So we've been brainstorming our next camera flyer...
A little history: Our first big camera hauler was a Cinestar 8. It served us well. We wanted something bigger for flying the Red Epic. So we built a Vulcan flat octo with 15 inch props (and later added their awesome Mantis arm in place of the leading arm). Our most recent reel includes a mix of shots from the Cinestar and the Vulcan. Every shot in that reel is from either a hacked Panasonic GH2 or a Panasonic GH3 (we've flown plenty of cams, but these are by far the most popular for us). We've flown the Red on a handful of shoots, but most folks opt for having us fly smaller cameras. DP's like Epics and Alexas, but producers that control budgets like whatever is the most affordable. And we've seen a GH3 color-timed to match an Arri Alexa, and it worked well. And with the 4K GH4 on the way, the future is looking bright and LIGHT!
We're looking to build a new rig, and on this one we're taking the "less is more" approach. We want to build a rig that is ultra-portable, and targeted towards the cameras we typically fly. I see us continuing with the GH3, adding the 4K capable GH4, and also throwing our Blackmagic Pocket into the mix. We've only used the Pocket for ground work so far. We travel a lot, so having a rig that is smaller, lighter, and packs down faster would be a big benefit.
So here's what I'm considering, and I'd love to get some feedback. For some parts, I'm pretty set on what I will go with, for others it's still "up in the air."
The Frame: I'm leaning towards another frame from Vulcan UAV. Why? Several reasons actually. First, their frames are tough. Baggage handlers have given our gear a beating at times, so having a tough frame is important. I already have plenty of spare parts for our octo, so it makes sense to build a frame that can use the same spares. You can fold the arms for packing. Customer support is great. Their frames are VERY adaptable to all types of layouts and accessories.
The Layout: I'm likely going to build this out as a Y6 or a X8. I need redundancy, so no quads. I want something that's more portable, and we've already got a large octo, so coaxial seems like the smart bet. Many folks I respect have praised the benefits of coaxial. So that means it's either a Y6 or a X8. I'm leaning towards a Y6. With the Y6, I could fold the front arms back towards the back arm and pack it in a mid sized pelican case.
Motors: Looking at three brands - Avroto, KDE, and Tiger. All three brands make quality motors. There are some white Avroto motors that would be nice in the hot weather that we fly in. KDE has recently released multi-rotor motors and first impressions from folks have been good. Tiger (T-Motor) is obviously very popular, and they have a wide variety of options (they help manufacture the Avroto line). Really we couldn't go wrong with any of these.
Flight controller: We've been very happy with the Hoverfly Pro. I have an extra board that needs a home, so this will likely be the way I go. I usually fly in manual mode - 95% of the time it seems. And in manual mode, the Hoverfly Pro rules. It also flies really well in auto-leveling mode. I'd consider the new MK or SuperX as an option too. But I've got over 3,000 flights on Hoverfly Pro and it just works really well. I'm considering 6S lipo power, so I'd have to regulate the voltage to the Hoverfly.
Batteries: MaxAmps for me there. I have a fair amount of their 4S batteries, so it is tempting to build something based off 4S batteries. But many of the motors I like are tailored to 6S voltage, and there are some potential efficiency gains there. The choice of voltage will be a tough one. Also, with the Hoverfly Pro, you can't power it with a 6S battery, so you have to step down the voltage that is going to the board (ESCs still get full voltage though). What concerns me about that is that if that voltage regulator fails, well... that's a bad day. So I would need to go with a high quality voltage regulator and possibly wire up two for redundancy. I will power the system with 2 flight batteries at a time for longer flights and redundancy.
Props: The wooden Xoar props have been good to me. I think I'll give the T-Motor carbon props a go on this build, or something similar.
ESCs: Depends on the flight controller, but Turnigy Plush have served me well in combination with the Hoverfly Pro. Programming them is easy with their card.
Camera gimbal: There are a lot of gimbals on the market. We used parts from here to modify our original Cinestar gimbal to make roll and tilt brushless. And we've gotten smooth shots from this setup. It's driven by an Alexmos board. I have had some reliability issues with the Alexmos, and I find the tuning to be time consuming. The results are good though. Don't get me wrong, Alexmos brought brushless to the masses, and for that I am sincerely grateful. BUT, I'm ready for something else. I want something with easier tuning, that's well engineered, and can accept a variety of small to mid-sized cameras. The gimbal that checks off all of those boxes is the Movi M5 (the little brother to the M10). It's due for release in March. The only other gimbal tech that has really caught my eye is this, but information is currently scarce because it isn't available yet. I know there's other tech too being honed in a workshop somewhere - I think the next month or so will be very interesting in the gimbal technology department.
Gimbal mount: Allied Drone's Echo. I use it now - works well.
Prop mounts: Foxtech quick detach prop mounts. SleepyC of RC Groups told me about these and he gave them high marks.
Those paying close attention will note that there are some key pieces of gear that I left out, radios for instance. But we have plenty of gear that will make the move to this new rig. We are big fans of our Futaba gear, and since we have 3 of their transmitters I don't think I'll switch. If I did, it would be to a Jeti like this. Those that own them say they are worth every penny. I'd like to try one out.
If you read all of this post, I commend you and thank you. If you leave a comment, then many thanks to you. Fly safe.
If you'd like to participate in the discussion, this has been posted at MultiRotorForums.com and has recieved a lot of feedback. Please comment there.
All the best,
Ben Rowland, Yonder Blue Films