The Rise of the Multicopter: Aerial Videography as a Service

by planetMitch6 Comments

planetMitch note: this is the third part of a series (part 1 here and part 2) being written for planet5D by TJ Diaz – we'll have more to come soon! Also please note that TJ sells these copters. With the recent changes around using multicopters for photography and video, we thought it appropriate to have an update.

The Promise of Multicopters

From TJ Diaz of XFLY FILMS:

The promise of multicopters used for capturing high-quality aerial videography and photography is getting a lot of creatives very excited. The idea of being able to deliver aerial imagery as a commercial service sparks intense interest within the field due to the low cost compared to manned aircraft.

With the ability to safely lift and return expensive rigs provided by this next generation of unmanned aerial vehicles relatively inexpensively, comes the potential to monetize an aerial videography and photography service that delivers unbelievably stunning shots. The use of multicopters will significantly add to production values and boasts a relatively low cost of initial investment.


Why use a Multicopter for Aerial Videography?

Aerial videography demand is growing. Presently, successful entrepreneurs either own or rent time in low-flying planes or helicopters to capture the creative and stunning images needed by the advertising, feature films, and the production companies that they work for. Planes, helicopters, and pilots can be prohibitively expensive and present an obstacle to many photographers hoping to get into the field.

The status quo is changing.

The FAA is currently addressing regulations required for commercial use of unmanned aerial systems within the borders of the U.S.A. Once approved for commercial use, the sky is literally the limit for talented aerial photographers prepared to enter the industry.

"Expendables 3 BTS"

“Expendables 3 BTS”

Staying Inside the Regulations: Compliance Issues with Soon-To-Be Written FAA Regulations for Unmanned Aerial Systems

Legally, there are currently no laws about the commercial use of MR copters, although there are applications from other areas of the legal system that may apply. These include:

1. Privacy issues. Property owners have the right to restrict access to the land that they own.
2. Safety considerations. Broadly interpreted, when anything is used in a way that causes physical harm to a person or property, an individual may be held accountable under the law. Piloting an unmanned aerial vehicle in an unsafe way is treated in the same way that acting in an unsafe manner with any other tool or vehicle is covered.

The FAA is in the process of developing the rules and regulations meant to address the commercial use of multicopters. Until this work has been completed, the FAA has requested that unmanned aerial systems only be used by hobbyists. Hobbyists are defined as someone who engages in an activity for sheer fun with no type of gain, including monetary.

However, a recent court ruling in an FAA case against aerial videographer Rachel Pirker, who used a remote controlled aircraft to take commercial video for the University of Virginia Medical Center, found that there was no rule to prevent Pirker's use of unmanned aerial videography. To date, while the FAA has threatened additional prosecutions and fines, there have been no convictions and no fines have been issued. This ruling does not open the floodgates for use of UAVs into the national airspace but it is very positive for the unmanned industry. We await further news from the FAA.

"Expendables 3 BTS"

“Expendables 3 BTS”

Expendables 3 BTS

Expendables 3 BTS

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Insurance Points to Ponder

Expect insurance rates for pilots to be calculated in a similar manner as car insurance rates.

• More expensive camera equipment and multicopters will have higher premiums.
• Since larger, heavier and faster equipment can cause more damage, liability costs will be higher than they are for lighter, smaller, and slower devices.
• Pilots who have a good flying record should expect reductions in their premiums over time.
• Companies such as Transport Risk Management are already offering UAV insurance.

Get Ahead of the Game by Learning to Fly a Multicopter Now

Forward-thinking aerial photographers are learning to fly in expectation of the release of the FAA regulations. The Unmanned Vehicle University currently offers a full pilot training certification programs. Outfits such as Troy Built Models and our company, XFLY FILMS, have UAV Pilot training programs as well as offering purpose build aerial photography platforms for sale. In the future, expect to see more creatively designed ads and artistic aerial photography by up-and-coming videographers and photographers who are embracing this new technology.

