Quadcopter Video Guide
Quadcopters – in addition to other UAV/drone platforms – have become increasingly utilized in aerial videography and cinematography in the past few years. Five or ten years ago, only the most sophisticated and wealthy players could use these flying platforms for professional videography.
But as quadcopter technology has advanced and cameras and HD video cameras have become lighter and more sophisticated, it’s now possible to record excellent video scenes with a fairly inexpensive quadcopter set up. Now, for a little over $1,000 you can take aerial videos and pictures that are essentially professional grade. The DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ is currently the best quadcopter for videos, hands down. With its integrated HD camera, 3-axis gimbal, ready to fly FPV setup, it offers everything one could want at a truly remarkable price point. But there are plenty of other options for quadcopter video; read on in our quadcopter video guide for various options along multiple price points! We’ll explain the capabilities of each model, the best quadcopter for video in each category, and links to full reviews of each quadcopter for those who want to learn more!
Why use quadcopters for video?
This may be obvious, but the main reason why quadcopters are becoming so popular for shooting video is because of the unparalleled customization and flexibility in framing a scene that they give you. With handheld cameras, the ability to change angles, follow a subject, or draw back to show things in perspective is limited by the operator’s ability to physically move around.
Tripod mounted cameras make for more stable shots, but even further limit on-the-fly angle changes. Once mounted on a rail track or on a boom system, you start to have some flexibility in angles and arcing around scenes, but you are still contained to a relatively small space. With an aerial videography system, you can circle your subject, fly behind it, above it, follow it, etc. with ease! This opens a whole new arena of potential angles and sequences that were really never before possible without CGI.
Many major movies incorporate quadcopters or other aerial systems as part of their filming equipment – you can see some examples here.
Categories of Quadcopter Video Platforms
There is a wide range of quadcopter video systems out there – everything from a jerry rigged standard definition camera strapped to a glorified toy to a multi thousand dollar professional camera being flown by a GPS guided custom octocopter. We’ll be splitting these up into three main categories: Budget, Enthusiast, and Professional.
Budget: $50 to $300
We used to recommend the Syma X1 quadcopter coupled with an 808 Key Chain Spy Camera, but this was really an inelegant solution. Since the camera was essentially mounted to the quadcopter with a rubber band or some other jerry-rigged set up, the footage was unstable and to be honest, the Syma X1 just wasn’t made to accommodate any additional weight! It is still a great practice or beginner quadcopter, but we’re no longer recommending it for video.
Instead, we think that the Hubsan X4 H107C quadcopter is your best budget level quadcopter video option.
The Hubsan X4 H107C offers an integrated video camera (either in standard definition or high definition) with the quadcopter, providing a much more stable platform and an easier operation overall. The X4 H107C is a smaller quadcopter than the Syma X1 and is much more nimble, giving you more maneuverability especially when indoors.
Here’s a video of the Hubsan X4 H107C in action, with a bit of YouTube’s post-processing video stabilization:
As you can see, the footage is not amazing – it is still shaky, though with practice and a little training you can make the footage significantly more stable. But at about $60 in a ready-to-fly package, the Hubsan X4 H107C quadcopter is your best bet for starting out with video and quadcopters. All you need is a MicroSD card and you are ready to film! Check out our full Hubsan X4 H107C review for more information
If you’d like to be able to see what you’re filming while you’re flying (aka First Person View/FPV), then the Hubsan X4 H107D FPV edition would be the way to go. It is significantly more expensive at about $200 online right now, but it includes a remote controller with an integrated video screen. It gets high marks from reviewers, and is certainly one of the best bets for anyone looking for a cheap and simple quadcopter video setup.
Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 – $300
The Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 has already established itself as a leader in the consumer quadcopter market – in many ways, this product essentially created that market and took quadcopters mainstream! So its no surprise that the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 ends up on our list. At $300, it is significantly more expensive than the Syma X1 + Spy Camera setup, but it is definitely worth it. First, the AR.Drone has video capability straight out of the box, no modding or additions necessary.
