Category Archives: Drones

We Flew the DJI Mavic Drone Over Beaches

Emm from Cheesycam was gracious enough to let me fly his brand new DJI Mavic Pro drone around the beaches of San Francisco. Because of the small size, I was not expecting the level of detail in the footage as well as the quality of the stabilization through high winds. While it doesn’t quite have the super high resolution punch of the DJI Phantom 4, the Mavic Pro more than holds it’s own in the ultra portable prosumer drone scene.


product information button runplayback DJI Mavic Pro Bundle

Our Electric Skateboards Got Mobbed at Maker Faire Detroit

This past weekend, our local electric skateboarding crew A2ESK8 participated at Maker Faire Detroit, a family-friendly showcase of invention, creativity and resourcefulness, and a celebration of the Maker Movement.

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Makers ranged from tech enthusiasts to crafters to homesteaders to scientists to garage tinkerers. About 25,000 people attended the event to check out ordinary individuals rolling up their sleeves to create inventive solutions for everyday needs.

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Sometime last year I began to search for other DIY ESK8 builders so I created a Facebook group to draw others in which birthed A2ESK8 – Michigan’s largest social hub dedicated to the building of DIY electric skateboards. Our booth was graciously sponsored by our friends at Carvon Skates and Polar Pro whose products are seamlessly integrated into our local ESK8 culture of building and filming.

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Attendees were able to get hands on with some of our boards as they were able to throttle and brake using our realtime display bench rig to test RPM, temperature and current.

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For those were interested in the tech, we had live demos of VESC (Vedder Electronic Speed Control) and LiFePO4 battery assembly. We also provided insight on the open source community and the emergence of ESK8 as a major player in the personal electric vehicle movement.

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We took turns riding the boards around The Henry Ford which provided a glimpse at what ESK8 feels like. Many of our riders describe ESK8 as an alternative to snowboarding and longboarding where you get a similar feeling of “flying” on the ground.

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All around us roads are changing, structures go up and having a “spotter” who you are communicating with through Bluetooth intercoms creates a sense of gamified exploration. Every turn we make can be something new and its all about living in that moment with zero distractions. Essentially it’s meditative and can relieve any stress that’s built up throughout the day.

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Who knows what the future holds for A2ESK8 but one thing will always remain clear – our mission is to combine safety, reliability, art and design to inspire others to be part of a growing DIY community that will innovate the electric skateboard industry.

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product information button runplayback Carvon EMC2 Dual Hub Motor Electric Mini Cruiser

polarpro
product information button runplayback Polar Pro GoPro Frame 2.0 Professional Filter 6 Pack

phantom 3 filters
product information button runplayback Polar Pro DJI Phantom 4 / Phantom 3 Filter 6-Pack

Why I Built a Carbon Fiber Electric Skateboard Mini Cruiser


Shot exclusively with the LanParte LA3D Action Gimbal, DJI Phantom 3 and Polar Pro Filters

My original DIY Electric Mini Cruiser Skateboard still holds up quite nicely even after 6 months of hard riding and natural wear and tear. But as with all things DIY, parts can always be upgraded. One key feature that I wanted to improve upon was weight, so once again, I researched the right combination of components to make an already awesome commute even better. I’ve nicknamed this build – the A2ESK8 Mini Cruiser.

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My original 29″ mini cruiser was the perfect size thanks to the unique design of the now discontinued Jet Spud deck. But I wanted to do something different, which is why I chose the Hi5ber Ion 30 mini cruiser deck. Hi5ber has built a great reputation for manufacturing the best carbon fiber longboard decks available. They are lighter and stronger than typical wooden longboards which create a more controlled, responsive experience for the rider.

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The Ion 30’s design is the definition of stealth with it’s ultra thin rails that gradually curve thicker towards the wheelbase. The added benefit is an enhanced wheel clearance that looks so damn futuristic. Other than the low weight, the characteristics of the Ion 30 include high rigidity, high tensile strength, corrosion resistance and fatigue resistance. And unlike wood, carbon fiber doesn’t warp when exposed to water.

