Evolution of HeadCam: turning a DJI Osmo+ rig into a headcam

Evolution of HeadCam: turning a DJI Osmo+ rig into a headcam

Shooting stable video of sailing from a moving boat has always been a near impossible task. Brushless motor gimbal stabilising rigs have become ubiquitous over the last two years or so. They have gotten to the point where they�™re cheap enough and light enough that they are changing the way video of fast moving boats will be shot.

Here is the story of how this…………………. evolved into this.

Starting with a DJI Osmo+ rig straight from the box the first immediately obvious problem was that I couldn�™t easily read the iPhone screen to see the settings or to adjust focus while bouncing around on a small chase boat in bright sunlight.

The iPhone doesn�™t need to be on the handle attachment, the camera and phone communicate by WiFi.
So my solution, add an SLR Video Loupe to the iPhone and bring the whole thing up to my eye.
I accomplished this by designing and 3D printing a mount that would hold the loupe the correct distance from my iPhone screen with a slot for the phone to slide into and a GoPro compatible mounting point so that GoPro brackets and mounts could be used to attach the viewer rig to a helmet.

Much better.

Next issue to overcome was the bounce and vibrations the hand held camera footage was suffering from at speeds around 30 �“ 40 knots in even slight seas.

The gimbal/camera and handle are able to be separated so that pole extensions and other accessories can be added in between. I bought one of DJI�™s Z axis accessories without properly reading the small print. �œNot for extreme sports use” The Z axis would crash into its end stops in even a slight chop. I guess it was only intended as a means to take out the bounce from walking with the camera.

Adding an oil filled shock absorber from a radio controlled model car fixed that.

Back to work. Now I�™m getting excellent steady footage. Here is some footage made with the hand held Osmo+ at full zoom with dampened Z-axis extension.

However, trying to shoot out of the left side of the chase boat while holding on with my left hand meant I was getting all crossed up. Also shooting for extended periods resulted in a tired right arm.

The Osmo+ Camera is �˜steered�™ by moving the handle in the direction you want the camera to go. Tilt or turn the handle and the electronics figure out what you�™re trying to do and follows along (Most of the time). The clever sensors and stuff are in the gimbal end, not the handle so when I discovered there was a cable you could use to connect the gimbal to the handle an obvious solution was to mount the camera/gimbal assembly to the helmet as well. No tired arms, two hands to hold onto the boat (I hang the handle around my neck on a lanyard) and I can steer the gimbal by simply pointing my head in the direction I want the camera to go.

Initially I simply screwed the camera end of the cable to the top of my helmet and mounted the camera to that. Vibrations are back as an issue. Reintroduce the Z-axis contraption. Now it�™s a little top heavy, windage is an issue and I�™ve swapped sore shoulders for a sore neck.

What I really need is a beefed up version of the types of vibration reduction set ups common on many Drones. Base plate separated from camera by four rubber mounts. I tried a couple of different things but eventually settled on Squash balls. I added cross bracing with Bungy line as it was a bit wobbly.

Below is some sample footage alongside GoPro footage of the rig in action.

This was shot using the rig as it was one generation ago. I have since printed an L bracket to mount the gimbal in it�™s horizontal mode as in the photo at the top of this page, rather than the standard vertical mode as can be seen in the above video.
There�™s still obviously room for improvement. As we�™re staying quite a distance away from the subject, the camera is at full zoom, including 2x digital zoom, so about the full frame equivalent of a 77mm lens.

Chris Cameron is an Event / PR / Advertising photographer with a heavy lean toward boats and the people who use them, be it for work, sport or pleasure. For more of his work, check out his website and follow him on Instagram and Twitter. This article was also published here and shared with permission.

3 Ways to Get Honest Feedback on Your Work

3 Ways to Get Honest Feedback on Your Work

Learning to evaluate your own work and getting good honest feedback is critical to improving as a photographer. Others will see things you don’t see. It will give you tips to help you improve. And it is peculiar to your work (not just general tips for everyone).

3 Ways to Get Honest Feedback on Your Work

The problem is that getting honest feedback on your work has always been difficult. Your choices boil down to:

  • Bothering friends and family in the hopes that they would risk hurting your feelings to give you honest feedback.
  • Hoping someone will chime in with actual constructive criticism on a picture you post online.
  • Paying a lot of money to attend a photography conference and have your work reviewed by an expert.

None of these is ideal. The first two don’t work, and the third is a rather large, expensive (not to mention scary) undertaking.

