Drones for Film and Video Production

Drones for film and video production are becoming commonplace. They are looking to shape the way cinema and video progress, and in some ways they already have.

A huge step in affordable professional film was the adoption of video features in DSLR cameras, this allowed everyday camera owners to shoot some superb looking film with the help of some very affordable lenses. Then camera makers like GoPro put 4k cameras in the hands of people for under £350 / $400. Now, with the introduction of affordable camera drones like the DJI Phantom 3 and the super portable DJI Mavic Pro, the limits of affordable mainstream filmmaking are being pushed again.

Having the ability to shoot high quality aerial video opens up the realm of what is possible and allows more creative freedom. We are at a stage where you can be up and shooting aerial video for very little money and build up your equipment from there. Todays drones are so advanced that you can fly them quite competently with little to no experience. This can be a good and a bad thing, we recommend doing your research before flying.

A good example of drones in TV was episode 2 of Planet Earth. They show the crew filming the river dolphins in the jungle and they are struggling to capture them using a rig and Red Cam on a boat. A drone operator manages to capture the dolphins from above, showing there are 5 of them there. Whilst the crew on the ground think that they are following just one dolphin.

Huge camera rigs are not always viable because of budget or practicality and drones make it so much more affordable and accessible to get those shots with much less gear. That is not to say that rigs are being phased out in any way, they are still without a doubt the best choice in the studio. However, in certain situations, say you are tracking a car or sweeping in and out of scenes, it makes sense to use a drone. With modern tech, the days of drone shooting teams are in the past and no longer necessary. You only need one person to operate it and maybe one to direct movement and focus pulls during the shoot. 

There is still a long way to go, cameras are getting so much smaller which means drones are getting much more portable. The cameras on drones are never going to match the heavyweights in the industry, but they are really making great improvements. They have so many great features now like focus controls, great stabilisation through high quality gimbals and pro workflow setups.

Electronic gimbal stabilisers are also challenging traditional methods of counter weighting cameras during ground movement. Steadicam rigs are tried and tested and have a dedicated following, but it has to be said that at a fraction of the price products like DJI’s Ronin rig is an impressive piece of equipment. They used the Ronin on BBC’s Planet Earth 2 to get some of the chase and sweeping shots. Products such as the DJI Osmo, Osmo Mobile and even the detachable stabiliser in GoPro’s Karma drone are bringing handheld stabilisers to the mass market.  

New technology is putting very powerful tools into the hands of non-professionals. Platforms like Youtube and Amazon’s Video Direct are allowing them to easily share what they are creating to the world and even monetise it. This opens up something to future generations to come, that until quite recently was not possible. A lot of us now have 4k capability in our pockets on our phones, even if many of us don’t know which way up to film. Along with that comes a new perspective, some amazing creativity and ideas that really push the boundaries of what had previously been imagined.   

Professional video is certainly not dying out, we are just more engaged in it than ever. Smooth high resolution video will only get you so far, you need strong scripts and narrative to take it to the next level. But with the birth of affordable stabilisers and easy to use, portable drones comes a new era of video production. Its an exciting future for video and we look forward to seeing what is around the corner. 

A great example of what is possible with drones is this short film, shot entirely on the Inspire 2 camera drone.