(cover photo credit: snap from the XFLY FILMS)


  1. In most parts of Europe it is not allowed to fly commercial anymore, without licenses and other stuff. The cost to get a license and comply to all the rules are sky high. Besides, it’s still not entirely clear what you have to do as a company to do it ‘legal’… I hear stories which range from 2000 euro to 8000 euro to get all the licenses and stuff… And ofcourse ‘new’ companies jump on this, with even higher prices for for example octo’s and stuff, since there is no ‘comparison’ yet… Bit the same you have with ‘DSLR video’… it’s ridiculouse to see products with skyhigh prices, promoted even by the ‘big guns’ of cinema, but… you don’t get ‘better’ video or ‘better’ video equipment with it.
    Silly example for example is the rise of brushless motor gimbals… MOVI comes out with a ridiculouse expensive device, 15k+, while most will tell you, it’s not better then those chinese version you can get for around 500-1000 euro!!

    Aerial photography/video will become, hopefully, saver and cheaper,… but till that time, it’s a high risq business.. where you have to invest a shitload of money, high insurance costs, and if everything fails, you loose your whole gear incl. an expensive multicopter. I thought about it, but I’m skipping this one… since there are easier ways of making money (without the risq everytime of loosing all your gear).
    And… before you have payed back all the costs (which will range till 20k)… Besides…. a couple of more accidents… and you run the risq the complete ban of flying with multicopters in the future… and that will happen I’m afraid.

  2. I am considering getting one of these muticoper/drone/rc copter or whatever you want to call them. When I saw this article, I just had to check it out. That is probably the most beast copter I’ve ever seen, seriously looks awesome. I wish I could afford to get one soon, but it’ll have to wait some time.

    I am worried about restrictions flying one though, but I think I’ll be fine.

    1. Mr. Popta:

      Although I understand your point of view I totally disagre with your words.
      1- I don´t think you can say anything about the Movi which is “the reference” in stabilization devices
      2- The prices can´t be cheap. As much as you want it to be safe, flying a 60k-100k rig (a system with a RED i.e.) it is very risky…any problem would mean crashing and wrecking a lot of money. I work professionally with octos hexas etc…and I know this happens. The only chance you have is having high prices to make the business viable as insurance for the equipment is non-existant.
      3- If you crash a rig trying to shoot a more creative/dangerous shot you might be ending your career/business if you crash the copter
      4- Of course you can get cheap multirotors and low end cameras but who will want that? If on the ground people demand quality, which are your arguments to send up a gopro to intercut with a RED, Alexa or even a 5D which is filming on the ground?
      5- To do aerials you have to have a 2 man operation if not 3 being the third a spotter. The man behind the gimbal has to know how to film aerials but more important he has to know how to fly a multirotor othertwise he will not even understand what he his doing but not knowing what the multirotor can do…
      6- Unfortunately the more expensive it is the more reliable it is and aimed at pro markets. Otherwise sucessful manufacturers like “Freefly” or “DJI” wouldn´t be selling expensive stuff and being successful if there wasn´t a justification for their products.
      7- If you want to “play aerials” by all means go ahead and buy clones and cheap controllers. The market is full of garbage but then do come to forums afterwards saying you had a flyaway and lost your beloved clone and camera. This is the reality when people want to save money and want to do high end jobs.
      8- Aerial filming is “not” for everyone. There is a huge gap between pros and amateurs and pros wannabes. I might sound like pretentious but I have been in this market for years and have been through all the steps people are still on. I had the same thoughts and paid by my own experimenting. In conclusion there is no cheap and good, cheap and reliable and cheap and performant. As my grand father said…what´s good costs money.

  3. I’m making a movie right now, and there’s been an arial shot I’ve wanted to take for some time, I tried other rigs like this and nothing has really worked. This is something I am very interested in and will be doing more research into. I am liking what I am seeing so far. And about the air restrictions, I’m sure most places wont mind as long as it’s not impeding on anyone’s life.

  4. I welcome more film makers to use copters/rc copters to get the film they need. I’ve tried it myself, yet failed to bring in any good footage. I like this for what it is, it looks of better quality than the cheap RC copter I used.

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