By Mark Foley, MBA, BA, Technology Editor, ProductionHUB
Just in case you haven’t been paying attention or have been living under a rock, we are now way past the intro stage of drones, to a full force invasion of epic technology. The drone(s) for the film and video production world have changed so many of the dynamics of production, from planning and safety, and FAA regulations, to getting shots that just couldn’t have been possible even a few year ago.
So as just to clarify, we are talking some serious production tools that run from the intro level shooting in 2.7K to 4K to all the way out to the “big boys” of 5k and beyond? And why not? Have you seen some of the mad crazy beautiful footage lately? Including exteriors and interiors?
My buddy even shot some crazy interior footage in a car dealership!
Just awesome, awesome footage. Now, that even includes VR 360 footage. So, if you have the vision and the resources, drones can and will continue to dramatically reshape and redefine your production look.
If there were to be a presumptive leader of the drone pack, then DJi would have to be considered one of the front-runners and innovators of the professional market. Headquartered in Shenzhen, China DJi started as a single small office in 2006 to a current workforce of over 3,000 in the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, Beijing and Hong Kong. From some serious large scale products like the very cool Ronin-MX to the Phantom 4, DJi has a solid product application for nearly every segment of the drone marketplace. So lets take a look under the hood at DJi.
I kinda of look at production gear maybe a little different than most. If you can integrate more than one product from the same company together then why the heck not? The marriage of the Ronin and the M600 do just that. When I am out on a shoot, I gotta get my set ups down and my shots done pretty fast. It is pretty impressive when you can go from a gimbel shot on the ground to airborne in minutes. The presets are just so critical for that when more than one operator might be involved. Plus the idea that one can come over on a shot 135 degrees on the axis, means just that much more creative latitude that cinematographers want. Manufactured to resist high G-forces using powerful motors and IMUs, the Ronin-MX is engineered to maintain stability and hold horizon when mounted to an aircraft or a vehicle. When mounted to the M600 aerial system, it communicates directly with DJI’s flight controller and when attached to vehicles, it connects to an optional GPS module allowing it to stabilize actively for a smoother shot. Yes and another thing - the fact that one can choose the camera they want (Red, BlackMagic Design, Canon, and Panasonic to name a few) is just fantastic. Learning (and implementing) new-to-you technology can be daunting enough, so if at least you know your camera and the settings for that camera that is one less hassle for you. So if I am going to go all in, I dig this set up. With a combined price of $60,004 it may not be the least expensive but sure seems to me like a pretty big bang for the buck.
But enough of the RoninMX lets shift to the Phantom 4. Sometimes you need to impress, and sometimes you might not have the bucks to go all in. Or maybe you already have a great gimbel set up you like and just want to add a sexy drone to your equipment list. Here is a great option, The DJi Phantom 4, lists at $1400. Like most of drones in this space I love all of the improvements in the operational qualities.
Some functions include sonar sensors, safe return, improved battery and HD monitoring. These are great. But if you want to be spot on precision hovering is your goal.
An advanced stereo Vision Positioning System (VPS) gives the Phantom 4 precise hovering, even without satellite positioning support. The VPS also allows it to brake instantly and hover when joystick controls are released. If disturbed during a hover, it will track the Phantom 4's movement and return it to its original hovering point. So I am thinking ok, the Phantom 4 is pretty cool then I came across these last two features that make it a no brainer. The first is Tap to Fly. Double tap the screen and while you’re up in the air the new Obstacle Sensing System keeps the Phantom clear of obstacles that might hinder flight. Then when complete, with another tap, Smart Return Home brings it back. The second really cool thing is ActiveTrack. Active Track makes tracking a moving subject possible. Turn on Moving POI to circle around your subject as they move or reframe your shot by dragging the subject on screen. No band or beacon required. So instead of having to be an expert drone pilot, the Phantom figures out by itself (AI) how to track without you (more likely me) smashing your new investment into a tree.
Also, DJI may be mostly known for drones, but it also has Osmo, a handheld device that stabilizes video cameras to give the video an appearance of drone-like footage, but from the ground.
DJI also recently announced Osmo RAW, and an upgraded version of Osmo that now allows it to be used with its X5 and X5R micro four-thirds cameras.
