2K. In APS-H and APS-C modes the adapter fared well with even the 16-35mm Canon L and I was able to use almost the entire range of the lens (minus a few mm on the 4K APS-H mode of the 1Dc).
Here are some of the features of the Letus Anamorphx
* 1.33x squeeze, which will work with all current crop of 16:9 cameras, bringing it to a standard 2.39:1
* Works with current prime and zoom lenses
* Custom optical components
* High resolution.
* 0.8 mod pitch gear for critical focus
* Option of single coated or multi-coated lens elements depending on level of lens flare desired. Single coated will produce more flares.
* CNC aluminum housing
* Mounting solution for 114mm outside diameter lens like Zeiss CP* and adapting ring for smaller lens like 77mm, 82mm, etc.
* 1/4-20 thread hole for lens support
* Made ready with matte box (Optional)
* Patent pending clip on 2-stage filter (Optional)
Front diameter: 138mm – Thickness: 65mm – Weight: 1.5lbs without matte-box & 1.9lbs w/matte-box – Snap-on filter tray: 0.35lbs – Filter size: 4×5.65”
This concludes part 1 of my 2-part post. I will be posting some video clips and tests on part 2.
Michael N Sutton
Its was a great day today. I saw the FedEx truck come to a slow roll in front of my house and I knew something amazing was about to be delivered. It was my new Freefly Cinema MoVi M10! I first laid eyes on the MoVi just before NAB, and I knew right away it was going to be a winner.
Good friend Vicent Laforet did a great job assisting in the Movi’s unveiling, getting everyone to think about what possibilities suddenly lay ahead. His 2nd video filmed using the MoVi had everyone asking, “How they hell did they do that?!” We soon find out it wass filmed by guiding the MoVi down the edge of a building with rope. (holy s that was a great shot!) At Philip Bloom’s NAB party Tabb from Freefly had everyone gathered around the MoVi, as if it were a hot girl in a bikini. (Myself included!) Guys like Rodney Charters, Alex Buono, Philip Bloom, Dan Chung, etc were drooling over the system and understandably so. They saw what I saw. An amazing unconventional tool with a huge amount of practicality that would broaden the way we think about filmmaking.
I know there are competitors out there, but this article will focus specifically on the MoVi M10. Freefly may not have been the first to come up with the idea, but they did give us the best brushless gimbal on the market and delivered exactly what they said they would. (Which is rare in this industry.) They did it better and they did it right. Enough about that, back to my post.
Since seeing it at NAB Freefly has made several key improvements to the M10 system.
The MoVi is a tool that breaks the bounds of a Steadicam, EZ Rigs, and other handheld devices that allow for camera mobility. The MoVi provides smooth, adjustable stabilization on three axis points via 3 x brushless motors wound by Freefly and an IMU / 6DOF (Inertial Measurement Unit / 6 degrees of freedom) sensor to counter camera movement. Unlike the three axis gimbals of the past the MoVi does not use servos with pulleys and belts. Another innovation? Instead of off the shelf technology, Freefly has built their own brushless motor controller with ARM Processors allowing them to use custom algorithms to drive the motors at a stronger rate than existing systems. This keeps the motors and the electronics housing small and Freefly has done an excellent job interfacing all points of connection, including a GPS module.
I have found one of the most impressive parts of the MoVi to be the software, and how it adjusts your interaction with the rig. It’s extremely well designed and thought out. With some RC knowledge and an understanding of the center of gravity (CG), it is fairly easy to figure out the various control settings and how to tune and balance the gimbal. (Mind you I have been tuning gimbals and working with PID values for a little over 8 months now, and have been a Steadicam operator for over 15 years).
It is important to understand the basic physics of camera balance before using the MoVi. The M10 comes with a great docking / balancing stand that will allow you to key in balance on all your pivot points. If you do not have a experience in how to counter act an unbalanced camera, this process can take you an hour. Once you know what you are doing you can get the process down in a minute or two. I have seen people spend two hours balancing a rig, simply because they did not understand physics and counter measures. You want your camera to be balanced on all three axis simultaneous as the better the CG, the better the result.
If you are able to balance your camera you are doing several things that aid in getting better results. First, the better the balance, the less power is required for the motors. The less work they do, the longer your batteries last, and the unit operates longer as it runs cooler. Also, less counter action is required which means less stress on all components. So just like a Steadicam, dynamic balance is key. The only difference is that you do not want any drop-time like you do with a Steadicam. You want the tilt, roll and pan to pretty much stay where you put it, which means less work for the motors, controller and ultimately you.
