Our DJI Phantom 2 Drone Quad 'Copter
One of the things we really wanted to do on our big lap around Australia onboard Personal Water Craft was to thoroughly document it with a view to future productions. Being keen photographers we already had a range of professional quality Canon cameras and lenses, but video was is something that we have had to get up to speed with. One of the most exciting aspects of video for us is aerial photography. There's a heap of it going on nowadays and you'll witness it in most travel docos. We knew that it was something we had to get into and was well excited by the prospect of adding a new dimension to creative outlets.
With the proliferation of drones of late, or more accurately remote controlled quad 'copters, aerial photography and videography has become accessable to a much greater slice of the population. With absolutely zero knowledge of the subject we started, like most people, spending time on Google and doing some basic research. This had the effect of leaving us totally confused about the subject and seriously doubting that we could make the correct decision. One thing it did do though was lead us to Sphere Communications in Alexandria in Sydney's Inner West. These guys turned out to be a wealth of information and gave us the confidance in our ability to use the product and as such, invest in a decent 'copter. On theirn advise we settled on the DJI Phantom 2, sure it's not a pro level divide but for our purposes it is more than adequate. We already had a GoPro Hero 4 Black Edition action camera, so the guys just sorted us out with a gimble to suit and we were away.
After taking the drone out for it's maiden flight we quickly found that controlling it was pretty easy, providing a fairly forgiving experience as it didn't respond too quickly to our ham fisted inputs into the controls. In saying that the response was adequate enough to avoid getting into problems and it would appear as though the drone would provide a suitable stable platform for filming. The drone comes with a couple of really neat and easy to use functions but the cleaverest has to be the Return to Home function, whilst it was a little tricky to get your head around the calibration of the drones GPS receiver, once calibrated it provided it provided instant piece of mind. It does this in two ways, the first being that should you fly out of the drones' 1,000 metre range it will take over control and fly back to where you took off from. Secondly, should the batteries get below a predetermined factory set level, it again will disable any input from the operator and fly home and land safely.
As mentioned we fitted our drone with a GoPro campatable gimble, this was important for us as we would have several GoPro's with us so we could easily swap should the one on the drone suffer from a failure. A couple of things that we learnt fairly quickly is that whilst the gimble does a very good job of stabilizing the GoPro camera you still need to be smooth on the controls to get a nice smooth panning style shot. It also has a rather annoying trait of capturing the landing leg of the drone when you turn too quickly to the right. This will take some getting used and I can see some creative editing taking place each evening as we sit around the campfire and pick out the highs and lows of the days filming.
The image to the left shows a screen grab from some video shot on the banks of the Hawkesbury River, it for us really highlights the capabilities of the Phantom 2/GoPro combo as an aerial photography platform. If your thinking about getting into aerial photography you could do a lot worse than the DJI Phantom range of 'copters, their website goes into far mor detail than we have here and it's well worth studying before you make a purchase. Likewise the guys at Sphere were more than helpful during the purchase process.
Since writing this piece we have had a problem with the camera control gimble on our DJI Phantom 2. It effectively ceased to function in any way and after talking to the guys at Sphere Communications for some testing of some of the ancillary cabling and assorted interchangable parts the prognosis led us to believe the gimble had an internal error that would require it to be shipped to China for repairs. There was a couple of issues with this, cost being one of them with Jak from Sphere suggesting that it could be as high as $300 to repair. Secondly was the time frame for repair, particularly at this time of year, about 4-6 weeks. A new gimble would costs us $600 and they were currently nil stock although they were expected to come in within the next fortnight. We then started discussing the need to upgrade to a unit that has First Person View or FPV. Jak advised that to do this with a GoPro camera is a fairly tedius process and we could get a new Phantom 3 that would have the abilty to provide FPV straight out of the box.
So it was that we lashed out another $1695.00 and went with the Phantom 3 Advanced, we justified it to ourselves as we would be able to free up the GoPro that was currently fitted to the Phantom 2 and reassign it for use on the Jet Skis, when you consider that a GoPro Hero 4 Black Edition is around $600.00 and we did need extra GoPro's, it effectively means that the new Phantom 3 Advanced cost us $1100.00. if you then take into account the cost of repairing or replacing the gimble it's now looking like it was the best decision to make and although we are yet to fly it we think the FPV capabilities will make it a very worthwhile investment.
Once we have flown the DJI Phantom 3 Advanced we'll put together a detailed piece on how it all works and functions in the real world. On paper it looks like it's going to be a fantastic piece of kit and playing around with the DJI Go app which effectively becomes the flight deck for the aircraft, I'm sure it's going to live upto our expectations.