DJI Phantom Quadrocopter Drone

647A9957__16876.1397859650.1020.1020This might be the strangest thing you’ll ever see reviewed on the gear blog.  I just returned from a photoshoot for the Sage fly rod company down in Mexico.  They had hired a serious set of professional commercial photographers from Motofish to run the shoot (complete with an art director from Hammerquist Studios).  It was an incredibly interesting experience being a fishing model; not sure it’s something I would do again but definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity.

The guys from Motofish had one of these drones.  I was both amazed and then ultimately unsurprised by both the capabilities and the limitations of this piece of gear.

First off, capabilities.  This is only a $1300 product, with a spare battery.  That in and of itself is amazing.  The transmitter unit has a Wi-Fi broadcaster on it (you can see the extra lump of plastic).  This gives the drone a height range of about 300 feet and presumably a similar amount of lateral leeway.  The drone is very powerful; they were able to fly it and control it in about a 10 mph wind.  Standing on an open saltwater flat with this thing buzzing your head is a little bit like being strafed by a flying lawnmower.  It is not subtle; you know where it is at all times by the noise.

The image it sees is transmitted via the Wi Fi connection to an ordinary iPhone, which clips to the transmitter or which can be controlled by a dedicated camera operator.  That’s right: camera operator.  The gimbal mount system you can see machined onto the bottom can be independently controlled from the actual flight controls, so a camera operator can run a zoom or stay on a subject while the flight operator pans or even circles the subject.  It’s bad ass.

The images themselves are excellent: 1080p, extremely clear, similar to a Go-Pro camera.  In the event that the drone gets buffeted or shaken, there are post-processing tricks to recover a steady image (this is achieved by zooming in slightly then pinning a subject to one spot on a coordinate grid; and camera shake is thereby erased by “overlapping” the outer edges of the frame, making the zoom necessary).

Now for the limitations.  Flight time is poor.  15-17 minutes at best, and that doesn’t give you much time to set up a shot, especially with a heavy headwind.  And the drone is exceptionally fragile.  Motofish broke their first one by flying it into a basketball goal prior to the trip.  They broke their second one when it went out of Wi-Fi range, then started hunting for a signal.  Evidently it glommed onto the lodge’s Wi-Fi broadcast, thus losing flight control.  As soon as it hunted for and re-established the flight control signal the controls went haywire.  The drone crashed into a dock, then fell in the water.  Motofish tried to recover the data by plugging it in before the salt corroded the card, and the drone actually caught fire.

So, basically conditions need to be perfect for safe operation.  Exposed copper flight engine coils mean no operation in any kind of precipitation, and there’s always the chance of a gust of wind crashing the bird.

All that being said, this is AMAZING technology for a $1300 drone, and the prices are dropping rapidly.  With a little waterproofing, possibly a flotation array on the bottom, a little longer flight time and some tweaks to the Wi Fi system (when the bird loses contact it should use its GPS location to simply freeze until you can get to it), this could turn into an amazing tool.  Imagine being able to scan a flat from 300 feet up to spot a school of permit or tarpon?  Or putting a GPS chip on an angler and letting the bird follow, Lakitu-style, for the most epic fishing perspective possible.  The possibilities are enormous.

Here’s a video showing the unit’s capabilities.  Excuse the terrible country.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars for fragility, but 5 out of 5 for possibility

Purchase: Here

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *