Friday, 1 September 2017


During the course of making the Ballachulish ferry documentary, I have been able to create a bit of a wow factor to the images by using a drone, or to give it the correct title, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.

This is truly astonishing technology. I remember as a youngster getting control of such a machine, or rather, non-control. They were truly impossible to master. But now. Well, they have evolved to literally fly themselves. You still need a good sense of coordination, and be able to watch the actual aircraft in the sky as well as keep an eye on the images streaming back to your device.

I first got my hands on one of these new fangled devices  three years ago, in the shape of a Phantom, manufactured by DJI.

It belonged to a local production company I used to work freelance for. They had never really used it, and so I had what you might call, a permanent loan of it. This was the machine that I have been using for the past couple of months to create aerial images for the film.

That was, until two weeks ago.

It had always been a twitchy aircraft, and regularly did very strange things. Then one day it malfunctioned in the air, and instead of calmly returning to its take off point, decided to fly directly toward me, at full throttle, smashing into an oak tree behind me.

End of drone!

But the images were irresistible from a filmmakers point of view. And technology had taken enormous leaps forward since the release of the Phantom.

So two days ago, I took delivery of the new Mavic Pro, and already I am blown away with its capabilities.

One of the most annoying things about the Phantom was every time I filmed toward the horizon, or even the side of a bridge, the image was curved across the screen left to right. But now they have solved that.

But the most astonishing development is the portability. The Phantom had to be carried in a large, rectangular backpack, whereas the Mavic, which when folded up fits in your open hand, packs into a case a fifth of the size. And longer flight times also mean more flexibility.

But it is still terrifying to fly. I'm sure the more you use them the more that feeling goes away. But for now, especially over water, it creates high anxiety.

I've only just started the learning curve, but already I am impressed at the ease of using this amazing aerial camera. It brings so many of todays common place technologies together, creating astonishing creative possibilities.

Unfortunately there are always idiots out there that get their hands on these things, break the law, and spoil it for everyone. I'm in favour of tighter regulations, and once I have mastered the basics, I will be enrolling in a ground school to gain my UAV pilots licence from the CAA. I think this should become compulsory. Well, you can't get a licence to drive a car without going to driving school and passing a safety test, can you?

Meanwhile I am looking forward, albeit nervously, to the new and higher quality images I will capture for the film. And more safely than ever before. Thanks to its forward obstacle avoidance system it will stop dead in its tracks three feet from any obstacle in its path, or, and this is super impressive, automatically fly a route around it!

So no more arguments with oak trees!

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