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Using RC Helicopters For Aerial Photography & Videography

January 23rd, 2008 · 6 Comments ·

There are many ways to enjoy the aspects of RC helicopters as a hobby, but some people have taken it a step further and turned their hobby into a viable and thriving business.

What I’m talking about, is using your RC helicopter for aerial photography and videography.

Aerial Photography (AP) is the art of taking photos from the sky whereas Aerial Videography is similarly the art of taking video from above.

In the old days, if you wanted an aerial photo of your house, land, construction site, commercial building, farm or anything else, you had to hire a pilot and plane at the cost of $500 to $1,000 or more.

That’s a thing of the past. With the new stabilization technology, high power setups and compact digital cameras and video cameras, everyone from small budget production companies to real estate agents to construction companies to farmers to special event organizers are using RC helicopters to take pictures and even video of their places and events.

It’s even been used for filming footage for television news stations that don’t have the budget or availability of a full sized helicopter.

In fact, RC helicopter based aerial photography is probably the most versatile form of aerial photography and aerial videography available, as it’s extremely accurate and has the ability to take aerial pictures and video from unique angles that full sized aircraft can’t match.

RC aerial photography and videography has become so popular, that there’s even a dedicated RC aerial photography association at www.rcapa.net.

Advantages Of RC Photography & Videography

Using radio control helicopters for aerial photography has certain advantages when compared to traditional aerial photography, where a full sized plane or helicopter is used. They are:

  • It’s much more cost effective than hiring a pilot with a full sized plane or helicopter.
  • RC helicopters can fly at any altitudes from ground level to about 500ft or more whereas commercial aircraft are often limited by how low they can fly (traditionally 500ft to 1,000ft). Not only does flying closer to the ground cut down on any haze or air anomalies, but it also lets you capture your subject at unique angles.
  • RC helicopters, especially electric RC helicopters, are also much quieter and more environmentally friendly to operate that traditional aircraft.
  • You don’t need to have a nearby airfield or helipad.
  • An RC pilot can arrive on location, take the pictures or raw video, burn it to a CD and give it to you all inside an hour.
  • Due to advanced gimbals, image stabilization software and newer camera technology, RC aerial photography is the same or better quality than a pilot taking a picture out the window of his or her plane.

Disadvantages Of RC Photography & Videography

Even though the list of benefits of newer technology and RC photography / videography is long, it’s not without a few disadvantages. These include:

  • RC helicopters cannot operate in strong winds or rainy weather.
  • RC helicopters have a maximum altitude of about 500ft in most cases.
  • You need to watch our for potential hazards and low-lying obstacles like power lines and trees.
  • You don’t get the benefit of larger, production quality video cameras and operators, therefore the video is somewhat jerkier than something taken from a full sized helicopter.

Even though it has it’s disadvantages, many people are turning to the cost effectiveness of RC helicopter photography and videography and using it for everything like selling real estate, inspecting construction sites or large buildings, video production and even advertising for golf courses or wineries.

One RC heli that has revolutionized the RC helicopter aerial videography scene is the Draganflyer SAVS (Stabilized Aerial Video System), which is a 4 rotor gyro stabilized, self leveling RC helicopter.

It used patented thermal intelligence technology, which uses the infrared heat signatures of the earth and atmosphere to keep the helicopter level and stable when flying outdoors.

This 19 ounce Draganfly SAVS is portable enough for almost any application, however it is limited by its 5-7 once lift capacity and 15 minute flight times. And because of its light weight and square shaped design, it’s also quite susceptible to the wind, and can’t safely be flown in gusts above 10mph.

But, because of its stability, anti-vibration camera mount and ease to fly (when compared to traditional RC helicopters) this all in one package makes a great budget platform for aerial videography amateurs or the budding professional.

Here’s what they had to say about it on the Discovery Channel:


Even though they’re not relatively cheap, at a cost of about $2,500 from rctoys.com, they’re cheap compared to a larger RC helicopter videography setup which can run $5,000 – $10,000 or more complete with higher quality HD camera’s, dedicated video downlinks and GPS stabilization equipment.

Though, larger .90 or bigger sized nitro, gas, electric or turbine powered RC helicopter have a lifting capability of up to 25lbs and longer run times than the Draganflyer SAVS which make them perfect for professional quality digital cameras or even HD video shooting.

Cameras and video cameras are typically mounted to a Gimbal which often gives it the ability to tilt up and down and rotate on it’s axis by 360 degrees.

This is controlled by a servo which is connected to the helicopters receiver and can be controlled by the helicopter operator or a dedicated camera operator. The shutter on the digital cameras can also be configured to operate from the RC transmitter on the ground.

When used for photography, digital cameras can also have a dedicated video downlink so the camera operator and / or client can see exactly what they’re taking pictures of to ensure they get the perfect shot.

So, if you’re ever in need of any type of aerial photography or videography, give some thought to foregoing the traditional methods, saving some money and using an dedicated RC helicopter AP setup.

Also, RC photography and videography doesn’t just need to be for money making professionals. Amateurs can pick up a small pinhole ‘nanny cam’ or cheap digital camera off eBay for less than $50, attach it to any RC helicopter or airplane and do some aerial photography or videography of their own.

Aerial photography or videography gives you a unique perspective that most individuals don’t commonly see the world in and can be a truly breathtaking experience.

3 Axis Gyro Stabilized Copterworks Camera Mount Demo

Turbine RC Helicopter With Onboard Video


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Tags: RC Helicopter Articles

6 responses so far ↓

  • Patricia Brown // Apr 2, 2008 at 10:30 am

    These are indeed amaZing Flying Machines. I would Love to own a couple myself! Keep UP the Good Work!
    Thank You- P.B.

  • Ray C // May 3, 2008 at 9:37 pm

    I am looking for a company that makes large RC videography setup for professional aeirail filming. I would appreciate any information.
    Thank you RC

  • admin // May 5, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    Hi Ray, you can check out the following websites that might have what you’re looking for.

    http://www.askmanap.com
    http://www.airfoilhelicam.com
    http://www.choppercam.net

  • Adrian Wallace // Jul 10, 2008 at 8:44 pm

    In all the write-ups that I have read about RC air photography, I have not seen any mention of the Public Liability insurance costs. Here in OZ inquiries have not found any cover that is under 4 figures , putting it out of being a part time activity, especially when helicopters are mentioned!

  • anndy // Apr 15, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    that must be a good idea , for RC helicopter lovers , here I have a good place , there you can find out so many kinds of beautiful RC toys that I am sure you will like it , that is
    Tradestead , it will not let you down!

  • rc helicopter camera | Portal 99 // Apr 20, 2011 at 10:50 am

    [...] Using RC Helicopters For Aerial Photography & Videography Jan 23, 2008 … In fact, RC helicopter based aerial photography is … Turbine RC Helicopter With Onboard Video … [...]

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