Once you have your camera balanced on all three axis you are then ready to dial in your parameters. Freefly has stepped up to not only provide software for Windows, but also for Mac and Android (I hear iOS devices support is also coming). As I said previously, the software for the system is amazing. Unlike SimpleBGC, Martinez BRUGi, EVVGC etc it is very intuitive and heavily GUI based without unknowns. The MoVi Configurator software is nothing less than astonishing if you have used off the shelf gimbal software. You simply turn on your MoVi, enable Bluetooth to “discoverable” and within a few seconds you are ready to go with the Freefly Configurator. Having it set up on an Android tablet gives you the most flexibility as you can make adjustments on the fly, which is needed for a fast paced set. Unlike anything else the Freefly Configurator shows a live status of:
Software tabs are as follows: Tuning (pan, tilt and roll stiffness settings), Majestic Config (follow mode w/ pan, tilt windows and smoothing), General (application: Handheld or Aerial, roll trim, max and min tilt angles), Remote (pan joystick smoothing, pan joystick exponential, pan joystick window, tilt joystick smoothing), Remote Control Configuration (Radio type: if not stock Spektrum, map remote mode, map remote pan, map remote pan rate, map remote tilt, map remote tilt rate, map remote roll trim) and Expert Mode (for Gyro and output filtering: no need to touch these unless you understand LPF, etc). All of these tabs, in combination with the live status monitoring, are great ways to tune the shot as needed. With dual operator mode you can go from single operator to dual operator, as long as the RC controller is turned on before the MoVi. Switching back and forth between majestic and a second operator makes a great option for complicated shots.
Freefly has done a great job of making the MoVi as user friendly as possible, but like any tool it is best off in the hands of someone who knows how to tune it, operate it and troubleshoot it. Having a MoVi tech on location is highly advisable. If you have never used a rig like this, or do not have understanding of how it works, it could take more than a day to get comfortable with it. Five yourself a few extra days. If renting, ask your rental house if they have a tech on hand who understands the hardware/software and how to aid in shot planning.
There are limitations on what you can do because of the weight. For some reason everyone wants to put the heaviest camera on the rig, not understanding inertial forces and the strain it would put on the body. Although the MoVi can handle a Red Epic and a heavy lens, its best suited for cameras like the Canon 1Dc, or an Epic with a Canon prime. (Or similar weight cameras.) Maxing out the MoVi can be done but its not going to perform the same as it would with a camera that is 2-3 pounds under the maximum. You should also factor in wireless follow focus, and video transmission. The New Hocus Products Axis 1 (not to be confused with the Hocus Focus) is a highly recommended wireless system for the MoVi M10 due to its excellent performance and light weight receiver. For wireless video either the Paralinx or the Teradek Bolt are the go-to in the industry.
Some MoVi tips:
Keep your accessories light, as you will need to mount a motor rod and will probably want to tape a filter to the front of your lens. Keep your cables tidy and out of the way of pivot points on the rig. Slack in your cables for pan, tilt and roll clearance so they do not pull out of what they are attached too. Power your camera and accessories off of a Lipo with 12v regulator to keep the rig as light as possible. Learn the CG of your main cameras you plan to fly with the MoVi. Keep track of your Freefly Configurator settings as they vary for different weights of camera packages and for different shooting styles. Properly charged and balanced batteries are key to optimal operation (buy extras). Note your RC settings and defaults. You can always go back to these as a baseline for tuning which is very important. Get an EZ-Rig. This can greatly add to your operating and amount of up time. It will also save your back and muscles from those long Epic shoots where your arms will feel like rubber afterward. The EZ-Rig will allow you to hand off the rig and vise versa. (This will take some practice to nail.) Think of unconventional ways to put the camera where you could not previously (with a rope, on a Steadicam arm, on a car rig, etc) The MoVi provides hundreds of options that were not possible with this level of stabilization.
So overall the Freefly MoVi M10 offers a lot that other systems cannot provide or do as well. Not only is Freefly Cinema focused on the professional user but they also offer stellar support that is based in the USA. Freefly designed a solid manual and posted some great tutorial videos on their Vimeo channel, which give me an increased level of confidence in the product and its performance. A lot of hard work, dedication and innovation have gone into the Freefly MoVi and you can see it when you pick one up and use it for the first time. Sure there will be competitors, but I think the MoVi brand will be around for a while as they have not made any compromises in quality, build, support and refinement.
