Drone….. You’ve seen them on the news, in the park, at a friend’s and even your neighbor’s kid is flying them. For me, arrived the time to buy my Drone. After much searching I came to DJI Phantom 4. It is great to have so many choices, but which one should you buy? Like any other purchase, you need to come up with a list of what is important to you and with that, we can narrow down your choice.
- How much do you want to spend?
- What do you want out of your drone?
- Do you want video footage of your flight?
- Do you want indoor/outdoor flights?
- Do you want a drone ready to fly or do you want to build it to grow with your abilities?
The Beginners Circle
In my humble opinion, the first drone is the hardest to purchase for many reasons. I found that the more inexpensive models are simply harder to fly. Lots of the entry level drones don’t have streams of input from a flight computer which helps you keeps things steady. Once you put the drone into a bank, it will stay there and gather speed until you or the drapes stop it. The upside to the entry level drones is they are light, made with decent plastics, and are very resilient. If spending less than $100 is where you are, then you are in for some guaranteed entertainment. I have had great luck with the Hubsan X4 (H107C), the Estes Proto X Nano and the Sky Viper. These little drones are great for getting your hand-eye coordination perfected and believe me when I say, when you learn to control these, you will do really well with the bigger ones. These beginner drones have a low cost of entry and are a great way to introduce yourself to drones. This will make you understand how awesome your home is for indoor race courses.
After you use an entry-level drone for a while, you will start to understand the Pros and Cons much more because you will want to do more and more. You will discover these limitations as you get better. The first limitation is wind. When I took my drone outside the first time, it was only light winds which was enough to chase my drone into the neighbor’s house. It flew well with the wind but I had no chance of flying it back. Battery life on entry level drones are between 5 and 8 minutes and if you are having fun, it feels like 2 seconds. You also get no warning when the batteries are low either, you just have a tougher time keeping it in the air until it just lands where ever it is…including your backyard pool.
This is where most flyers are, and me. The intermediate drones of today were science fiction a decade ago. The DJI Phantom, arguably the best selling drone in history, offers so many amazing features. The Phantom comes in two flavors now. The Phantom 3 and Phantom 4 and both are stellar performers. The Phantom is a fully ready out of the box unit that comes with a radio and uses your mobile device to show you live video from the drone. It has an auto land system, altitude hold, and GPS. It shoots 4k video and HD video in higher frame rates, it shoots stills and you can move the camera up and down with the radio to help keep things in frame. The camera was designed for and built in to this unit. The only downside is you cannot change the camera out. Fortunately, the camera is high enough quality so you won’t need to change it out anyway. The Yuneec Q500 Typhoon and 3DR solo are also very capable flyers with similar functions.
Not all drones come with a camera, but many are, in fact, “camera ready”. A common add-on camera is the GoPro which can nearly double the price of the drone. It is important that you do your homework and read about the drone before you purchase it. Many have “follow me” features. As of the date of the article, the Phantom 4 is the only one with built-in collision avoidance when flying forward which is a FANTASTIC feature since many drones will just smack into whatever is in front of them when you use the auto-home function. An intermediate level drone will easily fly hundreds of feet up and 2 kilometers away. If you are in the USA, the FAA wants you below 400 feet your drone always in your line of sight.
When it comes to weather, I have had my Phantom in 15-20mph winds and was still able to fly with conviction but not able to fly in the rain. The Mariner, the Lily, and the Splash Drone, as the names suggest, allow you to take off and land in the water (and fly in the rain). Prices go up with added goodies in most cases and performance goes down with regard to flight time and payloads.
Intermediate level drones are ideal for amazing footage at family events, vacations, indoor and outdoor events, and even film production, if you have the right skill set.
You must “dive” into $16K. I recommend the xFold™ Cinema x12 RTF not because I use it, but because it has a friend who is a filmmaker and creates tremendous movies with it. This is certainly a rig for the Hollywood film crew that prefers a large camera. Turn key dual operator drone with gimbal for large cameras, includes batteries and travel cases. X12 config adds 40% more lift and is best used for windy conditions.
Elevate you DSLR, mirrorless camera, or compact cinema camera with the ready-to-fly xFold Dragon x12 Multi-Rotor with U11 Motors. This version of the xFold comes with a default configuration of x12, but can be reconfigured as a quad, hexa, x8 or x12 to best serve your requirements. Once you are done shooting for the day, the prop arms and legs fold up for easy transport.
This ready-to-fly (RTF) bundle is designed to function as a nearly complete system. To start, it includes a 3-axis brushless gimbal for cameras, such as the Alexa mini or Red Epic, weighing up to 8 pounds. For high quality monitoring from the cinema camera, there is a 1080p60 HD downlink plus there is an SD resolution FPV camera with 5.8G video transmitter for the benefit of the pilot. An OSD module enables the pilot to see key flight data superimposed over the FPV image (receiver and FPV goggles available separately). For control, the multi-rotor incorporates a customized version of DJI’s A2 flight control system along with two advanced 14-channel transmitters – one for piloting and one dedicated to gimbal operation. Two 22,000 mAh flight batteries mean you’ll have a spare ready once the first runs out. Finally, there are two cases to pack the aircraft, gimbal, monitor, and the rest of the included accessories away in for transport or storage.