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product information button runplayback Hi5ber Carbon Fiber Ion 30

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Before electricfying the Ion 30, I tested it out with Gullwing Sidewinder II trucks alongside 72mm ABEC11 Freerides and it was a blast. That combination of an ultra lightweight carbon fiber deck and double kingpins was so much fun I was a little hesitant to throw electronics on there. But my curiousity got the best of me so I got to work.

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The next step in weight reduction was the battery. My original build contained the 10s3p Enertion Space Cell, a wonderful battery pack, but 30 cells demand a lot of real estate in the wheelbase for a small mini cruiser deck. With a wheelbase of 16.25″ on the Hi5ber, I knew I had to figure out another power solution.

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I ended up creating a custom 12s1p LiFePO4 battery pack with the help of my friend Landon who is an electronics wizard. LiFePO4 batteries are the safest type of lithium batteries as they will not overheat, and even if punctured they will not catch on fire. The cathode material in LiFePO4 batteries is not hazardous, and poses no negative health or environmental hazards. Due to the oxygen being bonded tightly to the molecule, there is no danger of the battery erupting into flames like there is with lithium-ion. We used 12 cells in series for a total voltage of about 36v. Paired with a BMS, voltage display, charge port and power button, the pack ended up having a more compact size – perfect for the Hi5ber deck.

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Once again I designed a custom 1/8″ ABS enclosure using my homemade vacuum former. This time I wanted the buttons to be located on the side of the enclosure as flush as possible. This created a more pleasing appearance that complimented the look of the carbon fiber. The length of the enclosure came out to 11″ and width at 5″. This meant plenty of room to spare on the Ion 30 wheelbase.

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product information button runplayback A2ESK8 Apone V1 Electric Skateboard Enclosure

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Another big upgrade I made was swapping my original Torqueboards 2.4ghz Mini Remote with an even smaller 2.4ghz Nano Remote that features a thumb throttle instead of a trigger throttle. As far as how it feels in my hand, it’s pretty awesome. Granted, I’m not a big guy but it’s the right size for stealth in the city. It’s as if they took the best features of the Yuneec EGO and Boosted Boards remote and put it into a no frills casing. I like the short throw, knob throttle which is a much better design than Boosted’s long throw thumb dial and trigger button. Shout out to Kaly over at ESK8 builders for the hookup on this remote.

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The only components I ported over from my original build are the Ollin Board VESC and the Carvon V2 Single Hub Motor. Because of months of wear and tear and a few moisture issues, Landon and I decided it was best to clean the VESC up with some gentle scrubbing and a coating of anti-corrosion spray. Even so, the VESC is still going strong with no issues or errors – a testament to Ollin Board’s high quality manufacturing practices.

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My Carvon V2 Single Hub Motor was upgraded with authentic 90mm ABEC11 Flywheels and is really the backbone of my entire mini cruiser build. I’ve put the hub motor through the ringer in every harsh road condition imaginable and it continues to perform flawlessly. Carvon continues to push the boundaries of eboard drive trains and I look forward to seeing what they do next with their V3 hub motor design and EVO series.

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Dialing in the VESC settings is critical for creating a safe and fun mini cruiser. My original build was capable of hitting 31 mph but the sweet spot for a board this small is around 15-18 mph – more than enough for carving through a dense city filled with intersections and pedestrians. Also, the 12s LiFePO4 battery delivers a stronger punch than my 10s lithium ion with a more stable discharge and minimal voltage sag. As much as I enjoy releasing the full power and speed from a DIY eboard, there’s something quite satisfying about taming a mini cruiser eboard that has the ability to hurl you but won’t because you’re keeping it on a leash. More importantly, this build never feels like it’s struggling or straining and that kind of confidence transfers into longer range and fun, safer rides.

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Skating the A2ESK8 Mini Cruiser around the city proved to be a blast. On FOC mode with the Carvon V2 hub motor, the sound is nearly silent. The ultra light Hi5ber Ion 30 board makes acceleration from standstill fantastic and it really feels like your riding on some kind of space age material because of how responsive it is. Carbon fiber handles bumps slightly differently than wooden decks but in a good way because vibrations don’t transfer as much harsh energy to your body. Oh and did I mention how light this thing is? Seriously I’ll take carbon decks over wood any day of the week.

