There’s plenty of talk around at the moment about the drama with drones. Privacy being invaded, safety and regulations. Amidst all of this, anyone who follows me on Twitter or Facebook would know I’ve recently started flying the DJI Phantom 2 – and it is sensational!
“When I was a boy”, the best thing I could do would be get a cracking great remote control (RC) car, flog it around out on the road, the car park or wherever it might be. The idea of an RC plane was simply too much to consider. Too expensive and too much risk – crash that thing and it’s all over.
Scaling new heights in 2014 is a whole lot easier thanks to the advanced technology of quadcopters and GPS.
The DJI Phantom 2 is the aircraft of choice for serious enthusiasts. If you want to fly around your lounge room or backyard, grab a Parrot AR.Drone they are fun, easy to fly and cheap.
However, if you want a bit of range, stability in rough conditions and the chance to hook up some mean accessories, the Phantom 2 is a great option.
Having done some online research, I picked up the phone. Waiting for delivery was not going to happen (I’m impatient). I phoned Camzilla in Lindfield (Sydney). The very fact they were willing to chat on the phone for 15 mins about the ins and outs was the decision made. I walked into the store.
Before I was done, they handed me a bright yellow pamphlet. This outlined the rules and regulations for personal use. It was very easy to read, was also well explained by the staff and frankly if you’re doing something illegal with your drone you’re a drongo because it’s all quite clear (according to CASA – the Civil Aviation Safety Authority):
- You should only fly a model aircraft in visual line-of-sight, in day visual meteorological conditions (VMC). What does that mean?
- no night flying
- no flying in or through cloud or fog, and
- you should be able to see the aircraft with your own eyes (rather than through its point-of-view camera) at all times
- You must not fly a model aircraft over populous areas such as beaches, other people’s backyards, heavily populated parks, or sports ovals where there is a game in progress.
- In controlled airspace, which covers most Australian cities, model aircraft must not be flown higher than 400 feet (120 metres)
- You should not fly closer than 5.5km from an airfield.
Simple right? From that, I was sold. I could fly it in remote areas, over my mum’s property and Pub, down at the local park when there were little or no people around, and for a bit of fun up over my house, but not the neighbors.
Let’s take a moment though to remember, at any moment in time a Satellite may be over your area taking a high-resolution snap of your home. That snap may be licensed by Google or the many other Mapping websites and shown on computers and phones around the world. So, there is a bit of a reality check required on what people are seeing in your backyard.
If you’re out there sun-baking, you most certainly are entitled to privacy below 120 meters!
For me though, this was about getting some great new video angles for some of the cool cars that come through the EFTM Garage.
I Digress, back to the Phantom 2
I walked out with the Phantom 2, the Zenmuse H3-3D Gimbal and a few spares and accessories.
That’s going to set you back $1250 in total. Without the Gimbal you’re under $1000, but seriously, why are you flying if not to take some amazing video? This setup requires you to also have a GoPro camera (not included in that price)
Yes, there is a Phantom that comes with a camera built-in. Depending on the version, you’re looking at $1500-$1800 for that, which then uses your smartphone as a screen back at the remote.
I think the GoPro offers more flexibility and a better camera so went that way.
Taking Camzilla’s advice, I flew the drone first with nothing attached. Learn the basics of flight. Frankly, it was a breeze.
So I attached the Gimbal which is a separate kit. While you can get these installed in-store, if you’ve got even a basic sense of instructions this was simple, a real breeze.
On goes the GoPro, up goes the Phantom and the stabilisation the Gimbal offers the video is nothing short of sensational.
For an additional investment of between $500 and $660 you’ll also want to consider getting a FPV kit. FPV or First Person View allows you to see what the GoPro is seeing back at your remote control. It’s a godsend if you’re hoping you got that perfect shot.
The advice I received was excellent, take it slow, learn it close to you and within easy range. See how every control works and what it does before venturing out and up. Flying around your own yard isn’t going to be fun – the novelty will wear off fast and the expense will seem extraordinary. Go for a country drive and find something great to fly around for the full adventure.
