A few months ago I met Connor Leszczuk, owner of Aspekt Visual & Aerial at a local Makers Fair where he was demonstrating DIY drone technology and aerial video production. I was pretty much hooked since that day and Connor’s expertise has been instrumental in helping me hone my quadcopter piloting skills and custom builds for Mini FPV racing. Above is a video I put together for his company that speaks on Connor’s experience and how he envisions the future of drone technology. We shot everything with the Panasonic GH4, Polaroid Cube, Varavon Birdycam Gimbal and a GoPro Hero 4. For more information on Aspekt Visual & Aerial visit their website here.
Having the right amount of battery power is a constant essential for video shoots but with various camera, monitor and lighting systems it’s sometimes best to bring a power solution that can work across multiple devices. The Kayo Maxtar 12V is a portable and powerful battery that’s a great addition for your shooting kit.
The Kayo Maxtar 12V comes in a compact, hardshell zipper carrying case and has a rectangular design with a red and black colorway and glossy plastic finish. It’s lightweight with a minimalist feel. Although the Maxtar is meant to be stationary, it would have been great to have a 1/4-20 thread to mount it on to a small tripod or shoulder rig.
On the top is a high powered LED light which has 3 modes (flash, strobe and SOS) which lasts over 120 hours. While it’s not a crucial feature, it’s nice to have a flashlight handy during a night shoot.
A closer look at the accessories reveal a power charger, car charger, jumper cables, and various power connectors. One caveat is that the power cord for the connectors is short which means any device that you are powering must be stationed very close to the Maxtar.
Nothing can ruin a good shoot than backup battery power that can’t keep up with your usage. Thankfully, the Kayo Maxtar 12V is capable of multiple charges. It’s high capacity cells can fully charge an iPhone 6 at least 4 times, a Samsung S5 about 3 times, an HTC One about 3 times and a Mini iPad about 2 times.
The dual 20V 3.5A and 12V 2.5A is also a nice touch which is ideal for powering up small devices like an LED light or external monitor. Again, it would have been nice if there was a mounting solution for the Maxtar but some industrial velcro straps or zip ties should do the trick.
Another interesting feature are the included 12V jumper cables to jump start your vehicle. While I didn’t have an opportunity to test this out, it’s a nice addition and much more convenient way to jump start your car instead using another vehicle.
Overall, the Kayo Maxtar 12V is a highly affordable power bank that runs much cheaper than some other Li-Ion solutions on the market. Having this in my kit assures that I’ll have power available if anything goes wrong – like an uncharged battery – which happens sometimes. Sure it’s not immediately adaptable for video rigs but with some DIY techniques, it’s a much cheaper alternative than standard V-Mount style batteries. The Kayo Maxtar 12V is definitely worth considering if you’re looking to have an all in one battery backup solution for any situation.
After cutting my teeth on drone piloting with the hyper addictive Blade QX Nano micro quadcopter, I wanted to step up my practice flights with a mini quadcopter that would be suitable for outdoor flights but also cheap enough to crash without breaking the bank. After some browsing I came across the Syma X5C 2.4G Quadcopter, a $50 copter with a 6-axis gyro, strong wind resistance, HD camera and 2.4G transmitter.
The Syma X5C is extremely light weight with a build quality that isn’t very polished, particularly the transmitter, but it’s acceptable for a $50 quadcopter. Although it can be flown indoors, there’s enough power in the propellors to cause injury or damage if you aren’t an experienced pilot. I bought the combo package on Amazon which included some additional props, batteries, micro SD card and charger.
The Syma X5C camera is terrible and there’s really no other way to describe it. Everything from the narrow focus distance, pixelation, rolling shutter down to the color processing is bad. I immediately took it off and started to look for a lightweight camera solution that the X5C could lift. But let’s be realistic, a $50 quadcopter will not provide great aerial videography but at the very least, I could use the footage to study how to fly better.
My favorite action camera at the moment is the Polaroid Cube, a one button, cube shaped camera with a magnetic bottom. Using a velcro tie, I rigged it to the bottom. Although the Polaroid Cube is light, it’s still a lot heavier than the stock camera. Surprisingly, the X5C was able to lift the Polaroid Cube but only for about 2 minutes. The rotors couldn’t handle the extra weight and strained to keep it in the air. I knew that more could be done to shave off the grams so I did some more modding.
The Polaroid Cube is rather easy to disassemble once you take off the faceplate. After removing the body, magnet and rear cap, the Polaroid Cube became much lighter but also exposed. I definitely recommend flying the camera in conditions where the elements wouldn’t effect the open circuitry.
After the mod, I once again took it for a test flight but only got about 5 minutes worth of flight time. It was still a little too heavy so I decided to remove the prop guards. That seemed to do the trick as the Syma X5C was able to stay in the air for a full 7 minutes which is very close to it’s out of the box flight specs off one battery. You could also detach the landing gear for even longer flight times. And without a doubt, the Polaroid Cube is definitely a huge improvement over the stock camera but the stabilization is pretty much non-existent and the motors are in frame which requires some post production cropping to be useable. Again, this may not be appropriate for getting great aerial shots, instead it should be more of a way to preview your flying skills. I would highly recommend the X5C as an intermediate quadcopter to use before jumping into the upcoming DJI Phantom 3 or 3DR Solo.