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DIY electric skateboard builds have been getting better and better in just a few months yet there are still just a handful of 30″ and under DIY mini cruiser builds. Perhaps it’s a bit of a stigma to purposely limit your top speed on a smaller deck but I feel like it’s our responsibility to be ambassadors of this technology everytime we step on a board. I’ve already seen friends who’ve hurt themselves on eboards and in almost all cases, the problem was either an inexperienced rider or a road obstacle and not a board failure. Going over 25 mph instead of 13 mph on a non electric board meant crashes that have caused broken bones and serious concussions. Believe me, I’ve had first hand experience with this and it’s made me a very visible advocate for eboard helmet safety.

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This mini cruiser was not designed to be a land missile and it shows. It’s become the ultimate conversation starter whenever I ride in the city because I’m seriously just having fun. The weight reduction made a huge difference and carrying it on public transportation is even easier. If you’re in the Detroit area at the end of July, check out this mini cruiser build in person at the Detroit Maker Faire where will have an A2ESK8 booth and demonstrations. For more information on the products I used to create the video above, please check out the links below.

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product information button runplayback Lanparte LA3D Detachable 3-Axis Handheld Gimbal

polarpro
product information button runplayback Polar Pro GoPro Frame 2.0 Professional Filter 6 Pack

My Homie Jeff Made A 45 MPH Electric Longboard!

Just wanted to share a new video series I’m developing titled “Duo Meet Your Maker” which profiles local hackers, tinkerers, hobbyists, and the tech-savvy makers to learn about their processes and highlight the things they create. My goal with this series to look beyond the gadgets themselves to explore the people behind them and what makes them tick. My first subject is Jeff Plott, a local mechanical engineer, who built a 45 mph electric longboard! Yikes! If you’d like to know more about how I shot those action shots check out my electric longboarding action rig here.

Polar Pro Launches New Drone Accessories – NAB 2016

Our friends at Polar Pro continue to dominate the industry with their always evolving professional grade product line and innovative ideas. And with a recent appearance on ABC’s Shark Tank, their business has lept tremendously with a $1 million investment by Mark Cuban and Robert Herjavec.

At this year’s NAB Show, we checked out Polar Pro’s latest drone accessories for the DJI Phantom 3, DJI Inspire 1, 3DR Solo as well as the Trippler – a compact tripod / grip / pole combo for action cameras and mobile phones. With my frequent forays into electric longboarding, the Trippler has instantly become my go-to accessory for capturing the moment.

inspire 1 filters
product information button runplayback Polar Pro DJI Zenmuse X3 Filter 3-Pack

phantom 3 filters
product information button runplayback Polar Pro DJI Phantom 4 / Phantom 3 Filter 6-Pack

phantom 3 lights
product information button runplayback Polar Pro LED Light Kit for DJI Phantom 3 Quadcopter

phantom 3 landing gear
product information button runplayback Polar Pro Landing Gear for DJI Phantom 3

phantom 3 gimbal lock
product information button runplayback Polar Pro Lens Cover / Gimbal Lock for Select Phantom 3 Quadcopters

phantom 3 gimbal guard
product information button runplayback Polar Pro Gimbal Guard for Phantom 3 Professional / Advanced / Standard

solo lights
product information button runplayback Polar Pro Headlight and Taillight Kit for 3DR Solo Quadcopter

solo prop guards
product information button runplayback Polar Pro Prop Guards for 3DR Solo Quadcopter

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product information button runplayback Polar Pro Trippler 3-in-1 Tripod/Grip/Pole

The 24 Hour Shootout Survival Kit

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Last week Arbor Day Pictures aka Nancy Mitchell, Hannah Mitchell and myself participated in YPSI24, a 24 hour shootout competition where we won second place amongst 40+ entries. It was an awesome experience to witness so many filmmakers of all levels express themselves using a variety of video techniques within experimental and narrative storytelling.

