New Video for Princess Cruises

We got the call about a week ago – could we do a 2-day shoot and turn the edit around in a day? We’d be following the journey of the first salmon of the season, from ocean to table . . . via helicopter.

Uh, yeah.

The Best Video Fluid Head for Flat Base Tripods is only $190


Good, dependable fluid heads are easy to find for video tripods that use a ball mount. For flat head tripods, they’re nearly impossible.

In this previous post I wrote about my two favorite tripods for run and gun video production – the Gitzo 2531LVL and the very compact Gitzo 1542T – both of which are flat base tripods, intended primarily for photographers over videographers.

The only tripods I've ever loved - Gitzo GT1542T and Gitzo GT2531LVL

The only tripods I’ve ever loved – Gitzo GT1542T and Gitzo GT2531LVL

Video producers don’t like to admit to shooting on photo tripods. Most shooters advise others to get heavy, dependable video tripods – which are great for studio work and light car travel, but in my opinion are way too much tripod for the typical run and gun shooter using DSLR or similar sized cameras.

But funny enough, at NAB I saw more Gitzo tripods being used by video reporters than any video tripod. Especially the older version of the Gitzo GT2531LVL, which has a built in leveler.



(By the way if you’re looking to get a light weight traditional video tripod with a fluid head, I recommend the Miller Air Carbon System over the cheaper, more popular Sachtler Ace M, which in my opinion is too complicated for quick use in the field).

But the question of fluid heads continues to be a big problem for us video producers who like flat base tripods. There are simply no obvious solutions. I own and use a variety of flat fluid heads, including the Manfrotto MVH500AH, several Manfrotto 701HDV heads (which are now discontinued, so you have to find them used), several Benro S4 heads, and a variety of other heads I’ve tried over the years.

While small and very easy to travel with, the 701HDV and the Benro S4 are not that smooth. Neither is the Manfrotto 500AH. They’re fine for wide to medium shots, but with a telephoto like the Canon 70-200mm, I have to do several tries to pan and tilt until I get a usable shot.

varavon 815 fh

But then I heard about the Varavon 815 FH. It’s small, it’s cheap, it’s very simple to use, and it’s very, very smooth. The weight limit isn’t very high, but I use my C100 on it, even with the Canon 70-200mm, and it’s fine. Not perfect like a head weighing and costing 10 times more than the Varavon, but better than the Manfrotto heads.

But they’re hard to find, keep running out of stock, and nobody else talks about them. I wondered if anyone else was using these heads? Then at NAB, I started seeing them everywhere, including the photo at the top of this post. At the Blackmagic booth, all their cameras were mounted on the Varavon 815 FH. Crazy.

So there you go, apparently other people have discovered the Varavon 815 FH. I hope this post helps you discover it too.


Think Tank Photo Airport Helipak Review on Newsshooter: The Perfect Way to Carry Your DJI Phantom?


I’ve got a new review up on today – check it out:

The Think Tank Airport Helipak is a really great deal! You get not only a carry bag for your Phantom drones, but it’s usable as a general bag for just about any of your gear.

NAB Panel on Real World Shooting

To my luck, I had the pleasure of working for again during this year’s NAB. And I also got to participate in this great panel on real world shooting, and how documentary video producers have transitioned to corporate work.

Check it out:

NAB 2015: News Shooter "Real-World Shooting" Panel from Teradek on Vimeo.…

Video Dads Demo Reel

Big day today – I finally put together a short video production demo reel (or is it a promo?) that shows what Video Dads is all about. Take a look!

Introduction to Video Dads from Video Dads on Vimeo.…

Harmoniums for everyone

New episode of Indie America out today. This one had a lot of “nat” sound in it.

Really nice write-up from OETA

Chase Harvick, the Communications Coordinator at OETA in Oklahoma, has penned a very kind and thorough article about our PBS video production trainings. He breaks down the day-by-day and what they learned, and it feels great to know that some people are taking away new video skills and understanding from our training. Thanks Chase!

Check it out here -



New Indie America episode

First episode of 2015 – looking forward to a big year for Indie America!

A Drone for All Seasons: DJI Phantom 2 Tips for Aerial Filmmaking Gold

Despite all the controversy about consumer quadcopters/drones – and whether or not people will actually be allowed to use them in the future – as of today they’re the #4 holiday gift this Christmas season.

There are a gazillion drones coming into the marketplace, from independent Kickstarter inventions to GoPro-produced versions rumored for 2015. But right now, DJI rules the game.


The DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ – the friendliest drone for hobbyists

If you want to start droning right away – or gift someone one this Christmas – and don’t want to mess with a bunch of complicated additional purchases, then you can stop reading and just get the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+.

For $1099, it has everything ready-to-go, including a camera, a remote first-person-viewer system so you can monitor the flight from your smartphone, and it has a 3-axis gimbal to stabilize the camera. And with the Phantom 2‘s easy flight controls, battery life, and tons of other users sharing tips and tricks on Youtube, it’s a no brainer.

(There’s an updated version that has a few upgrades, for a total price tag of $1299. Still a good deal, but the original Vision+ is good enough). And even though there are cheaper older versions of the Phantom, they are not as fool-proof.

If you don’t want to go with this simple (but limited) drone, here is the drone system that I believe is currently your best bet for aerial filmmaking. There are of course more complex, bigger and more expensive models, as well as drones that are coming out eventually but not available yet, but this is a system you can start using right away.

1. DJI Phantom 2 / GoPro Combo – the affordable drone for filmmakers


For more dedicated video producers who want a better image out of the camera – and don’t mind getting their hands a little dirty with accessories – it’s a better idea to get a DJI Phantom 2 (not the Vision+ model with a camera included), and add a GoPro to it. The Phantom 2 is under $800 right now, and with a GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition ($400), it’s a pretty affordable combination for 2.7k stabilized video. (You can now go for the 4k GoPro 4 for not much more).

I’ve been shooting with this combo since early this year, and it’s been a hugely fun (and educational) experience. We’ve shot in all sorts of conditions, even holding the drone handheld out of a car sunroof or inside an office.

But unlike the Vision+ model, this combination requires a few important accessories and tips to really make it work. And after spending too many nights trying to navigate RC Forums for tips and tricks, I’ve learned a few solid lessons that you can benefit from (without spending the countless hours).

2. Zenmuse H3-3D 3-axis Gimbal


First and foremost, make sure you get the Phantom 2 model that comes with the Zenmuse H3-3D 3-axis gimbal, rather than the H3-2D 2-axis older version. It works wonders, even in bad wind. And it’s really durable – after a couple crashes in trees, my gimbal column was bent and the horizontal axis was off, but it just took a little hand force to bend it back, no problem.

See that little plastic, black strap down the middle? That holds the GoPro to the gimbal. But if you happen to use your GoPro for anything apart from droning, then screwing and unscrewing this plastic strap can get annoying (especially if you lose the little screws while you’re out in the middle of nowhere). So just use a couple rubber bands to hold it in place, it’ll be fine.


A couple other tips for the Zenmuse gimbal: the standard white rubber dampers are fine, don’t worry about trying to fit a standard or skeleton housing on the GoPro (just fly it naked), and in the photo above you’ll see a GoPro lens protector. Don’t get that. You’ll need the following on at all times.

3. GoPro Neutral Density Filter


I wish the Polar Pro Neutral Density Filter Frame 2.0 would just come standard with a Phantom 2, because it pretty much lives on the GoPro. If you don’t use it, you’ll have jello-cam – or jelly-cam, whatever you prefer. Even on cloudy days, even with no winds, even with a 3-axis gimbal, without the ND filter, your video will wobble.

And no matter how much stabilization you apply in post-production – with Warp Stabilizer, FCPX, Lock ‘n Load – you won’t be able to really get rid of the jello. So do yourself a favor and get two of the ND filters, in case you lose one or break one.

I could go into the mechanics of how the ND filter slows down the GoPro’s automatic shutter speed so it doesn’t record tiny little motion (thus the micro vibrations), but there’s no need. Just get it.


Because the ND filter will add a little weight to the gimbal, you might want to velcro a couple quarters to the side and back of the Zenmuse. I don’t think it’s necessary, but it doesn’t hurt.

4. Phantom 2 and Accessories Hard Case

dji-phantom-2-pelican-caseAlthough I normally prefer soft cases for my filmmaking gear, to better move things around as needed, having a single case for all your drone stuff is a godsend. So unless you plan to hike somewhere with only your drone (and leave the camping, eating, clothing stuff at home?), a drone backpack isn’t really necessary.