It can take high definition video, in 720p at 30 frames per second. It features a 92 degree diagonal wide angle lens, providing a great view from above. The video imagery is streamed directly to your mobile device, which is also used as the control for the AR.Drone. Thus, you can see exactly what you’re recording, real-time – something impossible with the Syma X1 and many other quadcopter video platforms. Parrot also provides you the option to store the video files locally on a USB drive on the quadcopter itself, or remotely on your mobile device.
Check out a few of the videos made by AR.Drone users!
Though the AR.Drone 2.0 packs in a lot of punch in a small package, it certainly has its limitations. First, the actual sensor quality is not super high, even if it is technically high definition. It takes good video, but nothing that is really useable for commercial or professional purposes. If you are looking for great high def video – sharp, stable, and with accurate colors – then you’ll need to shell out a few more dollars.
Also, stay tuned for news on another drone by Parrot – the Parrot Bebop Drone. While there is no release date for the Parrot Bebop Drone as of November 2014, the company has been advertising it heavily and we hope to hear something soon. It will feature integrated HD FPV video, automatic internal stabilization, and mobile device control. Check out our Parrot Bebop Drone review for the full details.
Enthusiast: $300 – $1000
The DJI Phantom line of quadcopter is the the clear choice for a quadcopter video platform today. But the different models offered by DJI can be a little confusing, as there is the original Phantom, the Phantom 2 (new version), the Vision, the Vision+, and the FC40! The original DJI Phantom was an incredibly powerful quadcopter, but it didn’t come with a video camera sensor itself and it really is dated now. So we wouldn’t recommend it. And the original Phantom Vision also suffers some fatal flaws, though it was great at the time of its release. That leaves us with three different DJI products:
- DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ (~1150 on Amazon.com): This is by far the best quadcopter for video right now. It offers fully stabilized HD video, real-time FPV streaming, and a seamless user experience. Easy to set up and fly, and amazing quality imagery.
- DJI Phantom 2 (~600 on Amazon.com): Excellent model and the body is the same as the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+, but this model does not come with a camera. You can easily mount a GoPro video camera (or other similar light weight action cam), though for good results you’ll want a 3-axis gimbal. Also, you can’t see what you’re filming unless you hook up a FPV system on your own, which can be complicated. Recommended for those on a budget who don’t necessarily care about FPV, or the power users who want the higher image and video quality that you can get with a GoPro HERO4 video camera.
- DJI FC40 (~500 on Amazon.com): This is the budget solution for folks that want to try out aerial videography. It only offers 720p HD, rather than full 1080p, and the stabilization is less than impressive. Recommended only if you’re on a tight budget as it really just last some of the features that make filming with quadcopters so enjoyable.
So there you have it – three main models from DJI right now, though hands down the Phantom 2 Vision+ is the way to go if you can afford it! It is the best quadcopter for video on the market right now, and is an amazing value even when you compare it to models that you have to build yourself and calibrate. We hope you enjoyed this quadcopter video guide and safe flying!
Professional / Commercial – $1000+
A DJI Phantom coupled with a RX-100M can take pretty amazing footage. But for those who want to make money with quadcopter videos, and who use quadcopters professionally, the extra stability and payload capacity of a larger quadcopter is necessary. Many of these quadcopter models are custom built, though companies like DJI do offer a few high end models geared towards aerial photography and videography, like the DJI Spreading Wings S800 and the S800 EVO.
These models typically are made from carbon fiber tubes, offering strength and low weight so that the craft can accommodate larger and heavier payloads. Many of these are not technically quadcopters – they are hexacopters or octocopters!! The model of video camera depends on the user’s need and the capabilities of the craft, but the BlackMagic Design Cinema Camera, Canon DSLR models, Panasonic Lumix GH3, or Nikon DSLR models are all excellent choices. Another great option mentioned above is the Sony RX-100M, and at just under $750 it offers amazing video quality and stabilization for the price.
Hope that answers some of your questions and gets you going in the right direction with a quadcopter video setup! Let me know if you have any other questions about which cameras are best for quadcopters, and check back periodically as we’ll be frequently updating this quadcopter video guide. Happy Flying and Filming!