How To Build Your Own Custom Photography Drone

This is a special post done in collaboration with Shabbir Nooruddin who is the founder of fpvfrenzy.com

how to build a custom drone photography rig

A lot of aerial photographers get their start with drones by getting ready to fly drones like the DJI Phantom, the Yuneec Typhoon, or even the 3DR Solo.

These drones are really easy to use and very plug and play, but some downsides to a ready to fly drone is the fact that they are limited in the payload they can carry, they aren’t customized to your exact preferences and they can be difficult to repair yourself.

So if you are more of a tinkerer or DYI type of person you should consider building your own customized photography & cinematography drone rig! There is nothing quite as satisfying as seeing something you built with your own two hands fly around and work the way you intended it, so building an aerial photography rig can an excellent option.

Another benefit to building your own aerial platform is you really get to customize the rig the way you want, and you have options for building in redundancies which can help protect your drone and keep you flying safer.

 

how to build a custom drone photography tools

Photo Credit: Richard Unten

What to Build? A Quadcopter, Hexacopter, or Octacopter?

If you want to carry an expensive camera, it’s nice to have redundancy built into your machine.

Quadcopter (4 motors)
If a single motor fails, you’re pretty much doomed. Your quad will tip over because one corner is providing thrust but the other isn’t, so the craft is no longer balanced.

Hexacopter (6 motors)
If a single motor fails, you’ll still be able to hover which allows you time to safely land your craft.

Octacopter (8 motors)
If a single motor fails, you’ll notice a slight difference in performance, but the craft can keep flying.

Which of these you decide to build is up to you so if you want your drone to carry a simple gimbal and GoPro-style camera then a quadcopter or hexacopter is enough.

However, if  you want to be able to carry something like a large DSLR camera you’ll need an octacopter for the stability and the redundancy they provide.

 

drone transmitter

Photo Credit: DvdOuden

Gear you’ll need

This post assumes that you already have a radio (a transmitter and receiver) and FPV (first-person view googles) gear in mind.

The radio you will use to control your copter, and the FPV gear will include a transmitter that sends video to a receiving device which displays the video on a screen or on a set of goggles.

If you need more information on choosing FPV gear then definitely check this website out.

 

how to build a quadcopter drone rig

Building a Quadcopter

There are various sizes for a quadcopter which all really depends on the payload you want to carry. Normally choosing parts for a good build depends on the payload you need to carry and how much flight time you wish to get from one battery.

Overall, the preferred sizes for a quad are 450mm and 550mm. This measurement refers to the diagonal distance between two motors.

450 quadcopter specs
  • 2212/2216 800kv-1200kv brushless motors
  • 20amp-30amp brushless esc
  • 8inch to 1045 inch props
  • Apm/Pixhawk/DJI V2
  • 5000mah 3s /4s Lipo (120-200amps)
  • FPV gear

Payload: 2 or 3 axis gimbal with a small GoPro or similar camera

 

 

550 quadcopter specs
  • 2212/2216 600kv-900kv brushless motors
  • 20amp-30amp brushless esc
  • 10inch to 15inch prop
  • Apm/Pixhawk/DJI V2
  • 5000mah 3s /4s Lipo (120-200amps)
  • FPV gear

Payload: 2 or 3 axis gimbal with a small GoPro or similar camera

Important note: The larger wheelbase allows for larger props. That’s why you’ll see that the 450 size uses up to 10 inch propellers, whereas the 550 can fit up to 15 inch propellers. As for LiPo cells, 3S will be slightly less powerful, and 4S will provide more punch. Larger propellers are more efficient than smaller propellers.

You won’t see quadcopters bigger than 550 mm because anything bigger usually will be a coaxial rig or something with more motors for added redundancy.

 

how to build a hexacopter drone rig 550 kit DJI

Building a Hexacopter

Hexacopters are generally more preferred in serious aerial photography applications. Depending on which quadcopter you have, it can border on hobby-professional, while hexacopters are fully professional rigs.

You can choose to build a hexacopter yourself, or you can use the DJI Flamewheel 550 kit, which includes everything out of the box and most of the flight settings are preconfigured, so you have a stable rig right away. All you need to do is connect the rig to your radio.

