Camera Flying- By Lamorna Harpin

Do you want to learn how to fly camera but are not sure where to start? Have you heard fellow skydivers talking about camera equipment that is completely unknown to you? And do you wonder what you actually do once you’ve got the camera and camera helmet?
This article may answer a few of these questions for you…

What type of camera should I buy?

You need to this about a few essentials when deciding on a video camera for skydiving use.
• Can the focus be locked (does it have a manual focus option?)
• If you turn the camera off then back on, does the focus stay locked?

If you cannot answer ‘yes’ to these two questions then you may have issues using this camera to film skydiving. The problem we have with autofocus cameras are that the camera will focus on anything that gets on the lens, and you may also have issues with the camera ‘looking’ for something to focus on, for example when facing the sun.

Types of Format.

You have two different choices here – analogue or digital. With a camera that is used for skydiving you will need a digital camera.

Mini DV

You will see that vast majority of skydivers use Mini DV cameras. These tend to be small, lightweight and the most suitable cameras around for skydiving

Digital 8

Most Digital 8 (D8) cameras are of an older style camera design shape and tend to be larger and heavier that the Mini DV cameras. However, it is an option for people that would like to film skydiving using digital who are more financially restricted. Due to their size characteristics they will usually be top mounted.

Old video8 or Hi8 tapes will play on a D8 camera. The D8 and Mini dv digital qualities are equal, so you can link your camera to your computer with a firewire cable in order to edit and compile your skydiving footage by computer. In the same way, it is possible to copy footage to a Mini DV camera (and the other way around), if they are both ‘dv in’ (to be explained further on…).

Micro MV

Micro MV has been created by Sony and these cameras are very small. The size and weight are great for skydiving but the general consensus is that these cameras are not very good for skydiving. They use different types of tapes so you are on the dropzone and run out, you cannot borrow from a friend. The firewire output on Micro MV is also different, so you won’t be able to shared footage with your friends. There have also been reports of people having problems editing their films with Avid, Premier, iMovie and Final Cut Pro. It is also said that these cameras don’t perform as well in low light conditions and the record button is awkward to get to.

How do I check the camera focus?

Firstly, set the focus manually. Then turn the camera off, and then back on. You are checking to see if the camera is still set to your manual focus point. If it has then no problem, if not, you may have issues in using this camera for skydiving. For example, you will have your camera off for most of the ride to altitude and you don’t want to be having to reset the focus every time you turn the camera off then on. Are there other camera buttons that you may accidentally switch when turning the camera off and on? Will you be able to access the on/off/record buttons when the camera is mounted?

What types of feature should I avoid?

Once the camera is mounted it may be fiddly to remove and put back, so cameras that can charge, remove the tape etc on the underside of the camera may be something you would like to avoid. This is more personal preference than anything. Some cameras also have a charging station that you need to sit the camera in when you charge it.
It is much easier to have a camera that you can leave mounted to remove the tape, charge, use the sockets etc. Some mount styles allow the video camera to be easily removed and replaced, so it is worth thinking about what type of camera helmet you get at the same time as the camera.

Other options

Do you just want to use this camera for skydiving? Many of the video cameras on the market will have lots of great features that you just wouldn’t use for skydiving, such as MP3 players!


Now this is a useful feature to have on your video camera. This allows you to digitally record from a different source without any loss of quality- for example your friend’s footage of a skydive.
You will probably also want to be able to computer edit your footage too, in which case you will need this feature to be able to regain the footage from the computer after it’s been edited.

Memory stick

Having a memory stick allows you to take still photo images. This may be handy for occasions when a still photo works better than video footage, for example ground shots.

3 Chip

These cameras process red, green and blue separately and therefore give a better quality of film as opposed to the one chip, or CCD cameras. 3 chip cameras are more expensive and tend to be bulkier and heavier. This type of camera is only really necessary if you are planning on selling footage to television companies.

LANC Socket

Many skydivers like to use a cameye. This is an LED situated around your sight that lights up in different colours to show you if the camera is on, off, recording etc. You will need a LANC socket to plug your cameye into if you want to use one.

Wide Angle Lens

Using a wide angle lens for filming skydiving has quite a few advantages. It will stabalise the image slightly and also increased the field of view. Each lens is numbered between zero and one, according to how wide the lens is.
So a small numbered lens will be wider, and therefore you will have to fly closer to your subject. Lenses screw onto your camera and it is possible to buy conversion rings for common sizes should the lens not fit. However, make sure when looking at lenses to find out before you buy whether you will need to purchase a conversion ring as well.


Skydivers like to use Sony cameras because of their track record. They are robust, are not affected by the shake of freefall and reliable. The mini dv models that have the dv in option are the most popular.

So which camera should I buy?

Everyone has slightly different personal and financial requirements. If you want to buy the newest models on the market then you will pay for them. Or, if you are happy to have a camera model from an older range then you will save money whilst still having the camera functions that you need. As a guide, look at the Sony PC range.

