Altitude Shots – Canon HDSLRs flying high in an RC Helicopter

by planetmitch5 Comments

Canon HDSLRs seem to be breaking boundaries everywhere – including high flying aerial shots. We've been chatting with Jamie Hamlin from and we've asked a couple of questions about how all this is accomplished.

Redrock Micro

Jamie's sample video

AltitudeShots Reel from Jamie Hamlin on Vimeo.

About flying an HDSLR

The helicopter is total electric so there is little noise and no emissions. It is able to carry any camera up to 6 lbs but we are currently using the Canon EOS 5D Mark II (reviews) and Canon EOS 7D (reviews). The camera head we use is stabilized on all 3 axis and has full 360 degree pan, tilt and roll. The feed from the camera is sent down to my camera operator who is viewing it on a screen and manipulating the camera head to frame the shot.

What are clients looking for?

Last year we were really focusing on the action sports industry. Found that a lot of the angles they were using have been rehashed and rehashed so we offer them some different, more dynamic camera movements. We have been called upon to shoot anything from the Howe and Howe Tech crew doing demolition testing (helicopter actually took a hit from falling debris) to the apple tree bloom in Washington state. I hate to narrow it down as far as what we shoot. The uses are so diverse that I have actually been out to assist with search and rescue missions as well. My goal when we come on a set is to provide camera movements not previously available or if so with a lot of work in pre and post production.

please tell us more about the helicopters

I am flying 2 different helicopters right now. One is a full custom cameraship that has no purpose other than to film. The other is a smaller helicopter that is a backup to the large filmship. We are also taking receipt of a large 8 ft wingspan remotely piloted airplane that wil have 2 cameras on it. One will be the 7D and the other will be a camera for me as the pilot to fly with. This will allow me to pilot just looking at my own screen similar to how the military flies their drones. My camera operator will have full control on the camera head on the airplane just like the helicopters. This will open the door for super long slow shots like following a skier from the top of a run all the way to the bottom.

Every aircraft we own is electric. Don't let that fool you as with the new battery technology and electronics, these aircraft are pushing out several horsepower and can stay in the air 15 minutes with a 5 minute safety margin for landing.

How'd you get started and how'd you learn to fly? Can't anyone do this?

As far as training goes… this all started with a major passion.. ah screw it addiction to remote control helicopters. There is no formal training for what I do. You start with a small hobby helicopter and money spending starts! For the next 2-3 years I spent every spare moment flying and repairing helicopters. Its all part of the learning curve. I like to compare flying one of these to balancing on a bowling ball and juggling 3 bowling pins. Very complex but once it all clicks…. there is a natural flow and feel to your controls. Time, money, and some serious fine tuning is what gets these amazing shots. There are a lot of guys trying but not many succeeding in getting this type of footage from this type of platform. I'm VERY passionate about this Mitch. That's what it takes to make this whole project come together. There are ups and downs along the way and not many people have the passion to push through them and see the final result.

why an HDSLR?

We went through many cameras and shared our opinions collectively. I personally chose the 7D for its low light capabilities and the cinematic look it gives. Also the weight saving gives us a few extra minutes in the air. With that said, we have flown an HVX200 for one client no problem and that's a beast of a camera. We will fly whatever camera the production prefers.

I personally fly the Canon 10-22mm lens. Give a nice wide vista view without distortion at about 12mm and get get more intimate if cranked in. Again we fly many lenses according to what the production requires.

Their demo reel

AltitudeShots Reel from Jamie Hamlin on Vimeo.

Demo reel from some of our recent projects. We started out the year with a Panasonic prosumer camera. As the year moved on we progressed through several cameras finally deciding to shoot with a Canon T2i.

Thanks and enjoy!

Our thanks to Jamie for taking the time to show us his work – and good luck with the business!

(cover photo credit: snap from )

Zeiss Cinema Lenses


  1. It amazes me at how far technology has advanced today.
    The shots in the sample reel are shots that an entire crew plus helicopter would have to be hired for back in the day. Good stuff.

  2. I wonder if they got like a wireless monitor to see what they are filming atleast would help getting the shots than trying to fly blind.

    1. Yes, operators of these helicopter systems are using microwave video downlinks to view camera feed in real time.

  3. Chung Dha-yes the feed is sent to a monitor and my camera operator is viewing it and manipulating the different axis of the camera head to frame the shot. We also usually tether off to a monitor for production to look at so they can give their input.

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