Updated: Mar 13, 2019
And most importantly: does it really matter ?
This has to be the most frequently asked question I got, so for anyone curious about what gear I use to shoot skydiving, this is my curent set up:
- Panasonic Lumix G 12-35mm II f/2.8
- Gopro hero black
- TONFLY 2.5X helmet
- concentric ring sight, a must have for accurate framing
- Optima II audible (x2)
How did I choose this set up and which one you should get for yourself:
The price tag of a camera increase relative to factors such as the output file spec, the dynamic range, the low light capability ...
Understanding this will most likely make you save some money without compromising the quality of your video since most of us only shoot in bright daylight and make video for the web.
Do you need to deliver high resolution video ?
In my case, shooting for professional TV project, I needed to deliver 4k 50 fps output file so choosing the GH5 was a no brainer but this is quite an expensive camera choice.
If you only aim to share your video online you shouldn't pay the extra buck for the big spec.
Also keep in mind that shooting 4K imply having a sufficient processing power to edit and more storage to archive your files, which will increase a lot the overall cost of creating video.
Do you prioritise shooting video or still ?
This is quite a determinant factor; if you want to shoot both video and still, the GH5 is a good option as well as the Sony Alpha serie, you might struggle a bit to find a mouth trigger but there is solution available and you will get a great video camera that can shoot good stills.
If you prioritise stills, there is a broader range of option with perhaps better autofocus functionality, and better choice when in come to connectivity such a getting a blow / tongue / bite switch.
Finally if you are only looking for shooting video but want more creative control than a Gopro can offer, I recommend the Sony FDR - AX55. I've been doing most of my video with this camera such as Against the grain. The optical stabilisation has been a game changer for me.
Optical stabilisation ?
This is a no brainer, optical stabilisation is a great help for shooting skydiving video. But it can take a little bit of adjustment to make the best out of it.
For example the GH5's dual optical stabilisation will create some undesirable motion blur at slow shutter speed, every time a shake is too big for the sensor stabilisation to handle.
The AX53 doesn't accept strong deceleration as it will move the lens so you will loose your framing as well.
Let´s put it that way, optical stabilisation will not correct all the mistakes done while flying, smooth flying and accurate framing is necessary to make the best out of those function.
Future is now, and the latest action camera and 360 camera's improvement is here to proves it. Soon framing while jumping will become obsolete for wide angle type of video, we will do all the framing in post production most likely on a smartphone as well as getting perfect result in term of stabilisation.
Weight and size:
Indeed light weight and small size set up will make you enjoy more the flying, which will allow you to fly at the maximum potential of your skills, which will offer you the opportunity to create better images.
Also, the most beautiful shot doesn't worth a neck injury. If you shoot a lot, the repetitive minor trauma of flying a heavy set up can cause some chronic pain, be aware that flying a heavy set up require a great understanding of your gear and how to use it speed of deployment, slider and pc size.
Low light capability
Low light capability can be extremely valuable depending your shooting needs. For example the Alpha Sony S serie literally see in the dark, also fast lens (small f number) will highly increase the capability of your camera in low light condition.
But this come with a heavy price tag, and there is better way to use this money if you are shooting only skydiving.
Rolling shutter generally manifest itself shooting scenes with lots of motion. It can also make post production stabilisation look very much like moving gelatine. Same thought process than low light capability, does paying the extra buck for a global shutter really worth it ? Most of the time, the answer is no. You can reduce rolling shutter by using ND filter to slow down the shutter speed as well as taking it easy with moving your camera.
The accessories that makes the difference:
A concentric ring sight
I know this is a really expensive item, and it took me a while to make the investment, but this is a key element for accurate framing. A sticker on your glasses or a cross ring sight are a cheap alternative but nothing come closer than a concentric ring sight.
Framing your skydiving shot is like shooting with a riffle, without a sight to give you a reference point, it is close to impossible to be accurate. Also to have a consistent reference point will help you to progress on a long run .... Trust me, get one. And make sure to mount it with nylon screw to decrease the risk of entanglement with your canopy.
On the side note, I made the choice to not use a ring sight for BASE jumping due to the consequence of an entanglement and the narrowing of field of view caused by over focusing on your framing.
Those filter allows for slow shutter and get smooth motion blur. There is even ND filter for Gopro. I use a variable ND filter and it almost never leave my lens.
This is a huge chapter by itself.
To get started Im in love with Tonfly product and they sponsored me since many years now so I definitely have a biased view on the topic.
But regardless the brand, your helmet choice will effect your shooting, your safety and other's safety.
Loosing a camera or even the helmet itself already happened too many times and it will happen in the future, so let's make sure we decrease this risk as much as possible.
For the little story, I loose a 550D camera using a mount designed by a skydiving brand, it was the 3rd jump of the day on break off, so I definitely lock the mount correctly but it unlocked anyway due to the vibration. This seems to be impossible to happen with the TF mount made by Tonfly.
Don't blindly trust gear simply because it is designed for skydiving, trouble shoot your mount as well as your cutaway system, understand how it works and create routine for maintenance and pre jump safety check.
Your own safety:
A snag free set up will decrease the risk of entanglement. As well as using nylon screw for your ring sight.
As usual, understand your gear and how to use it, specially when it come to skyhook or RSL system. I personally choose to use a skyhook but Im aware of the consequences in case of an entanglement of my main with my helmet and trained myself to respond accordingly.
I choose to wear two audible altimeter to decrease the chance of malfunction due to low battery.
When it comes to impact rating, I don't know yet a camera helmet that offer a real protection for your brain, hopefully this will change soon.
Indeed a tight fit is needed to reduce the shakes, I personally choose to wear one size smaller than my normal size.
Something highly important is the balance of your set up on your helmet, avoid front or back heavy set up.
Also make sure to adjust symmetrically your chinstrap.
So yes, gear do matter but money doesn't buy creativity.
The reason why I engage in film making is to challenge my creativity and share emotion in the way that goes beyond words only. The technicality aspect of the gear have very little to do with this goals.
Gears are only tools to achieve this, so I believe it is important to not become obsess by the tool itself.
And sometimes the right tool to make video look special can be as simple as a fake moustache as seen in JOHNNY.