Rise of the Multicopter for AP part two – “Choosing the right Multicopter”

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planetMitch note: this is the second part of a series (part 1 here) being written for planet5D by TJ Diaz – we'll have more to come soon! Also please note that TJ sells these copters

Join in on the conversation about Multicopters for photography and video in the planet5D forums – this is a whole new section!

If you’re interested in flying for entertainment purposes, or you’re using a Multicopter for purposes other than aerial photography, your needs might be somewhat different. However, if you’re using a Multicopter for aerial photography (AP), you’re going to have some very specific needs. You’ll need to know how to choose the right Multicopter to ensure your images turn out crisp and clear. Here are a few purchase considerations you should consider when selecting a Multicopter for AP

Aerial Photography vs. Aerial Cinematography

Your needs will vary greatly when it comes to the type of film you are concentrating on. If you’re involved in aerial cinematography, you might need a Multicopter that is capable of carrying a heavier payload. Of course, this is assuming that your camera is heavier and not your standard digital camera switched on video mode. Cinematography is much less forgiving than photography. Your shots have to be smooth and your Multicopter has to fly almost flawlessly to achieve desired results. In aerial photography it is much easier to achieve the desired results.

Stability and Payload

Stability is an important factor in obtaining the clearest images. If your Multicopter isn’t stable, you’re photos will generally turn out poorly. The weight of your camera and lens will factor into this heavily.

The Rise of the Multicopter for Aerial Photography - Typical Payloads

The Rise of the Multicopter for Aerial Photography – Typical AP/AV payloads

If you’re wanting to fly a full size HDSLR ie Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon 7D, etc… you’ll need to choose a Multicopter that can carry the additional weight of HDSLR’s. With HDSLR’s you will want to ensure you select a rigid Hexacopter or Octocopter with large booms, motors, props and batteries. In the image below you can clearly see an example of the different in boom sizes that are widely available.

different in boom sizes that are widely available

different in boom sizes that are widely available – photo via ZM INTERACTIVE

As a general guideline, the typical boom sizes for Micro four thirds ie Panasonic GH2, GH3 to full frame HDSLR’s ie Canon EOS 5D Mark III, are roughly 300MM to 450MM in length compared to the typical boom for a Cinema camera ie RED Epic, Sony FS700, Canon EOS C300, Canon EOS C500 which is approximately 800MM to 1100MM in length.

Camera Stability

Once you select an airframe that matches your camera payload, you must now determine the best way to stabilize your camera. At this stage you must select a proper gimbal to mount your camera to the camera ship. There are a lot of Gimbals in the marketplace but like everything not all are created equal. The Gimbal is usually the weakest link in the entire AP/AV system. A Gimbal will typically offer Pan Tilt and Roll stabilization.

However, you must consider the form factor of your camera and then decide what size mount you will need for your application. In addition to the mechanical side of the Gimbal, you will also need electronic gimbal stabilization; a system that keeps the horizon level always. Gimbal stabilization is not cheap so budget will be a big factor in deciding what system to go with. Gimbal stabilization is not a trivial task and typically the cost of a Pro system will far exceed that of most HDSLR’s. With AP you may be able to get away with a less expensive system but for AV you must have a precise system or your image’s will suffer tremendously.

The CineStar 3 Axis Gimbal from Free Fly Systems with a Sony FS100

The CineStar 3 Axis Gimbal from Free Fly Systems with a Sony FS100

The PS1 HD3 Gimbal, RED Epic, and XFLY Systems Gimbal Stabilization System.

The PS1 HD3 Gimbal, RED Epic, and XFLY Systems Gimbal Stabilization System.

Not to fret, there are good alternative lower price point options available for budget conscious productions. Many enthusiasts use smaller cameras, especially on lower end Multicopters. Since these types of cameras are lighter, it’s easier to get them mounted and stabilized. Additionally, if you’re using a smaller camera, you might get away with purchasing a less expensive aircraft. However, no matter which option you plan on choosing, the camera mount will always be the most important factor after Multicopter selection in ensuring a great shot.

AP/AV Platforms to consider.

For the Enthusiasts:

Small camera’s like the GoPro HD3 with the new NOVO MOD or the Sony  DSC‑RX100 can acquire great images at a fraction of the price of larger DSLR’s that require more expensive Hexacopter’s and Octocopters to fly them. The DJI Phantom is an excellent choice for providing ample flight stability with GPS functionality. The Phantom comes ‘ready to fly’ and can assist aerial photography enthusiasts of all skill levels in acquiring smooth aerial shots in just a few days.  The Phantom is priced reasonably and little to no knowledge is needed to assemble and configure this small Multicopter.


For the Prosumer’s

For those that want to advance and have more budget allocated for AP/AV, the Spreading Wings S800 is a good option suitable for advanced and professional operators. This camera ship is not very difficult to assemble, very portable, and has one of the best gimbals available on the market. This hexacopter is an excellent choice for small to medium sized productions.

DJI Spreading Wings S800

DJI Spreading Wings S800

For the Professional’s

If you're looking for commercial AP/AV shooting options and want a top of the line product, you could opt for the Cinestar 8. This high end Multicopter is superb for shooting HDTV and Feature Films. The price range for this copter is approximately $10,000 USD to $18,000 USD. Cinestar’s are highly customized to exact user specifications so it’s best to really understand your requirements prior to purchasing a Cinestar.  However, if you have the budget this may be the best multicopter for the money.

TJ Diaz piloting the Cinestar8 with Free Fly 3 Axis Gimbal

TJ Diaz piloting the Cinestar8 with Free Fly 3 Axis Gimbal

Next up: Getting the shot using Multicopters. Range, Endurance, Speed, FPV, Telemetry, Waypoint Flying, Single Operator and Dual Operator Options.

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 is a UAV flight instructor for 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)

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