The views from the cockpit are magnificent, and no matter how well we describe them to our friends and family back on the ground, it is hard to paint the picture. Imagine being able to take them all along for the ride. Now we can do just that when we record our flights using an airplane camera.
Cameras are small, portable and more affordable than ever. They pair with a wide range of mounts and accessories to set us up to capture incredible footage that used to cost professionals thousands of dollars to shoot.
Today we will walk you through the types of cameras to choose from, your mounting options and some great accessories that will enhance your filming and viewing experience. We will even throw in some tips and tricks to get your aviation filming adventure off to a strong start.
Ready? Lights – camera – action!
Best Airplane Cameras
As you plan the look and feel you want your in-flight footage to have, you will be choosing from two categories of cameras or – more likely – investing in at least one of each. This multi-camera route gives you an advantage because you can incorporate multiple vantage points in your footage.
The first type of camera (and one that you are probably already familiar with) is an action camera. Action cameras are the type that you see skateboarders, skiers, airsoft players, skydivers and other athletes and adventurers use to capture first person footage of their adventures.
The most well-known brand in the action camera family is GoPro, although Garmin’s VIRB has gained traction as well.
The 3 best cameras currently on the market are:
GoPro HERO8 Black
Of course, there was going to be some model of GoPro hanging out on the top of our best action camera list. Which one do we currently recommend for pilots? That would be the brand-new GoPro HERO8 Black.
The upgraded HERO8 Black has a new design that lets you bypass the extra mounting frame that other GoPros need in order to pair with mounts. The HERO8 has special mounting ‘fingers’ on the bottom that work directly with GoPro mounts.
One of the most pilot-friendly features of the HERO7 Black is the proprietary HyperSmooth electronic image stabilization (EIS) system and GoPro has taken it to the next level on the HERO8 Black with HyperSmooth 2.0. The 2.0 version works across all shooting modes and resolutions. If you are unfamiliar with HyperSmooth, think of it as creating the smooth, stable footage of a gimbaled camera, but without the need for an actual gimbal.
The final big buzz with the HERO8 centers around the mods that will be released in late 2020. The display mod, media mod and light mod will add extra audio and visual functionality that will only be available for the HERO8. Stay tuned!
Pro Tip: If you are unfamiliar with GoPro’s naming conventions for their HERO product line, keep in mind that the models are named by their housing color. This means that you aren’t just choosing your favorite color when you select between a GoPro HERO8 white, silver or black – you are actually deciding which features you want, so choose carefully. White has the fewest features and black the most with silver in between.
Garmin VIRB Ultra 30
Like the GoPro HERO8 Black, Garmin has designed its VIRB Ultra 30 to shoot high-quality 4K resolution video. This means that when you want to share your flight on YouTube or bring it up on your big screen TV at a party, the footage will be crystal clear and sharp.
One of the standout unique features of the VIRB Ultra 30 is its integrated G-Metrix system. The accelerometer, altimeter, compass, GPS and gyroscope capture flight data that you can choose to overlay on your final video using VIRB edit software (included with camera).
Breaking into the top 3 action camera list is a lesser known brand – Yi. You may not be as familiar with Yi as you are with GoPro or Garmin, but if you are like us, you will be pleasantly surprised by the quality and value of their 4K+ camera. The Yi 4K+ features the same 4K video recording capabilities as both other top action cameras. It also has built in electronic image stabilization. The main key difference is that is camera is not waterproof without the purchase of a separate case. Even then, the price is still fantastic, as is the quality.
360 Degree / Virtual Reality (VR) Cameras
Now that you have your standard cockpit view covered, it’s time to get creative. A 360-degree camera will deliver stunning professional quality footage. View your flight from an entirely new perspective and splice this one-of-a-kind footage in with the standard cockpit view for a fully immersive experience.
The best 360/VR cameras currently available are:
The Rylo 360 is set up to be a very easy to use 360-degree camera that you can simply pick up and start recording with. The 3 filming settings are intuitive and if you just can’t wait until you get home, you can connect the 360 directly to your Android or iPhone and view or upload your footage right from the airfield.
