Aerial shots in an ultra-lite? at

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Old June 16th, 2006, 09:40 PM   #1
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Aerial shots in an ultra-lite?

I have a friend who is willing to take me up in his ultra-lite (kind of like a plane, though more like a go-cart with wings: open-air, two-seater)...

Anyway, I actually need the aerial footage for a project, but I'm concerned about the safety of my gear.

Anyone have any suggestions or precautions?

I am considering using my Sony Z1U on a Glidecam 4000, attached to a Smooth Shooter vest. Will this work? Any other ideas on getting good, smooth footage?

I also think I'll invest in a good bungee cord I can attached to the camera itself... just in case!
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Old June 17th, 2006, 02:11 AM   #2
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Hmm. not sure this is the best idea to be honest.

A full Steadicam with dual section arm can only take 2 foot bumps when vest mounted. The bumps possible in an ultra-lite are mcuh more nad risk damaging the rig. This compounding the risk of somethign falling (the sled can bounce off the arm in a "freefall bump" as there is no grativy to hodl it on.

Just lots of things that can go wrong, I'd recomend renting a Kenyon Gyro for this shoot:

- Mikko
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Old June 17th, 2006, 02:29 AM   #3
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I shot some aeriels from a small two seater aeroplane with the door open and there was absolutely no room to move, I very much doubt you will be able to fit a full steadicam.

I would go hand held or use a mount. One thing you'll notice is the wind speed, it takes alot of strength to hold it even remotely steady...try putting your hand out the car window at 90mph and then imagine trying to hold a camera.

If he is a friend go up once hand held and once using a mount and see what is best.

Actor: "where would that light be coming from?"
DP: "same place as the music" -Andrew Lesnie-
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Old June 17th, 2006, 06:02 AM   #4
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Someone else recommended a Kenyon gyro. Will this eliminate the need for the Glidecam since they do the same thing? If I'm on the ground, does using a gyro do the same thing as a Steadicam?

I agree I will probably try a couple of tests first thing in the morning before we go to our destination. Good idea.

It sounds like perhaps I should get a gyro and hold the camera... perhaps even use a u-shaped camera mount that I can hold with both hands?

This is all good advice. Anything else come to mind?

I guess my shutter speed should be pretty fast. Any recommended camera settings?

Oh, we'll be flying at 60 mph...
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Old June 17th, 2006, 09:24 AM   #5
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It can be done! You may also notice the gyros for increased stability (it's very likely that there's a lot of wind when you're going 60)
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Old June 17th, 2006, 12:01 PM   #6
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Absolutely - absolutely. - Do NOT take that steadycam type rig airborne in an open cockpit ultralite.

Open ultralites are pretty good but not that good. There's a lot of fat and windage in any sort of steady rig. If you hang off the centreline and something turns sideways, your pilot may become suddenly amazed by an assymetric drag.

In combination with the possible overload the extra gear creates. There might just be enough unexpected loss of inertia to stall you.

The Kenlab, because it has to have a battery and wires, might also not be the best thing to take airborne unless there is a shelter zone and secure anchorage for the battery. It is however an appliance which was designed to be airbourne. The glidecam is not.

The gyro will be better than a glidecam in that environment and will dampen some wind buffet. If you want resistance to buffet when shooting directly out sidewards, you may need to mount the camera transversely across the Kenlab, not along it as it only gives you two of three axes of stabilisation.

Sideways you then lose pitch stability on the camera , but this might be better than a lot of involuntary dutchies caused by buffet. The glidecam will catch the wind and possibly even shake up some more.

I would recommend keeping it very simple, no extra wires, nothing which can go backwards into the propeller if it is behind you. The camera you will find will be quite a handful on its own without extra hardware attached, probably not quite as bad if the aircraft has a rear mounted engine and propeller.

Wires add to the problem if you want to point from one side of the aircraft to the other, getting round the lens or catching on things. The on-camera mike is not going to be a lot of use.

For a short flight, the gyro may spin on for along enough after the battery cable has been disconnected to be useful in an open cockpit ultralite. It apparently takes about 20 minutes to spin up to speed.

Maybe have a short lanyard from the camera to the fuselage airframe so that the camera doesn't go backwards for any unexpected reason and incapacitate your pilot if he is behind you in the seating arrangement.

Bemindful of your pilot's workload. He may be too much of an obliging fellow for his and your own good.

A brainful of things to be doing in normal circumstances and the added distraction of having a camera aboard and trying to please, are not a good combination.

I am not a qualified practitioner so regard my comments accordingly.
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Old June 18th, 2006, 03:14 AM   #7
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Bob's got a lot of good points.

First is safety. Make sure nothing gets loose. Especially anything resembling cables, etc. That could spell disaster for the prop and a premature end to the flight. These things glide nicely but if everything below you is trees, big rocks or water it's not going to be a pleasant landing. Imagine riding a bike without brakes into a bunch of trees or diving into a pool with your camera... yikes!

I'd recommend going up for a ride. Leave the camera behind for the first one just to see what it's like up there. You'd be surprised at how hard the slipstream can be at 60 mph. Matte boxes and lens shades can get torn right off.

In an open cockpit there's a lot of noise so communication might be tough.

If there's no protection from wind then handling even a little camera will be very difficult. Best to get some sort of windscreen or at least be behind the pilot. Even the old B-17 waist gun positions had windscreens (aluminum panels that extended outward, forward of the gun port) for their gunners -- remember the old movies like Twelve O'Clock High where you see the guys shooting out the side of the old bombers? Well if it weren't for the wind screens they'd have a really tough time trying to swing their .50 caliber guns around by hand. I had no idea they were there until I got a first-hand look at one being restored in Renton, WA.

