Shooting for the stars: Drones on film and TV

by coptrz on April 17, 2017

Short on time? Jump to the end for The Lowdown.

From up-to-the-minute news and sports coverage to on-demand comfort viewing like The Great British Bake Off, drone technology has become as ingrained in our TV repertoire as flat screens and high-definition, you may just never have noticed.

Advances in film and camera technology have been breaking new ground for many years now. From the development of the first portable television cameras – which, perhaps most notably, enabled wildlife filmmakers to venture into their subjects’ natural habitats – to the advent of thermal imaging for night-time filming, each innovation offers fresh perspectives whilst challenging our expectations.

What advantages can drones offer today’s filmmakers?

Quieter, safer and cheaper than manned aircraft and more versatile than cranes, UAVs – or drones –let filmmakers get much closer to the action. And we don’t mean filming birds from a nearby hide; we mean getting up close and personal with a pride of lions or hovering above a live volcano.

Natural history documentaries have been a major beneficiary of the drone revolution. In 2006, the BBC’s Planet Earth was the first of these programmes to be filmed in high definition. A decade later, and film technology offers us even more surprises, from elusive animal behaviours to previously inaccessible remote landscapes. Cue Planet Earth II – brought to us courtesy of ultra-high definition cameras and aerial drones.

UAV used to film the BBC's Planet Earth II
Drone used to film the BBC’s Planet Earth II

Drones are ideal for capturing dramatic landscapes and panoramas, and for showing subjects in their geographical context. The series of drone footage of Apple Park – the new Apple campus in California, which is due to open soon after three years of construction – shows the awesome level of detail afforded by these UAV ‘flyovers’ and the sense of scale they can convey.

Incredible action, indoors and out

More agile than Spiderman, or Orlando Bloom in a swordfight, drones have joined the Hollywood A-list, revolutionising filmmaking and making epic footage even more remarkable. From James Bond to Harry Potter, blockbusters thrive on action – and it’s often just the kind of action that UAVs were made for. Skyfall’s opening motorbike chase across the rooftops of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is one notable example.

Equally at home shooting wide, open vistas and negotiating tight indoor spaces, drones can also provide seamless indoor-to-outdoor transitions.

And while you can certainly enjoy superb drone footage at the cinema, it’s also available rather closer to home. As the technology becomes more affordable and more easily available, you don’t need a Hollywood budget to achieve impressive cinematic results.

Olympic innovation

Live sporting events are another great showcase for drones. In fact, ever since the 1936 Berlin Olympics became the first sporting event to be televised live, the Games have often made broadcasting history. In 1964, the Tokyo Olympics were filmed in colour — two years before the BBC tuned in to colour broadcasting. Twenty years later, the Los Angeles Games saw the debut of high-definition television.

Rio 2016 - Drone used for filming sports coverage

At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, major broadcasters continued to experiment with drone technology. In rowing, for example, drones provided superior footage – as the perspective of a traditional side-on camera can give a distorted view of the action.

Not just for the pros

But the creative power of UAVs and the new perspectives they offer us are not just for television pros and blockbuster cinematography. Now in its third year, the New York City Drone Film Festival (NYCDFF) is proof that these innovations are now available to amateur filmmakers.

We all know that drones are at their most amazing when they show us something new or give us a new take on the familiar – perhaps showing us a subject we think we know all about, but which can, in fact, be viewed rather differently. Winner of the NYCDFF’s News and Documentary category in 2017 was aerial footage of the Dakota Pipeline, which revealed not only the sheer scale of these protests but also the police’s efforts to prevent the drones from documenting them.

It can be easy to overlook the importance of precision and control in drone cinematography – which is, of course, a science as well as a creative art. Highlighting this beautifully, and with practised ease, the winner of the NYCDFF’s Freestyle category sees a drone fly through an impossibly narrow gap in a bicycle.

Drone equipment: an overview

DJI Matrice 210 Drone

Whether or not you have aspirations of film festival success, you’ll want to make sure your drone videography equipment matches your ambitions. There are heaps of drones on the market and, as we’ve seen, plenty of interesting possibilities for anyone interested in capturing film or television footage. But before you make your shopping list, here are a few things to consider:


Not a Hollywood restriction on body mass, but a word of warning about the weight of your drone. There are three broad categories of UAV:

Lightweight drones can lift relatively heavy cameras while keeping total aircraft weight under 7kg. This is an advantage in terms of Air Traffic Control permissions; drones over 7kg are subject to stricter regulations.