Rylo’s 2 lenses each cover a viewing angle of 208 degrees which together allow for a 360-degree video image at a 5.8K standard resolution. As with the Yi 4K+, the Rylo 360 will need an add-on case if you want it to be waterproof.
Garmin VIRB 360
Garmin has really amped up its VR game with the VIRB 360. This powerhouse camera records in stunning 5.7K HD resolution at a smooth 30 frames per second. Like the VIRB Ultra 30, the 360 comes with Garmin’s G-Metrix system for recording and overlaying stats from onboard sensors.
GoPro Fusion 360-Degree
Not sure where the next great camera angle will be? With the GoPro Fusion 360-Degree, you don’t have to stress about it. The Fusion captures a full spherical video in 5.2K resolution, so when you go to edit later, you will have exactly the footage you want. Looking for some photos along with the video? GoPro’s software makes it easy to pull photos right from the video.
360Fly 4K VR
The final contender in the 360-degree action camera category is the 360Fly 4K VR. This quirky-looking spherical camera with its faceted sides and pops of neon green color looks fun and sporty. It lives up to the image with a dust and shockproof design plus all sorts of internal sensors that allow data overlay on the 4K video much like Garmin’s G-Metrix.
Best Airplane Camera Mounts
You have your camera – or cameras – all picked out. Now it’s time to decide how best to mount them.
Mounts are important for 2 key reasons:
- They keep your camera safe and secure.
- They allow you to position your camera to capture the angle you are looking for.
Camera mounts come in 3 main types: suction, flat surface and clamp. They can often be purchased as a full kit with a base, arm and adapter or as individual components.
Pro Tip: You may want to invest in different types of mounts for different areas of your cockpit. Keep in mind that RAM’s ball-based mounting systems are universal, so the arm and adapter from one mount can easily be moved to another mount in most cases.
Suction mounts are easy to move around, allowing you to reposition your camera and shoot from different viewpoints. Suction mounts work well on smooth, non-porous cockpit surfaces like glass and plastic.
The best suction mounts are:
This suction cup mount by RAM is engineered for compatibility with most action cameras. The universal adapter attaches to the underside of cameras like the GoPro HERO series and Gamin VIRB lineup. The short arm design allows this mount to fit into tighter spaces.
If you have a HERO camera and are looking for a medium-length arm on your suction mount, this is the way to go. The 3.69” arm provides plenty of stand-off distance from the mounting surface so you can adjust the camera to just about any angle. A double-socket design means two adjustment points for even more versatility and flexibility in positioning.
If you decide to take your standard digital camera in the cockpit with you, there are mounts designed for it. Basic suction mounts limit the recording angle possibilities, but RAM is different. This setup includes two 1” rubber ball swivel points that allow easy manipulation of camera position and fine-tuning of angles. The twist lock base ensures that the suction cup is secure to your glass, plastic or other smooth surface. Just screw your camera onto the stainless-steel stud of the mount plate and you are ready to select a perfect cockpit vantage point.
Flat surface mounts are permanent mounts that are very secure. They usually have a built-in ball feature that is great for allowing you to easily swivel the camera. They come in drill-down or adhesive styles depending on your cockpit set-up and your willingness to drill into your aircraft. Because of how they are mounted, these types of mounts work well on just about any flat surface. They are also the most secure mount style.
The best flat mounts are:
This kit comes with a GoPro adapter for attaching any of your GoPro HERO cameras. If you have other action cameras as well, no worries. Just attach your action camera to a ball adapter and insert it into the top of a double socket arm. The rubber balls on both ends of the arm give nearly unlimited positioning options. The 2-1/2” round base has 4 pre-drilled holes for you to secure the mount to nearly any flat surface.
This mount kit is also available in a 6” long arm version.
For the freedom to piece together your own perfect flat mount setup, start with a sturdy RAM ball base. Add on a standard double socket arm and whatever 1” ball-based camera adapter works with your camera. You will have an easy, secure system that is always ready to use. For extra versatility, opt for the RAM double socket swivel arm. That provides additional rotation points for the best camera angles.
Don’t have anywhere you can screw in a mount or don’t want to make holes in your aircraft? There’s a flat mount solution for you too. RAM had you in mind when they designed their flex adhesive ball base. It has the same 1” ball as the other flat mount kits, so your double socket arms and camera adapters will work with it. Just peel and stick.