How do I mount my camera?

Take advice from an experienced camera flyer whilst assembling your camera set up. They will help you to get the best out of the equipment that you have and check it over to ensure that it is safe. As a requirement at BPA dropzones in the UK you have to have a C licence and the CCI’s approval to jump camera. Your set up will be checked over before you jump it.

Safety options

There is the possibility of a camera helmet catching your canopy suspension lines, which is why some camera helmet manufacturers have created a cutaway system for their camera helmets. Should you find yourself in a situation where you need to take off your helmet in an emergency, you need to be able to remove it with one hand if possible. These cutaway systems allow you to get rid of your helmet quickly and easily. There are two different systems on the market:

Open Face System

Some open face helmets use a fabric strap that has pop studs on it. A fabric loop with three press studs works due the force at the chin cup being at 90 degrees to the studs. Therefore, a firm, direct pull on the fabric will remove the helmet.

Full Face System or Open Face with Chin piece

As seen as an option with 2k Composites helmets, this type of cutaway system uses yellow Teflon cables and loops to disconnect the hinged part of the helmet. The Teflon cables pass through three closing loops which replace bolts in the hinge.


Whether you find yourself in an emergency and you need to release your camera helmet, or maybe the helmet comes off accidentally, it is worthwhile to get insured. Look at whether your camera equipment can be included as part of your skydiving equipment insurance, or house insurance.

Emergency procedures

It is important to consider your emergency and malfunction drills and how you would deal with an emergency whilst wearing a camera helmet- for example should you experience an entanglement. Some people have the view that they would cutaway their helmet before dealing with the entanglement and going through malfunction drills. It is also worth considering if you keep your RSL connected or disconnect it for camera jumps if you jump with an RSL.

Things you can do to minimise the risk of any problems whilst jumping camera are being conscientious at deployment time. Make sure you throw the pilot chute when your arm is at full extension, this is even more important when jumping in a camera suit with wings due to the burble created by the extra fabric.
Keep your body symmetrical throughout the whole deployment process and resist the temptation to look up and watch the last stages of canopy deployment.

Should I mount my video camera top or side mount?

Side Mount
With a side mounted camera you will have the camera in line with your eyes. A side mount is suitable for formation skydiving, AFF and fun jump skydives. However, because of the extra bulk on one side there is an increased chance of riser strikes.
Depending on the type of skydives that you want to film, will affect your camera set up. For example for FS or AFF skydives which entail more close up work, you will need a wide angle lens and a different camera angles. Side mounted cameras give a superior field of view for this type of work if they are close to level with your natural eye line about 5 degrees upwards, and angled slightly inwards.

Top Mount
You are less likely to suffer from riser strike with a top mounted camera. The weight of the camera set up will be symmetrical and in line with the rest of your body. However, on an off heading opening they can cause more forces on your next because the weight is further from your head. Of course you also need to be more careful when exiting the aircraft too.

Be safe!
Whatever type of camera, camera helmet or type of mount you choose, a little common sense goes a long way. Use the tripod mount on the camera to bolt it to your helmet and wrap bungee cord around it for extra security. Don’t use gaffer tape, pull up cords etc… this will not be secure and you risk losing your equipment, not to mention the damage that the camera could cause if it struck a person on the ground. Your camera is going to go through all of the opening shock forces that you do, so make sure it is securely fastened.
Always go to experienced camera flyers with any questions that you have.


Camera Sights
To film consistently, it is recommended to use some kind of a camera sight. This can be a Newton ring sight, or just a stationary hole reinforcer stuck onto your goggles. However, if you are just fun jumping then you can get away without any kind of sight. Norman Kent suggests that if you do film with a sight that you mount it on the left side of your helmet, i.e the opposite side to your deployment hand.

Chin Cups
When filming skydiving you want the camera to sit as still and steady in the helmet on your head as possible. Wearing a helmet with a chin cup with do this better than a normal chin strap.


Sometimes, setting up your camera helmet will involve you drilling holes, or cutting out sections of the helmet. Ensure that any sharp edges are smoothed off, and any corners are rounded off. With fibreglass or other common helmet materials a jagged edge can encourage cracks to start to form.

No Internal Protrusions

Any mount fixings and associated pop rivets, bolts etc must be the correct size and cut short as possible. They should also have padding over the top to protect your head in case of hard openings.

Get different opinions from experienced camera flyers. Most people will be more than willing to shared their stories and advice with you.

Top Tips
If you have a side mount camera set up, and don’t want to jump with camera then have another helmet to wear.
Practice on the ground what you may have to do in the air. For example, releasing the camera set up in case of emergency, turning the camera on and off, and practice this with and without gloves.
Remember to keep your head and body straight and still throughout deployment.
Stow your excess brake line to ensure it does not catch on your camera helmet.

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