Medium-lift models can carry heavier cameras that offer better quality footage, but they exceed the 7kg limit.

Heavy-lift drones can help you capture broadcast-quality images, but their total weight will exceed 20kg, meaning they are subject to the strictest regulations. They score highly in the safety stakes because they usually have eight rotors, which means they can fly even if one of the rotors fails.

Flight time

It goes without saying that you’ll want to maximise flight time and minimise downtime. A little planning goes a long way here, meaning you won’t be wasting time looking for the perfect shot. Keep an eye on your battery levels and always carry spares. Bear in mind too that low temperatures can reduce battery life and flying times.

Slow and smooth

A gimbal is the piece of equipment that’s crucial for smooth video footage that’s free from wobbles and distortions. Think of it as the airborne tripod for your camera. There’s only so much motion that a gimbal can counteract, though, so make sure you accelerate and decelerate slowly to keep your camera steady.

Gimbal swap on the DJI Matrice 210 Drone
Gimbal swap on the DJI Matrice 210


Drones sometimes get a bad press because of safety concerns, so operators should do all they can to fly responsibly.

The rules governing the use of drones are somewhat fluid, so make sure you’re up to date with those that apply to you, including the Data Protection Act and CCTV code of practice.

Note that unmanned aircraft with a camera attached or built-in are classified as unmanned surveillance aircraft, and are subject to stricter rules than drones without cameras.

Anyone using a drone for commercial use is also required to seek permission from the CAA.

Aside from following the relevant regulations, being realistic about what’s involved in a shoot and the number of people needed to achieve it can also boost safety. For example, drones that offer dual operator control allow one person to focus on the camera and another on the flight – creating less room for distraction and mistakes.

Finally, of course, never fly above crowds – it’s not only illegal but also asking for trouble.

Weather and timing

Avoid adverse weather conditions that make it difficult to stabilise and/or control your drone. And even if you can motor on through windy conditions, the footage you get will probably disappoint.

Watch out for rain, mist and fog – especially on colder days, when condensation on the drone can freeze at higher altitudes.

A golden piece of advice

Just like with ground-based cinematography, filming during the golden hours of the day—at sunrise and sunset—will really help your footage stand out, due to the warm, golden quality of the light.

Practice makes perfect

For really good results, there are lots of tricks of the trade you can learn. From camera settings such as shutter speed (you’ll want to go slower than for stills to ensure a certain amount of motion blur for smooth playback) to clever post-production techniques, there’s always plenty of scope for fine-tuning your footage, whatever your equipment and level of expertise.

But for excellent results – or simply to become the best drone videographer you can be – there’s one final ingredient: practice. Because once you’ve got a confident grip on the rules, you can really start pushing the boundaries.

So go on, sign up for a drone training course, and then get out there and experiment!

The lowdown

  • Drones offer plenty of advantages over traditional approaches to filmmaking.
  • The technology is more affordable and widespread than ever, giving even amateur filmmakers access to its exciting possibilities.
  • Drones can be used for filming indoors and out (and move seamlessly between the two).
  • Safety is paramount and all drone operators should be aware of the relevant regulations.
  • Anyone using a drone for commercial use must seek permission from the CAA.
  • The Coptrz film and tv training course explores the many creative possibilities of drones in film and television.


Want to shoot videos like this? Sign up to the COPTRZ Drone Filming Masterclass with world-renowned cinematographer Philip Bloom

This course will open your eyes to the fascinating science and art of aerial drone videography. Philip Bloom is a world-renowned filmmaker with a passion for new technology and a particular soft spot for drones.


DJI Matrice 210 RTK – widening the horizons for drones in surveying

by coptrz on April 12, 2017


Surveying is a big opportunity for drone operators. But until now, development in the sector has been hampered by a lack of drones built specifically for that market. Enter the Matrice 210 RTK: the latest addition to the Matrice 200 Series. It’s built for surveying, construction and similar industries, with additional features that make it easier to operate in any conditions.

These features are significant because they’re combined. They exist on other drones but not all in one package and not at the Matrice’s price point of around £13,000. So this drone isn’t just a step change: it’s a game changer for those serious about specialising in remote aerial surveying.

Short on time? Jump to the end for The Low Down

Why use drones for surveying?

Whenever a disruptive technology enters a market, there are always early adopters and those who choose to wait and see how it all plays out. When supermarket home deliveries were first introduced, forward-thinking retailers such as Tesco and Asda invested early and embedded the skills internally to exploit new technology and new market opportunities. Where Ocado’s business model evolved entirely from the online shopping phenomenon, Morrisons’ suffered catastrophic losses until they jumped on the home delivery bandwagon as late as last year.