As the name suggests, hexacopters have 6 sets of motors, ESCs, and propellers.

how to build a hexacopter drone rig 550 kit DJI

Photo Credit: Skypirate

Popular setups in hexacopter are 550mm wheelbases:
  • Dji flamewheel frame or any hexcopter frame
  • 2216 or 2212 800kv to 1000kv motors
  • 10inch to 12inch props
  • 5000mah 30c lipo or higher
  • FC : Mostly DJI NAZA V2

Payload: these setups aren’t that much different in terms of lifting power from a normal quadcopter so these could lift a max payload of around 2kg (or 4.4 pounds). Usually with a rig like this you are mounting  a high quality gimbal with a GoPro or a similar sized camera, or maybe even a small dSLR.

 

 

how to build an Octocopter drone rig RED

Photo Credit: Kaspi


Building an Octacopter 

Once you get into the octacopter space, you’re are looking at serious aerial photography applications which are used by agencies and professionals.

An octacopter is basically a copter with 8 sets of motors, ESCs, and propellers, and you can usually find these kind of setups on movie sets .

These crafts are capable of carrying a 5kg payload (or 11 pounds) and as well as bigger DSLRs or even small RED camera setups.

 

How to build an awesome aerial photography rig octocopter

Photo Credit: Arbron

The sweeping epic cinematic shots you see in films these days are shot using octacopters. They are also very large and impossible to carry on your back (you can manage that with a 450 or even a 550 if you are creative) so you will need help getting it around and setting it up.

For all of its lifting power and redundancy, there is a cost, of course which is less flight time.

 

Octacopter specs:
  • Any frame mostly Tarot or custom frames 800mm and above
  • 15inch to 17inch prop
  • 10000mah to 160000mah 15c-25c Lipos
  • Flight Controller: Wookong ,A2 ,Naza V2 or gemini dual redundancy FC kit
  • Gimbals: align 5D or any camera gimbal available for a camera setup of around 3-4kg.
  • Flight Time: most of the setups give about 8-9 min of air-time

 

 

how to build an Octocopter drone rig ZENMUSE Z15 DJI

Picking a Gimbal

The device that stabilizes your camera is called the gimbal and they come in various shapes and sizes. You can pick up a 3D printed gimbal to a cheap $50 gimbal to a super expensive DJI Zenmuse gimbal.

When you are looking at gimbals, you’ll need to consider 3 things:

  • How much does the gimbal weigh? Your gimbal plus camera weight should be within the range of what your copter can lift.
  • How many axes does the gimbal have? A two axis gimbal stabilizes on the pitch and roll axes, and lets you control those two axes too, so you can pan and tilt the camera as you choose. A three axis gimbal is even more ideal and adds control over the yaw axis too, so you can swivel the camera around. Your gimbal will plug into your flight controller which will allow you to use a radio to control the gimbal.
  • Finally, you need to decide what kind of camera you wanted mounted? Most hobby-grade gimbals are designed for cameras that have the small form factor of a GoPro camera, but you can install DSLRs, and even more professional cameras like a RED.

how to build a custom drone photography rig 2

Other gear you’ll need:

 

Check out this helpful video tutorial on how to build a cheap quadcopter:

 

Check out this helpful video tutorial on how to add a FPV:

 

Check out this helpful video tutorial on how to add a cheap 3-axis gimbal:

 

Conclusion

Even though building your own aerial photography rig may seem daunting at first, it is one of the most rewarding parts of flying! I have probably spent more hours building and tweaking my custom rigs than I have flying, and I still enjoy every single bit of it!

Once you get comfortable with building, no challenge will be too difficult, no wire too small to solder, and no fix impossible to attempt. Knowing the ins and outs of how your copter works will take you a long way and the feeling of accomplishing a task like this is totally rewarding. Happy flying!

Let me know if you are thinking about building a drone and what your questions are or if you have already built your own drone tell me about it in the comments down below!

Guest post written by Shabbier Nooruddin. Shabbier is a drone pilot who build his own custom drone rigs. He is the creator of fpvfrenzy.com and loves to spread his passion for building drones to other like minded tinkerers. 

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4 Comments on “How To Build Your Own Custom Photography Drone

  1. Pingback: FPV Flying: Everything You Should Know About Getting Started -

  2. Hi, nice article.
    I was planning to build a drone specifically for bridge inspection, so with possibly a small mirrorless camera.
    Is the F550 still valid or can I source better alternatives?

    cheers

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