The Go Professional Case for the Phantom 2 ($200) is perfect for keeping everything you need in one, ready-to-go kit that you can check at the airport, carry for long walks, or throw in the car. There’s enough room to hold a few extra Phantom 2 batteries - and I thoroughly recommend carrying at least 1 spare, preferably 2 with a second charger, all of which fits in the case). Each battery is good for about 20 minutes of flying – with a safe amount of power leftover to return home.

I also recommend getting a simple $20 power inverter, so you can charge the Phantom batteries in your car in between destinations.

The case also fits some of the bits and pieces that come with the Zenmuse and Phantom – so you don’t leave anything behind when you travel. I keep an extra microSD card, and an extra GoPro battery and charger - though that’s not as important, since the Phantom battery actually provides power to the GoPro when it’s connected (cool huh?).

5. FPV transmitter/receiver/monitor – a complex techie addition (but a must have for aerial filmmaking)


The final piece necessary to make the Phantom 2/GoPro combo shine is an FPV – a first person view system. Without it, you never really know what the GoPro is shooting. But the complicated nature of this system (you have to solder something? what?) is why many first-timers go for a DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ model that has it all built in and works with your smartphone. Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple for the GoPro users.

I actually flew without an FPV for about 6 months – partly because I wanted to get good at flying before adding another piece of tech to distract me – but also because it’s simply difficult to know what the heck to get. There are lots of different transmitters, receivers, and booster antennas, which work with all kinds of quadcopters, RC helicopters, sending a signal to all kinds of monitors, goggles or TV screens. And there are lots of kits that supposedly have it all packaged together (for a premium price of course).

Let me save you the headaches and recommend the FPV pieces of an affordable system that works for the Phantom 2/GoPro combination…no soldering necessary.


DJI AVL58 transmitter ($95) – you don’t have to get the full Avl58 transmitter/receiver package because the monitor you’ll use already has the receiver. This transmitter connects between your Phantom 2 and the Zenmuse/GoPro, so it’s powered by the Phantom battery, and sends whatever the GoPro sees to your screen down on the ground.

DJI iOSD Mini ($69) – although this piece is optional, I recommend it. It adds flight information on your monitor screen, such as your flight height and distance from home, how much battery the Phantom has left (so important), whether you’re in GPS mode or not, and horizon level. Just knowing how high you are (remember to fly under 400ft), and how much battery life you have left makes this piece a must have.

DJI Phantom 2 FPV Cables and Hub ($13) – these are the cables and little circuit board that connects everything together – no soldering necessary. You can clean everything up by taping electrical tape over exposed parts, or keep it all exposed, up to you. Just try to avoid flying into water.


FlySight Black Pearl 7″ monitor with built in battery ($229) – this monitor works out of the box as a receiver/monitor for this particular FPV system. It’s nice in that you don’t have to invest in another portable battery system, but if the battery goes dead (like mine did eventually), you have to get a specific replacement battery.

Cloverleaf Antennas ($80) – although the Black Pearl monitor has a built in receiver and antennas, their reception is pretty poor out of the box. You have to get better cloverleaf antennas for both the transmitter – one on the Phantom itself, connected to the AVL58, and one on the receiver/monitor. I chose this FatShark set because each antenna can be used for either transmitter or receiver (so I can’t mess that up). The monitor has two antenna connections actually, so you can also add a second receiver antenna for a better diversity reception, but I just keep the original antenna on one side and it works fine.

Monitor bracket for the DJI Phantom remote - there are lots of options for mounting the Black Pearl monitor to the Phantom remote, and this one is a cheap and popular option. The dumb thing is, you’re supposed to bring a screwdriver and screw in the monitor to the bracket every time you take out or put away your drone – it won’t fit in the case if you leave it connected.


So as a little bit of a DIY solution, I screwed on a cheeseplate to the top of the bracket, and attached some heavy duty velcro to that and the back of the monitor. And now the monitor, sunshade, and remote (with the attached cheeseplate) all fit into the case.


What else? There is a huge community out there with lots more options for gear, tips on flying, post production workflows… too much for this post alone. You can experiment with carbon props or prop guards, various gimbal settings, different remotes, all kinds of GoPro settings (I use 2.7k / 30fps / Wide or Narrow view / ProTune and manual white balance / max 1600 ISO)…

But with the pieces listed above, I think you’ll be set for a long time of flying. At least until it’s outlawed. Good luck and have fun!…

The DSLR Revolution (and why it’s no longer about the camera)


For anyone new to DSLR filmmaking, or maybe you’re just curious about how this whole thing started, I wrote an article today for Tuts+. Check it out!–cms-22700