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However, with a 24 hour time limit and a 3 person crew including myself (2 of whom were acting on camera), it was vital that I assemble an equipment package that worked for our story. Too much gear and I’d risk a lot of unncessary setup and breakdown time. Too little gear and I’d lose the visual storytelling that was essential for characterization. We were super honored to win an award and it may not have happened without our 24 Hour Shootout Survival Kit. So here’s how we did it.

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THE STORY
A few weeks before the shoot, we bounced around some preliminary ideas, some that either proved too difficult or too time consuming. Finally, the night before YPSI24, Nancy assembled all of our initial ideas into a creepy story about supernatural revenge. Next, I fleshed out the summary into a rough, 5 page script which would be our blueprint for the day. We all agreed that the concept would remain loose in order to incorporate the YPSI24 “ingredients” that we would be given. Creating a script as a guide for our shotlist/schedule was definitely a critical part of our planning.

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THE SUPPORT
For Camera A support I went with the heavy duty yet light and portable 8.5lb ProAm Heavy Duty Tripod Legs which are typically built for jib cranes but work great with a Manfrotto fluid head and Konova K3 slider as they can hold up to 80 lbs. It even has a super convenient mid level spreader for added stability and adjustable rubber or spiked feet for all kinds of terrain. At $120 shipped, the ProAm Heavy Duty Tripod Legs are an exceptional deal for the quality.

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product information button runplayback ProAm USA PROAMFT Pro Tripod Legs & Bag Kit

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product information button runplayback Manfrotto MVH500AH Fluid Video Head with Flat Base

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product information button runplayback Konova Slider K3 100cm (39.4-Inch)

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THE LIGHTING
Lighting was very minimal as we were mostly daylight dependent. For the ending interior shots we used a pair of budget friendly ePhoto 600 CN600HS LED Lights with Kayo Maxtar V-Mount Li-Ion Batteries. The Kayo Maxtar is a new addition to my kit and one of the best V-Mount battery options out right now. Fully charged, the Kayo can power these lights for up to 6 hours straight. Very impressive!

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ePhoto 600 Led Dimmable CN600HS Video Photography Light

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Kayo Maxtar 177Wh(12000mAh/14.8V) V Mount Battery

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THE SOUND
To keep our sound kit as light and simple as possible, I went with the Zoom H1, Rode Micro Boompole, Rode VideoMic Pro, Aspen HQ-S Lav Mic, P&C Handgrip and an audio extension cable. Our rule was that whoever wasn’t on camera would be the Sound Recordist. With some easy to remember sound recording basics and having a kit this simple ensured that no one would have to be a pro to capture quality sound.

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product information button runplayback Zoom H1 Ultra-Portable Digital Audio Recorder

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product information button runplayback Rode Micro Boompole – 3-Section Boom Pole

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product information button runplayback Rode VideoMic Pro Compact Shotgun Microphone

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AspenMics Lavalier Microphones

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product information button runplayback Dot Line P&C Handgrip

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THE CAMERA A KIT
Having some early success with the latest Panasonic V-Log color profile, I decided to use my workhorse GH4 mounted with a Metabones Canon FD Speedbooster and classic Canon FD glass – 20mm, 28mm, 50mm and 35-105mm. This combination would create a vintage, lived-in look that I thought would be perfect for a horror film.

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I kitted out my GH4 shoulder rig with a Varavon Armor Cage, Aputure V-Screen field monitor, Fotga follow focus, Ikan Tilta V-Mount Plate and a Kayo Maxtar BP-GL175 Li-Ion Battery. With the Kayo, I was able to power the Aputure monitor and use it as a counterweight for the GH4. There’s also a convenient USB port located on the side which kept my iPhone charged at every location.


product information button runplayback Panasonic GH4 4K Video Recording

Metabones Canon FD Speedbooster GH4
Metabones Speedbooster Canon FD Lens to M43 Adapter

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Varavon Armor II GH4 & GH3 Cage

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Aputure VS-3 V-Screen 7″ IPS Field Monitor

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Fotga DP500IIS Follow Focus

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ikan Tilta TT-C12 HyperDeck Shuttle Mount with V-Mount Plate

