Here comes the age of high resolution, colour accurate cameras destined for UAVs. Gone are the days where GoPros stuck to a quadcopter are revolutionary, for this is something that anyone can have, so now the internet is saturated with such content. Cameras are becoming better, faster, smaller with ever evolving new features that make anyone look like a professional aerial photographer/videographer. However when it comes to UAVs, what separates the consumer hobbyist from the professional is becoming wider.
In regards to aerial cinematography, GoPros or small action cameras on quadcopters are not suitable enough for the serious aerial cinematographer. While GoPros can output some impressive results, larger format cameras with larger sensors, interchangeable lenses offer a much higher image quality but also flexibility with settings for different shooting conditions and environments. When we look at what is being used in the field from a moderate level we see popular cameras such as the Panasonic Lumix GH4, Sony A7S, Canon 5DMkIII. Each camera has their strengths and weaknesses. The GH4 has the ability to record 4K resolution video onboard the camera which provides sharper and more detailed footage making it extremely popular on UAVs. Then you have the A7S which has a full-frame sensor (with ability to record 4K with an external recorder), and is great at capturing low light video with some extraordinary results. Then we have the Canon 5D series which is popular for high resolution images. Cameras like this are available to buy everywhere, and so are larger platform UAVs that can carry higher payloads.
But what we are seeing is just the beginning. Cinema grade cameras on drones at this current stage are a rarity. There are some that have custom mounted RED camera systems, but from what is emerging, we see camera companies creating platforms destined for drones and movable applications. Phase One Industrial’s latest camera the iXU 180 is the first of its kind to incorporate an 80 Megapixel sensor and weighs under 1 Kg (body only). This is perfect for a drone platform for it is small, light and has the form factor that is easy to incorporate onto a gimbal system. Having such a high megapixel density allows the camera to capture images with high resolution detail that was not possible beforehand making it ideal for asset inspection, surveying, landscape shots, etc.
When we turn our attention towards video we see camera manufacturers beginning to design similar to the iXU 180 in their form factors. Arri has always been very popular in the high end cinematography scene, and recently they have released the Alexa Mini which is based on its big brother the Alexa. Arri basically re-designed the Alexa, which is a larger scale production camera into a smaller body, getting rid of all the unnecessary features/ports/weight for aerial applications. Cameras like these if anything, progress the industry in adopting drone technology for high end productions. Cinematographers don’t want to mix and match different cameras on a production, they want to have similar equipment that will achieve the same result, and having Arri or Red systems in the air allow this.
Even with smaller form factor drones we see manufacturers like Blackmagic Design with the soon to be released Micro Cinema Camera which incorporates high definition uncompressed video, professional features, interchangeable lens support, while being a bit larger than a GoPro camera. This is just the beginning of an ongoing trend with camera manufacturers designing cameras specifically for mobile platforms. If there’s one certainty in the future from camera and UAV manufacturers, it’s that innovation will be at an all time high for many years to come. Also have a read of a recent post where we touched on Aerial Cinematograpy in the 6K Era
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