Many different industries are benefitting from streamlined efficiencies by incorporating automated technologies, and land surveying is no different. Most companies will now be looking to embed innovative technologies and key future skills within their own organisations to be able to offer the most advanced surveying services to their customers. To do this, they’ll need talented people, great equipment and desire to collaborate with training providers, manufacturers and their clients – all for the betterment of the industry. So, now’s the time to get skilled up: the tools are now available to do the job better.

The advantages of using drones for surveying are obvious when considered. They can go to the top of the highest masts and look at vast expanses of land, while also being able to hone in on the smallest detail. Drone use results in faster, cheaper, and more accurate and reliable data which can be used and analysed repeatedly. UAVs can be used in confined spaces and harsh environments and can check for safety issues before a technician is sent in, meaning a safer environment for workers. In short, drones go where you can’t or don’t really want to!

Better protection

The Matrice 210 RTK has been designed with surveying in mind. DJI asked the industry for feedback on the previous 200 model and responded by adding uprating the most important features.

So, what’s changed to make the Matrice 210 RTK so good for surveying? First up, the Matrice 210 RTK is more robust – it’s IP43-rated. That means it’s protected against dust and is now water resistant. In harsh environments, and harsh weather, the drone can actually get up in the sky. Many other commercial UAVs can’t be flown in the rain and small particles of dust interfere with their operation, meaning that use in an environment such as a construction site or quarry would be difficult, if not impossible unless the weather was still and perfectly clear.

Being able to operate in any weather means more utilisation potential – no more sitting around on site with a sensor and a UAV, waiting for it to stop raining. With the Matrice 210, you can get straight into the sky whatever the weather, meaning a quicker turnaround for the client and a better, more efficient result all round.

The new IP43 rating also makes this drone perfect for inhospitable environments created by natural disasters – it could be used, for example, after a building collapse following an earthquake, or a volcanic eruption, where dust and debris in the atmosphere might stop other drones flying. Coupled with a thermal camera, the Matrice 210 could also help to identify survivors or help emergency services to find safe passage when attempting rescue missions.

Thermal Imaging from the DJI 210 RTK UAV from COPTRZ on Vimeo.

Looking up

The upward camera feature is another bonus for surveying. You can now get images of the underside of tunnels or bridges simply by flying through them – before, the drone operator needed to fly down further and get images at a more oblique angle. This new camera feature means more accuracy and more reliable images, and the ability to spot the smallest cracks or faults.

Location, location, location

As UAVs become more commonplace, knowing what’s in the air and when is becoming increasingly important. The M200 series features DJI AirSense, a built-in ADS-B receiver which improves airspace safety by giving operators real-time data on the position, altitude, and velocity of nearby manned aircraft (equipped with ADS-B transmitters).

This feature will really come into its own where multiple UAVs are in the same airspace, and will be particularly important for drone operators flying around congested airspace near commercial airports – for example, surveying airport runways for defects, or airport infrastructure. It’s another step into a world where drones and commercial aircraft can operate safely together.

Pole position

Accuracy is key when it comes to surveying, and that’s where the RTK in the Matrice 210 RTK (real-time kinematic) comes in. It includes D-RTK, a high precision navigation and positioning system. Drones position themselves in the sky using satellites, but there’s always a certain amount of atmospheric and ionospheric interference in those signals as they come down from the sky to the unit itself.

The D-RTK system minimises and cancels out those errors. Its accuracy is within one centimetre, rather than 30 cms to a metre which is common with other drones. This has great benefits to surveyors, particularly when the operator is flying within known co-ordinate systems, as it allows the operator to place themselves accurately within that system to within a centimetre.

Matrice 210 RTK Features

This accuracy doesn’t just result in better data, it’s also safer. A drone operator can feel more confident when flying near power lines or masts in order to inspect them, and it cuts out the dangers associated with sending a field technician to inspect these facilities.

Tracking stability

So how might these features, designed to improve accuracy and increase frequency of flying time, translate into real-world applications for surveyors?

Land stability in railways, roads and cuttings is a big issue. Land slips and rockfalls can cause huge disruption and vast expense, as well as, of course, their obvious danger to road and rail users. A drone such as the Matrice 210 RTK could support the collection of four-dimensional data – the fourth dimension being time.