Clamp mounts are repositionable like a suction mount, but secure like a flat surface mount. They are designed to clamp around a strut, support bar or yoke. Most clamp mounts have a long arm that swivels on a ball allowing for easy manipulation of the camera position and angle.
The best clamp mounts are:
Set yourself up for success with a clamp-on base that can be fitted with a double socket arm and adapter for your camera. If you already have an arm and adapter for a suction or flat mount kit, they can transfer over and work with this base as well.
The clamp is adjustable, thanks to protective rubber pads that line the inside of the grip and expand and retract to fit around various widths and shapes of surfaces. Once you have the clamp in position, simply tighten the knob to apply tension until the mount is secure.
This clamp fits cylindrical surfaces from 5/8” to 1-1/2” in diameter. It can also mount to flat surfaces that are up to 1.14” thick.
GoPro HERO owners who haven’t started building out their mounting kit yet will be interested in this bundle pack deal. Not only do you get the small tough claw mount we just talked about, but you also get a double socket arm and the GoPro HERO adapter that attaches directly to the underside of your camera. (Remember that the adapter is needed for all GoPro cameras other than the new HERO8.)
Wouldn’t it be nice if someone would come up with a mount that works for both standard digital cameras and for all types of action cameras? Yes, it would, and RAM already did.
This clamp base fastens to yokes, struts, rails and other cylindrical items between 5/8” and 1-1/4” in diameter. It also works on flat surfaces up to 1-1/4” thick.
It has the standard 1” RAM ball mount for you to attach to, and it also has a delightfully unexpected ¼”- - 20 tap threaded insert that is a perfect fit for standard digital cameras and camcorders.
Best Airplane Camera Accessories
The camera and the mount are the 2 must-have components. Now we get into all the extras that improve the function of your camera and enhance the quality of your footage.
Don’t let temperature and humidity changes get in the way of capturing the perfect shot. Slip a GoPro Anti-Fog insert into your camera and the moisture will be absorbed away before it ever fogs up the lens. Use each insert up to 4 times by drying it out in a 300-degree oven after each use, then storing in an airtight bag.
For those times when your arms just aren’t long enough or you need to get really creative to achieve the perfect camera angle, the Fat Gecko Kaboom delivers. Its carbon-fiber handle extends to 60”, then collapses back down to just 15” for easy stowage.
Use the standard ¼”-20 female thread attachment at the end of the handle to connect to many types of mounts.
Digital Video Recorder Adapter
While your action cameras are great for capturing visual footage of your flights, that doesn’t give you the full experience. Imagine overlaying bits of your in-flight audio transmissions as well. A digital video recorder adapter lets you do just that.
Available in configurations for either GA or helicopters, the adapter allows you to record your audio directly without interference from cabin noise.
The most exciting way to watch your 360-degree flight footage is on a virtual reality (VR) headset. The 360 Fly VR headset takes the video from your 360 Fly 4K action camera and creates a breathtaking immersive viewing experience.
The headset is compatible with both iPhones and Android smartphones.
Bonus: Tips for Recording & Putting Together the Best Quality Footage
You have the camera, the mount, the accessories – you are all set to go up and record some amazing footage. Before you take off, here are a few tips, tricks and reminders to help you get the most out of your footage.
- Make sure your battery is fully charged.
- Have a second battery (and maybe even a third) that is also fully charged.
- Help extend your battery life by turning off any battery draining features like WiFi if you aren’t using them.
- Bring 2 cleared out SD cards with plenty of space for your footage.
- Practice and experiment around with different settings at home, so you know how each works and what type of quality and effects they will produce.
- When mounting your cameras, think about unique angles. How can you get an unexpected perspective that will make the footage that much more interesting to watch?
- If you have a GoPro, check out their free video editing templates in the free GoPro Studio. It can shave a lot of time off editing.
Capturing memories of your flights and sharing them with your loved ones is priceless. All you need to do to get started is pick up an action camera, mount and accessories, then start practicing and learning. Your footage will evolve over time and soon you will be proudly screening cinematic masterpieces for your family and friends.