The Rise of the Multicopter and Aerial Photography – a new planet5D series

by planetMitch14 Comments

We welcome TJ Diaz (from xFly Films) as a guest blogger – he's going to write a series on using multicopters for Aerial Photography – including some discussion on the dos and don'ts in future articles. In the USA, there's been a lot of discussion of the risks and there will be some new rules coming as to who, when, where you can fly. So keep your eyes peeled on planet5D for more! Here's how TJ proposed the series to me…

The Aerial world is rapidly growing and we have tested many cam's from dslr's all the way to the Epic. This type of production is on the tipping point of becoming a must have in most productions. The only hold back at this point is the FAA and Commercial use of these aircraft in national airspace.

I'm trying proactively stay ahead of the rules and regs curve, and have completed executive UAV certifications with the Unmanned Vehicle University. With only a few more hoops to jump through I am in position very well to legitimately fly commercially in the US.

So many topics to cover from the technology, to the camera's, and of course tracking rules and regs; the hot topic

TJ's 2012 ‘tribute' video:
[tentblogger-vimeo 56615993]

Rise of the Multicopter

Over the past decade, news headlines from around the world have reported drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. Unmanned aerial vehicles are controlled remotely by pilots on the ground, thus avoiding the risk to their lives. Many drones can remain airborne for 24 hours or more, operating beyond the limits of human endurance. For militaries with access to the necessary resources, drones have become a valuable tool and almost commonplace.

Too expensive for commercial or individual use, the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator, a staple of the United States military, is rumored to cost $37 million. While defense contractors were making drones for the U.S. military, hobbyists were bolting iPhones onto their RC helicopters. The Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) industry is fairly new, with a focus on consumer products. This has been brought about by the demand for low-cost, flying robots that navigate, communicate and sense.

TJ Diaz - Aerial Photography with XFlySystems

TJ Diaz – Aerial Photography with XFlySystems

One of the most expensive parts of a drone is the hardware for remote flight control. However, the demand for smartphones and their technology has dramatically decreased the cost of miniaturized computers. It is now possible for a business or individual to purchase a flight-capable mini-computer for less than $50. Today, a remote controlled flight hobbyist can get started for around $700 and a Go Pro camera. DJI Phantom RTF

Commercial drones, unlike consumer drones, are still illegal in The United States. The American Federal Aviation Administration hasn't issued rules yet for how commercial drones will fit into the already busy skies safely, nor has it addressed the privacy concerns that come with aerial cameras. The FAA is expected to authorize commercial use of UAV's in 2015. This will undoubtedly lead to an explosion in demand for robotic aircraft.

Already, in Germany, drones are used to inspect the blades of wind turbines, farmers use them to survey their crops and oil companies use them to monitor pipelines. Filmmakers will put them to use as will journalists, civil engineers, realtors and artists. The U.S. Army is testing unmanned freight carrying drones.

Multicopters are a type of drone with at least four independent props. Each prop and its motor are located at the corner of the aircraft. These props are balanced for stability and ease of use. In the past, flying an aircraft required a thorough understanding of flight controls and piloting skills. With a multicopter, a small on-board computer handles the difficult aspects of flying. One of the most challenging aspects of flying a traditional remote control helicopter is the wind. To hover an aircraft in the same location, an RC pilot must make continual flight adjustments. However, with a multicopter, complex flight adjustments are not necessary. Through the use of GPS receivers, barometric sensors and flight control systems, a multicopter can hover in the same area of the sky indefinitely. This makes it easy to take photographs and video. Businesses and individuals can now benefit in many ways using multicopters.

A multicopter before takeoff

A multicopter before takeoff

In 2008, a multicopter pilot remotely flew his aircraft next to a large meat processing facility in North Dakota. From an altitude of several hundred feet, the pilot took photos of the surrounding area. The photos revealed a bright red river flowing from the meat processing facility. The river contained biological waste, a violation of EPA regulations. The meat processing facility was forced to discontinue its harmful practices.