So what do you do? Fortunately, the world is changing in this area. There are additional tools to help you get feedback and also to help you objectively judge your own work as well. In this article, you’ll be introduced to a few of my favorites.

#1 – 500 px

You may already be familiar with 500px. You upload your pictures to the site and it provides you with a score for your photograph based on the number of likes and comments it receives from others. An obvious way to get feedback is through the score. Higher scores generally mean better pictures and you can judge your picture by the score it receives.

3 Ways to Get Honest Feedback on Your Work

That said, the scoring of 500px can be somewhat unreliable. Sometimes you will upload pictures that you know are better than the score they get (but be careful about that, as sometimes we delude ourselves into thinking our photos are better than they are). Other times you will see pictures with really high scores that aren’t as good as their scores warrant. There are a lot of factors that might determine the number of people that are liking your photo at any particular time.

The score isn’t the only way that 500px helps you evaluate your own work, though. When you upload your picture to the site, you will see it in pools of pictures that 500px creates. All new pictures go into the Fresh pool of pictures, then if your photo reaches a score of 70 it goes into an Upcoming pool, and pictures that score over 80 are deemed Popular. When you look at your photo within these pools, you will see it surrounded by its peers.  You are essentially forced to compare your photo to the surrounding ones. Sometimes you will like what you see, sometimes you won’t.

3 Ways to Get Honest Feedback on Your Work

The Popular pool of photos on 500px.

Then, when you are ready for a little dose of humility, you can compare your photo to the most popular photos on the front page. These photos are almost always incredible shots. Be warned, this will bruise your ego. Once you get past that, you can look at what these photographers are doing to get those great shots. That will help show you things you could be doing.

#2 – Photographers via phone or Skype

Having your photos reviewed by an expert has always been an option, but it has historically been expensive. Usually, it involves going to a photography conference, where you are given the opportunity to sit face-to-face with someone reviewing your work. These opportunities are invaluable but are also expensive and time-consuming. The conferences usually aren’t cheap and there may be significant travel expenses involved as well.

Technology is starting to help change this situation, though. Now, if you poke around online, you can find photographers that will review your work virtually for a fraction of the cost. The occasions I have done this have cost me $50 or less.

What you do is upload some pictures to the photographer or service, and they review them. I’ve done it where I had a call with the reviewer, and where the reviewer sent me an audio/video file of them reviewing my work. Obviously, you only have interaction with them the first way, but the reality is that you are mostly doing this for their honest feedback your pictures, and not to ask questions or have them explain things. In any case, you get feedback on your work from an industry expert.

Some photographers offer this as a service on their websites. Many others don’t, but I suspect they would welcome the opportunity to make a little extra cash if approached. If you have a favorite photographer, you might see if they are interested in reviewing your work for a fee. It will get you great feedback without the cost of traveling to a conference.

#3 – Pixoto

Another way I have seen to get good feedback on your work is a website called Pixoto.

3 Ways to Get Honest Feedback on Your Work

When you post a photo to Pixoto, it goes through a series of Image Duels, which are head-to-head competitions between your photo and another image. You will be asked to vote on Image Duels of photos submitted by others, and they will vote on yours. It is nameless and faceless. As a result of the wins and losses (and even the best photos have plenty of losses), Pixoto generates a score for your photo. It also tells you what percentage of photos yours placed above.

3 Ways to Get Honest Feedback on Your Work

Example of an Image Duel on Pixoto.

You won’t always agree with the results Pixoto gives you. Sometimes that will be because the Pixoto score is wrong, but more often it will be because you failed to properly evaluate your own work (which is very hard). In any case, this is another tool in your arsenal, and it is free.

Evaluating your own work

None of these tools is perfect, what’s more, they will sometimes conflict. You might have a photo that gets a really high score on 500px but does dismally on Pixoto. Or you might have a photo that gets lots of social media attention and is loved by a reviewer but goes nowhere on 500px or Pixoto. None of this replaces judgment and there is no accounting for taste. But they can give you good markers to help you critically evaluate your own work.

These tools will occasionally change your mind, and it can work in both directions. There will be photos you absolutely love, but you later realize aren’t as good as you thought after you’ve used these tools. At the same time, there will be photos that you didn’t think much of but that you realize might be a little better than you gave them credit for after seeing the reaction of others to them.

In any event, perhaps the greatest tool these can offer you is helping you learn to better evaluate your own work by yourself. After you have seen others do it, you’ll learn things. You’ll stop repeating mistakes. You’ll learn what is important to others. And you’ll learn to view your photos with a more critical eye.