DJI’s technology means the drone will almost fly itself. with GPS and “Return to Home” you can have peace of mind, but more importantly those same technologies keep it stable. let your hands off the controls and the quadcopter will hover in place – that’s not luck, that’s amazing. Despite the winds it will be a stable flight, but in higher wind situations you’re made to even give it a go.
Your controls are similar frankly to those you might have learned with things like the AR Drone from Parrot.
Up and down and rotation of the drone on a point is your “left stick”, while the “right stick” is your move left, right forward and back on a single level. Once you nail this – the rest is easy.
With the Gimbal attached, you need to remember to power on and hit record on your GoPro otherwise it’s all a missed opportunity.
Once in flight, the Gimbal is just amazing. No matter how rough your flight skills, the conditions or the way you move the drone around, the camera is steady. It’s astonishing really.
Correcting itself on a single point across three axis of movement, you can see it even before you fly. Just power it on and move the Phantom around to see the GoPro keep it’s position. This is game changing technology for amateur and even semi-professional videographers.
When in flight, you have one additional control at your disposal. On the left top side of your remote you have a small dial. Push this up and the camera points down. Pull it down and the camera tilts up. (As a novice first-person gamer, I’d like to tick the box here for Inverted look – these controls go against my natural ways). This helps ensure you get the horizon level, or a directly downward facing shot.
It will happen. Don’t think otherwise.
The good news, it’s a very robust unit.
Purchase the additional “prop guards” to ensure you bounce off the offending item to save you replacing the props over and over and you’ll soon be thanking me.
My first down was in a heavily tree packed area. Stupid place to fly – I know. The Phantom 2 was out of sight behind a tree. I began to bring it down but before I could realise I was bringing it down within the body of a tree it was already in freefall.
Amazingly it self-corrected and powered up but not enough to fly again, just to soften the blow.
The gimbal lost it’s rubber supports, a small cover came off the compass, the prop guards all fell off, but the Phantom 2 – A.OK.
One motor seemed slow, so I removed that myself and cleared the dust out, all running again.
If you lose it from a great height, or into the water, it’s going to be expensive, but the chances of that happening if you practice properly are actually very low.
This is where the investment in the Phantom 2 pays off.
Take your time with the startup procedure. It’s doing some huge stuff at this time. Compass and Location.
Just like your smartphone, if you’ve ever needed an accurate location or to use the compass, sometimes you’ve got to spin it around to “calibrate”. The Phantom 2 needs that too. You twist it around counter-clockwise then tilt it on its side and doing the same. Without that, you are not getting the full features of your Phantom 2. It will fly, but accuracy will be reduced.
Secondly, GPS Signal. You should wait for the all clear from the flight deck (Flashing green lights) to ensure the Phantom 2 has the best GPS signal. This does two important things. Firstly, it uses GPS while in flight to stay level – when you let go of the sticks and hover – it does that with the assistance of GPS.
Perhaps just as importantly, it uses GPS to set a “home”. As you take off, that point is marked as home. If you lose track of the drone, or go to far – it will fly back home – literally to the same place it took off (Give or take a few meters). This is a sensational feature.
Worth every cent. There is no doubt this is an expensive toy, but if you love photography, landscapes and are looking for something new to take that passion to another level, the DJI Phantom 2 could be the perfect thing to scratch that itch.
Nope, it’s not for everyone, and yes, we have to hope that those who do buy them use them within the bounds of the CASA restrictions, as well as normal human decency. But, there are some nut jobs in the world, so perhaps the drone “problem” is one that’s not going away any day soon.
If you want to buy your own DJI Phantom – CLICK HERE
Trev is a Technology Commentator, Dad, Speaker and Rev Head.
He produces and hosts two popular podcasts, EFTM and Two Blokes Talking Tech. He also appears on over 50 radio stations across Australia weekly, and is the resident Tech Expert on Channel 9’s Today Show each day and appears regularly on A Current Affair.
Father of three, he is often found down in his Man Cave.