Camera work in the African plains is a dangerous profession, but modern technology makes it manageable. Long-focus lenses, remote-controlled video cameras, and other essential gear is critical to getting the footage you want, especially without being attacked or eaten by the local wildlife. BoingBoing notes that Michael Nichols is taking things one step further in National Geographic's Field Test feature, hoping that some new technology will let him capture different types of close-up shots with relative ease.
Using a device dubbed the "micro-copter" (or, the HexaKopter, according to the original German manufacturer), Nichols is hoping that he can get footage of lions in the Serengeti by hovering directly in the middle of a pride during their more stationary activities. Suspending a DSLR camera in the undercarriage, the micro-copter hovers high off the ground via six small helicopter rotors while remote control functions allow the camera's height and position to be adjusted in-flight. National Geographic shows that Nichols has further modified the device so that he can get direct video feedback from the camera, letting them navigate on the fly.
Although the micro-copter is fast and agile, it's also pretty darn noisy -- but National Geographic explains that the lions should be used to any mechanical disturbances.
Lions sunning themselves on kopje looking over the Serengeti Plains; seeing a herd of wildebeest from a bird’s-eye view. Those aren’t things you can just walk up to and shoot. But with a micro-copter and lions habituated to the sound of the electric rotors, you’ll be able to hover 15 feet in the air and actually do that dream wide-angle shot of lions on top of the rocks with the plains in the background.
Nichols states that there's still a lot of technical issues to figure out, and he's not even sure that it'll work. Along with having to worry about the micro-copter's limited charge, the remote control functions only allow for so much fine control. Of course, it's not the only tool available to his team, as they currently use a wide variety of gadgets, including "cars with cameras, night-vision goggles, infrared cameras, and state-of-the-art camera traps."
All of Nichols' work and archives from the Serengeti won't be published in any print issues until 2013, but you can follow his work as it progresses at National Geographic's Field Test hub.
McKinley Noble is a former GamePro staff editor, current technology nerd and eternal mixed martial arts enthusiast. He also likes Japanese sports dramas and soap operas. Follow him on Twitter or just Google his name.
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