So I am still using my Lumix G7 as a general purpose photo and video camera. However a recent event I tried to film has really left me disappointed in both my own abilities as a camera operator, and the abilities of my current setup. Right now my biggest lens is only a 45-150mm from the Lumix lineup. I have a decent fluid base tripod from Manfrotto and I’m happy enough with my Rode shotgun mic for sound.
An airplane I’ve spent the last 6 years designing and building has flown! We hired a professional test pilot to do those first honors, and it went as expected for first flights. Prove it works, but find that some things need additional attention before flying again. We’re currently working on those things.
Anyway here’s one of the clips I’ve edited down for sharing, but otherwise has no effects or alterations done to the footage/audio:
Needless to say it’s not great! Issues I had was significant heat mirage and very bright daylight conditions making it almost impossible to see anything through the viewfinder or the display, even with the brightness maxed. So when our aircraft was at the far end of the runway the only way to locate it was sun reflecting off the propeller, which looked a lot like other beacons and reflections in the distance. Additionally even after takeoff, when zoomed in it’s very difficult to find a relatively small aircraft against a pure blue sky if you loose it. Additionally I had autofocus set but I may not have had it optimized for the type of shot I was trying to make, and at some point later on I just disabled AF entirely.
There are other things that made taking this video frustrating: my investment in the project, and seeing this yellow truck driving towards the runway to cross and not being sure the airplane and truck saw eachother, so I suddenly started thinking the worst and whether we could call anything off. it was very distracting right at the critical moment! However what I couldn’t see due to trying to see everything zoomed in through a tiny viewfinder was the aircraft was already starting to lift off the ground!
Another thing, my tripod, while decent, has no stabilization augmentation of any kind, plus trying to quickly pan as the aircraft zooms across and then slow down and zoom as it turns away means dancing around tripod legs and manipulating the tension knobs and tracking and pulling focus and zooming all simultaneously. I don’t know if a standard tripod like this is ideal. I imagine professional camera folks would have some kind of gimbal on a cradle system and potentially someone else pulling focus and aiming/zooming via remote. Or they’d have the track of the flight and the motions meticulously rehearsed and cameras set to do the exact shot? I have no idea.
While I know I can do more practice at things taking off and flying overhead, and I should have been doing a lot of that in the months leading up to this event, and probably need to work to find better vantage points to account for things like ground topology and heat shimmer, I feel like inherently the zoom capabilities, lens quality, sensor quality, and crummy autofocus of my consumer grade body from years ago, mean at some point I’m going to either need to replace the body or get more/better lenses, or both. If I want to get clean footage of flights such as these that are good enough to use for promotional purposes on things like YouTube and so-on.
As a comparison, here’s another aircraft’s first flight which happened recently and I feel they did a good enough job of the ground footage:
Of course later they switch to air-to-air footage which is something we hope to do down the road, but that requires hiring a crew that knows how to do that stuff and generally has a specifically setup aircraft with open camera doors. We did have GoPro cameras setup on the aircraft that the test pilot brought for his program, and we’ll have access to that footage, but he’s not been able to get us everything. I have my own GoPro 7 and may get another 1-2 for doing in-flight test footage, but there’s not much to those I need to figure out.
On some level of course for major stuff, we will try and schedule professionals to come down and help do this work, and for critical events I think it’s good to bring in dedicated photogs, but for a lot of the time we won’t have that option and I’ll need to be the one with some gear to help capture things.
Think I need to focus on just getting gud, or do I need some crucial gear like a 300-400mm lens and a better viewfinder, or maybe some kind of hood or external viewfinder, in order to have better situational awareness on a bright filming day? Or do I need a rig with a gimbal and the ability to freehand things in order to capture these dynamic shots? Open to thoughts.