Tips for flying and shooting video with the DJI Phantom 3 Professional & Advanced
The DJI Phantom 3 gives the ability to create amazing videos right out of the box. Tweaking some settings and keeping some things in mind when shooting video allows us to harness the full power the the DJI Phantom 3.
Aerial video generally looks the best, when movements are really smooth and slow. This is difficult to achieve with the default settings.
- EXPO & GAIN: In MC Settings -> Gain & Expo Tuning, change the graphs so they are 0.30, which will mean that when you first touch the stick a little, it will almost not do anything (for slow fine movement). When you move the stick further, movement is accelerated. In "Basic Gain", consider lowering especially "Yaw" (rotating) for those smoother and slower yaw movements.
- MAKE STICKS LONGER: On the Remote Control itself, you can make the sticks longer. Longer sticks make finer movement of the sticks easier. The way you increase the length of the sticks is to unscrew the little tops of the sticks and make the sticks shorter or longer. If they are longer (if you have long enough fingers to be comfortable) it will be easier to make fine adjustments for that buttery smooth movement we love in aerial videography.
- GIMBAL: Lower the Gimbal speed! By default it is quite fast - which is fine to "look around". But it does not look good in video. I put mine about 50 or 60. But I also change the EXPO of the Gimbal so it moves very slowly if I put in a little input in the dial (front left) and increase speed if I move more. That makes it possible to make smooth gimbal movements that ease-in and ease-out. Takes some training - but these settings really help.
Tips for videography
- LOG-mode, DYNAMIC RANGE: To get the maximum dynamic range (detail in dark and light areas of the image) I shoot in LOG-mode. This is a more "flat" profile that looks dull and unsaturated and without contrast. This is then - with greater freedom - added (color grading) in post-production in your editing software. I also tweak the Custom Style to 0 sharpness (default) -2 saturation, -3 contrast (as a starting point) to get an even more flat looking image. Setting the Sharpness or -1 or -2 is worth considering getting a more smooth looking image that is not overly sharpened and avoiding issues like moiré. There are some problems with filming in LOG-mode; it looks boring straight out of the camera, and also on the monitor/iPad when you film. I live with this in order to get the maximum quality in the end-product. So if you plan to do a lot of video editing and want to color-grade anyway; shoot in LOG. If not, I would generally select “None”.
- SHOOT IN MANUAL: in order for the camera not to do a lot of unsightly switching of the light (up and down) when the light changes, you can turn on Manual mode (the button with 3 sliders under the Shutter Button). Use ISO 100 (best) when there is enough light (almost always unless after sunset) and set the shutter-speed to where the light looks good. Make sure you have turned on "Exposure Warning" which then makes "zebra stripes" on the areas of the image that is blown out (100% white meaning no detail that can never be returned in postproduction). Some zebras are okay and unavoidable. You just want to avoid the (whole) sky being fully blown out etc.
- SHUTTER SPEED: This brings me to the mystery of shutter speed in video. In photography fast shutter speed is generally good. Less shaking, sharp images. But in video it is our enemy because high shutter speed makes us lose motion-blur, which helps the brain think the video is very fluid at 24-30 fps (less of a problem if shooting in 60fps). If the shutter speed is up around 400 or maybe 1200, the 30 frames per second each becomes very sharp. that might sound good (and is if you want to grab stills out of your video). But when there is movement in the video, it will appear stuttering/choppy/staccato. That’s not what we want. We want smooth.
- A rule of thumb is, that the shutter speed in video should be about 2x the frame rate. So if you film at 30 fps, shutter speed at 60 will be good for some natural looking motion blur. This is impossible in daylight or sunlight without a Neutral Density filter. ND-filters are grey filters that cut out an even amount of all wavelengths of light so the shutter has to stay open longer in order to get enough light to expose each frame correctly. With an ND-filter we can get the shutter-speed down. ND-filters can also help alleviate the dreaded "jello"-effect that some people (often caused by unbalanced props and worsened by high shutter speed) suffer from. An ND-filter is (or part of) the solution.
- COMPRESSION and GRASS: The video we get from our Phantoms is compressed (with the h.264 codec). So we should be aware that certain things could cause some ugly artifacts. Again, fast movement or panning or tilting the gimbal up and down (fast) can cause blockyness and artifacts in the video stream. The Phantom 3 Pro can record 4K records at 60 megabits per second - which is good, but in the world of professional digital video, it is a bit low. So we have to work with that. Filming grass, tall grass, large areas of similar color but with a bunch of tiny detail is worst case for the P3-camera. So we should be aware of this, and plan accordingly. When we film that sort of thing, it yet again helps to slow down use use smooth movement. Don't pan a lot (only very slowly) or you risk the image 'collapsing' into a green mushy mess of blockyness. We would like to avoid this so be careful if that sort of imagery fills up a large part of the frame.
- FLYING: Try to be as smooth as possible. It helps to "follow thru" if you want to do a move. Try to plan it in advance. This (also) takes training - but that’s part of the fun ☺
- SMOOTH MOVES: In general I think what looks good in aerial videography is smooth moves. If you want to do fast flybys it is a nice trick to fly backwards so the props tilt away from the camera in order to avoid props in the frame. Less is often more when it comes to adjusting the movement when filming. Mixing in a little smooth gimbal movement to your flyby or your other move and it looks like a million dollars.