November 25, 2021

How to Dolly Zoom with a Drone

What is a Dolly Zoom? Does it Work on a Drone?

The Dolly Zoom Effect is created when you physically move the camera towards or away from your subject whilst zooming the lens away from or into them respectively. This allows the subject to visually keep the same proportions whilst the background dramatically shifts. A cool effect that should be used sparingly!

Dolly Zoom in Jaws with Chief Brody

Remember this scene in Jaws from the late 1970's? It was an iconic clip where Chief Brody sees the shark for the first time. The dolly zoom effect really emphasised the realisation in the chief as the effect drew the onlooker straight to his facial expression.

Click to play

Creating the Dolly Zoom/Vertigo Effect with a Drone

In the Jaws scene above, the camera needed to be placed on rails so that it could glide effortlessly to the subject. A camera operator more than likely had to physically zoom the lens whilst doing so. I imagine that this took a number of "takes" to get right.

Now that we shoot digitally with ever increasing pixel density in the cameras, thankfully this effect can be done in post-production. You still need to move the camera towards or away from the subject but you are able to create the dolly effect during editing.

Modern drones such as the DJI Mavic 3 not only fly with great precision and stability, they also shoot 5k video.

Why Does 5k Matter?

5.1k vs 1080p

The image above shows the difference between 5.1k video and 1080p video. The space in between illustrates just how much you can zoom in during editing to get that dolly zoom effect. This only works if you are outputting to 1080p.

People often say "why do I need 8k in a camera"? Well, the image below shows the difference between 8k, 5.1k, 4k and 1080p.

8k vs 5.1k vs 4k vs 1080p

So again, let's say you are filming in 8k and outputting to 1080p. Just look at the range that difference will give you for an epic dolly zoom effect! Shooting in 8k will also give you a superb zoom range if outputting to 4k.

That's just one of a few reasons why creatives long for higher resolution sensors in their cameras.

The Dolly Zoom Effect (or Vertigo Effect) Technique

DJI Mavic 3 with Controller and Tripltek 8 Pro Screen

DJI Mavic 3 with the amazing Tripltek 8" Pro Tablet

3 Steps to Shooting Dolly Zooms with Drones

  • Step 1

  • Step 2

  • Step 3


Set up your shot

Make sure you have enough battery power for multiple takes and check the wind. Also make sure you are able to fly safely and legally. Have the camera set to its highest resolution and ensure you have the correct exposure set. Fly to the starting position and hover. Is it stable? Good, move to step 2.

As we discussed earlier, to get the best from this effect, you need smooth, consistent movement. A camera on rails gives you this. However, you are hindered by the need to zoom the lens at the same time which can be tricky.

Modern drones such as the DJI Mavic 3 or DJI Air 2s, both amazing UAV's, can achieve this. Not only do they both shoot 5.1k and 5.4k respectively, they also fly really, really well. Even on a day with a light breeze, they will fly straight and with fluidity and precision towards your subject. 

Hopefully you have watched the video above and seen this in action.   

Get Out and Practice

Is the weather good today? What's stopping you from trying this out? Grab your drone, find somewhere suitable and preferably clear of people and fly.

...and have fun!

Recommended Kit for Dolly Zooms with a Drone

  1. 1
    A drone with at least 4k video for best effect
  2. 2
    A decent screen or tablet for critical viewing
  3. 3
    A laptop or computer that can handle 4k/5.4k video
  4. 4
    Some decent editing software capable of cropping (I use Vegas Pro 19)

So I hope you enjoyed this quick tutorial on how to create the dolly zoom effect with a drone? If so, please comment below.

Also share it with your friends, give us a thumbs up on the YouTube video and subscribe to our channel. Many thanks!

This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, visit my disclosure page.

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dji, dji mavic 3, dolly zoom, drones

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