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Kayo Maxtar 177Wh(12000mAh/14.8V) V Mount Battery

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THE CAMERA B KIT
Our story included many scenes of walking through the woods so I wanted to incorporate gimbal tracking shots without having to spend any time balancing or breaking down the Camera A Kit. For this situation I went with the Ikan Fly-X3 Gimbal paired with the Xiaomi Yi Action Camera aka the $80 Chinese GoPro. Since these walking shots would include both Hannah and Nancy in the shot, it would leave me as the Sound Recordist. The Ikan Fly-X3 doesn’t have a 1/4-20 thread so I rigged a Joby GorillaPod to the handle and fitted it with a Rode VideoMic, Zoom H1, an audio extension cable and a pair of lightweight Auvio Headphones. With the shotgun mic I was then able to capture realtime location sound while also performing stable gimbal shots while walking backwards through the woods. Trust me, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

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product information button runplayback Ikan Fly-X3 Plus 3-Axis Smartphone Gimbal Stabilizer Kit with GoPro HERO3/4 mount

xiaomi
Xiaomi Yi Action Camera with Wi-Fi

Joby Action Clamp GorillaPod Arm
product information button runplayback Joby Action Clamp with GorillaPod Arm

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Auvio Black Ear-Cup Foldable Headphones

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Another interesting rig we built was an Indy Mogul style DIY 3rd person POV action camera backpack. Designed with cheap PVC pipe from Home Depot, we mounted an Oben Mini Ballhead and the Xiaomi Yi on the rig to create the over the shoulder look during the “search” scenes in the woods. With the Xiamoi’s Wi-Fi app, I would be able to monitor the shots while giving direction to Nancy. We wanted to present an unusual sense of vertigo during these scenes since her character would become more desperate as day turned to night.

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product information button runplayback Oben BD-0 Mini Ball Head

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THE CAMERA C KIT
For a 24 Hour Shootout, it would be tempting to use the DJI Phantom 3 Professional as a shortcut for production value but we didn’t want to go that route. Our initial thought was that an aerial would take up valuable time that we could put towards characterization. Also, because of the hazardous weather conditions on the shoot day, flying a drone would prove too risky. However, nature was on our side when we had a small 10 minute window of clear weather. It was a tricky manuever as I had to fly through a 10 foot clearing in the trees towards a height that revealed just enough of the forest without showing any residential homes or highways. I fitted the Phantom 3 with a Polar Pro Polarizer Filter to prevent glare off the water and was able to get the shot in just two takes. However, flying the drone back to home point was nerve racking as I clipped a few small branches due to the wind and unstable GPS lock. Luckily I had Nancy and Hannah as my spotters on each side of the clearing to prevent the Phantom from going down into the water. The shot was definitely worth it as it created a vast sense of exploration for the Alice character, establishing the forest as a kind of supernatural playground.

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product information button runplayback DJI Phantom 3 Professional Quadcopter with 4K Camera and 3-Axis Gimbal

polarprofilters
Polar Pro DJI Phantom 3 Professional Filter 6-Pack

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THE POST PRODUCTION
We finished our last shot at about 11:30pm and after ingesting all the footage in Adobe Premiere, post production began at 12 midnight. By this time, I was exhausted but not completely tapped out. I knew that once I got past the hump of assembly I would go into creative mode, driven by pure adrenaline. With the help of a large iced coffee I finished assembly by 2:00am and edited straight until 9:00am. The GH4 V-Log setting was especially helpful in color correction for each clip. After dropping in the Panasonic Varicam 35 LUT, I simply adjusted exposure within Lumetri Color and did my best to match the Xiaomi Yi and Phantom 3 footage.

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As the sun started to rise and the 10:00am delivery deadline looming, I did a few last touches and exported the file onto a flash drive. Since the YSPI24 rendevouz was a half hour away, I wasn’t able to do a final preview. At this point, I was completely delirious and just grateful that we completed our film.

