Paramotor Helmet Cam & Video
Video from ground and air
I'm working on a series of four training videos to help
pilots learn the finer points of powered paragliding. I
wish I would have had this. It would have sped the learning process up two
fold. The script for number one is nearly done and soon I'll begin
shooting. To improve the final product, I'm learning a variety of
techniques to get footage from a variety of angles, both ground and
airborne. One of the tools is a helmet cam.
Helmet cams are notoriously difficult to get smooth video with. The
small movements that we barely notice are amplified on the screen and
render many shots unusable. Jitter is only good on bugs.
Phil Russman has gads of incredible helmet cam footage. One tool that
makes it much better is a small video viewer in glasses. It's key to be
able to frame shots but it turns out that you don't want to shoot the
shot using it alone. The idea is to use it as an initial aimer then use
your eyeballs looking at the target. Also, the wider the angle lens, the
Lance Marczak improved on the idea by separating the viewer from it's
glasses and mounting it to the microphone goosneck on his helmet. I'm
going to use a variation of that by mounting it on another gooseneck
since I use the mic a lot. Good radio comm is essential for the best
So I've now flown two flights with the device and can see it's not
easy. Thirty minutes of recording netted a mere 2 minutes of usable
footage. The only useable footage is between camera shakes. Bummer.
Hopefully my ratio will improve.
Don't think that camera stabilization will do much. It won't although
it's still better with the stabilization on.
Another element is proximity. If you're using a wide angle lens,
that's best for smooth but requires being extremely close to the
subject. And being distracted by "the shot" adds a lot of risk. Make no
mistake, getting aerial footage like this is riskier than normal flying.
Another tool is the Merlin Steadicam, a device that puts the combined
mass of camera and counterweight just below a very loose gimbal. When
properly wielded, you get incredibly smooth video because it eliminates the
small pans and tilts that cause jitter in hand held shots.
Learning to use the Merlin is much like learning to paramotor—frustrating at first but then
rewarding as success wins out.
Any shot where the camera is moving will benefit from being on a
Steadicam. Either from vehicles or walking. Other shots will still be
best handheld or from an old fashioned tripod. I'm learning both how to
use the Merlin and when not to use it.
It's truly amazing to compare shots done by hand and then with the
Merlin. One that I did just for fun was recording neighbor Mark on
skates and his younger brother on a bike. I was on skates. It looked
like the camera was flying.
Using the Merlin requires time. You get the camera balanced in both
tilt (up/down) and bank (left/right tilt). Then you hold it, supporting
all the weight with the handle which is below the gimbal, and then use
the lightest possible pressure to "steer" the camera. With no pressure,
it wanders around slowly like a drunken sailor. With too much pressure,
you defeat the purpose and the video gets busy. The key is looking at
the background in a moving shot. It shouldn't be moving much at all.
Lighter the touch, better the video. But you still need enough pressure
to keep it from wobbling and on target. Like a well executed no-wind
forward, a good Steadicam shot is rewarding.
It's not for use in the air and not for many other applications but
anytime you want to try getting a moving shot of someone launching, it's
awesome. I've got shots planned from a truck where the steadicam will be
perfect. Shooting from the helicopter is now incredibly smooth.