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What Happens When A Sony Alpha Goes Airborne In Hawaii?

For over 10 years Nick Gruen (@mr_gru) has done commercial and editorial photography work in Hawaii. After an injury at the famously dangerous Banzai Pipeline that put him out for awhile, he began to pick up drones more professionally. “I love flying drones,” he says. “It’s super fun. I just kind of became one of the guys in Hawaii to go to for certain drone jobs that still fit that outdoor commercial space. I've been filming for brands like Netflix and Apple TV. I also drone all of the The World Surf League events here in Hawaii.” Gruen has been using the Sony Airpeak S1 and says its ability to hold a Sony Alpha mirrorless camera suddenly erased the limitations he had experienced with other drones. Watch the videos below to see more of Gruen’s work created using the Airpeak S1 and keep reading as he explains how the drone has helped his creativity soar.

See the incredible shots commercial drone operator and photographer Nick Gruen is able to capture using the Sony Airpeak S1 with his Sony Alpha camera.

Having used other drones in the past, Gruen was never able to get the kind of footage he wanted. “I felt really limited with the camera quality,” he says. “There were all these legendary photographers who I’ve really looked up to taking really cool aerial photos. I would wonder how that was possible. It was always – they rented a plane, they rented a helicopter. That was really the only way possible, to actually be in a manned aircraft using a proper camera. It makes it extra cool that Sony has made the Airpeak S1 that allows me to fly a professional camera to get the highest quality photos from above without having to rent an aircraft.”

The Airpeak S1 has been particularly useful for Gruen in a place like Hawaii, where before getting such views often involved long and challenging treks. “In Hawaii, you have some really pretty scenery and iconic locations,” he explains. “I was very used to having a hike a day with my cameras up a cliff or bushwhacking, or even taking a boat to an island to get a photo I really wanted. Now with the Airpeak S1 I don’t have to do half of that stuff. I don’t need to climb a mountain, I can just drone up it and take the photo I want. I have a photography checklist in my head of all the vantage points I want to capture with different lenses, and the Airpeak S1 has allowed me to check off those photos in a different way. Surf landscapes, sunrises, sunsets – it’s been crucial in capturing a lot of ocean activity.”

Gruen likes to use the Sony Alpha 1 primarily for video, and the Sony Alpha 7R IV when shooting photos for those large megapixel files. In the video above you can see how he combines his Sony Alpha with a combination of lenses – the Sony 14mm f/1.8 G Master, Sony 24mm f/2.8 G, Sony 50mm f/2.5 G and the Sony 85mm f/1.8 – on the Airpeak S1 to capture the same vantage point from different focal lengths. "It's nuts to think that all of this is capable from a drone," he says.

He continues, “It just gives you a variety of different angles and perspectives to bring to the platform that you just didn't really have before. Most drones are fixed at either a 24mm or 28mm focal length. That's overall pretty wide. In the cinema world, drones have become such a necessity. They're always used for a revealing shot or opening shot, or even for some action shot. Whatever it is, it's just become such a standard, but because it's become such a standard, it's also become overdone. The reason it's overdone is because most drones are so stuck at shooting at that wide angle. It's nice that the Airpeak S1 gives you the option to use different lenses, because now the footage doesn’t look like the other drone shots I’ve seen.”

It’s not just the new angles and perspectives that he loves about the lens options you can use on the Airpeak S1, they also allow him to observe nature from afar without worrying about disrupting anything. “I’ve been photographing dolphins with the long lens and that’s been really interesting,” he says. “Whale season is coming and to be able to safely observe and take images of them is going to be awesome.”

He continues, “There are just so many new possibilities to shoot in new, exciting ways. I think there's something to be said about being able to use the same camera that you use on the ground, in the sky. Some of the productions I'm working for, like for Netflix documentaries, they're all shooting S-Log already. They're using the FX6 cameras and bigger, even Venice setups…and there's something really cool about the idea that my camera is the same as theirs. It's shooting the same specs, the same color. Just that idea that I'm able to roll up to project and take stills for the client, then I put that camera on the drone, then switch it over to video, then I'm taking top of the line video for that client – it’s pretty rad. I don't have to carry multiple cameras, multiple platforms, everything just goes really well together.”

See more of Nick Gruen's work on Instagram @mr_gru.

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