The RTK feature means being able to collect data more frequently and with more accuracy. So, using this drone could enable better comparison of previous and current data to look for changes in places such as railway embankments. This is preventative maintenance – infinitely preferable to scrambling to mobilise as quickly as possible after a catastrophic event.

Using appropriate software, data can be coded; movement of less than 20cm would be green, 20 to 50 cm amber, and displacement of more than 50 cm over the period, red, enabling land managers to be aware of areas which are most at risk of failure. This method of monitoring allows planned, preventative maintenance to be scheduled at times when it would cause minimum disruption, rather than reactive, retrospective repairs being when operators can least afford it.

Drones make monitoring tasks much faster and much more affordable. Whether monitoring change on train lines, bridges or road surfaces, successful implementation requires the collection of regular information. Flying a UAV takes minutes to collect data across a large area, data which would take hours to collect by hand.

This could have applications in the mining industry, particularly at opencast mines, where the change of a few degrees of the side of the mine can make a significant difference in how deep a mine can go, and how stable its sides are. Knowing about a few degrees of movement in that situation could save a company millions in operational costs, not to mention lives.

Insurance opportunities

This is currently a big market in the USA, specifically for loss adjustment. Currently, if an industrial, commercial or domestic property has problems such as tiles coming off the roof in adverse weather conditions, the first action of an insurance company will be to send a loss adjustor to assess the damage.

This will, at some point, involve going up to have a look. That’s an inherently dangerous thing to do on a damaged building and it also takes a significant amount of time. To be risk assessed, two people must attend the site and they must be trained in working at height. Usually two visits are needed: one to assess the site, the next to actually look at the damage.

Using a drone, which can operate in adverse weather conditions, such as the Matrice 210 RTK, is clearly a far quicker solution. The drone can collect the data immediately, process it and send it to the client. It’s better for the client, the insurance company and the loss adjustor as it’s all done in one visit.

Sensor integration

Matrice 210 RTK

There’s a host of other applications that the Matrice 210 RTK could be used for, by integrating other sensors such as pollution, odour or dust monitoring.

For example, the drone could fly around a water treatment plant and collate real-time data, which will then negate the need for placing a whole host of sensors around the periphery that are constantly monitored. The drone could also go from site to site rather than just having fixed sensors in different sites – a significant difference in cost, application and data collection.

Again, in a mining context, this can be invaluable. Using a UAV to monitor air quality in confined spaces can help to warn of high levels of dust and other particulates which can cause a wide range of damage to lungs in even a short space of time.

Additional sensor benefits such as thermal imaging can also be included to enable safe inspection of pipelines, or enable search and rescue missions to be carried out where survivors may not be able to be seen by search crews.

The Low Down: Why the Matrice 210 RTK matters

It’s easy to throw around big numbers when it comes to the potential drone market, but operators and companies are more interested in what’s being done right now to demonstrate their benefits.

Technology game-changers like the Matrice 210 RTK are serious kit for serious work: they are at the pinnacle of what drones can achieve for business users. For drone operators seeking to convince potential clients of the benefits of using drones for surveying, advances like this are key. Clients don’t necessarily want grand predictions, they want to know exactly how this technology is better than what’s gone before, whether the investment is worth it, and how it will make their service more efficient or their business more effective.

The Matrice 210 RTK demonstrates that drone technology is advancing to fit industry needs, and that manufacturers are listening and being responsive to what industry wants. It’s a real leap forward in terms of fulfilling the incredible potential that drone operators and early adopters know is possible – and that journey has only just begun.

Sign up to our newsletter now to stay up to date on the latest drone developments or contact us for pricing and specifications


The sky’s no limit for drone photography

by coptrz on April 4, 2017

Like an ascendant Hollywood star, the commercial drone industry is young, rich, and ripe for exploitation. In the five years since Amazon revealed plans for drone deliveries, UAVs have sky-rocketed in terms of profit-making potential. And, with the cost of high-end drones moving steadily in the opposite direction, they are winning over new audiences and taking on new roles all the time.

Photographers in many sectors, from property to filmmaking, will be aware that UAVs can be a wise investment. But whether you’re looking to win new business or an Oscar, you’ll want to be sure you can capture the best images possible. Read More “The sky’s no limit for drone photography”

DJI MAVIC Pro for Commercial Operations – COPTRZ TV

by coptrz on March 28, 2017

Hello, I’m David Johnson, and welcome to another edition of COPTRZ TV. I’m just back in from a job flying my Mavic Pro, and I wanted to show you all around this tiny drone from DJI, which is always with me in the boot of the car. Oh, and these, Epson Movario glasses, which I’m currently testing with the Mavic Pro and Inspire 2, basically enables you to keep a visual line of sight to the craft in the sky. And you can also see at the same time what the drone is seeing without having to look down at the iPad. Very futuristic, and I think we’ll see a lot more of this type of thing in the months to come.