The MoVi M10 is priced at $14,995 and comes with the rig, 2 x batteries, a charger, a docking/balance stand, tools, and Spektrum controller. Its little brother the MoVi M5 will be available around end-of-year with a price of $4,995 and comes with the rig, stand, 2 x batteries and a charger. You can pre-order either one or the MoVi MR (for all you RC copter users) at MoViRig . All three are a great investment as they are sure to pay for themselves rather quickly once one demonstrates some of the dynamic shots you can provide to your client / show. Expect to see some MoVi M10 and M5 custom accessories from Sawmill Cinema in the very near future. You can rent the MoVi M10 from Rule Boston Camera by contacting them or myself directly.
Thank you’s to Freefly Cinema, Tabb Firchau, Hugh Bell, Rule Boston Camera, Wide Open Camera, Peter Hoare, Hocus Products, Jared Abrams, Sawmill Cinema, Carson Garner, Philip Bloom and Vincent Laforet.
If you have any questions on the MoVi M10 feel free to email me or hit me up on Twitter or Facebook:
email: mike at mns1974 dot com
One of the hottest things outside of the Freefly MoVi at NAB this year was from a competing multi-rotor company DJI. No it was not a camera stabilizer (although they do make them), but rather their new quad-copter the DJI Phantom. You have all probably seen or know someone who has one as they have blown up in the entry level aerial market. Beyond that the hobby seemed to explode with the release of the Phantom and this was not even much of a topic last year in our business outside of niche experts and specialists. The Phantom looks like a toy but it is in fact an excellent starter to professional GoPro camera ship. A great part of its appeal is its ability to leverage DJI’s Naza technology which for all intensive purposes provides a stable easy to fly aerial platform that does not require a lot of skill to fly. It features a 6 degrees of freedom IMU sensor built into the hardware which communicates shifts in yaw, pitch, roll, acceleration, etc to the quad copters brain telling it to counter those abrupt movements, in-tern providing stabilized flight. They system also features a fail safe in place so that if you break its 2.4Ghz radio contact the Phantom will rise up into the sky come to your launch position and land within a few feet of you (not guaranteed without the GPS upgrade option). Right outside of the box the Phantom for most of us would not cut it for any real quality GoPro work (sounds funny reading that) but with a few modifications and upgrades it can become a very serious tool or at least a gateway to bigger and better copters.
The DJI is a great entry solution that sells for $699. You are going to add probably another $600-1200 in parts, upgrades, etc to sustain it as a hobby or basic aerial platform. Do not think $699 is all you need to get into this. Here are some things you may need or want to get started:
There are several two axis gimbal options for the GoPro that pair well with the Phantom. The first of course is DJI’s own Zenmuse for GoPro Hero 3 which provides rock solid lock on horizon (or any angle you adjust to) without any sacrifices. Vibration, wind, etc are gone as is a good amount of jello that those two things introduce to the GoPro when shooting several hundred feet in the air. Another good gimbal option is the Tarot GoPro gimbal. This is the one I use as it was a fraction of the price and works just as good if not better. You will have to do a few modifications to make this work but nothing more than a few minutes of your time to achieve. Both offer pitch control as long as you have enough channels and a control on your transmitter. There are hundreds of other gimbal options as well that you can pair up with a AlexMos, EvvGc, or Martinez brushless gimbal controller board or of course you can go the servo gimbal route (again if you have the channels available and a way to control pitch)
A great option for the DJI Phantom is going with a better brain. The Naza-M v2 or Wookong auto pilot system expands on what your quadcopter can do in regards to stability and control. The DJI Wookong will allow you to program in waypoints so that you can fly from one GPS co-ordinate to another. Both offer GPS which offers better control for fail safe and coordinates for telemetry downlink. This will give you more data to improve your flying skills as well if you leverage it. If you start to get serious you will want to look into a video downlink with on screen display input so that you can fly via first person view (FPV). Flying this way is more like a video game and for most offers a much better level of flying control. This is a serious consideration for most as once your quad/hexa/octo copter is out of view there is no real way to see where it is heading which can lead to a lost investment. You cannot always bank on failsafe to recover your out of range copter so FPV can ideally be a back up for recovery if you fly out of your field of vision. For FPV you are going to need a video downlink system. Ideally you want a 2.4Ghz or 5.8Ghz transmitter and receiver with a range of at least 1km. You are looking at a 600 – 2000 transmitter with decent antennas. Test this system out before you fly so you know what channels work at the distance you need. Would suck to have video in the air and to loose it out of your field of view and end up flying blind. You will also need a bright outdoors monitor (these are all SD) and a hoodman to block glare and sun. No point in having a first person view if the sun is blocking out the image. You will need a battery to power the monitor and the receiver as well. On the copter side you will want to have some regulated 12v power for the transmitter. Some ferrite cores will reduce and interference you might get from the rest of the copter components which can cause lines in your video link. On top of this you can add an on screen display (OSD) to overlay flight data like horizon, distance, height, voltage, etc. Its always good to know if that battery is about to die so you can be proactive and fly back in advance of a potential crash.
