CopterStudios’ Utilizes JVC ProHD Camcorders for Mini Helicopter Camera Systems

CopterStudios, a specialty production company based in Santa Rosa, CA, has outfitted two Halo remote-controlled helicopters with JVC GY-HM100 ProHD camcorders from JVC Professional Products (a division of JVC U.S.A.) for close-range aerial cinematography. The Halo-based helicopters have captured HD footage for cable network programs, movies, and TV commercials, as well as promotional footage for Sonoma and Napa Valley wineries, real estate properties, and golf courses.

CopterStudios owner Darin Huard founded the company five years ago to offer a unique cinematic perspective through mini-helicopter camera systems. With the ability to hover or fly with precision, the Halo can get unique shots 50 to 100 feet off the ground, which would be too difficult or expensive to get from a full-size helicopter, camera boom, or crane.

Built by PhotoShip One in Mesa, AZ, the two Halo remote controlled helicopters were designed and built specifically for close range aerial cinematography. “Once we took delivery of the helicopter systems, it was up to us to outfit them with our choice of cameras and wireless transmission systems,” says Huard. “We chose the JVC GY-HM100 because it offers features that are mission-critical to this application.”

In addition to HD picture quality, Huard said the GY-HM100s are ideal because they are lightweight, extremely compact, and include a built-in Fujinon 10x lens. The camcorders can also shoot both HD and PAL video in a variety of frame rates, and feature 3-CCD image capture along with built-in image stabilization.

“The 3-CCD chips in the JVC GY-HM100s also play a critical role. CCD imaging tolerates the vibrations of the helicopter better than CMOS sensors can,” Huard explains. “Also, when the helicopter moves abruptly, CMOS imagers can leave an unacceptable waviness in the picture, whereas CCDs don’t seem to have that problem.”

CopterStudios maintains a five-man crew for each production: a pilot for the remote controlled helicopter; a camera operator, who uses an IR remote control to adjust camera functions; two safety assistants, who warn the pilot of obstacles in the flight path; and a set coordinator, who works with the director or producer to plan the shots.

“While remote-controlled helicopter camera systems may seem like very sophisticated toys,” Huard says, “it takes considerable technical skill and knowledge to operate them with the precision and predictability big-budget productions require.”

Usually, the remote controlled helicopter is airborne and shooting between three and 10 minutes. The director or producer can watch the video in real time on a monitor on the set. SD video is transmitted from the JVC camera via a live video microwave downlink to a directional patch antenna, which feeds the reference monitor on set.

CopterStudios also takes advantage of the GY-HM100’s use of SDHC solid-state media and native Final Cut Pro recording. “We have a table set up with an Apple MacBook Pro laptop running the latest Final Cut Pro software,” Huard says. “When we bring the cameras back down, we simply transfer the QuickTime files from the solid-state media cards directly into the laptop and Final Cut Pro to review our footage. Having this tapeless workflow right on the set is very fast and truly indispensable to our operations.

“We’re extremely pleased with the reliability, performance, and affordability of our two JVC GY-HM100s and the technical support we’ve received from JVC,” Huard says. “The JVC GY-HM100s provide all the features and functionality demanded by this unique application.”