Drones - Action from above

Flying filmmakers – camera drones have made it into the world of sport devices. Extreme sports athletes can get spectacular footage of their descents and jumps. The latest models are even self-steering. Find out what the various devices can do and how the market situation is looking.

A drone flying through a forrest
A drone flying through a forrest

Sometimes it hovers right above the snowboarder, sometimes it flies further overhead to show the line he is taking down the slope. The films that camera drones make of athletes are impressive, and there are thousands and thousands of them to be found on YouTube.

More and more companies are bringing models onto the market so that action sport athletes can get good footage of themselves. But the technology is by no means perfect yet.

Don’t Say Drone, Say Multicopter!

According to Holger Hirsch, ‘drone’ is not a nice word. It has a military ring to it, which doesn’t fit at all well with being out in nature filming spectacular footage. Mr. Hirsch prefers to call these flying devices ‘multicopters’ – and he knows his onions! He is a professional drone pilot from Rosenheim near Munich and he produces his own films and promotional videos for companies.

But not every multicopter is the same, he explains. These flying cameras are normally controlled by a remote control or a smart phone. There are also different types of drone to choose from. “There are devices for private use or for professionals. Some have an in-built camera while some have a mount for an external camera,” the drone pilot explains.

Multiple axles for a smooth and steady picture

Those flying devices with a separate mount, called a gimbal, tend mostly to be used by professionals. To enable them to carry an external camera, they are significantly heavier than other drones. The mount for the camera moves on multiple axles, helping to keep the footage smooth and steady.

But these features come at a price. This kind of drone can easily cost many thousands of Euros, whereas Multicopters with in-built cameras range in price from just over €200 to well over €1000. “The cheaper models are absolutely fine for fun films for private use,” says Mr. Hirsch. He explains, however, that it would be necessary to spend more for a professional production. The established suppliers, including the forerunner DJI, will be joined by a GoPro in the coming year.

This prominent company will bring its first drones to the market in 2016. The firm will be bringing with it an important element – a tried and tested extreme sports camera. It is therefore likely that the market for multicopters will soon narrow.

Small Aircraft in Follow-Me Mode

That said, there is still scope for gaps in the market to open up. Take, for example, the drones with ‘follow me’ function, which have been becoming increasingly important in the past year. As opposed to standard multicopters, models such as Airdog, Hexo+ and Lily are not controlled by another person. Instead, they use GPS to independently follow snowboarders, surfers or BMX bikers.

But these devices are expensive – you’re unlikely to find one for less than €1000. Another issue is that, taking the Lily model as an example, all you can find online is a prototype and promotional videos. The manufacturer, a start-up based in California, plans to begin delivering the pre-ordered drones in February.

Plenty of room for improvement

The technical implementation isn’t spot on just yet, according to drone expert Holger Hirsch. “The quality of the footage is not yet as smooth as a professional would like it to be.”

Another thing that is a pity, for amateurs and professionals alike, is that the follow me mode always maintains the same distance from the athlete. This means that these devices won’t yet be able to provide spectacular changes of perspective. There is still room for fast-moving, innovative companies to fill the gap. 

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