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The hacker’s guide to getting aerial shots

If you’ve ever had to get an aerial shot, then you know there are a few options out there. Rent a jib, or even buy one. Maybe you need to go higher…so you could rent a crane for the day. Or maybe you need a helicopter shot. The problem is, each of these options get progressively more expensive. So what do you do if you want a high-end shot, but you’ve got a low-end budget?

Enter the world of remote controlled helicopters — that are tricked out with cameras. Let’s take a look at three different options that are out there.

First is something called an AR Drone, which you can pick up from your local Brookstone (yes, Brookstone) for about $300. This little gadget will definitely appeal to your inner geek: it’s a 2 foot x 2 foot square helicopter with 4 super light propellers, and it has 2 cameras on board. The best part? You control it with your iPhone or iPad, and can see a live video feed on your device while you’re also steering. Definitely good for some quality playtime, but the problem is that the video is, well, amateur. Even if you swap out the camera with a GoPro HD camera, the quality still ain’t great. Plus the device is so light that it easily gets shaken by wind. Here’s an example of what the footage looks like, from an AR Drone with a GoPro camera attached:

OK, so that obviously won’t work.

Another option is something called a Skywalker, which is actually a remote controlled airplane instead of a helicopter.  The plane is pretty big…about 3 feet long…which means it’s big enough to carry a small camera.  Here’s some footage from a Skywalker with a GoPro HD attached:

I actually think this footage is pretty damn cool, especially flying through the bridge.  Maybe it could be used for some artsy/edgy shots (like a title sequence?), and the price is right at about $1000 for the whole rig.  But let’s face it, it’s not feature film quality.

So is there anything that will give footage that looks as good as from an actual helicopter?  In a word, yes.

The MicroKopter was designed by some German engineers, and is now available in the U.S., Australia and several other countries.  It’s not the cheapest option out there, but you could purchase the whole rig for the price of 2-3 days of helicopter rental.  The MikroKopter is big enough to carry a proper DSLR camera like the Canon 5D, and some of the footage is absolutely amazing:

So there you have it…a summary of the emerging world of low-budget aerial shots.  Our vote is definitely for the MikroKopter, and we’ll certainly be asking Santa Claus for one next year.

What do you think…would you ever consider using a remote controlled device for an aerial shot?  Let us know in the comments section below.

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