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Old December 4th, 2008, 11:40 PM   #1
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Helicopter Aerial & FCP Smoothcam Filter

Since I was searching for some info on this recently, I thought I'd post some experience with worse case scenario aerial footage. The scenario was that a client called me at the last minute to shoot some aerial footage from a piston helicopter. The pilot was ready to go within the hour but we had no gyro stabilization and I had no experience shooting aerial video. After giving fair warning that the footage may not be usable due to camera shake and getting a "do the best you can" response from the firm, this was the original footage shot with the V1u in 1080i60 at 1/125 shutter, variable iris & manual focused, completely handheld. The raw footage is here:
http://www.vimeo.com/2219256
Next I transcoded the original capture to ProRes in Compressor, re-inported and ran the smoothcam filter on the footage. Since the smoothcam filter anaylizes entire master clips, regardless of the edit timeline, this was an overnight process. Recommend making master clips as short as possible.
Results of the smoothcam are here:
Port Authority Aerials - w/Smoothcam on Vimeo with a slight gamma level adjustment for those of you on PCs.
While far from perfect, I was pleasantly surprised at what a difference the Smoothcam filter made.
Observations: -Needed to shoot with the viewfinder as screen added to wind resistance and increased buffeting. -Needed to keep lens inside open door for same reason. Avoid temptation to zoom for same reason. -Do not brace on airframe or knees to avoid shake transmitted from the airframe. -Smoothest when shooting with camera pointed from the 9 o-clock to 11 positions. -Get some type of gyro system for next shoot. -Build up muscles to allow better stability while holding camera to the eye for an hour and trying to maintain orientation while hanging out of the open door of a helo.
Final note: Though I was a little disappointed with this footage, the client was more than satisfied responding that some shake is expected by the viewer when shooting from a helo. And since I know that only a few seconds of the footage is likely to be used, I'm confident that with the Smoothcam filter, they will get the results they need.
Still new to the video world, from still shooting, and would be happy to hear any tips. Likewise, if I can help further with any lessons learned, let me know.
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Last edited by James J. Lee; December 4th, 2008 at 11:46 PM. Reason: removing Vimeo Password Protection
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Old December 5th, 2008, 08:37 AM   #2
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Looks good.

Two questions. Did you have steadyshot on? If you had it on, what mode did you use? I have shot video several times from small helicopters and I agree with most of your assesments. BTW, I feel I had the best results shooting at 1/60th. The first time, I could not resist the urge to zoom in. Bad, bad, bad. I now have a gyro stabilizer and it certainly helps but it does add more weight and more wind resistance. I think I would like to try a shoulder brace with the stabilizer. I think that would be the best set up. Or maybe I am lazy and just hoping to avoid some of the arm fatigue.
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Old December 5th, 2008, 10:59 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by Greg Laves View Post
Looks good.

Two questions. Did you have steadyshot on? If you had it on, what mode did you use? I have shot video several times from small helicopters and I agree with most of your assesments. BTW, I feel I had the best results shooting at 1/60th. The first time, I could not resist the urge to zoom in. Bad, bad, bad. I now have a gyro stabilizer and it certainly helps but it does add more weight and more wind resistance. I think I would like to try a shoulder brace with the stabilizer. I think that would be the best set up. Or maybe I am lazy and just hoping to avoid some of the arm fatigue.
A gyro stabilizer looks like a good solution for aerial video work. I just checked out Kenyon Labs as gyro manufacturer. Are there others?
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Old December 5th, 2008, 11:16 AM   #4
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Yes

I think I did have IS on in it's factory setting. I looked for info on what shutter to shoot, got mixed opinions so sort of split the difference. Coming from a still background I have a desire to increase shutter speed but understand that 1/60th is standard. Didn't know how that would apply to fast footage.
Yes, I think given the time, I'd try to go with some type of shoulder mount and two gyros if possible. Though, I was pleasantly surprised with how effective the smooth cam filter was for this kind of work.
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Old December 5th, 2008, 06:00 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by James J. Lee View Post
I think I did have IS on in it's factory setting.
James, the factory IS setting will give you abrupt adjustments. That is what I thought I saw in your unedited footage. If I was going to use image stabilization, I would at least put it on the "soft" setting. I turn it off. I don't think you are really shooting "fast action" when taping out of a helicopter. At least I don't think want to be shooting fast action. Unfortunately, I have had a hard time convincing my pilot that he is not really Tom Cruise and I have had some moves that were a lot faster and more sudden than I wanted.

Andy, the gyro I am using is the Kenyon Labs KS-6. It is recommended for cameras up to 6 pounds. I personally haven't used it on large cameras but I rented it to a crew using the Panasonic 900. Even though it isn't designed for a camera that heavy, they said they were extremely pleased with it.
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Old December 5th, 2008, 09:13 PM   #6
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Thanks Greg

Thanks for the info. Will try non-IS next time. I keep it off most of the time as I'm usually on sticks anyway. Care to give some details about when to use various shutter speed settings. Does it make a difference if you know you're likely to adjust the speed of any of the footage, have faster pans, etc.?
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Old December 5th, 2008, 09:40 PM   #7
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James, I haven't really experimented with all kinds of shooting conditions from a helicopter. I just think that in most helicopter shooting you will want the pilot and the photographer to be doing everything slow and steady. And there is no need for faster shutter speeds under those conditions. Now if you are shooting an aerial dogfight between helicopters.......
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Old December 5th, 2008, 10:58 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by Greg Laves View Post
Andy, the gyro I am using is the Kenyon Labs KS-6. It is recommended for cameras up to 6 pounds. I personally haven't used it on large cameras but I rented it to a crew using the Panasonic 900. Even though it isn't designed for a camera that heavy, they said they were extremely pleased with it.
My camera is about 8 pounds dry throw on big batteries, in some possible situations a Letus and other paraphernalia I am probably looking at a 10 to 12 pound unit. If I am going to pop this much for a stabilizer I would go for the KS-8.

Helpful thread. Thanks for the info Greg.

BTW, the Smoothcam filter in FCP is really nice for getting you out of bad situations when things don't go just right.
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