I've been piloting drones for aerial video for a while now, either some big bulky drones made to carry gopros or video platforms like the Parrot Bebops.
I've also been flying and freestyling with race drones for while too! Those tiny drones that can reach more than 130 km/h in about just 3 seconds!!
So I had a project I wanted to try for a while now: what if you could have a super fast and agile race drone that could carry a fully stabilized video system??!
Thus came my project: combine the 2 worlds and create one of the fastest and most agile cinema drone ever!
The principle is simple: take a Race drone and add a lightweight 3 axis gimbal system and a Gopro style action camera!
For this project you'll need:
- A FPV Racer quadcopter & your flying gear (Radio transmitter & FPV googles), I have made 2 instructables on how to build some ;)
- An Action Camera (Gopro 3, 3+, 4 or similar like the Turnigy 2K, Eken 4K etc...)
- A 3 axis gimbal system (I chosed the Feiyu WG wearable gimbal)
- A 3D printer or 3D Hubs account can be useful too
Build Time: 2 to 3 hours once you have all the components
Difficulty: easy if you are already a drone pilot
Step 1: Gather What You Need
Now, the very first step is to choose and gather what you need, that is to say, your drone and your gimbal.
FPV Racer Drone
For the FPV Quadcopter, I'd go for a 220 to 270 frame size, so you can fit motors that are big enough to lift the gopro and gimbal system. You may choose a FPV racer you already have, or build one from scratch for this project.
I chose my ZMR 220, a race drone I entirely assembled myself because it was the fastest one I had, and it had a large top plate where I could easily fit the Gimbal system. I plan to build a new drone that I'll design and 3D print in carbon fiber especially for this project so I will be able to design a drone that will fit perfectly the gimbal system since it will be made for it :) But this will come with the V2 of this project.
Here are few specs about my quadcopter: 220mm Carbon fiber frame, 2204-2300KV VSpec motors, 20A Littlebee ESCs, Naze32 Flight Controller, 700TVL Fatshark v2 Camera & 800mw Immersion RC VTX, D4R-II receiver. 3 blades DAL V2 Props for maximum torque.
I got the frame directly from Diatone while the other components came from Hobbyking, Gearbest or Banggood.
If you are not familiar with FPV Racer drones or want to build one, make sure to check out my other instructables on my profile :)
3 axis Gimbal
Now, the other very important part to choose is the Gimbal system.
There are many differents gimbal systems made to carry gopros on drones. From single axis to 3 axis, you can find a lot online. For best results, we obviously need a 3 axis gimbal.
Now, here is the tricky part: I didn't chose a gimbal that was made especially for drones but a Wearable gimbal!!
Why? because gimbals made for drones are meant to be mounted on the bottom of a bigger drone, and usually have low angles, they are about 200gr too.
The wearable gimbal has many advantages: it is a bit smaller, can be mounted in any direction and is self powered!! which means you don't have to use the power from your racer drone and loose so precious flight time by operating the gimbal with the same battery! Moreover, the Feiyu WG wearable gimbal only weights about 170gr which is the same as a traditional drone gimbal!
The only thing we'll have to add are vibration damper, but this is really easy :)
I got my Feiyu WG from Gearbest as it was the cheapest at the time: http://www.gearbest.com/fpv-system/pp_218760.html
I also chose the Wearable gimbal so I can use it for other purposes and projects :)
This option will not be the cheapest one but is the more effective and easy one in my opinion.
Finally, the action camera!
I am a huge action camera fan since the first Gopro HD came out in 2009 so I already had few of them, so I planned to use my Gopro 3 Black edition, Gopro 4 Black Edition and my Turnigy 2K Black edition.
The best one is obviously the Gopro 4 Black but the Turnigy has a feature that I like which is the gyro stabilization, when activated in addition to the gimbal it really creates a super smooth video :)
The choice of camera will be yours depending on your budget, there are a lot of Gopro clones now that are way cheaper and records pretty decent videos.
Step 2: Think of Ways to Mount the Gimbal
Now that you have your drone and your video system (Camera + gimbal), it's time to think how you'll assemble everything.
The first thing to know is where you'll want to mount the gimbal, you don't have many options on a race drone anyway, given the fact that when flying fast the quadcopter is very inclined towards its nose, the gimbal has to be mounted on top or you'll see the propellers and front motors everytime you fly fowards.
As for mounting the gimbal onto the quadcopter, you could just strap it on even tape it on top of the drone, I mean it should work... but I wanted to have the best results possible so I designed a mount that includes rubber damping balls so there are no vibrations on the gimbal.
I simply designed the mount on Autodesk 123 Design with measurements of both the gimbal and the quadcopter. I got a set of 10 vibration dampers for about $2 online, maybe on ebay I don't remember exactly, and measured them to add holes for mounting the dampers onto my plates.
I also relocated the battery from the quadcopter that was on top to the bottom of the frame so I have more space for the gimbal system.
Step 3: Create (3D Print) Your Gimbal Mount
Now that I had my gimbal mount designed, I just had to print it! :)
The print is fairly simple and will take about 3 to 4 hours depending on your printer for the 2 pieces, if you don't have a 3D printer you can use websites like 3D Hubs to find someone to print them for you.
I used PLA for this first version of the gimbal mount but I plan to re print the mount in stronger materials like PETG or Carbon fiber filament.
I am including the 3D files of the gimbal mount so if you want to create a dampening plate for your Feiyu WG gimbal you can use them and don't have to re-design them :)
The gimbal just slides inside the top plate and is secured with 2 allen screws on its back.
It is also possible to add a zip time or a strap for extra security.
Step 4: Mount the Gimbal & Gopro on the Drone
This step is fairly easy, now that I had my damper mount, I just had to mount it on the top of my quadcopter using 4 allen screws, then add the 6 damping balls, then the top plate where the gimbal mounts.
Note that the damping balls are secured with some screws to prevent the top plate from ripping off the bottom in the case of a crash.
You have to make sure when mounting the video system onto the quadcopter that the drone is still balanced, you'll want to have the weight either on the center or the front of the drone, but not on its back. It makes sense as a race drone is always pitching toward its nose.
Once the gimbal is secured onto the drone, try to move it around by hand to figure what are the maximum angles you can get in terms of roll and pitch so you'll know where are the limits when flying the drone.
Step 5: Go Out for Test Flights!
The best part!! :D
Now it is time to test the Race cinema drone!
It's great because it's like flying a Race drone, while recording a fully stabilized video. Of course the piloting won't be exactly the same as when piloting a standard FPV racer as you won't be doing flips or flying upside down, but overall it is very pleasant to fly!
There are situations where this drone can be a real game changer in terms of aerial videography, for instance, this allows you to do some chasing shots, of another drone or a car for example, and still have a perfectly stable video! You can also fly very close to objects, move fast, fly close to the ground etc... some shots that are barely possible using a standard video drone like a DJI Phantom.
Of course, the flight time is very short, like any race drone, when flying with a 4S 1500 mah battery I have about 2 min 30 sec of flight time, but it is enough if you know what you want to film :)
In terms of performance, without the stabilized video system, my quadcopter is able to reach about 120 kph and I think that with the extra weight of the video system the top speed should be around 100 kph or a little more.
Always fly safely!
Please always fly safely while respecting your country's regulations. Race drones can be very dangerous for others and even yourself.