In a quest to get the perfect shot, Eric Austin, a Texas-based videographer, found a neat way to fuse a remote controlled helicopter and a Canon DSLR camera so he could shoot aerial videos easily and get the kind of footage that would otherwise be difficult to pull off.
"I took a hobbyshop helicopter and modified it to hold a camera, so I can get low altitude, close and tight aerial shots," Austin told Wired.com.
An amateur videographer turned pro, Austin got interested in remote-controlled photography just four months ago.
"As I did more photos and videos, I realized I could develop a niche where I could use the advancements in technology to provide the kind of photos most people can't get easily," he says.
Austin is one of the many hobbyist photographers who are finding ways to use drones and remote-controlled helicopter toys to get a more attractive camera angle. Wired magazine editor-in-chief Chris Anderson helms a site called DIY Drones where users have found a way to use unmanned aerial vehicles to do aerial photography. Last year, New York City photographer Anthony Jacobs showed a helicam built using a German helicopter rig called MikroKopter. Jacobs used his helicam rig to shoot videos of neighborhooods in the city.
Austin, who has a website devoted to his RC helicopter videography, says he wanted to do something similar and offer HD-quality video and photos.
That's why, he says, he decided to create a rig that would be reliable and produce the kind of footage that could be used by professionals. And as this clip shows, the video can be interesting.
So far, Austin has helped shoot footage for TV shows including History Channel's Sliced series.
Austin started with a remote-controlled helicopter called Align T-REX 700 and modified it to carry a special frame and camera mount. He tweaked the landing gear for the helicopter, covering it with a bright pink foam from the "noodles" used in swimming pools.
"The color stands out when I am flying the helicopter outdoors," says Austin. "And if I crash into the water, my whole equipment won't go to the bottom. It will be ruined, but at least I will get my gear back." Austin says he hasn't crashed his helicopter yet, but the foam ensures that in case of a hard landing, the equipment is less likely to completely fall apart.
He adjusts the camera's settings when it's on the ground and presses the Record button right before takeoff. For still images, Austin says he uses an external timer that activates the shutter every few seconds.
To create his flying video rig, Austin says he spent hours on the online discussion forums at the Helifreak.com website.
"I didn't know anyone to talk to," he says. "And then realized the only place to go was online where people were discussing this."
One of the more challenging shoots that Austin has done with his helicam was flying over a cliff that was about 25 feet high with a river below. And he didn't crash the copter.
"The probability that a crash will happen is there, but so far, I have been careful," he says.
To download video, Austin has set up a 5.8-GHz video downlink feed using an on-board wireless transmitter.
All of this didn't come cheap. Austin estimates the entire rig cost him about $15,000. But for those at home, who want to do something similar, he says there are cheaper alternatives.
"I went for the best and most expensive components because I didn't want to risk it failing mid-air," he says. "But you can get an RC helicopter for about $400 and put a point-and-shoot camera on it."
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Photo/video: Eric Austin
[via DIY Photography]