3DR your inbox

Sign up for the 3DR Lift newsletter for the latest stories, product updates, and more

We designed the Solo controller specifically to make it as natural an experience to execute professional aerial cinema as it is to navigate Starfox. Or Mario Kart. Or The Legend of Zelda: The Occarina of Time. Etc.

Now you should know a) the extent of my video game experience, and b) my approximate age.

But the video game analogy is actually perfect. You can think of Solo as literally a video game. Solo is of course a powerful cinematic tool, much more than a game. But tapping Solo to enable creative solutions to problems of technique, logistics, budget and creativity itself — that work is fun, and with a healthy perspective, solving those problems is in fact a game. Plus you use a flying robot to do it.

Video game.

With that in mind, here’s a blog about using the Solo controller not as a controller, but as a camera. We’re so aware of flying a drone, we might not immediately think of a controller in those terms. But at the end of the day, the Solo controller is really just a very cool camera, and we built it from the start for that very reason: to make it easy natural to execute even your most complex creative visions.

However, there are still a few tips and techniques that might open you up to new approaches, or change your old ones. So here’s a look at the Solo controller from a new yet familiar perspective: a camera.

The basics

Here are the basic camera control features. (If you’d like, you can skip down to the next section to get to advanced uses of these features.)

On the controller shoulders — right under your fingers, where you’d find buttons on a video game controller — you’ve got one-click buttons to stop and start camera recording (press left paddle) and take photos (pressing both). Think of these as your shutters.

On the left shoulder you’ll find your tilt paddle. This moves your camera smoothly up and down. It responds exponentially to your touch — the farther up or down you push the paddle, the faster the camera moves.

On the right shoulder you’ve got even more options: two angle presets. Tilt the camera to the angle you want for the first frame of your shot and hold the top preset button. The controller vibrates — position set. Tilt the camera up to your ending frame and then press the bottom preset button. Vibe. End of camera sweep set.

Now toggle between your camera angles simply by pressing the top or bottom button. Use the wheel between the buttons to tailor the speed of this sweep. Solo automatically eases the camera into your presets; it doesn’t just come to a hard stop.

When you use these tilt controls, your controller screen shows angle information, with dots to let you know where your presets are. It even displays the time in seconds it will take to sweep between them. This information gives you technical awareness and lets you coordinate and tailor your shots.

Use your sticks to guide Solo to where you want the shot. Remember, look down: Use the live HD video feed on your device screen to guide you. This is basically your camera “viewfinder” screen. Move Solo through space like an FPV video game character and locate the shot you want.

In case you need it, the controller’s pause button (another video game inspiration) immediately brings Solo to a midair stop so you can get your bearings. The pause button is also useful if you’re flying and suddenly notice an interesting angle or subject that you want to capture and weren’t prepared for — no matter how fast you were cruising, you can stop immediately and start shooting.


Using these camera control features

As discussed above, you can use the tilt control manually. Beyond a video tool, this is also useful for scouting an area, getting scene awareness or just taking in the beauty of a location.

The preset tool is where things start to get really interesting. Try setting presets to zero and ninety degrees (looking straight down and straight out), then toggling from one to the other for a super smooth reveal. Want to add drama? Adjust sweep speed with the wheel. For even more dynamics, you can even adjust the sweep speed as you sweep. This is great because you don’t have to worry about easing into and out of your start and stop points — no hard jerks, just a smooth, cinematic movement from frame to frame.

Also, with your presets set at zero and ninety you have the whole range of camera tilt covered. You can shift between presets at any time in your sweep — you don’t have to hit the end points. With the full range open, look up and down as frequently and as far as you want (at the speed you want!) without worrying at the same time about making your tilt movements smooth — Solo does that for you.

Now let’s see what happens when you apply presets to flight.

First, as above, presets remove a level of technical execution. You don’t have to manually execute your tilt or manually ensure you execute it at a smooth and consistent (or dynamic) pace. You also don’t have to worry about the hardest part of tilt: executing an imperceptible start and stop. Fly manually with part of your brain now liberated: Technical movements aren’t your responsibility; just think creatively. Experiment. Try shots at different speeds. Focus on your flight and what you want to look at and where you want the camera to move to tell your story. The hard part has become simple software.

Even more interesting: Combine tilt and presets with Smart Shots.

Set up a Cable cam. As many keyframes as you want. Press play and Solo starts on its journey, guiding the camera from frame to frame. You can adjust the time it takes Solo to fly the cable, as well. Now with Solo locked onto this known dolly path at a known speed, you know exactly where it will be and when, and where it’s going and when it’ll get there. So that’s one less thing to worry about.

But you can actually take control of the camera at any time. This includes the “Free Look” function, where you can use the left stick to both pan and tilt the camera, looking anywhere you want at any time, or timing your camera movements with the known copter position.

And now — presets with Smart Shots. This lets you automate not just flight, and not just camera position from frame to frame, but gives you semi-automatic tilt control, too — automation in three dimensions. Now we’re talking not just a virtual two-pilot system, but a virtual three-pilot system: Solo is your pilot, you’re the camera operator, but Solo is also a camera operator (along with being a camera motion control assistant or something that there’s no exact human analog for). The next-level options really open up here.

So try this. Pre-visualize the shot you want, including your camera tilts up and down, and your pans if you want to include them, too. (You should probably always pre-visualize your shots, anyway.) Set the exact Cable frames you want, keeping in mind the tilt action you want to include. Set your tilt presets, if you’ve got exact angles in mind — or set those presets to zero and ninety for more manual control, as mentioned earlier. Press “play.” Solo flies, and now you’ve got an incredible variety of camera control at your fingertips.

Controlled anarchy!

Warning: The following will sound insanely complex. You might have to keep a lot in your mind. But don’t be daunted: All these moves are just the touch of a button. You can plan your shots, or use all of these options spontaneously for really wild, unexpected five-axis shots.

Pan the camera with the left stick. Tilt the camera with the left stick. Press your preset buttons and let Solo perfectly execute those tilts as it flies. Toggle between angle presets while panning the camera while Solo flies. Adjust the automated tilt speed and Cable flight speed for perfectly timed shots. Adjust timing as you need to. Know when, where and how fast Solo will fly; know when, where and how fast you want to set your tilts — go! Set your presets to zero and ninety and switch smoothly back and forth at any time, using preset buttons to execute perfectly smooth tilts (and pans!) with total spontaneity. Do that while panning.

Basically: Look anywhere you want with automated moves, as smooth and cinematic as any professional cinema pilot.

You don’t need to worry about the fine technique here. The hard part here is the hard part of any creative activity: using your mind to create complex visions. Exercise your creativity — the Solo drone/camera system helps you make that a jawdropping reality.

Or just try this all randomly and see what you can create. You’ll surprise yourself, guaranteed.

Oh, yeah — now try it with Orbit.