Taking aerial videography to new creative heights with Canon Cinema EOS

Filmmaker Brett Danton and high-performance drone pilot David Gu detail how they're using FPV drones to capture dynamic sequences from the sky.
In a field, a man wearing goggles on his forehead crouches next to a Canon EOS R5 C attached to a drone.

Filmmaker Brett Danton has been impressed by the robustness of the EOS R5 C for aerial videography. "We've flown with it in cold weather, where it might be 2°C or 3°C on the ground, but people forget that once it gets up to a reasonable height and it's going fast, it's really cold. So you need cameras that are well built."

Once prohibitively difficult or expensive to film, striking landscapes can now be captured by a drone whizzing through narrow crevices or soaring above jagged rocks. Drone photography is visually stunning and offers a unique perspective on our beautiful planet.

The arrival of affordable drones and compact Canon Cinema EOS cameras has made aerial videography and photography more accessible than ever before. The modular design of the Canon EOS C500 Mark II, EOS C300 Mark III and EOS C70 allows them to be stripped down to drone-friendly dimensions, while the compact Canon EOS R5 C has opened up new opportunities to create immersive aerial sequences.

"Drones don't completely replace helicopters," points out filmmaker Brett Danton. "Flying a drone with a longer lens is a tricky thing. I've flown an EOS C500 Mark II and CN-E30-300mm T2.95-3.7 L S zoom on a helicopter using a mount. You could never do that on a drone.

"But a drone really comes into its own when capturing cinematic, scene-setting landscapes," he continues. "That's very expensive to do with a helicopter. We used a drone for a location shoot in Namibia, where crews of more than 12 people are banned because of their environmental impact. We were running with a tiny crew – with just one person operating the drone – so were permitted to access places that film crews haven't been to for a long time and move between locations fast."

Here, Brett takes us behind the scenes filming with the EOS R5 C and, alongside drone pilot David Gu, reveals the best kit for creative aerial videography.

Drone pilot David Gu attaches a Canon EOS R5 C to an FPV drone which sits on a rock.

David flies traditional drones and FPV drones (shown here). "It's completely different flying with an FPV," he says. "It's like driving a Formula One car compared with an electric golf cart. You can't go from one to the other just like that."

Two men sit together at the edge of a cliff. The man on the right is wearing goggles and holding a controller while a Canon EOS R5 C attached to the top of an FPV drone flies nearby.

FPV drones might give more dynamic results, but conventional drones still have their place, says David. "If you're just doing establishing shots, and you need to be still and hover in one place and do a tracking shot that way, that's very hard to do with an FPV drone," he explains.

Aerial videography with FPV drones

High-speed first-person view (FPV) drones are taking aerial videography to new heights, allowing you to feel like you're in the cockpit. The drone's on-board camera transmits a live feed to a pair of goggles worn by the pilot on the ground, who controls the FPV using a dedicated radio controller. FPVs are fast and agile, but they are more challenging to operate than conventional drones.

"The motors on a conventional drone and an FPV drone look the same, but the ones on an FPV are wound in a different way, which gives it more power but less efficiency," explains David, who works as head drone pilot at Portugal-based Hypercine.

He has been flying drones since 2012, and was hired to shoot the aerial sequences for filmmaker Kevin Clerc's portrait of Madeira using a Canon EOS R5 C. "The FPV drone we were using in Madeira had eight motors on four arms," he says. "Each of those motors can lift 2.5-3kg, so we had immense power but were getting only 3-5-minute flight times.

"One sequence [below] required me to follow a runner, but when I was flying the drone back to change the battery, I was getting B-roll of the scenery at the same time."

A still from drone footage, shot by drone pilot David Gu, of a lighthouse at the end of a long mountain ridge.

One rule that David follows is to change the memory card at the same time as the drone battery. "Because if that drone goes down, you've lost everything else you've done that day," he says. It's also essential to test the range of your FPV goggles and controller before shooting – something he did using a cheaper drone prior to sending a Canon EOS R5 C over the edge of a cliff in Madeira.

"You have to consider the range of the remote controller that's in your hand and the range of the goggles as well," he explains. "The goggles work in 5.8GHz, which is like Wi-Fi on steroids. We can fly further than 2km with this, but normally on a job, I will not go beyond 500m for safety reasons."

A technician wearing white gloves cleans the sensor of a Canon camera.

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A Canon EOS R5 C attached to a drone flies at sunset.

"The big thing with the Canon EOS R5 C is that you've got a camera that shoots 8K RAW but is still very lightweight," says filmmaker Brett Danton. "It's a good shape to fly as well, as its small form factor means it's not hitting the wind. Some larger cameras will obviously cause a bit of drag."

An over-the-shoulder shot of a man sitting at the edge of a cliff and adjusting a Canon camera attached to the top of an FPV drone.

"Everybody knows the 180-degree shutter rule [where you should keep your shutter open for twice as long as the frame rate of your video], but when you're flying fast or low to the ground with an FPV, you should use a 90-degree shutter rule instead [keep the shutter open for four times as long as the frame rate]," David explains. "Otherwise, there's going to be too much blur."

Reach for the skies with the EOS R5 C

Payload is a key consideration when it comes to aerial videography with drones. Heavier cameras and lenses can have an adverse effect on flight time and manoeuvrability, which is why the compact but powerful Canon EOS R5 C is well suited to aerial shots.

Both Brett and David have used the EOS R5 C mounted in a small cage on FPV drones and are enthusiastic about its combination of small size and full-frame 8K RAW capture. "The EOS R5 C really has won me over for filming with drones," Brett reveals. "It's the camera I always go for unless I need to go up to full Cine Primes.