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THE EXPERIENCE
YPSI24 was an insanely inspiring good time. From the cordial and energizing meetup with our fellow filmmakers to the hack-a-thon like shooting experience to the final screening at the 500 seat venue, YPSI24 reminded me of why I got into video in the first place. It wasn’t to win awards or make commercials. It was to tell a story using a language that didn’t require an army of people pontificating about the laws of Cinema. It’s a relief to know that the DIY spirit that’s shaped both my personal and professional life has never left me. Hashtag #setlife is not enough. Old traditions and new technologies are not enough. It’s the communal experience of being vulnerable with people that I care about which matters most. Check out our 2015 YPSI24 short “Always Alice” below and remember to always stay inspired!


Always Alice (2015 YPSI24)

Drones Build Rope Bridges To Help People, Not Spy On Them

What in the world? All this talk about drones invading privacy but not much coverage on the “good guy” drones like these built by a team in Switzerland. Utilizing motion capture devices with positional measurements, these drones (which look like a more aggressive cousin of a DJI Phantom) can assemble a rope bridge thats sturdy enough for an adult human being to walk on. Imagine the possibilities such as rescue and humanitarian missions where drones could access hazardous conditions. For more information visit Robohub.

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product information button runplayback DJI Phantom 3 Professional Quadcopter with 4K Camera and 3-Axis Gimbal

DJI Gets Smart With New Flight Modes

DJI continues the dominate the consumer-friendly quadcopter market with the release of it’s latest Intelligent Flight Mode firmware update for the Phantom 3 Professional & Advanced and the Inspire 1. The new flight features that impressed me are Point of Interest (360 degree flight around a set object), Follow Me (the quad auto follows a subject holding the controller) and Waypoints (map out a predetermined path and the quad will follow). The upgrade also bumps the Phantom 3 Advance camera recording resolution from 1080p to 2.7k or 20704×1520. These features are a welcome addition to my reliable aerial shoots with the Phantom 3 and I definitely look forward to using them in the field. Stay tuned!

phantom3
product information button runplayback DJI Phantom 3 Professional Quadcopter with 4K Camera and 3-Axis Gimbal

polarprofilters
Polar Pro DJI Phantom 3 Professional Filter 6-Pack

DJI Phantom 3 4K Professional Maiden Flight

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Here’s a fun recap video of my DJI Phantom 3 maiden flight. I try a few basic maneuvers but nothing too crazy as I’m still getting familiar with the controls. After practicing on micro and mini quadcopters, the Phantom 3 is a breeze to fly with it’s incredible stability and flight behavior. And what about that 4K camera? I have to say, it’s very impressive. DJI must have gotten a little tired of GoPro digging into their real estate so they designed a camera that is so fully integrated into the Phantom that it’s like one piece. Once you get used to the flight behavior, it’s really about how to control your camera to get smooth, epic shots. And the best part is everything just WORKS. While I have a great time building my own miniquads, there’s nothing like flying a quadcopter that consistently responds to your controls. Hands down, the DJI Phantom 3 4K Professional is a winner.

Fun Fact: all of those silky smooth slider shots were made with the Konova K3 Slider and Master Pan which I’ll be reviewing very soon.

phantom3
product information button runplayback DJI Phantom 3 Professional Quadcopter with 4K Camera and 3-Axis Gimbal

konova_k3
product information button runplayback Konova Slider K3 100cm (39.4-Inch)

konova_masterpan
product information button runplayback Konova Master Pan for K3 100cm Slider

DJI Phantom 3 4K Professional Quadcopter Unboxing

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DJI have finally released the highly anticipated successor to their flagship Phantom quadcopter series, and I had a chance to take one for a test flight. But first, here’s an unboxing video giving you a rundown on the key features and what’s included in the Professional 4K package.

