Flying Camera Rig for Indie Filmmakers

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about how I did the aerial shots in my new film trailer, so I’ll try to answer these questions here. First watch the tutorial, then read my notes below.

Tutorial 38

So the whole setup starts with the DJI Phantom. A great little RC quadcopter that you can buy on eBay right here:

If you prefer to shop at Amazon.com, click below

It’s right now the only cheap quadcopter that can lift up the GoPro Hero or any other similar size camera. Plus, it’s ready to fly right out of the box. Honestly, you just have to attach the landing gear and the propellers and you can go flying. It’s super easy to fly because of the autopilot, not to mention that it has GPS built into it, so if you ever fly too far away and lose the signal, it will just come back on its own to where it originally took off from. The standard battery that comes with the Phantom will give you about 12 min. of flight time. Of course that decreases if you’re flying with a heavier camera or attachments like the wireless video system. Also, in cold weather or on really windy days, the battery life is shortened. The Phantom is supposed to work up to 300 meters, but I’ve so far tested it up to 500 meters and I still haven’t lost control of it.

The quad comes with a basic attachment for the GoPro camera, although I would recommend upgrading that once you learn to fly. The reason is because sometimes the vibrations caused by the motors can create a jello effect in your video. So I attach my camera to a fiberglass plate that’s glued to a sponge and on the other side it’s attached to the Phantom. The sponge acts as a simple shock absorption. Click on the photos below to see what I mean.

Also, I’ve built a simple wireless video transmitter using parts you can buy on the internet. It’s pretty basic. I got a 5.8 ghz wireless video transmitter and receiver combo (just google it to find a deal that works for you). I can’t personally recommend any online seller since I bought mine from a private seller on eBay. I plug the GoPro to the video transmitter directly. I also attach an extra small 850mAh LiPo battery underneath the quad to power the video transmitter. All of that is attached using Velcro that I bought at my local hardware store.

Now on my phantom transmitter I attached a 7 inch portable monitor/TV screen. It’s about $80 on eBay. Just look around for a deal. I attach that to the controller using a single screw. It’s secure enough! 🙂 I also put a lot of Velcro on the back of the monitor so that I can easily attach the video receiver and two LiPo batteries to power both the receiver and the monitor itself. Its not too heavy and I prefer to use a monitor instead of video goggles because in case I ever lose the video signal I can quickly look up at the quad and regain control of it by flying by line of sight… with video goggles, by the time you take them off, you’ll end up crashing the quad. Anyway check out the pictures of my setup below and message me if you got anymore questions.

ALSO, some people have been asking me why I don’t simply use the GoPro Iphone and Android app that is free. The app lets you monitor what the GoPro sees and also lets you record and change settings on the GoPro camera wirelessly. The reason why I don’t use that and wouldn’t recommend anyone to use it is because the GoPro app works using WiFi signal. Two major problems with that. First is the 3-5 second delay you get when monitoring what the camera sees. This means that if you’re flying fast, you could end up crashing into something before you even see it on your phone :). Second problem is the frequency that WiFi uses. It’s really close to the 2.4ghz frequency that the DJI Phantom transmitter uses. Which means that the WiFi signal could interfere and cut out control of your quad, resulting in a crash. That also reminds me… when buying a wireless video transmitter/receiver, make sure you buy something that uses different frequency than 2.4ghz… again so that you don’t cause interference with the quad controller. I use a 5.8ghz video system… but you can also buy others like 1.8hgz. etc. The lower the frequency the further the system will work, but its going to get more expensive since you’ll also need a bigger antenna.

P.S. The camera I use on my DJI Phantom is the GoPro Hero3 Black Edition which you can get on eBay right here:

or at Amazon (US and UK sites)

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40 thoughts on “Flying Camera Rig for Indie Filmmakers”

  1. Hi Tom, thanks for this. Im currently flying my Hero 3 Black on My Ar Drone but have been considering upgrading to the Phantom. I Love your Mods : )
    Did you drill holes into the GoPro case in order to access the mini USB or mini HDMI port?

