Monday, September 23, 2013

Come Fly With Me - the DJI Phantom Quadcopter

I have to admit, I've wanted to get a quadcopter and fly a video camera for the last couple of years, but the cost - and the thought that I'd probably make a mess of it and just waste the money - caused me to hold back. A couple of weeks ago they went and dropped the price of the DJI Phantom by $200, and when a friend said they were going to get one, well, I had to jump on it.

Adding the prop-guard (an optional accessory)

First things first, the box says "ready to fly" and yes, you don't have to do a lot of construction, but we did find that there was no manual in the box, and there's some confusing bits and pieces you have to do before starting. Even attaching the battery to the charger was a little more complicated than expected; partly because there's two attachment cables, and one of the connections was very tight!

When you go to the website there's a bunch of manuals and instruction videos, and it's a bit overwhelming. Where are you supposed to start? Where do you stop?:
Even the videos were almost too much to absorb. It was like you needed to take a class before you could get going!

Some of the manuals are a bit opaque:
If in GPS ATTI. Mode, place the aircraft in an open space without buildings or trees. Take off the aircraft after 6 or more GPS satellites are found (Red LED blinks once or no blinking). If in ATTI. Mode, you can skip this step.
We tried updating the software on one of the copters, and that turned into a confusing hour (partly because the software's instructions are generalized and don't completely apply to the Phantom.) We got through that after some futzing and guessing. After a couple of hours we pretty much got it all set up, but it was still a bit of work.
Getting ready for the first flight

That's the bad news.

The good news: the first flight was fantastically easy. Really. I've flown a couple of remote-controlled helicopters over the years. One was a fairly large unit that belonged to a friend, and the other a very small, inexpensive "indoor" flying copter. I think that the number of seconds of controlled, stable flight in both cases could be measured on the fingers of one hand. So I was a little concerned about how long it would take to learn to fly this thing.

I started up the engines, pushed up on the control, and up it went. And when I released the power control to the middle position,  it just hovered there. Then I tried left and right, and back and forth. And that's what it did. It really was very easy to fly. There's still lessons to learn, and I need to build up some flight time to really get confident with it, but this thing is simple. After only two flights, I could even get it to fly in circles around me.

I Duct-taped the Sony ActionCam to the GoPro Hero mount.

The negatives? I need to buy another battery pack. You can have more fun that way. More importantly, while the picture was pretty stable, it needs to be better. There's an Anti Vibration Anti-Jello Vibration Isolator Low Profile Carbon Fiber Mount accessory available from a third party that some users felt improved the image. Of course, there's the brushless gimbals (like the DJI Zenmuse GoPro Hero 3 - H3-2D 2 Axis Brushless Motor Gimbal) available that should improve the image even further, though at a price (and I see some negative comments on Amazon.)

Finally, there's FPV systems, which allow you to see what you're shooting. Those may be more important than a brushless gimbal, though with a wide angle lens like the GoPro or Sony ActionCam, you only have to vaguely point the camera in the right direction and you're probably capturing something!

I'm not going to post in video yet; you've surely seen much better stuff already.

1 comment:

Anthony Farnandez said...

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