"Having 8K gives me complete flexibility for cropping. I find that even with a stabilised head, you end up with some wobble, so quite often you have to run post-stabilisation where you need extra cropping room," he continues. "When you're flying a drone, you don't always want to alter its path, so you might not have the subject in the exact place that you want it to be in the frame. If you suddenly adjust the camera position to reframe the shot, then you've actually wrecked your track on the drone. So again, having that extra cropping room allows you to do that in post."

To ensure consistency, on their individual shoots, Brett and David set all the shooting parameters on the camera manually – although both rely on Dual Pixel CMOS AF for focusing with the EOS R5 C. "You wouldn't be able to do the FPV stuff running big cinema lenses and follow focus motors," Brett says. "It would be too heavy. So we ran with the autofocus on the RF lenses and everything came back razor sharp."

Using an FPV drone that can accommodate a gimbal as well as the EOS R5 C opens up the opportunity for smoother, more cinematic camera movements at high speed. This setup requires two people: the FPV pilot and a gimbal/camera operator.

"We're dual operating a lot these days," says David. "It means we can fly really fast and pan and tilt the camera just the way the director wants. You also need a well-trained team. The person who's operating the camera gimbal needs to be an FPV pilot, because if I tell them that I'm going to bank left, they need to be aware that the props could appear in view, or the gimbal will go a little crazy with the G-force."

You must ensure that the camera is securely attached to the drone. "As long as it's fixed and you have a very good, built and tuned drone, you don't need any vibration isolation," says David.

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A still from drone footage, shot by filmmaker Brett Danton, of hills and trees silhouetted against an orange and dark blue sky.

Creating and filming virtual environments

Aerial videography with drones is evolving fast, and Brett, who shot the video above, is now using a variety of drones to build virtual environments as part of his automotive commercial work with creative agency giant WPP.

Rather than spending time with a large team shooting cars on location, Brett deploys a LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) scanning drone to capture an area, from which a 3D model can be built in-software. A Canon EOS R5 C is then flown on an FPV drone to capture dynamic aerial video, while a Canon EOS C500 Mark II is used to capture shots from the ground.

Brett and his team are looking at "redefining the way a film is made". Creating a digital twin of the location that a digital car can be driven around saves a huge amount of time. "There's no vehicle on the road, but we shoot it as if there was," Brett explains. "We can track that camera move back into the software, mirror the same camera move inside the software, and then join the two together.

"We're almost working on a reverse pipeline, where we're scanning in the actual location or sections of the location and producing a 3D model, which we can use to work with real-world footage."

Aerial videography and photography are exciting and dynamic fields for both amateur photographers and seasoned professionals. The possibilities are endless with a drone and Canon cameras, and the world is waiting to be captured from above.

Three people stand against a landscape at sunset, a drone flying in the distance.

Brett uses Cinema EOS cameras and drones to create car commercials that blend digital and real-world footage. "Car comping normally takes days and days as you'd have to do each frame individually, but here we can comp it all together in realtime. The reflections on the car are correct and we can actually apply all the physics to the vehicles. And if you want to change a car or update the film, you can do it all instantly – on the fly."

A Canon EOS R5 C attached to an FPV drone sits in a field.

"When flying the Canon EOS R5 C, we shoot 8K RAW 25/50p – but mostly 25p," says Brett. "I'm a bit of a real-world time shooter, and with FPV drones, I don't think you want to go slow motion, you want to keep it in real time. That's why you've got an FPV drone there, to keep some dynamic moves going."

Brett and David's kit recommendations for creative aerial videography

Canon EOS R5 C

"The EOS R5 C's 8K resolution means you can really push it during post," says David. "You also have the option of 4K 120p, and who doesn't love 4K 120p?"

Canon EOS C500 Mark II

"I've flown the EOS C500 Mark II a lot, using a follow-focus and Cine Prime lenses," says Brett. "Colour matching between the EOS C500 Mark II and the EOS R5 C is pretty easy too, especially if you're shooting in RAW."

Canon EOS C300 Mark III

The low-noise Super 35mm DGO sensor in the EOS C300 Mark III offers 16+ stops of dynamic range and internal 4K 120p Cinema RAW Light recording, in a body that's the same size as the EOS C500 Mark II.

Canon EOS R8

With its lightweight, full-frame sensor and oversampled 4K 60p video with Canon Log 3, the EOS R8 is a great option for aerial videography using drones. "It's also not expensive, which means that we are able to take more creative risks," David says.

Lightweight RF mount primes

Brett typically uses the RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM lens when shooting with the EOS R5 C on an FPV drone. "It's a nice, fast, lightweight lens and it doesn't have much focus-breathing," says Brett. David favours something slightly wider and worked with the RF 16mm F2.8 STM lens on the Madeira shoot. "FPV works best with wide-angle lenses," he says. "The wider the lens, the less vibration you're going to see and the easier it's going to be to maintain your subject in the frame. If you're diving down a mountain, then 12-16mm on a full-frame sensor is perfect."

Canon CN-E14mm T3.1 L F

"The Canon CN-E14mm T3.1 L F is a great lens for delivering that big, beautiful cinematic look," Brett says. "I wouldn't use it to follow a subject because you'd have to fly way too close to them, but up in the air, it gives you an amazing, massive view."

Canon CN-E35mm T1.5 L F

Brett says that 35mm is his favourite focal length for drone work. "I have run the Canon CN-E35mm T1.5 FP X Sumire Prime for some jobs, but if we have to do a lot of post work and need to match everything up with background plates, then I want the lenses to be as sharp as possible, so I'll use the Canon CN-E35mm T1.5 L F."

Marcus Hawkins

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