Overall, I’m pleased with the performance of this budget quadcopter and it’s ability to fly the Polaroid Cube. It’s also small enough to attract very little attention and to experiment with shots you wouldn’t risk with an expensive drone. If you have any questions hit me in the comments below!
At NAB 2015, we stopped by the Ikan booth where we tested the Ikan Fly-X3 Plus 3-Axis Smartphone Gimbal Stabilizer. Several manufacturers have been creating smartphone gimbals including Shape and Lanparte. Retailing for about $350, the Ikan Fly-X3 seems to hit the right price point for a small 3-axis gimbal.
As smartphones continue to advance their video recording capabilities, they will eventually begin to crop up in more and more professional shoots. Take for example the recent Sundance hit “Tangerine” which was shot on a few iPhone 5’s with stabilizers.
The Ikan Fly-X3 Plus comes in a durable hardcase bag with nylon straps, a charger, one battery, and counterweight for large phones. For a few more dollars you can get the GoPro mount attachment for flying the Hero 3/4. The grip has a comfortable rubberized coating and the gimbal itself has a sturdy, metal construction that feels like just the right amount of weight for flying a smartphone. Design-wise it would have been nice if Ikan had included some 1/4-20 threads on the grip both on the sides and below for mounting accessories.
Filmic Pro for iOS
Cinema FV-5 for Android
After unboxing the Fly-X3, I immediately paired it with both my Apple iPhone 6 and LG G3 smartphone. In order to move in and out of different lighting situations, I wanted to have more control over the manual settings. So I did some research on the web and discovered the two best mobile video apps for each platform – the $7.99 Filmic Pro for iOS and the $2.49 Cinema FV-5 for Android devices. While both apps theoretically do the same thing, the iOS Filmic Pro is able to record in 60p for slow motion in addition to manual control of the shutter angle. Unfortunately for the Android Cinema FV-5, the camera drivers on Android phones do not provide developers access to shutter control.
Depending on your phone, the Ikan Fly-X3 can have either very sharp and quick moves or more natural, fluid moves. As you can see in the video above, the iPhone 6 moves at a slower, more steady pace due to the aluminum Ztylus case that helped add some weight to the Fly-X3. The LG G3 is a very lightweight phone so the moves feel a little more abrupt and sudden. With a metal case to help add weight to the Fly-X3, the LG G3 should fly more fluidly. A heavier and larger phone like the Samsung Note 4 would probably require the counter balance.
Shooting outdoors on an Android phone without shutter control created a staccato-like effect. To solve this I made a DIY ND filter by taking a pair of plastic sunglasses, popping out the lens and gaffing it to the front of the G3 lens. While it isn’t pretty, this helped to bring down the shutter angle and create better exposure.
While shooting on a smartphone gimbal can feel a little weird, it’s much easier to get smooth, candid tracking shots in public places as it attracts very little attention. Most people think its just a holder for a smartphone. And because of it’s size, you can come up with some really inventive one take shots where you can fly it through small spaces and do hand offs. If you have any questions about the Ikan Fly-X3 Plus 3-Axis smartphone gimbal, hit me in the comments below.
On a recent trip overseas, I worked alongside a videographer who was shooting with a Sony A7s on a Revo SR-1000 shoulder rig with counterweight. Although I’ve had passing glances at the Revo while browsing online, I’ve never seen it up close. Because of its minimalist, almost artistic design, affordable cost, and versatility, I got my hands on the SR-1000 and proceeded to add modifications to it. The Revo SR-1000 is currently on sale at B&H for $67.96, a savings of 15%, but only until March 9, 2015.
The SR-1000 is strikingly simple with clean, curved lines thats very attractive for video enthusiasts. There are rigs that make my back hurt just by looking at them but the SR-1000 is sleek and forgoes the chunkiness of universal compatibility for aesthetics. A single handle attached to a sliding baseplate allows for one handed operation with thin, curved rails that bend seamlessly with the adjustable the foam padded shoulder mount. An optional Revo Counterweight can then be added to the rear to complete the design. Although I took it off for my mod, it’s definitely a must have accessory when shooting with only the camera.
My first add on was the Varavon Armor Cage for the Pansonic GH4. The lightweight cage also features red trim that matches the colors of the SR-1000. The top handle can be reversed to attach accessories such as the Atomos Shogun 4K Recorder which hangs slightly behind the GH4 for even weight distribution across the middle of the rig.
For the rear counterweight, I detached the plate from the Revo Counterweight and attached it to the Ikan Tilta HyperDeck V-Mount using a standard 1/4-20 screw which connects to the Revo shoulder mount with the remaining screws.
The Ikan Tilta is then fitted with a Switronix XP-L90S Li-Ion battery and Fiilex D-Tap power cable. Because the Switronix battery is unusually light, I added a Flashpoint 2.5lb Counterweight to the Tilta HyperDeck using two short 15mm rods. This evened out the weight distribution for the rear.
