This post is about building an aerial video drone fleet. This September the company I work for is putting on a large convention in Vienna Austria. Leading up to the kickoff of the event, we are planing a massive road rally with four starting points in major European cities. If all goes as planned, hundreds of company branded cars will converge on Vienna originating from Venice, Prague, Munich, and Budapest.
I’ve been tasked with coordinating four production teams to capture the journey from each of the four origin points. After showing our chairman aerial video and photos that I was able to capture while in the Maldives, it was easy to get approval to put together no less than four Phantom 2 + Gopro Hero 3+ Aerial video/photo systems.
Wether you are building a production fleet or just want to get started with a solid aerial photo and video quadcopter, here are all the parts I recommend.
1. Phantom 2 – For the price and ease of use, you really can’t beat the Phantom 2 in my opinion. No, you won’t be flying a DSLR under one, but GoPros are getting so good nowadays that I really don’t think that’s a problem. If the first generation of the Phantom was good, the Phantom 2 is great! If you are careful, practice, follow all of the rules, and get comfortable with the fail safe features it’s possible to never (or rarely) have a crash (knock on wood).
2. Zenmuse H3-3D three axis gimbal – This little part deserves most of the credit for getting usable footage out of the Phantom platform. The older 2 axis gimbal helped, but this new 3 axis gimbal for GoPro really delivers silky smooth video and helps when taking pictures to keep motion blur out of your shots. The new Phantom 2 controller has a lever that allows you the adjust the tilt of the camera while you are flying. It’s easy for a single operator to frame and execute a shot while the gimbal does the work of keeping the camera level, stable, and free from vibration.
3. GoPro hero 3+ – There is a great review on the GoPro lineup over on Cnet, but suffice it to say that these little action cameras are only getting better and better. The hero 3+ black edition has impressive video recording capabilities. For most purposes on Phantom flights I recommend setting the GoPro on 1080p at 60 fps. This will allow you to slow the footage down in editing and get smooth slow motion. This version of the GoPro has a wifi connectivity feature which allows you to control the camera via your smartphone or a remote. It’s extremely important that you turn the wifi feature OFF while flying your Phantom 2. The wifi signal has been known to interfere with the Phantom 2 signal and can cause your quadcopter to fly away or crash.
4. Goprofessional Case – Once in a while a product comes along that is simply perfect and I can’t stop raving about. The Goprofessional Case for the Phantom 2 is one of those products. They’ve simply thought of everything. It’s the perfect size to accommodate a Phantom 2 with gimbal, GoPro, and propellors attached. They have laser cut slots for spare batteries, the transmitter, charger, spare propellors, fat shark FPV goggles, and even a screwdriver. I can’t recommend them enough. To order four cases I called their headquarters and received quick and friendly customer service. I’m not sure how you could make a better case for this setup. I believe it is small enough to carry on an airplane, although I have yet to test that theory.
5. Fat Shark FPV Goggle System – First person view, or FPV for short has been around in the RC world for quite some time. It was only natural to start using it on aerial video quadcopters to help the user line up and execute the perfect shot. A HUGE side benefit of FPV is that it makes controlling the Phantom 2 even easier. If you are flying without FPV, you have to maintain a visual orientation on the quadcopter to keep and maintain control. With FPV you get to sit in the pilots seat and it makes it super easy to keep orientation, just like a video game. I highly recommend upgrading the two stock antennae with these higher range Clover Leaf antennae. For serious video or photo work, FPV is a necessity.
6. Spare Phantom 2 Batteries – Yes, they are terribly expensive but two or three extra batteries are essential, especially if you will be flying in a remote area with no ability to recharge. I find you can get 20-25 min of flying time out of a charge, but I usually don’t like to push it past 15 min to be safe.
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