Many drones have follow me. Solo does, too, but it’s by far — by far — the best and most sophisticated follow on the market. Big claim. Now let me back it up.
“Follow Me” is probably the most popular autonomous capability of drones today, and it’s certainly the most talked-about. It’s nothing less than miraculous that you can have a robot follow you in the air, let alone that this flying robot has a camera and can keep you in the frame of the video.
First point: 3DR invented Follow Me. Our IRIS drone was the first consumer drone with follow me. This dates back to June, 2014. Other drones who claim to have the first follow — simply not true.
Second, and much more interesting point: 3DR has the best follow. That is, we didn’t rest with launching Follow — we’ve been constantly improving it. No other drone can touch what Solo can do.
Other drones just follow you. Only Solo can follow and frame you dynamically. Change the drone’s altitude and position in real time with the controller sticks. Solo can even “lead” you — just position Solo in front of you.
What’s more, Solo can even orbit around you while you’re moving, keeping the camera on you the whole time. As an interesting use case, you can have Solo follow and orbit while you snap photos — grab a series of stills at many different angles, without worrying about piloting the copter at the same time.
Look at me
Think of this feature as a tripod in the sky, with the tripod head swiveling the camera to follow you wherever you go.
Just pop Solo up in the air, put it into Follow, enter your Follow options (marked “…” on the Follow screen) and toggle “Look at me.” Solo will now stay locked in one place (as opposed to flying after you) while the camera keeps you in frame as you move. This is great if you want to create distance from the camera.
Follow with Free Look
Now things get interesting.
For Solo 2.0 we took the Free Look feature — already available in Cable cam — and applied it to Follow. You can now shoot a moving subject from any angle, in real time, just by using the controller sticks.
Free Look turns Follow into an interactive filming experience: When you enter Free Look, Solo still follows your subject, but you now have full control of the camera. Pan and tilt freely to look anywhere you want while remaining completely confident in Solo’s position and directional heading. It’s similar to the Hollywood motion control of a Russian arm on the back of a truck: Virtually leash Solo to one vehicle, and swivel and tilt the camera manually to track the movements of even the most spontaneous subject.
Plus, if Solo isn’t exactly where you need it, Free Look also allows you to adjust the copter’s position in space with a nudge of the controls. When you know exactly where the camera will be, you can plan shots with confidence and also react in the moment.
Think of those skateboard videos you’ve seen where someone’s following his buddy, carrying and working the camera. Solo would be that buddy, flying automatically, with the pilot having full camera and position control.
To paraphrase Frank Zappa, writing about Free Look is like dancing about architecture. So for a great visual example of how Free Look works in action, check out this video at about 1:35.
Cool but complicated. How do I use it?
Essentially, Free Look lets you take control of the copter and camera while Solo follows. This sounds pretty complicated, but it just means that the drone pilot can change altitude and follow distance in real time, just by using the controller sticks. Not only do you always know the trajectory of the drone and the position of the camera, you can now control both of them.
First, make sure the area is clear of objects. You’ll have a few people involved: Your subject (if you’re filming a particular subject), your drone pilot (let’s say this is you), and the person controlling the vehicle.
Since Solo follows the controller, you’ll ride along in the vehicle. When you Follow, Solo is leashed to that vehicle — and to the controller and mobile device in your hands.
Okay: In the Follow options menu, enter “Free Look.” Begin your follow shot.
While Solo follows the vehicle you’re in, and your buddy drives, you can now change Solo’s position and control the camera to look anywhere you want. This means if you’ve got another subject you want to film, you’re totally free to control the camera as that subject moves. This means you can now track with even fast-moving and spontaneous subjects without having to worry about controlling the copter’s flight.
Other drones have two controllers to pull this stuff off. With you and Solo, well, that’s it.
Why is Free Look important and useful?
We can sum up the usefulness of Free Look in one word: Composition.
No other follow me offers you control over image composition — the camera keeps the subject in the center of the frame no matter what. With Free Look you can look anywhere you like, allowing for much more dynamic and interesting shots.
Use case: Let’s say you want to follow a subject driving an ATV. Have Solo follow your vehicle while your vehicle follows (or is near) the subject on the ATV. Control Solo from inside your vehicle, using the FPV video as guide. Go into Follow, toggle Free Look, and Solo is leashed to the vehicle you’re in. You now have complete control over the composition of your shot as you tail the ATV, putting the camera exactly where you want to put it while Solo flies along. This lets you do what no other Follow can: Actually compose your shots. You don’t always want a centered subject — this makes Follow much more visually interesting, and it turns it from a flat, automatically centered shot into a real filming tool.
So you have control over composition, but you simultaneously get the opposite, too: spontaneity. This spontaneity applies to the choices you can make creatively as a cameraman/director, moving the camera in the moment. It also applies in terms of tracking with a spontaneous, fast-moving subject. You can also now design camera moves that start with one subject in the frame, then pan or travel to another subject or area.
Again: Film even fast or unpredictable subjects steadily, and from any angle.
So it might sound like this is simply flying manually. Follow a subject yourself with the drone and you can do all of this, right?
What’s important about Free Look is that you now only concern yourself with the placement of the camera. Drone pilots will understand how useful this can be: It takes half of the work out of it. This frees you up to add an entirely new creative layer to your shots. In this way, Solo is also like a virtual two-pilot system.
Try it just once. You’ll forget the drone is up there.