There are countless ways to configure the Revo SR-1000 such as adding additional handles and accessories to the baseplate but I found this setup to be the most efficient for run and gun shooting. Hit me up in the comments if you have any questions.
A few weeks ago, rapper Joey Bada$$ and I collaborated on a music video for the single “No. 99”, an uptempo Hip Hop anthem reminiscent of a 1990’s classic. Our goal was to create a voyeuristic, gritty street video with many scenes of chaos sprinkled throughout. Realizing this would require two shoot days and multiple locations, I came up with a simple gear list that would get us through our many setups.
Dual GH4’s with Metabones Canon FD Speedboosters were used. B Cam was mounted with a Canon FD 35-105mm f3.5 for mediums and closeups while A Cam used the Canon FD 20mm f2.8 with the ePhoto R640 18” LED Ring Light rigged to a custom shoulder mount. To power the ring light we used a Switronix XP-L90S Lithium Battery with a Fiilex D-Tap Cable.
P&C Shoulder Rig Handles and a Honu GH4 Cage with a top handle were used to mount the ring light across three points with velcro straps. Since the camera had to sit in the middle of the ring, this was the most efficient way to rig it. From there we ran the Fiilex D-Tap cable to the Switronix battery inside of our Camera Operator’s jacket, giving us a power source that would last all day. And since we were going for a voyeuristic, run and gun feel, this would be our main camera setup for every scene.
To shoot Joey and a mob full of his crew performing, we utilized the Varavon Birdycam 3-Axis Camera Gimbal with a Rokinon 7.5mm Fisheye for our C Cam while shooting from the back of a cargo van. Since the road at our main location was littered with potholes, the Birdycam eliminated almost 95% of the shakiness.
We also incorporated the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ Quadcopter mounted with the GoPro HERO4 for a few scenes that would simulate footage from a news helicopter. Our location in Willets Point, NY also known as the Iron Triangle has a very post-apocalyptic appearance and is filled with auto repair shops and scrap yards – a feast for aerial shooting.
Occasionally we would require some fill or backlight so we used the F&V K4000 LED Light Panel. This worked great with the ring light and helped to enhance all the background action. Any additional fill on Joey came from the prop torches he was wielding. A run and gun yet highly organized effort made this a great shoot to work on. By minimizing our gear list, we were able to get more setups and candid moments. Check out the full video below and let me know what you think!
A few weeks ago we had the pleasure of working with craft brewery Oskar Blues to create a choose-your-own-adventure style video series that utilized a custom-built air pressure cannon capable of shooting beer cans at 275 miles per hour. The mission was straightforward – capture various targets exploding with multiple cameras including the Sony FS-700, Panasonic GH4 and GoPro HERO3 and HERO4. Only one caveat, the HERO4 must be rigged into the center of the target platform and revolve around the target in a full 360 degree circle without getting blasted by a can.
Blowing things up is a primal urge for many of us but safety was a number one priority. While a beer cannon is theoretically awesome, it could also be lethal without the proper precautions. Note: DO NOT TRY TO BUILD THIS AT HOME. Tarps were setup around the blasting area to keep projectiles contained and safety goggles were mandatory. Once all the cameras were speeding everyone had to clear the blast area. Once clear, the air cannon would be charged up to the proper PSI, giving us a full minute before blast off, allowing any last minute safety checks.
Everything was lit with two 1.2 HMI’s with two Arri 650’s providing some fill for the cannon. Our 240fps “beauty” camera was the Sony FS-700 with a Cannon 80-200mm and an Odyssey 7Q. A Panasonic GH4 was mounted on a doorway dolly with curved tracks that wrapped around the cannon which became our “reveal” camera. Another GH4 was mounted on the Varavon Birdycam 3-Axis gimble to provide pre-blast coverage of the targets sitting on the platform. Finally the GoPro’s were mounted in various angles within the blast site to provide maximum coverage of targets. Since many of the targets were liquids, the GoPro cases had to be wiped off repeatedly.
To create the GoPro Bullet-Time Rig, we had to create a truss using planks of lumber from Home Depot. Height was important as the GoPro would have to revolve around the center of the target. Since all of the targets were of various sizes, we picked an average height of 8’.
Next we mounted a standard ceiling fan onto a wooden disc and mounted that onto the center of the truss. To create the arm, we rigged scraps of plexiglass through the center of the fan and held everything together using grip tape and industrial zip ties. A wooden dowel rod was rigged diagonally to provide additional support. A GoPro adhesive mount was attached to the bottom and reinforced with more grip tape. The entire rig was spray painted black for cosmetic reasons. As the rig got blasted with liquids, the mount would come loose and everything had to be repositioned and taped back together. If we had more time, the design would have been much more secure but for a 3 hour DIY project, it did the job.
Overall, I’m very pleased with the results of the shoot. The post work was intense as we had a total of 19 final target footage from 8 different cameras. The GoPro HERO4 4K codec seems to require some heavy CPU resources so it’s important to have a fast computer when editing it natively. Check out the final piece below and please note that you’ll have to watch it on a desktop computer to utilize the navigational buttons on YouTube.