Multicopters are a valuable tool for real estate agents. With a multicopter, it's easy to take aerial photos of a home or commercial property. With a DLSR camera, a multicopter can take high-resolution, color-accurate photos from a unique overhead vantage point, several hundred feet over the subject. Using a gyroscopic gimbal stabilizer, a multicopter can produce a high-quality platform for digital photographers and videographers who want unique and stylish photos for weddings, communal events and much more. Multicopters can be used for nature and wildlife photography, and other photographic opportunities that are not available through traditional techniques.

A multicopter with a Canon HDSLR

A multicopter with a Canon HDSLR

While many multicopters have limited payload capacity, some newer models are designed to haul heavier loads. Imagine that a construction firm needs to set up a rope transport between two large buildings, too far apart to throw a rope. With a multicopter, a rope can be easily transported from one building to another. Multicopters can also be used by environmental groups to take air, water and ground samples.

While multicopters are still in their infancy, they are already being used for livestock monitoring, wildfire mapping, home security and oil, gas and mineral exploration. In Australia firm has developed a system that can fly into a hurricane and communicate data directly to the National Hurricane Center in Florida. While technology is growing, the potential uses for multicopters are limitless. The only limitations of multicopters are those of human ingenuity and imagination.

Next up:
How to choose the right Multicopter for your Aerial Photography

TJ Diaz is the Founder and CEO at XFLY SYSTEMS. He has thousands of flights under his belt and countless hours of designing, building and testing Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) for Aerial Photography and Videography. TJ holds executive sUAS certifications from Unmanned Vehicle University and XFLY SYSTEMS is a corporate member of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI); the world's largest non-profit organization devoted exclusively to advancing the unmanned systems and robotics community. XFLY SYSTEMS is based out of Denver, Colorado.

(cover photo credit: snap from TJ)


  1. Hi from the UK! It is good to see this being featured as
    there will certainly be more and more of these around over the next
    few years and it is really important they are used responsibly and
    safely to allow the industry to grow. We are a commercial UAV
    company in the UK. Fortunately, we are able to operate commercially
    by passing a pilot qualification and registering our aircraft with
    the Civil Aviation Authority. I hope the US FAA will follow suit in
    the next couple of years as the potential for these systems is
    immense. The main limitation at present is battery life, so
    “indefinitely” is probably a slightly misleading phrase, but that
    is gradually improving. Interesting times indeed! All the best.
    Elliott – HexCam

  2. Pingback: The Rise of the Multicopter and Aerial Photography – a new planet5D series | VideoDrome |

  3. Great article Mitch. I’ve always been interested in these for the potential they offer the film maker.

  4. I think the guys that shot this video need some more practice with their rig. There was lots of potential for some dramatic shots in some of the locations, but due to lack of imagination of lack of skill they didn’t show up in the video.

  5. I am fired up about these articles, especially the one on picking the right copter. I was given a small quadcopter as a gift to practice on before investing some larger dollars and crashing! That said, I am interested in non-large dollar options! Thanks!

  6. Great idea and very useful new technology. I am looking
    forward to the development of the high payload multicopter for
    video use The second to last photo appears to be a multicopter
    holding a GH2 not a Canon HDSLR. Correct me if i’m wrong. Great
    article Mitch! very interesting stuff

  7. Pingback: The Rise of the Multicopter and Aerial Photography - a new planet5D series | planet5D - the best DSLR video community on the planet! | The Future of Photography |

  8. LOVE the new article Mitch! What a great way for someone
    like myself to learn about up and coming technology without having
    to do countless hours of research or spend several thousands of
    dollars on trial and error -JM

  9. @Charles, the 2012 tribute was all of our BTS footage from
    the year. We did the mashup just for fun. Thanks for the criticism
    though. Hopefully you’ll enjoy our upcoming 2013 reel. -TJ

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  11. Pingback: The Rise of the Multicopter and Aerial Photography « GLJ Media Group

  12. Last month we used a multicopter for the first time in a music video. I was thoroughly impressed with the shots we were able to get at a relatively low cost. Here is the video, also in the description, there is a link to view the BTS video which shows how we got a few of those shots.

  13. As time goes by, the number of UAVs in use is growing by leaps and bounds. The potential uses list is miles long.  In the end, this multi-billion dollar industry will prevail and reasonable regs will be implemented.

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