DJI Inspire 2 Case Study: Darren Miller - UAV Camera OperatorI recently teamed up with professional drone pilot Phil Fearnley of Halo Vue, who had acquired 2x Inspire 2’s supplied by Heliguy which we utilised on an engagement for Costa Coffee's Roastery in Basildon. The job included both outdoor and indoor flying with some challenging environments which would put the aircraft through their paces.
Sense and AvoidThe Inspire 2 was the aircraft of choice for the indoor filming due to the nature of the visuals, being in and around a production plant under a steel structure. We anticipated using the I2’s sense and avoid system to its full potential, to achieve safe close proximity flying to the machinery and close to the roof to get some epic wide shots that indicate the scale of the plant. Very soon it became clear that the sensors were inhibiting the design of shots I wanted to achieve so Phil had to disengage them and fly in Atti mode. This put quite a lot of pressure on the pilot as there was little room for error when executing low tracking or crane shots in and amongst pipework, gantries and huge plant machinery. However, working as a two-man team meant that Phil could concentrate entirely on the flying whilst receiving and reacting to my verbal direction whilst I’m operating the camera.
VisualsPhil did a sterling job at manoeuvring the aircraft in some particularly tricky and potentially dangerous locations and was able to execute difficult moves both professionally and gracefully. We found sometimes shooting at the slower flight speed in ‘Tripod Mode’ rendered some really smooth shots that looked as good as any Steadicam or dolly on tracks. Being a professional cameraman by trade, I am always looking for new and interesting ways to put the audience in unusual places whilst telling a visual story at the same time. To do this requires a dedicated synergy between the pilot and camera operator, much like having a grip work the dolly and jib on a drama production, I apply the same discipline. I doubt any other machine could have rendered the same result in these particular circumstances. With any larger aircraft, the job would have been impossible. Phil is also a professional photographer so having two sets of creative eyes on the screen to determine exposure and composition etc. really was a bonus.
WorkflowWe shot at 4K in D-LOG, 25fps, 1/50th, various degrees K, between 100 & 400 ISO at H.264 mostly on an Olympus 12mm lens, the client having a 1080p delivery. The 4K res gives the editor freedom to zoom into images in post-production by at least 1x focal length thus supplying more cuts from your data. Having read up on the X5S and its dynamic range, I exposed slightly to the right (ETTR) by about 1 F stop by using the Inspire 2's histogram. This yielded better detail in the interior blacks and seemed to preserve all the detail in the highlights when shooting towards large windows from inside the building. I did a simple grade of some selected rushes that we backed up in Adobe Premiere Pro on my desktop iMac. I applied the Arri Alexa standard LOGC – Rec 709 LUT to the D-LOG rushes which gave an overall underexposed and over saturated, contrasty look. I corrected these attributes to yield a flatter desaturated palette which more represented the colours I remembered from the day’s shoot. I couldn’t find a dedicated DJI D-LOG/709 LUT in Adobe Premier, however, there are many LUTs in Adobe’s software and I’m sure lots of different pleasing results could be achieved by experiment. Overall, the rushes were good to work with although the 4K ingest took hours. I suggest using the digital encoder program to down res 4K footage to 1080p.
Lightbridge 2The Inspire 2’s video signal from the upgraded DJI Lightbridge technology was faultless, even under a massive steel structure, pipework, gantries and working machinery. I cannot express enough just how imperative it is for the camera operator to have a sturdy and latency free image to work from. There is nothing more annoying and frustrating to lose the signal or experience noisy breakup which always seems to happen during the most tricky of manoeuvres. It’s important to remember that the aircraft is the dolly in the sky, it’s the images that it captures that are most important. Outdoors, the image was the same, zero break up at 500M and I was able to save data by switching the camera on and off even at these distances. Some larger lifters using Connex and Terradek technology cannot always do this at 500M so the editor sometimes sits through endless minutes of taking off and landing that are of no use and fill up the hard drives. My personal preference is to fly up to and frame up the shot, ‘turnover’ and then announce ‘camera set’ to the first AD, It’s much more professional and disciplined. Thank you, DJI, for Lightbridge on the Inspire 2.