Read More “DJI MAVIC Pro for Commercial Operations – COPTRZ TV”

Onwards and upwards: The 5 steps to growing your UAV business

by coptrz on March 22, 2017

Ready to push the potential of your drone company? Here are 5 key areas budding entrepreneurs should focus on for smooth, successful business expansion.

There comes a point in the life of every ambitious business when it’s time to think bigger.

For UAV operators who have established their start-up, that can be an inspiring – and intimidating – moment.

However, as the market for commercial drone work becomes more crowded, the incentive to push your business to the next level is stronger than ever. With more competition and rising standards – not to mention the incoming new legal framework in the UK – upscaling could be the difference between thriving and just surviving.

So, are you ready to take your drone company from the back room to the boardroom?

Read on for COPTRZ’s guide to upscaling your business.

Read More “Onwards and upwards: The 5 steps to growing your UAV business”

More than the Eye Can See: Exploring BVLOS

by coptrz on March 17, 2017

Imagine a drone that could cross oceans, travel hundreds of miles and gather data in places where humans can’t even get near. Welcome to BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Site) operations – drone operations which, as their name implies, aren’t restricted to how far the pilot can see. Yet at the moment, it’s very hard to get permission to fly a drone without it being in your view. So what’s the future for BVLOS operations, and why are so many drone operators excited about them?

[Short on time? Skip to the end for The Low Down] Read More “More than the Eye Can See: Exploring BVLOS”


by coptrz on March 14, 2017


David: Hello there, I’m David Johnson, and welcome to another edition of Coptrz TV. This time around it’s all about the permission for commercial operations, the PfCO. And, of course, there are many locations around the UK that Coptrz run this course at. I’m at one of those locations today. We’re talking about ground school, then we move on to flight assessment. And right now it’s lunchtime, so let’s go and get some food and chat to some of the guys taking part in the Coptrz PfCO course.
So, first things first, what is a PfCO, and why do you need one? Coptrz Lead Course Instructor, John Moreland, can tell us more.


Saving Lives in the Skies: Using drones to save lives

by coptrz on March 8, 2017

We all know they take astonishing bird’s-eye shots, survey vast sites and might even be the postmen and food delivery drivers of the future. But drones have another, increasingly important use: they can save lives. Whether it’s finding lost sailors, identifying earthquake survivors, or transporting blood to disaster-hit areas, drones are starting to play a vital role in emergency services all over the globe. And what we’re seeing now, say experts, is just the beginning of how their potential might be tapped.

Overcoming tough terrain

It’s hard to provide vital services in many parts of the developing world. Crumbling or non-existent roads, unpredictable floods and other natural disasters, rockfalls that block supply routes: all these factors make it difficult or impossible for even the toughest of all-terrain jeeps to get through. It’s the same when it comes to landing helicopters. But drones, of course, don’t have this problem. A recent pilot project in Malawi from UNICEF’s Office of Innovation shows their huge potential in getting life-saving services to as many people as possible: a drone was used to take blood samples from newborn babies from a clinic to a laboratory, where they can be tested for HIV. The trip is just six miles long but bad conditions mean it can take between several hours and several days on a motorbike. By drone, it takes 20 minutes.

Malawi has one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world – ten per cent of the population are infected – and early diagnosis can make a huge difference to survival rates. But there are just eight specialist screening laboratories in the country, which most people can’t access – meaning many wait months for a diagnosis. Drone technology could change all that.

Read More “Saving Lives in the Skies: Using drones to save lives”

The DJI Matrice 200 Series Announced

by coptrz on March 1, 2017

We know demand is growing for commercial drones, so manufacturers are stepping up to the plate when it comes to getting drones on their way and up to spec for industrial requirements. It’s no surprise that leading the charge is DJI’s new range offering — The Matrice 200 series.

Last week, Wired magazine affectionately referred to the line as ‘workhorse drones’, and according to reports, DJI has created these models with the express intention of meeting the need for enterprise users head on. How they’ve done it is by adding a whole raft of improvements, extra features and robust tweaks to everything they’ve made before. So, with large shoes to fill (namely their own) when it comes to upping the game, let’s take a look at what DJI will produce from their sleeve.

Read More “The DJI Matrice 200 Series Announced”

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