Photography and video are two primary reasons why drones have become so popular in recent times. Many years ago, shooting aerial videos was accessible to only those sitting in a helicopter seat or by attaching cameras to kites. The former was expensive while the latter was largely ineffective. The advent of drone technology for capturing aerial footage has improved cinematography as a craft. Nowadays, shooting HD footage of multitude of objects and natural features from different perspectives has become less costly, more accessible and more efficient, thanks to UAVs. They provide non-studio videographers an intriguing medium to capture aerial shots that were previously unattainable. 

Based on the need of a videographer, aerial drones are classified into professional and personal drones. A professional drone for capturing aerial videos typically contains large multi-propeller configuration, fast-flying feature, wind and rain control properties and the ability to land safely if one motor is lost during flight. To a professional cinematographer, a typical working drone has to be able to carry a camera that weighs up to five pounds over a period and must be able to capture still footage up to 6k resolution and use high-quality PL lenses. Thus, professional cinematographers employ the services of professional drone companies with custom-designed drones and skilled pilots who can safely execute a complex shot such as a chase scene. Professional drones are available in hexacopters (which contain six motors and propellers) and octocopters (which contain eight motors and propellers). A typical professional octocopter is the Freefly Systems Cinestar 8 ($6,250), while an example of hexacopter is the DJI S900 drone. The octocopters are more powerful in taking dynamic aerial shots. 

Personal drones for shooting videos usually contain four motors and propellers (quadcopters) and are mostly used by hobbyists for shooting 2k videos. They are low priced (as low as $90 for 720p camera), yet offer considerable level of standard. Examples of Personal drones include DJI Phantom 3 series (starting from $799) and the 3D Robotics Solo ($999). The Phantom 3 series provide easy accessibility for first-time cinematographers to capture still videos. The Solo, on the other hand, offers smooth and mistake-free aerial shots. 

For a starter, there are certain factors to consider in capturing an aerial video with a flying robot. These factors are as follows:

  • Selecting a vehicle – there are budget-friendly at under $500, while a typical remote-control drone cost between $500 and $1,000 (such as the DJI Phantom 2 vision+).
  • Selecting a camera – the GoPro Hero 3+ is capable of shooting video as high as 1440p at 48 frames per second. Other budget camera models use the equivalent of a cheap webcam to capture low-resolution videos (640×480p) to an internal memory card for later viewing. 
  • Selecting a control method – most aerial drones can be operated remotely by hand-held remote controllers or by computers or mobile apps. 
  • Setting a pre-defined flight path – preferably by using google maps. Flight plans used by other users can also be downloaded.  
  • Quality of camera and the motherboard carrying it.

Also, beginners have to be mindful of where to fly their drones, and the local laws regulating the flying of unmanned aircraft. This is to ensure safety during flight and to prevent the drones flying into a car or hitting a person. 

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  • Alex R
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