Freefly Alta 8
Most likely considered by many to be at the top of the list of the drone world, the Freefly Alta 8 is one serious drone, built to carry some of the heaviest payloads maxing out at up to 40lbs. The ALTA 8 + MōVI M15 Bundle prices out at $25,435.00. At first I thought man, that's expensive. Then I took a step back and said, ok how much does an Alexa with a prime cost? How much does a Canon Mark III with glass cost? Get my point? If you are going to fly a REALLY expensive camera maybe the investment isn’t so bad after all. The Alta 8 has some really nice features too. Like the Toad in the Hole feature allowing for a quick switch out from ground to drone and back. Also, the fact you can top mount a camera gives the shooter that much more flexibility about the shots they want to get. The Alta 8 also folds down to about half of its operating size for transport, so that isn’t too shabby either.
EHang’s GhostDrone 2.0 VR
Moving on, how about the GhostDrone 2.0 VR for controlling the drone’s camera with your head? Right that's what I said. Why control a drone with your fingers when you can simply tilt your head to make it move?
That’s what EHang wants you to do. Pop on a pair of VR goggles, tilt your head and watch your drone’s camera move in sync with your head.
The GhostDrone 2.0 VR, carries a 4K spherical camera. Users who put on the accompanying virtual-reality goggles can not only see the drone’s perspective, but can control the camera angle of their drone via head movement. EHang is the same drone-maker that surprised audiences at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year with a 5-foot- tall, 500-pound, fully electronic drone that is large enough to fit a human inside. The GhostDrone 2.0 VR sells for $1,099. The VR goggles can also be purchased separately for $349.
Xiaomi’s first drone is official, the Mi Drone. Aimed right at the Phantom marketspace the Mi Drone carries a 15.2V battery that is built into this device, and it has a capacity of 5,100mAh. Xiaomi says that the Mi Drone can fly up to 27 minutes on a single battery charge. The more affordable Mi Drone variant is priced at ($381), while the 4K variant costs ($457). The device also comes with Global Positioning System and Glonass.
The drone also features a virtual fence – meant for new drone owners as they tend to lose control of the drone at times (again, most likely me) until they can become more experienced pilots. The Mi Drone employs a modular design that folds away the landing gear, allowing the drone to be stowed into a backpack. I like that feature as I tend to bring so much gear (like everything) out to shoots. The remote control of the Mi Drone also uses a smartphone as its viewfinder. Last time I checked the 4K Mi Drone is going to be available for testing through an open beta program by the end of July.
Yuneec Typhoon H
Yuneec has created the completely new and radically redesigned Typhoon H 4K drone to sale for pre-order. The Typhoon H comes with a factory-installed Intel RealSense R200 camera with Intel Atom processing technology backing it up. Along with these features comes an ST16 remote controller and accessory Wizard Dual controller for dual operator use of the Typhoon H. Also included in the H package are two rechargeable battery units, extra propellers and a custom-designed backpack case.
The Intel’s RealSense technology, allows the Typhoon H to fly autonomously and intelligently even in an obstacle-heavy course without crashing. According to Yuneec, the Intel RealSense R200 camera in the Typhoon H and the drone’s quad core Intel Atom processing module work together seamlessly with the UAV flight control firmware to deliver a highly intelligent obstacle navigation system and autonomous flight capacity. In essence, the new Intel system for this drone maps out and adapts to its environment in 3D so that it can then recognize all of the obstacles around it in real time, accurately and thus able to plan alternative routes around a given area in which the Typhoon H is flying.
One other aspect of the RealSense and Atom processor module combo in the H drone is an array of downward facing sensors for higher flight stability and more accurate flying in close quarters where GPS navigation is ineffective.
Typhoon H is equipped with six rotors, a 360 degree central gimbal for unlimited panning and stunning full circle 4K UHD video recording, and the more standard-issue 12 megapixel still photo capacity. The Typhoon H also comes with retractable landing gear for unobstructed 360 degree video and photo shooting. There is also an ultrasonic proximity detection system in the H drone for avoiding large obstacles during manual flight (when RealSense is deactivated) and finally a six-rotor safety failsafe system for letting this newest Typhoon land safely even if a motor fails inside it. Yuneec is now offering the UAV for pre-order for $1899 from major retailers and online at their own website.
Lets face it drones are here for good, and I think that is fantastic. I’ve heard naysayers that spout off about how drones are just a fad, to be taken over by the next cool thing. Really? Drones have transformed how we design, plan, and rethink almost everything about production.
Are there issues with drone production? Sure, safety and responsible piloting to be sure. But I am more excited about the possibilities in production.
Aren’t you? After all, it is getting “the shot” that matters right?
About Mark Foley
Mark J. Foley is the Technology Editor for ProductionHUB. Mark has an extensive production background having produced and directed award-winning live college and professional sports, broadcast and documentaries. In addition to his work at ProductionHUB, Mark is currently in production on his third documentary, The Herreshoff Legacy and The First Family of American Yachting, slated for completion later this year.