    1. Yup… I had to drill two holes right next to each other to make the opening big enough for the mini USB cable

    2. I found that drilling a single hole using a 1/2 inch (13mm) drill bit is just enough to accommodate a mini USB cable. I started out with a smaller bit first and then moved up to the 1/2 in bit after.

    1. You mean to boost the signal from the pahantom transmitter (white controler) to the phantom? If so then no I didn’t. Just using the stock phantom. What I did add was the wireless video system and had to boost the video signal strenght using better antennas.

    1. my video transmiter is 5.8ghz at 600mW strenght and its made in china. That’s all that it says. No company name. But theres a lot of different chinese made video transmiters with the same settings that you can find online. Just google it! 🙂 Mine cost $120 plus monitor and cables and batteries. Ive seen some for around $80 and $100 that look similar.

  2. Very good review, thx!
    where did you get the fiberglas-plate and the sponge. did you made it by your self?
    how you attached it on the phantom?
    I’m considering about to buy a phantom, but first I want to know things like that:)
    thank you, greetings from switzerland

    1. I made it all myself and attached it to the phantom using the two screws that come to attach the original phantom camera mount.

  3. Hey great looking Phantom. I just got one yesterday and was setting up the Hero3 to do a little FPV and video shots. How did you get your video flipped on the live feed with the camera mounted upside down? I’m looking for the settings on the web now. Thanks in advance for your reply and again great video and overview of the Phantom.

    1. Just go to the settings—> capture settings in your gopro hero camera and it’s the first option there that allows you to flip the image upside down.

  4. Hi Tom,
    I simply loved your great video and explaination on the Quadcopter and additional mod settings you did with the 5.8Ghz Transmitter/receiver setup. its great.
    Thank you for sharing with all of us 🙂 and a Greetings from Darwin, Australia as well 🙂 lol
    I’m a beginner to all of this and would love to learn everything you did in your modifications please? Your welcome to email or post on the blog.
    Thanks again and its a inspiration to see this and strive to get 1/10 of what you did as well 🙂
    Cheers
    Robert J

    1. Thanks Robert. Im working on a new custom DJI Phantom quadcopter with a gimbal and video system that can deliver truly cinematic shots. Once I get everything working I will post another video with more info. Still working out some bugs.

    1. Thanks Lae! I work hard and I know how hard it is to find out useful info on new filmmaking technology. So when I learn something that I think others might find useful, I always share it on my website and youtube channel.

  5. Hi Tom,

    This is a really neat setup.

    I’m looking to do something similar, and I have a question: with the transmitter you bought, did it come with a miniUSB connector (for the GoPro), or did you have to wire it yourself?

    Thanks for your help! Great tutorial.

  6. hey mate,
    loving the set up, just wondering what cable i need for the transmitter to plug into the go pro!
    cheers

  7. The video I see that you’ve taken still looks a little shaky with obvious vibration. The FPV video system looks great except I’m thinking of adding a gimbal to the phantom and the extra cables may impact the performance of the gimbal. Plus, all the extra batteries and other add on elements look painful, particularly if you need to swap out batteries. We shoot reality TV and fumbling with many elements like that; I could loose the shot. I don’t always have the luxury of controlling people like actors.

  8. hi tom , have you tried the 50mm lens from rage on the go pro. im keen to know how the stability is once mounted on the phantom.

  9. Hello Tom and everybody. I have been following you for 2 years now. I learnt a lot. I always wanted to do aerial videography but knowing that we are not allowed to make money with the shots taken by using a drone has kept me away from doing it. I was wondering if it is ok to use it for filmmaking. Can anybody sue or arrest me if I use it for lets say wedding videography or films. Thanks a lot for all the info and the effort.

    1. Different rules apply in different places. So you have to check where you want to fly if there are any restrictions… but mostly since it’s new technology you don’t have to worry about using these small drones… Any restrictions are for bigger drones and only when you fly in and around airports or above 300meters height.

  10. Tom Antos u r just amazing man …everyday I see things you pushes me to further conclude on what I want to do…Are you music video tutorials enough to start me on this journey… Thanx Biggy

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