While aerial photo and videography have been around for several decades now, it is only now that it has caught public fancy at a global scale.
The commercial implications of drone activity have skyrocketed (pun intended!) in recent times.
Currently, there are over 20,000 commercially licensed drones in the USA alone, and a recent study predicts that the total number of drones is likely to touch 7 million by 2022.
Drones have left their indelible mark on multiple disciplines, ranging from wedding photography and sport filming to rescue and humanitarian aids and product delivery.
Another area where drones have just started making an impact is racing, and no, it is not drone racing that is being implied here. Drone application in motor sports is just catching up, and the possibilities are tremendously exciting.
The art of filming a race:
Filming racing events has always been a challenging task with all the fast cars zooming past at speeds upwards of 150mph. Traditionally, racing events are filmed using high-definition cameras installed at multiple points along the track. Some of these cameras would be placed at vantage points to offer viewers more comprehensive footage covering a large portion of the track.
Formula 1, for example, has been broadcasted on television since its inception in 1950. However, due to the complexity of how it had to be shot, they were rarely broadcast live up until 1980.
Granted that camera technology has also come a long way since then, but it is the introduction of drones in racing broadcast process that has truly revolutionized the field.
How drones are changing the race filming landscape?
It is true that drones have suffered from a bad reputation in the past. Incidents of drone collisions and illicit surveillance were all too common even in mainstream media. But all that is in the past.
The future is what drone enthusiasts are interested in, as is evident by the fact that this sector is expected to balloon to a $30 billion industry by 2025. Racing freaks are also looking forward to the integration of drones in the filming of motor sports, giving the sport an added dimension.
Motorsports, in itself, is one of the most challenging events to capture. The tracks stretch for miles and can be treacherous, cars run at high speeds, weather conditions can be unpredictable, to name a few difficulties of filming a race. In case of events like rally races, there can be even forests to traverse. Traditional filming methods are somewhat inadequate in such circumstances. Some high-profile rally races even use helicopters for shooting purposes, which again is not the best approach, especially when there are forests in between.
Drones in racing competitions can eliminate all these problems, and record footage which traditional approaches are grossly incapable of doing. Rally races, for example, were conventionally recorded on grainy rolls of Super 8 films, which although it evokes a sense of nostalgia amongst old-timers, left a lot to be desired in terms of video quality.
Compare that to the drone videos of rally racing shot at 120fps, and you will notice how stark the difference has grown. The footage are immaculate in their precision, smoothness and quality almost bring the races to life for the viewers.
The drone difference:
So, what exactly is it that drones do which no camera equipment has been able to do in the past? Let’s delve a bit deeper into a few essential aspects of drone videography in racing events, which make it so uniquely beautiful.
• High-end drones, such as the DJI Mavic 2 Pro, feature specialized software and sensors to lock in the subject. It makes for stunning visual of racing cars from hitherto unimaginable angles.
• Speaking of angles, drones can be flown quite close to the subject even at high speeds. The viewers can almost watch the race from a PoV angle, which makes for an immersive viewing experience. It is a far cry from the long shots that have traditionally been associated with track racing coverage.
• Track and weather conditions have minimum to no effect on the performance of drones in racing competition. Drone makers have ramped up the physical attributes of drones in recent times, and they can withstand pretty much any harsh weather conditions now.
• Drone footage are also entirely immune from harsh terrains. This feature is especially beneficial in rally and cycling races, which traverse adverse terrains such as forests, mountain tracks and sometimes, even deserts.
• Drone software are now upgraded to mimic human movement. In other words, drone footage are almost similar to what our naked eyes would see from the sky.
In essence, a drone can capture cinematic footage in stunning 4K resolution and provide the viewers with an immersive experience that traditional camera equipment simply cannot. Even if they could, it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars with a large crew and a slew of bulky equipment. In contrast, the DJI T600, one of the most high-end professional drones costs a notch below $3,000. Standard drones cost even lesser, anywhere between $500 and $1,000.
The recently concluded Rally Finland was covered by the DJI’s World Rally Championship drone crew of just two people- the pilot and a gimbal operator. For the uninitiated, gimbal refers to a pivoted support for the camera of a drone.
The equipment required to capture the whole event would fit in a single backpack. It consisted of two drones, batteries, and enough storage devices to cover the two stages. The first of the two drones was a DJI Inspire 1, which despite its stunning resolution only has a fly time of 15 minutes.
Once the Inspire 1 is out of juice, it is called back to replace batteries, and a DJI Phantom 4 is deployed. DJI labels it as the ‘smartest flying camera ever’, and looking at the footage one cannot help but agree.
Once the Inspire 1 is replenished with a new set of batteries and fired into orbit, the Phantom takes upon a different role. It is locked at a GPS point where it hovers 30 feet above the ground for 30 minutes, completely still and stabilized. The GPS point is very close to the finish line, and as all the cars zoom past the drone, viewers are able to watch from close range which car finished first. And the icing on the cake is all this is happening live.
In conclusion, it can be safely said that drones are fundamentally changing the way motor sports is filmed. Although there is a lot of progress to be made and a lot of new areas to charter, viewers can stay hopeful that the future of motor sports broadcast is in safe hands, or shall we say wings?