Photo © Alex Cameron – Depiqd
ETHICS STATEMENT: This post has been written solely to express our views on the first impressions of the Freefly ALTA. We have not been incentivised in anyway by either Freefly Systems or CVP Group.
Needless to say as soon as we saw this it we immediately got excited as the potential aerial film making possibilities quickly came to mind. The most important and influential feature for us on this particular UAS was the fact that the camera and gimbal can be mounted on the top of the platform, allowing for shots looking directly up, which before this has simply been an aerial film makers pipe dream.
So as soon as we found out that our friends at CVP Group were holding an ALTA open day at their premises in Studley, we knew we had to get on the guest list.
We arrived at Priory Mill, CVP’s Midlands HQ, just after 10:30am on Friday 18th September 2015 and were warmly greeted by staff and shown into the room where we’d be enjoying a couple of short presentations from Freefly Systems but also the very talented team at Outfilming, led by Ben Norton.
As we entered the room we got our first, ‘in the flesh’ view of the ALTA – it looks BADASS! A stunning mix of carbon fibre and aluminium with a very pleasing overall design in stealth black. Mounted underneath the ALTA was the MōVI M15 carrying the newly released Arri Alexa Mini. A very impressive first encounter.
The presentation by the guys at Outfilming, who are going to be one of the first aerial film and photography production companies in the UK to fully test the ALTA, was very interesting indeed. They have been in the industry for some time and worked for some impressive clients. It was certainly interesting to get their take on the ALTA, despite limited actual flying time thus far with the rig, and how influential it will be in their production workflow. They believe it will most likely replace their Freefly Cinestar 8 as their heavy lift (7-20kg) UAS of choice.
Following Ben and Steve’s presentation, we got to hear from Freefly themselves, who were able to show us some of the work that’s been filmed by the ALTA developers and testers so far. The footage did indeed look incredible, especially the shots where the camera was top mounted, these shots just weren’t possible before now. What was also great was listening to Brad, from Freefly, as he was one of the main production developers on the ALTA who has not only logged lots of flight time on it already but has also been responsible for piloting it on a majority of their promotional videos so far. If you’d like to check those out then head over to either the main ALTA page on Freefly’s website or follow them on Instagram.
So, discussions, questions and quick lunch out the way, we headed out to a flying site within a short walking distance of Priory Mill to have a good look at the ALTA in action.
Sadly, we were not allowed to pilot the aircraft but we did get to test out the operation of the MōVI gimbal which was fantastic. What made this superbly enjoyable was the FreeFly’s MIMIC that they also had available for us to use. For those not familiar with what the MIMIC does, watch the video below. In short, it is a motion controller that, through the exact movements of the operator controls the movement of the MōVI M15 gimbal whilst mounted to the ALTA.
It’s completely gorgeous! It just works! You move and the camera moves. It’s as if you were there physically moving the camera yourself. Make no mistake this is a DP’s dream!
And what of the ALTA, well…
…equally a superb piece of kit! It is well designed, professionally rugged, capable, solid, smooth and quiet. Seriously, when the motors spooled up it was very hard not to be impressed at just how quiet it was for a hexacopter of that size (it’s not dissimilar in size to say an S1000) with a payload like the MōVI M15 and Arri Alexa Mini.
Here are some key features that we love about the ALTA:
- It comes in a PELI case
- It packs down very small – the case it comes in (minus the MōVI though) is about the same size as the Inspire 1’s case.
- The Toad-In-The-Hole quick release system is very flexible and is the same fitting featured on the MōVI meaning moving between the two is insanely fast.
- It’s incredibly solid in the air – even with higher wind speeds
- It’s very quite for it’s size and payload capability
- Custom LEDs on boom ends with the option of lighting the booms themselves if required (useful if flying at night)
- Simple app interface for making adjustments to the craft and logging flight data.
- Dual batteries which give approximately 10 minute flight times which given the payload that it had mounted was very acceptable. (plus the aircraft was being brought in at around 40% battery so there was a little capacity left)
- Vertical and Horizontal Clamps (we’ll mention this below in more detail)
We had a fantastic day experiencing just what a powerful aerial film making or photography platform the ALTA is. The main USP for us is the ability to mount the camera on either the top or bottom of the UAS which just opens up some excellent shot possibilities. The fact that it comes in a really stunning, practical, well built design is a huge bonus.
In operation it’s truly a professional system. It’s got power when needed or subtly, via the customisable clamp speeds. It’s solid and smooth in the air even with larger cameras and setups.
The investment required to get the ALTA into a ready to fly state may put those with smaller budgets off. By the time you’ve bought the UAS, The MōVI (either M5 or M15 – bizarrely the M10 is not fully compatible with the ALTA), Controllers/TXs, Batteries etc you’re probably looking at a system in the region of £15,000 to £20,000 depending on your configuration. That said this drone is not aimed at those with a faint heart, or budget so those looking to get into aerial imaging might want to consider a slightly less involved system as the ALTA is definitely aimed at users with experience.
If you’re already running a DJI S900/S1000 or Freefly Cinestar 8 then this will have some familiarity and, most likely, will replace them as your go to heavy lift option. It’s easy to transport, setup and very responsive in flight. Anyone requiring a professional UAS to perform highly accurate aerial manoeuvres with heavier or specific camera types, then this is the craft for you. Especially if you have the need to shoot to the skies! We would definitely pair this system with a MIMIC as this just takes it to another level in terms of operability and freedom of camera movement.
We’ll be watching this one very closely and will be adding it to our fleet soon.