Framing and CompositionI would like to have the option of a frame line generator for framing the image from the Inspire 2. With all the telemetry surrounding the image on the iPad or a smaller monitor, I sometimes forgot that the image edges were equal to the full shape of the monitor. Despite this, I found the quality of the image on the iPad was excellent and once set up properly, working between the histogram and reference to the screen for exposure and composition was very easy.
EnduranceThe deployment of the aircraft was very quick which is very useful in most situations. It’s lightweight, compact and very quiet in flight. The extended flight time of up to 20mins is extremely useful when hovering around waiting for things to be cued off on the ground. Flying becomes that little bit less intense when the technology relieves the pressure in this way. The second aircraft presented a problem whilst shooting outdoors whereby the landing gear refused to come down on landing. Phil had to shut the rotors down as I caught it by standing underneath. I’ve seen this done before on other aircraft but not something I was entirely comfortable with. However, there were no injuries and I was happy to help save a potentially expensive outcome. Luckily, we had the second aircraft to finish the day. We experienced some quite high winds (25mph) with the outdoor flying. The aircraft bravely fought the wind and the gimbal held very stable but the lightness of the aircraft struggled to hold its position where heavier lifters might have fared better. The night shots looked fantastic and I think that’s where the X5S dynamic range in D-LOG proved its worth. Shooting at twilight there was more than enough detail in the sky to play with in post as well as being able to see detail inside the brightly lit building. A couple of times, after battery changes the Inspire 2 decided it would change all my camera settings to a default and record in rec 709. It isn’t always obvious when working quickly that this had happened so we had to repeat a few shots. Not a problem when you spot it and correct there and then but potentially embarrassing afterwards if one doesn’t carry out the necessary pre-flights before continuing. We acquired some CineSSD cards from Heliguy & Phil purchased the license key from DJI with a view to shooting some Apple ProRes footage. We have heard from other operators reports of purple flashing artefacts in the blacks on ProRes footage recorded on the CineSSD cards. I didn’t see any abnormalities in the normal 4K D-LOG footage recorded on the smaller SD card.
Potential ImprovementsWe have some ProRes rushes but no means to download 4k 444 PR footage at the moment but will have some professionally graded examples soon hopefully. Our intention being able to supply a fully integrative broadcast workflow solution for TV Drama and Documentary clients. To achieve this desire to its fullest potential, I would like to see a full sized sensor in the camera and perhaps an interchangeable mount to accept a larger choice of lenses. Obviously, this has an MTOM consideration to keep the Inspire 2 sub 7Kg but that’s a challenge for DJI. To persuade most DOP’s (Directors of Photography) and Directors on the high-profile dramas to use this machine, we have to fly the best possible glass, a sensor with the widest dynamic range, 2k & 4K resolution and a matching workflow for the post production. All this is doable I think without exploiting too much of what the I2 has to offer. Perhaps addressing the weight of the batteries or even changing the chemistry and technology behind them all together would yield a weight vacancy to provide the ultimate sub 7kg aircraft.
SummaryMy overall initial impression of the Inspire 2 from a camera operator’s perspective is that this aircraft is a remarkable tool which has all the bells and whistles enabling professionals to achieve some amazing results that the most demanding clients might require. The dynamic range of the camera is adequate compared to its bigger brothers working in the film and TV industry but it would be even better with a full-size sensor and a wider range of glass options. I understand that DJI has bought Hasselblad so there could be some exciting improvements on the horizon. The fast deployment and out of the box intuitive flying capabilities are excellent making for less kit and boxes and a lesser overall investment cost. I think to achieve the full kit requirement for a professional TV set up however, the price point for most would be painful if not impossible unless a decent stretch of work was secured to retrieve the costs. I recommend using the I2 as a two man set up to achieve the best visual results for film and TV applications.
Find Out MoreSee below for further content on the DJI Inspire 2 quadcopter:
- Inspire 2 In-Depth Part 1: Batteries
- Inspire 2 In-Depth Part 2: Remote Controller
- Inspire 2 In-Depth Part 3: Cameras & Licenses
- Inspire 2 In-Depth Part 4: The Aircraft
Keep checking back to Heliguy's Insider Blog for more details on DJI's Inspire 2 quadcopter, their wider product range and, of course, the latest news from the drone industry.