It doesn't take much to induce "adverse yaw" in a small plane. When I flew Cessnas I could definitely feel when one of the windows were opened, and sometimes had to compensate with a little bit of rudder pressure.

Ultralights should be able to slow down quite a bit. Don't know what the stall speed is, but I wouldn't be surprised if it could maintain a 20 mph glide -- and that might be the best time to shoot video. I was able to slow a Cessna 152 and 172 to just above stall for aerial photography. About 45 mph.

The gyroscopic stabilizer would be your best bet. If you can set up a pair to help stabilize the camera in two axis that would be even better. But definitely forget using anything like a Glidecam or Steadicam. It's not intended to be used in those conditions.

Good luck, have fun and have a safe flight!

Wish I could go!
Dean Sensui
Exec Producer, Hawaii Goes Fishing
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Old June 21st, 2006, 08:06 AM   #8
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Great stuff, thanks. So I think I'm going to rent two gyros, but how can I mount them? I know one will mount directly to the camera, but how can I rig it so I can mount two?

I've considered getting or building something like a fig rig:

Any thoughts on the best way to hold my camera and attach the two gyros?

The plane is a breezy, and I'll be sitting behind the pilot. Photo:

Thanks for all your help!
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Old June 21st, 2006, 11:06 AM   #9
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And finally, something else no one has mentioned. Aircraft are very sensitive to weight and balance. You can't just place anything anywhere and expect to maintain control. The ultra-lite may be a little different wrt balance but it is certainly going to have weight limits like any other aircraft. So, you definitely don't want to take a lot of extra weight regardless of whether you could control the camera rig. Because it is summer and temps are hotter, the efficiency of normally aspirated engines is less, as is the efficiency of the prop, and the lift from the wings. That will further limit what weight can be carried.

Saftety first, we don't want you and your friend to become another aviation statistic.

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Old June 21st, 2006, 12:03 PM   #10
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Hi there

I shot some stuff from an autogyro a year or so back... as others have said there is no room to swing a cat in these things so a small camera is ideal.
I chose to shoot with a TRV950 and found it very good....instead of my Z1.

You'll probably end up shooting far wider than you think.. the first time I did aerial photography I was all kitted out with telephoto lenses and ended up shooting on a 28mm. With the TRV950 I shot with a wide angle converter.

Finally the electronic ignition on the engine of the craft I was on, played havoc with the camera's sound... it is deafening in any case, so coupled with the wind rush I'd forget audio. The ignition left a very audible electronic click click on my camera's sound, despite removing the external mic and beachtek.. a bit like a mobile phone..but louder. I thought it might be down to the Bluetooth on the camera...

Once you are up there though it is a real buzz... enjoy!!!


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Old June 21st, 2006, 04:15 PM   #11
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Yeah, no audio needed. I had anticipated the audio would be worthless.

I'm a small guy (140 lbs.) and the plane seats two. I can't imagine my weight + the camera/gyro weight being more than the plane could handle.

I appreciate everyone's emphasis on safety. My pilot is very experienced and he told me up front safety would come before the shot.... which I agree with. I'll toss the camera overboard before I let the shoot compromise our flight! Besides, insurance would pick up the cost of the camera. :)
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Old June 22nd, 2006, 02:31 PM   #12
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I'm still hoping someone can give me tips on how to attach TWO gyros to the camera...

Will one gyro be enough? Or is it worth the extra trouble to figure out how to do two?
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Old July 19th, 2006, 12:12 PM   #13
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Since no one every replied to this about how to mount two gyros to my camera, I thought I would post that I found a guy in CA (Blue Sky Aerials) that rents a simple rig with two gyros for small cameras. I haven't got it yet, but it looks like exactly what I need. Here's a photo:
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Old July 19th, 2006, 12:30 PM   #14
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That's a nice little setup and for a camera that size, that's a lot of gyro (even though they are just K8's, the little ones). The only quibble I would have is that they are possible not oriented to maximize their effect in the most advantageous way. Gyros, as was mentioned above, stabilize in two out of the three axes (pan, tilt, roll). The way to visually remember how this works is to imagine the canister lying on the ground; if you were to give it a push so that it rolled away, the direction that it rolls is the axis that it does NOT stabilize. Thus, in the picture, the right hand gyro is set to stabilize tilt and roll, but not pan, and the left gyro is set to stabilize pan and tilt but not roll. Thus you end up with double stabilization in tilt and single stabilization in pan and roll. I would probably rather see the double effect in the roll axis, which is usually more egregious to the photography. There is also another school of thought that likes to mount the gyros at 45 degrees rather than 90 degrees which distributes the stabilization between axes in a different way, but mmm...probably too subtle for a camera this size.
Charles Papert
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Old July 26th, 2006, 04:41 PM   #15
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Hi Tom,

My friend in Topeka has one of the Parachute type Ultralites. He says it only goes about 35 mph. Looks it too. He has helmets with headphones for communication. Passenger rides in the rear position, just in front of engine and prop and a little above the Pilot. There is also a large windshield on the front on his unit.

Anyway, I suggest you tie that Cam (the smallest you've got) to your upper body some how, so you can have both hands free if necessary.

That Cam CANNOT come loose from you, for any reason, in that open cockpit. (Assuming it has a rear Prop, and aside from the issue it must not drop from the craft onto people or property)

Depending on how much vibration that craft has, you might be surprised how well you do holding the Cam close to your chest. My friend has his prop balanced, so his is quite smooth.

It should be fun. It's beautiful up there.

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