Update: In the video I mention that you can simultaneously charge both your remote and battery at the same time. That’s my mistake. DJI highly recommends that you DO NOT do that. Only charge one at a time.

phantom3
product information button runplayback DJI Phantom 3 Professional Quadcopter with 4K Camera and 3-Axis Gimbal

Check Out the Lily Camera, a Completely Autonomous Selfie Drone

Huh? Is this real? Where did this waterproof, portable, auto following, autonomous quadcopter come from? Who knows, but it looks pretty damn cool. Essentially, the Lily Camera works by triggering a wearable transmitter/tracking device, tossing the camera into the air, and going about your action while it follows you. The camera stays trained in your direction no matter where you go using a combination of GPS technology and “digital gimballing” which means it crops the region of image that contains you – kind of like warp stabilizer in Adobe Premiere. It also has a waterproof rating of IP67 so you could take it up to one meter underwater without causing any damage, has a 20 minute flight time and can fly at speeds up to 25mph, and contains a microphone within the tracking device which automatically synchronizes the audio with the copter.

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So what does this mean for the upcoming 3DR Solo or DJI Phantom 3? Well nothing really as it doesn’t have an actual controller. It will only aim itself at the transmitter. It seems pretty clear from their website and promo video that the Lily Camera is aimed at a very broad market (look even Grandma can fly the Lily!) rather than the drone nerd/enthusiast. But I could definitely see the Lily being useful for situations where I want to track a fast moving subject with very little setup time. However, at a $1,000 price point ($500 for pre-order), it may be a little steep considering that the bare 3DR Solo and DJI Phantom 3 Advanced quadcopters are the same price. Yes obviously they do much different things but you just have to ask yourself what you’ll be shooting more of: ultimate action selfies or aerial landscapes?

For more information about the Lily, visit their company website at lily.camera

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Lily Camera

Modding the $50 Syma X5C 2.4G Quadcopter with the $99 Polaroid Cube

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.

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Syma X5C Combo Bundle 4 Channel 2.4GHz RC Explorers Quad Copter w/ Camera

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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.

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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.

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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.

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product information button runplayback Polaroid Cube Mini Lifestyle Action Camera (Black)

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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.

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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.

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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!

Polar Pro GoPro Frame 2.0 ND and Polarizer Filter Test Part 2

Last month we tested the Polar Pro GoPro ND and Polarizer filters over the Paterson Great Falls during overcast weather. This time, we decided to fly at Half Moon Bay in San Francisco during bright and sunny conditions. Again we noticed better shutter speed and ISO performance with the ND filter and better color saturation and reduced glare over water with the Polarizer. These are definite must have accessories for the GoPro.

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product information button runplayback Polar Pro Glass Neutral Density Filter for GoPro HERO3 and HERO3+

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product information button runplayback Polar Pro Glass Polarizer Filter for GoPro HERO3 and HERO3+

Polar Pro GoPro Frame 2.0 Neutral Density and Polarizer Filter Test

Back in October at the PhotoPlus Expo, we stopped by the Polar Pro booth to preview their latest Frame 2.0 Neutral Density and Polarizer Filters. We decided to test out these lightweight filters on the DJI Phantom Vision+ Quadcopter and GoPro HERO3+ with a flight over the historic Paterson Great Falls in Paterson New Jersey.

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The Polar Pro Neutral Density Filter was very easy to install with a secure push-in design that fits over the bare GoPro lens like a glove. Although the filter is made of lightweight glass, you may require a counterbalance depending on your drone gimbal. As seen in the video above, the Polar Pro ND Filter slowed down the shutter speed for more natural motion blur and eliminated the annoying GoPro rolling shutter and wobble. Additionally the ISO seemed to bump up a little more to reveal a more detailed image.

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According to our tests, the Polar Pro Polarizer immediately showed an improvement in color saturation and reduced some of the reflective glare over the water. There was also an improvement in overall sharpness and clarity which worked great for the overcast weather we were shooting in.

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The guys at Polar Pro are making some of the best GoPro accessories out there and we look forward to testing out the new Polar Pro Power Pole (a battery powered monopod with dual USB ports) next. Stay tuned!

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product information button runplayback Polar Pro Glass Neutral Density Filter for GoPro HERO3 and HERO3+

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product information button runplayback Polar Pro Glass Polarizer Filter for GoPro HERO3 and HERO3+

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product information button runplayback Polar Pro PowerPole Battery Integrated Pole for GoPro HERO Cameras

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product information button runplayback DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ Quadcopter with Extra Battery Bundle

Behind the Scenes of the Joey Bada$$ “No. 99” Music Video

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.

