DJi Air 2s Dolly Zoom or Vertigo Effect with a Drone

There are many interesting moves that can be added to drone footage in post-production when using a resolution higher than the one used for encoding. They are based on zooming while performing other moves at the same time

The Air 2s is an excellent tool for these effects thanks to its high 5.4k resolution. But we can achieve similar results with all models of the Mavic line if using a 1080p timeline

Example of Vertigo effect with the Air 2s

I will show how to perform the famous and spectacular Vertigo effect also known as dolly zoom, used in famous Hollywood movies. I will use two different techniques

Dolly Zoom or Vertigo Effect: How to Choose a Suitable Scene

This effect has been done in the past for movies using traditional ground-based cameras, but the forward or backward moves needed are very hard to perform under these conditions

Drones are by far the best tools for this Vertigo Effect or Dolly Zoom: not only do they offer perfectly smooth motion, but it is also possible to take advantage of spectacular points of view with the camera high in the sky

Vertigo effect with the Air 2s with a close target

For best results, it is important to choose the scene carefully

  • It is crucial to have a main element in the foreground and as many layers as possible in the background
  • The closer we are to the main element, the more dramatic will be the result
  • A faster movement will produce a more interesting outcome

A Few Examples of the Vertigo Effect or Dolly Zoom with a Drone

Disappointing result due to bad choice of the scene

In this case, we are approaching the town of Taormina in Sicily, but we don’t have a main interest point in the foreground. Also, the mountain in the background is very close, there is not enough depth. The result is disappointing

A better example of vertigo effect with the Air 2s

In this case, the scene is slightly more interesting: We have a main point of interest, the old Sicilian house in the middle, the trees in a different layer in the foreground, and some other elements in the background. But we can do better: the background doesn’t have many layers and the house is a bit too far away

Vertigo effect of a church in Iceland

Here we are closer to the subject, this tiny black church in Iceland, so the effect works better. The background is not bad, with a few different elements, but it is better to find a scene with more elements at a different distance

Vertigo effect of a monastery with the Air 2s

Things get more interesting here, as we have this monastery quite close in the foreground, and the background is more articulated, with several villages on the slope of mount Etna and other mountains by the sea, we can also have a glimpse of the Southern tip of Italy beyond the Mediterranean sea

Vertigo effect with a Nikon D850

This last example was not shot with a drone, but with a Nikon D850 using a gimbal. I find the result interesting as the subject is close by, there are trees, plants, and other elements in different layers both in the foreground and the background and the sun rays coming in and out add further interest. There is a loss of resolution, as it was shot in 4k and a severe zoom was applied. This is why it is better to start with a higher resolution

Vertigo Effect or Dolly Zoom with a Drone with In-Camera Zoom

For the best results in the vertigo effect with a drone, two opposite movements of the same magnitude and speed are needed: one towards the target and one away from it. Matching the speed of the zoom with the one of the aircraft is much easier when adding the zoom while post-processing

One of the moves is obviously made by the drone; it can either go forward or backward, it doesn’t really matter, although a backward move is slightly handier, as it makes the framing easier

The opposite movement can be made by using the in-camera zoom, taking advantage of the higher resolution while shooting compared to the one we encode in to avoid loss of resolution. Here is my in-depth review of the zoom function in the Air 2s

Using the RC N1 controller for smooth zoom

It is not easy to operate the in-camera zoom in a perfectly smooth, progressive way, even though with all current DJI models, using the RC N1 control, we can use the left scroll wheel combined with the left fn button for increased control. With the more recent RC control, things are a bit easier as there is a dedicated second scroll wheel for zooming without holding another button

Vertigo Effect or Dolly Zoom with a Drone in Post-Processing

The process for achieving the vertigo effect in post-production is very simple. We will be using keyframes in Premiere Pro, but keyframes are available in any video editor and they work practically in the same way, in Final Cut, After Effects, DaVinci Resolve, Vegas, Filmora, and so on

The clip taken with the Air 2s before applying zoom

This is the original clip and as you can see the drone is steadily advancing toward the target, this monastery on the foothills of Mount Etna, in Sicily. We need an opposite move, therefore we will apply the zoom in the first keyframe and progressively zoom out

Applying zoom in post-processing

We start by going to the last frame and setting a keyframe for zoom and one for the position by clicking on this stopwatch. We will try to maintain the same size for our target, so if your video editor supports grid lines they would be quite handy for reference

We then move to the first keyframe and zoom until the target fits within the boundary of the grids. Since we are starting with a resolution of 5.4k and will encode at 4k, we can comfortably use up to 200% zoom

Let’s start with a zoom factor of 150% and reposition the target inside the grid. It is slightly too small, so we fine-tune the zoom value. Due to the distortion of the very wide lens, the target at the beginning is wider and shorter compared to its aspect in the last keyframe, so we have to compromise a bit, In this case, 170% works well and there is a little room for extra zoom if needed

The basic vertigo effect or dolly zoom

Here is the result. Let’s get rid of the grid to better appreciate it. The vertigo effect works quite well: the monastery in the foreground appears to be static, although the shape stretches a bit due to distortion, while the element in the background and foreground seem to move independently, in an upsetting way, a bit like coming out of the pub after too many drinks with some friends

Increasing zoom level and speed

This is the basic dolly zoom effect. It is possible to add a few extra tricks to confuse the viewer even more
Since we have a bit of spare room for zooming, we can use it to increase the size of the target, which will make the effect a bit more dramatic. So in the first frame, we set the zoom factor at 200%, pull the grid back again for reference, and modify the final zoom value to 125%. The elements in the background appear to move faster now

It is also possible to increase the speed of the move by right-clicking on the icon of the clip, choosing Speed/duration, and entering a value of 150%

We can also add a touch of FPV feel by adding a slight rotation. So we set a keyframe at the beginning for Rotation and enter a value of 5 degrees, and then in the last frame, we enter a negative value of -3 degrees

Vertigo effect after rotation

Ad this is the result

More Info and Examples in this Video


I am Vittorio Caramazza, aka Vicvideopic, the founder of this website and author of all the posts. I am a videographer and photographer contributing to several stock agencies. I am an Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop and Lightroom. I have 10 years of experience with dron videography and photography. I was struck by drone syndrome in 2013. I have owned and tested in depth the following drones: Phantom 3, Phantom 4, Phantom 4 Pro, Mavic 2 Zoom, Mavic 2 Pro, Mavic Mini, Mini 2, Air 2, Air 2s, Autel Evo Nano Plus, Mavic 3, Mini 3 Pro, Mini 3. My home has turned into a breeding ground for drones. I am the owner of two YouTube channels specializing in Videography and Photography, with a focus on drones My main channel is VicVideopic (in English): My other channel is Drone Mitico, the Italian version.: I am currently based in Sicily (Southern Italy), but I tend to move quite often. After all, this is one of the main benefits of being a digital nomad…

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