ALTA 8 + Phantom MiroMarch 31st, 2016
4 years ago Hugh Bell and I spent a day filming around Seattle with the CineStar 8 and created CineStar at work. Since then we have both been in love with shooting any type of drone in slow motion. Back then we used the RED EPIC which allowed us to shoot up to about 100FPS without cropping in on the sensor (I can’t remember the exact frame rate that the EPIC could achieve back then)
Fast forward 4 years and Hugh and I are day dreaming about launch videos for our newest product, the ALTA 8. The ALTA 8 is our largest drone, and capable of max takeoff weight of up to 40lbs. We knew that this would be a great opportunity to shoot some more slow motion footage. I think we both enjoy it so much because Hugh loves being behind the camera, and I love flying aggressively…..which leads to dynamic and compelling slow motion shots.
We were lucky enough to get our hands on a Phantom Miro from Vision Research. The Phantom Miro allowed us to shoot up to 1500fps at 1080p. Its also small and light enough that we can mount it to our MoVI M15 gimbal and fly it on an ALTA. As a drone operator, I love small, light, efficient camera packages. Every gram we save on setup means that I can fly that much more aggressively and dynamically. The Miro size, shape, and functionality is well suited to a small stabilized gimbal. The workflow after you do a few run throughs is pretty efficient as well……but there are some tips and tricks we discovered which I will touch on later.
Here is a rundown on our setup
We setup the camera to center trigger (capture both before, and after the shutter command) and to allow us to capture 2 times before having to save / delete the media. We would try each shot twice, then review the footage and save / delete based upon shot quality.
We wired the Miro to be triggered from the Wedge CAM/RS232 port. This allowed us to remotely trigger the shutter from the MōVI Controller. Here are the pinouts and wiring schematic for creating a custom cable to go from the Phantom trigger, to the wedge.
Wedge CAM / RS232 pinout diagram
Phantom Miro Pinout Diagram
If you don’t have/use a Wedge/MōVI Controller combo, you can also remotely fire the shutter using an off the shelf RC switch style transmitter. I have this one left over from my photo days, and we have used it on a few shoots in the past successfully. The nice thing about the RC and MōVI controller options is that you have the capability to fire the shutter from very long ranges (1200ft). This is critical since we like to move the camera around, and never know when you are going to get that perfect moment. We also have pushed this system to the limits filming skiing/snowboarding where the gimbal operator gets separated from the MōVI operator by huge distances.
To keep things light, we opted to power the Phantom from a 4s 2600mah MōVI Battery. This involved creating a cable that connects to the bullet connectors on the back of the camera that the Sony batteries plug into. Unless you are pretty comfortable with wiring and soldering, I would just suggest using the Sony Batteries.
We used the Amimon sky link for wireless HD video. The key with any wireless setup you choose for a Miro shoot is latency. Most of the systems widely used these days have very low latency (Amimon, Teradek, Paralinx) and should work great. Worth mentioning is that we have also used some SD video links in the past for very long range operations (> 1 mile) The ones we used were Cobham SD COFDM video transmitter as well as a 1.3ghz analog lawmate system like this one.
For pointing the gimbal, we used both the Mimic and the MōVI Controller. We really liked operating with the Mimic! It allows for really accurate and dynamic framing decision. Hugh was able to hold frame even when I was blasting by the camera inches away with the ALTA 8. For the more complex setups, we had Hugh operating the MIMIC, Justin pulling focus, and Mike or me flying. It’s a complex setup for sure, but there is so much action going on all compressed into just a few seconds. In order to get a really great shot you have to nail:
- Camera movement
- Camera Framing
- Trigger timing
- Action in the scene
It definitely took this team a few reps to get into the groove, but once we did we were getting a pretty good hit rate on ‘keeper’ shots.
To capture the intimate shots of the ALTA cruising past the camera, we set up the Miro on a M15 mounted to a tripod. This allowed me to fly aggressively close to the camera, without undue risk to the camera operators.
For the ALTA shots, we used the ALTA 8 setup with teal isolators and used 2 Freefly 10ah or 9ah flight packs. This gave us nice long flight times and incredible thrust ratio when I really needed to lay the machine on its side and pull off a dynamic move.
Phil Whitton is the Mechanical Engineer responsible for the Toad in the Hole…..each and every day I think fondly of Phil for creating this time saving device(Phil didn’t die, he just moved to California). It allows us to switch from Tripod, to ALTA, to Tero in just seconds. Previously it was such a pain in the ass to move camera setups that we would lock into a certain method of shooting, and be fearful of switching due to the downtime for changeover. Now we don’t even consider it, and just change freely all day.
Tero allows us to move the camera in an extremely aggressive fashion. Its acceleration is incredible and can be downright scary when you realize you have an expensive camera onboard. Executing Tero to ALTA shots takes good coordination between ALTA and Tero operators, but the results are worth it. I love how quickly the Tero can translate the camera from point A to point B. I find most of the high speed shots I love have:
- Dynamic camera movement from point A to B
- Dynamic camera framing (high / low….left/ right etc)
- Dynamic foreground subject movement
Getting all the technology to work together is a bit of a challenge. I strongly recommend doing some dry runs before you head out shooting, to make sure that everything is functioning reliably and consistently. Nothing makes me more annoyed than being at a great location, with great light, and having some intermittent connector or bad solder joint.
Triggering at the right time takes some practice as well. I was on a shoot with Scott Duncan and he gave me some great advice. He told me that he thinks of the phantom as a stills camera, and it’s his job to capture the peak moment of intensity. He sets the camera up to capture both before and after the shutter command so that he has a nice lead in/out as well as the definitive moment.
Go behind the scenes