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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.

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Metabones Speedbooster Canon FD Lens to M43 Adapter

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ePhoto R640 18” LED Ring Light

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Switronix XP-L90S V-Type 14.8VDC Lithium Battery


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Fiilex Coiled D-Tap Cable (1.9′)

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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.

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P&C Shoulder Rig Handles

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Honu 2.0 GH3/GH4 AND SONY A7/A7R Video Cage

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Honu Top Handle

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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.

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Varavon Birdycam2 3-Axis Camera Gimbal

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product information button runplayback Rokinon 7.5mm f/3.5 Ultra Wide-Angle Fisheye Lens for Micro 4/3

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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.

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product information button runplayback DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ Quadcopter with Extra Battery Bundle

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product information button runplayback GoPro HERO4 Black Edition 4K Video Action Camera

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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!

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K4000 Daylight LED Studio Panel

Using the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ Quadcopter with Greenscreen

Upon receiving a built out DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ Quadcopter with the Zenmuse H3-3D 3-Axis Gimbal, we decided to do our first test flight – a teaser trailer for rapper Joey Bada$$ to promote his upcoming album B4.DA.$$. Joey and I came up with a pretty simple concept; we open on Joey and a friend, do a fly over above Brooklyn and finally land on a younger version of himself sitting on a stoop. Only one caveat; we would be tracking a feather floating through the air the entire time. Here’s how we did it.

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First we bought a prop feather. Fortunately we found one in black that would help it stand out amongst the overcast sky.

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Next we captured the establishing shot of Joey and Powers Pleasant skating off down the street as the drone flies overhead, revealing the setting of Brooklyn. But showing only one street block wasn’t enough. We wanted to show the entire city.

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Symbolically, the journey of the feather represents Joey’s growth as an artist and it was important to get steady drone shots at various heights to make the feather transitions feel seamless. Next we had to shoot the flyover.

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Flying a drone over a tree lined block in a densely populated area of Brooklyn as a first flight was challenging. To ensure the quadcopter was within range of the field monitor, we jumped on the back of a pickup truck and made our way to the landing location at roughly the same speed. Since doing a perfect 360 degree landing is tremendously difficult, we tried something else.

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On action, I had Young Joey place the feather on the ground next to the logo just as the quadcopter rose into the air doing 360 degree spins. The force of the props against the air pushed the feather under a bush concealing it. Just one of those happy accidents you could never plan for. In post production, I simply reversed the shot to make it seem like Young Joey picked up the feather that miraculously fell from the sky.

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Next we shot the black feather with fishing line against greenscreen. Since we didn’t have a fan in the house we used the old cardboard fanning trick.

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Using some subtle After Effects work, we simulated the flight path of the feather for each scene and extreme close ups as transitions. After laying it over the quadcopter footage with some color correction and sound effects, we achieved the desired look. Overall I’m very pleased with the DJI Phantom 2’s performance and discovered a unique way to present drone footage. Here’s the final video.


Joey Bada$$ “B4.DA.$$” Trailer


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product information button runplayback DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ Quadcopter with Extra Battery Bundle


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product information button runplayback DJI Zenmuse H3-3D 3-Axis Gimbal for GoPro

DJI Inspire 1 is a 4K Drone Under 3K

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DJI continues to dominate the drone market by launching the DJI Inspire 1 – a quadcopter that features a three-axis gimbal, a 4K mounted camera with image stabilization, retractable landing gear and a futuristic, robotic design that looks like Auto, the ruthless, anti-earth computer from the movie Wall-E. Symbolism much?

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One of the most useful features is a built in HDMI port on the controller that’s integrated with DJI’s Lightbridge system, making it capable of displaying a full HD quality signal for up to 1.2 miles. DJI Lightbridge was definitely one of the standout pieces of technology I noticed at this year’s PhotoPlus Expo. I can’t wait to get a crack at this thing.

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product information button runplayback DJI Inspire 1 Quadcopter with 4K Camera and 3-Axis Gimbal