Watch: How '60 Minutes' Filmed an Impossible High-Speed Drone Swarm

60 minutes capturing the swarm
60 Minutes Cameraman attempting to film a swarm of Perdix Drones Credit: UAV Expert News
60 Minutes nearly abandoned this story about military drones because they couldn't figure out how to film it.

If you were asked to film a swarm of objects not much bigger than an iPhone 6+ flying erratically at 50mph, how would you do it?

If you're already scratching your head, don't feel bad. So was the team at 60 Minutes after they were granted permission to film a military test of the cutting-edge Perdix drones flying in autonomous formation above the Mojave desert. 

His reaction to trying to film the tiny drones was, "What? No way. I can't do this."

At first, cameraman Ron Dean was sent to do a practice run, filming just two of the drones. "My lens couldn't get close enough," said Dean in this behind-the-scenes video. "It wasn't a long enough lens."

It seemed so impossible to film that 60 Minutes nearly abandoned the shoot entirely. That was until the decision was made to bring in Rudy Neidermeyer, a professional golf cameraman with experience filming tiny, fast-moving objects (namely, golf balls).

60 Minutes Drone Filming
Cameramen Ron Dean, far left, and Rudy Niedermeyer, far right, film test flights. Credit: CBS NEWS

Essential to successfully capturing the drones was Niedermeyer's kit: a Sony 4300 which is described in the video as "a new 4K camera that basically runs 490 frames per second." The camera is tethered to a PWS-4500 4K server, which is able to slow the footage down, allowing viewers to appreciate the minute details.

But even with his experience and specialized camera, Neidermeyer's reaction to trying to film the tiny drones was, "What? No way. I can't do this." 

However, Niedermeyer's experience prevailed. By starting his shots very wide and tightening in as he became increasingly comfortable anticipating the drones' movements, he was able to capture some incredible footage of some very fast—and very small—objects.     

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Your Comment



January 14, 2017 at 1:23AM, Edited January 14, 1:24AM

Gleb Volkov
Director of Photography

imposible to shoot ? really ? give me a 80 or 100:1 lens and some practice time. golf, polo, baseball, its skill.... and some reasonably high FPS. a mid range RED or F55 would do.

January 14, 2017 at 11:44AM

Steve Oakley
DP • Audio Mixer • Colorist • VFX Artist

I don't think it is that easy as it sounds or seems. Apart from the drone being very small, it is we need to shoot it against light (the sky). If you zoom close you are narrowing the field of view, making it more difficult to track the drone and still keep the focus on the eye or whatever.

January 14, 2017 at 12:07PM

Dibyendu Joardar
Director of Photography

Soooo.... where's the footage?

January 15, 2017 at 8:49AM

Richard Krall

In case anyone was wondering - the Sony HDC-4300 is a $63,300 2/3" 3-chip broadcast camera popular in the world of sports television. It can output 4K at 60 frames per second. The 490 fps mode (actually 479.52 fps) mentioned in the article is 1080p only. Still pretty impressive.

January 15, 2017 at 9:54PM