Nano-drones are usually designed as indoor toys but they can be used to create some very unique shots.
Thanks to their small sizes, these tiny quadcopters can fly in very tight spaces and create “impossible” sequences like flying through windows and below chairs. Typically, this type of drone can weight less than an ounce (28 grams) and offers very little flight stabilization and poor video quality. Therefore, making this kind of video requires solid piloting skills and serious post-stabilization work. Another problem is the poor battery life (2-3 minutes), limited stability, and close to zero payload capacity. Therefore, the user must do a little bit of tweaking to install an HD camera on the drone. There is two ways to proceed in order to fit an HD camera on them.
The first solution is to opt for specialized cameras like the RunCam Split Mini that can film in 1080/60 and send the video signal back to the pilot. The file is recorded on a microSD card but unlike dedicated pilot cameras, an HD camera produces latency and the pilot must anticipate the trajectory and obstacle because the video signal sent back on the screen lags behind where the drone really is. That’s what the creator of this video did a few months ago.
The second option is to modify a GoPro by removing all the non-essential parts (casing, battery, screen, etc.) before interfacing the GoPro to the drone for power, and image transmission over the radio link. For instance, the following video was filmed with a stripped GoPro 4 mounted on an Aurora 90 drone.
Not long ago, the department store Kohl's also used nano-drones to film a short commercial video.
As for the stabilization, the nano-drones are not equipped with gimbal and most of these videos use a plugin called ReelSteady to stabilize the footage with an advanced algorithm and lens distortion presets. However, post-stabilization software only work up to a certain point and the key is to fly smoothly during the take. Here is the “raw” version of the beach video posted previously.
Very recently, Casey Neistat discovered the creative possibilities offered by these little aircraft and made his own production.
Getting Started with Nano-Drones
Would you like to make your own nano-drone video? The good news is that the hardware is really affordable but there is some technical work to do. Here is what you need:
- The drone ($50-$150). BNF stands for Bind and Fly meaning that the drone must bind (link) to a radio controller unit. There are several standards but most nano-drone use the Spektrum radio link.
- A controller or radio. An entry-level Spektrum controller cost about $60.
- The FPV (first person view) system made of a video transmitter and video receiver. Some drones like the Blade Torrent 110 used in Neistat's video already come with a video transmitter. For the receiving end, you can either buy a set of goggles ($300) or pick one of this cheap FPV monitor ($80-$150) with built-in video receiver.
- Finally, the HD recording can be done via a GoPro or a RunCam Split Mini ($80).
In any case, you will need play with a screwdriver and solder a few wires. Fortunately, Neistat's drone partner, Droneworks, published a very good video tutorial that shows how to install a GoPro on a Blade Torrent 110 drone.