The Phantom has a few upgrade kits to make things easier for you. One of the easiest and most recommended is the prop guard upgrade. This is great if you plan on flying indoors for example or next to buildings. The stock DJI props are very fragile and have even been known to crack in high wind flying which will cause a crash. Look at getting some carbon fiber or carbon nylon mix props. I advise against using larger props as you will burn out your stock motors and will get some erratic flying action especially in higher winds.
Want to go bigger? I use a DJI F450 quad-copter or F550 Hexa-copter which has more lift, a bigger footprint (which could be a bad thing) and more space to cram in electronics. These are sold as kits, as almost ready to fly and as ready to fly. If you have some basics in RC and electronics I would go with a basic kit (F550) which consists of 6x ESC’s, 6x motors, 6x 8″ props, 6x 10″ props, the body, arms, and power lead. You will need some solder, battery, charger, RC transmitter, RC receiver (get more than 4 channels, ideally 7 or 8), and a flight controller. For flight controllers there are several options. The first is to stick with DJI. The Naza, Naza-M v2 and Wookong are the lower to higher end controllers. These tell the motors what the receiver, GPS, power, etc commands and it in exchange determines orientation, compensations, etc to the motors. There are other third parties as well like APM, Multi Wii, Zero UAV, Arduflyer Rabbit etc. Most of these are open source and personally unless you are someone competent in Arduino programing can be a problem and unpredictable. Some of them have a gui of their own but to each his own. I personally like the DJI software as its straight forward, easy to use and now is available on iphone if you have the BTU Bluetooth module option ($50 for Naza-M v2)
If you are an expert then you do not need to read any of this. If you are looking to start big and go pro take a look at the DJI 800 or the Freefly Cinema Cinestar 8 (my dream copter). These beasts can hold a Red Epic with ease and have significant lifting power and maneuverability. When you get into this range you are looking at a serious investment and pretty much all of these are custom setup’s in regards to down link, radios, gimbal control, etc. Look at spending $7k-20K on a setup like this, not to mention the extra parts, etc you will want to have on hand. Maybe even a second one for when…..not if it crashes. I think big or small we have had at least one. When I was flying my Trex 700 helicopter I knew one day I would either never see it again or it would suffer a catastrophic crash. It crashed hard. I sold my backup and stayed away from the hobby for years. Enter the popularity of quad, hexa and quad copters. They have rejuvenated my interest and with the amazing quality of the GoPro Hero 3 Black when in 2.7K shooting in protune the doors have opened again. I am also noticing a lot of wedding shooters, sports shooters etc now getting into FPV and greatly increasing the production value by offering aerial flyovers, etc. There is nothing like a shot that starts at the ground and goes 400′ into the air or a fly around of your lead actor, etc. You can offer some epic shots that you could never have offered in the past without spending thousands of dollars to hire a specialized team. However there are guidelines and restrictions to flying that most may not know about and the law varies from state to state. Legally you can get into some big trouble if you are shooting commercially without a permit and proper clearance, etc from the FAA. You also have to remember peoples sensitivities about privacy etc are also at an all time high and your Phantom can be viewed as a drone by the guy who does not want his backyard to be filmed. Wherever you fly make sure you know your surroundings as well. Flying around people or in crowds is not a good idea. Leave that to the pros. You can seriously hurt someone even with a Phantom. You can do some serious property damage and get yourself into all kinds of legal issues if you do not plan ahead of time. Keep the communication open if you plan on flying in your neighborhood. Talk to your neighbors before you fly over their pool were someone might be sunbathing nude. Most people will be intrigued with your copter but some might think you are spying on them so do yourself a favor and get a vibe of what is and is not cool before you launch.
Last comment is that you will crash. You should have extra propellers, extra arms, ESC’s, motors, batteries, etc. Do not get into this if you can barely pay for it to have the basics. You will be disappointed if you hit a tree or it decides to take off because someones 2.4Ghz baby monitor has a stronger signal on a close channel. Do not bank on failsafe saving your investment / toy from being lost over the treeline. Be smart and fly safe.
Michael N Sutton
you can find me at Rule Boston Camera