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A Bird’s Eye View – Aerial Video and Drones

The revolution of Aerial Cinematography is constantly evolving. Innovative new technology comes out every month helping the filmmaker to create interesting and dynamic content. This is especially apparent in drone technology. With platforms that are ready to go out of the box it gives filmmakers a plethora of image solutions that were not possible 5 years ago.

With the rapid acceleration of technology users can be up in the air capturing epic shots in the matter of minutes. Although this is great for the consumers, professionals are finding more and more rules and regulations being implemented by the CAA. More on that later…

Making Aerial Video Affordable

Amazing sunrises, incredible landscapes and epic cityscapes are all familiar types of shots that can be captured using drones. There is obviously the wow factor when it comes to aerial videography. But thinking outside the box these platforms can be used for much more. For example instead of hiring in an expensive jib to get a rising shot, a drone can be used to get the same shot at a fraction of the price. Similarly, drones can used to film content that gives a sense of scale, such as an external view of your premises or the factory floor, that would have been prohibitively expensive just a few years ago.

A drone can get places that no other camera can and provide those epic shots we all love. It used to be that large scale productions would hire in helicopters for these types of shots, but with the advance of technology you can attach a high end production camera to a drone and get it up in the air within a matter of minutes.

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While many amateur pilots and cameramen can get hold of basic technology and start creating aerial content, professional kit and experienced filmmakers take drone footage to another level.

Being able to capture these shots needs a machine that can handle the demands of the filmmaker. The Inspire 1 Pro (as the title suggests) is definitely catered towards the professional filmmaker. Being able to have a two man team on the job makes obtaining certain shots fairly simple. With a two man team, one person will handle the flying aspect of the drone, and the other will operate the camera. This is by far the most efficient way of flying. It takes less time to get it in the air and capture the shots you need as well as offering a fine degree of control and improved safety.

Drone Technology

DJI Technology has really cornered the market when it comes to drones, their innovation has led the way to some really interesting and exciting technology. As the industry is fairly new, companies such as DJI are pushing out drone after drone. A good example of this is their Phantom line, with what seems like a new platform coming out approximately every six months.

This can be taken as good and bad. The good being the technology is improving all the time, with vision sensors being added and all new intelligent flight modes. The bad being that your brand new drone could be out-dated a few months after purchase. Although it seems many industry pilots do not upgrade as soon as a new model comes out. This could be because the updates in the newer model do not warrant an immediate change. For example when you compare the Inspire 1 Pro to the Inspire 2 the difference is not that much in the grand scheme of things. The Inspire 1 Pro can still capture stunning aerial shots and has the performance needed to carry out most tasks.

NRG AIR_ TEST FLIGHT from NRG Digital Group on Vimeo.

The future is certainly very interesting. As mentioned earlier it seems like the big industry names are pushing out drone after drone to keep up with the demand of the modern day filmmaker. I think the main improvements to look out for are size and performance. When you look at a product such as the DJI Mavic (a Coke can sized drone) it packs a 4k camera, advanced GPS and much more. Eventually I think we will see a cinema standard camera on board a small but powerful drone.

Although DJI are the industry leaders when it comes to ‘prosumer’ drones, there are some up and coming companies including Walkera, 3DR and Yuneec. They’re catching up and it is going to be very interesting to see what they can offer in the future.

When looking at the big Hollywood production drones, Freefly’s Alta 6 and 8 dominate the market. These are drones with a price tag of over £10,000 and pack a real punch when it comes to performance. With the option to either have 6 or 8 motors these drones can carry heavy payloads such as the Alexa mini or most RED camera systems making them great for Hollywood style productions.

With such a large payload comes a greater deal of risk. Crashing a £1000 drone compared to a £10,000 drone is a big difference. This is why in order to operate the Alta’s you have to do a similar but more intense training course than what you would if it was a DJI phantom or Inspire. This also comes at a price with the Alta’s being over 13kg it means higher CAA application costs.

Safety Aspect & Challenges

With the recent rules and regulations being introduced by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) it is proving more challenging for drone pilots to operate commercially. For those wanting to gain a PfCO (Permit for Commercial Operation) they must go through a certain process. You can pick which company you want to do your training in a prices range from £750 up to £1200.

The difference in price is reflected in which type of course you do. For example there are online courses where you get all the information through approximately 10 different online modules, or you can attend a three day ground school. Both of these options end up with the same result, which is a pilot competency certificate. This certificate is then sent off to the CAA (along with the operations manual and insurance documents) for approval, after which you will receive your PfCO.

The whole process can be lengthy; as a result the number of rogue operators is increasing. This can be a contributing factor when it comes to more rules and regulations being enforced.

In the last couple of years drones have become massive in the amateur and professional scene and there seems to be more and more videos appearing on YouTube and Vimeo featuring amateur aerial footage. This has stirred up quite a lot of controversy with some of the footage being ‘illegally’ obtained. By this I mean flying outside the CAA’s general restrictions that apply to both professional and amateur pilots. People will often fly way over the 400ft height limit and out of the pilots eyeline – two big ‘no no’s for any drone operator.

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But it’s not all doom and gloom. When done properly and in cooperation with CAA and landowners, the industry is growing at an exponential rate and you can capture some amazing footage from the sky. Apps such as Drone Assist have been created to help the drone pilot find and check if it is safe to fly in a certain location. The app shows obvious no fly zones such as the big airports but it also the smaller airfields around the country which you might not be aware of.

In summary drones are fantastic if used correctly. They have multiple uses that are not limited to filmmaking. These include search and rescue, aerial surveys and now even crop spraying.

While here at NRG we are excited by the opportunities to use drones for filming, we are also conscious that in some circles they have become a bit of a gimmick. Aerial shots can be very effective and drones have made this kind of footage more affordable for our clients, however it is just one aspect of many approaches we use to create video content.

If you would like to discuss how to use video to tell, or sell, your story – whether that includes using aerial / drone footage or not – please get in touch. Call 01252 717707 or email hello@nrg-digital.co.uk