Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A new..not so cheap toy.

I had been eyeing a drone for some time.  I am not sure why.  I am not a photographer and never was really in to “remote control” cars for example.  That is probably because the sheer number of batteries it took to run them and it was always a hassle a few days after Christmas or your birthday, so it would sit unused.

The Phantom Drone had always struck a chord with me.  It just looked cool, seemed reasonably priced and could do some neat things.

So…I finally bought one.  Went with the DJI Phantom 3 Standard.

Figured I’d share my thoughts a few days out.

Ordered it on line from the DJI site on a Sunday and it arrived on Thursday.  That experience was “ok”.  Outside of a “thanks for your order” I felt I was checking their web site every few hours for an update.  It was in “payment pending” for what seemed like days.  Regardless, it did arrive.

I am not sure what I was thinking, but I decided to unpack the drone thinking I might have some quick fun before I really read the directions.  Mind you, it had been raining for 5+ days and was still pretty damp out, but by god I was going to get that drone off the ground!

The manuals are below average at best.  It’s not a simple “plug and play” type deal.  I am glad I had my laptop close by to hit up the internet for various ideas and thoughts.  Finally after a good 30 minutes of the drone beeping and flashing I just had to put it away.  Way too much for this late in the evening.

I let things charge up and watched some hockey.

It can get nerve wracking and frustrating.  There were at least two updates I needed to do to the firmware.  Most videos I saw indicated this, but we are talking 30+ minutes of an update.  Again, I was ready to fly this!!

Finally the rain broke and it was time to fly it. (2 days later…)

Brought out to the back yard and tried to sync stuff up.  Did everything I could…the drone would not take off.  I was getting a message that the RC was not connected (RC = Remote Control) so after I shut it all down, lugged back inside to then google what the hell that meant I was good to go. (Just another re-sync).

I like to consider myself a calm person, but I was starting to get upset.  I paid a fair amount of money for this drone and the rotors still had not even spun.  You use your cell phone (or tablet) as part of the remote and I realize I have the internet at my fingers in a way, but you have to disconnect the drone etc etc.  I’d much rather have a “pre flight checklist” in the manual.  Here is what you need to do, here is what may happen and how to fix it.  Easy right?

Back outside I go…we are beeping we are ready.

Then I realize I have no idea how to get the rotors to start up.


Back inside to look that up.  (for your reference pull both the control sticks down and inward and hold).

Okay…good to go.

Back outside, and I get another message that I am in “beginner mode”.  That is all fine and good.  What this basically does is puts a set distance/height on your flights until you get used to the controllers.  Even after a few days I am still in this mode honestly.

Control sticks down…..and……….

Up it slowly climbs.

I do have to say it’s pretty cool.  Actually it’s really cool.  In flight you can change from video to still pictures so you capture your flight.  Be aware there is NO audio on the video.  That makes sense.  The drone itself is not super quiet.  It is not LOUD but you certainly know you are flying it.  When the drone is low and your are nearby you can feel the air moving.

Like anything else it is getting easier, but that is because I am curious to know more.  I am all over YouTube looking at videos on set ups and other ideas.

As you can tell I’d like to learn more about image resolutions etc to get “nicer” looking pictures.

Technical Breakdown
What you get – Drone, two sets of rotors, a battery, charger and remote control.  You get a box with some random stuff that they don’t tell you what it is or it’s needed for.  One device is used to hold the rotor in place so you can attach the rotor blades.  The camera is attached and has a lens cover as well as a plastic piece that holds the camera in place.  Also you get a micro SD card that inserts right in to the camera.

Set up – Attaching the blades is easy.  Hand tighten.  The cap on the camera I found “tight” and was worried as I was pulling it off I’d damage the camera.  The plastic holder I’d like better instructions 
on how to “use it again”.  The camera hangs under the drone and it has to move pretty easily but I feel like it “jostles” too much when putting the cap/plastic holder back on.

Charge time – The remote plugs in to your computer and takes about 1 to get full.  It arrived to me with more than half.  The battery charges pretty quick and it too was about half charged.  The flight time has been about 25 minutes, pretty much what I’ve read everywhere.  The remote appears to hold a good charge for 2.5/3 hrs.

Things you may want to get sooner than later – A second battery.  Some sort of “case” to both protect and organize your stuff.

Before you fly – Ask friends that have drones for help/advice.  Be PATIENT.  Stuff is out there, but I got frustrated.  I was trying to be smart and read up on things but the material just was NOT there in the box.  Write some ideas down for yourself (or bookmark videos).  My suggestion is to just have some ideas so you can try it out.  Also register it online.  It costs 5$ and it’s good for 3 years.  I’ve seen suggestions as well to write the # right on your drone in marker and also put a “reward if found” w/your phone # sticker on the drone. 

When you fly – go to an open space.  Despite all the cool videos out there of people going in and out of tunnels or whatever…if you are new you want the space.  Just get used to it.  Go up, come down, and go left..go right.  Take a few pictures and land it.  I am waiting to get out of the fear that a 400+$ item is going to fall from the freaking sky.  Seriously go to a local school field or something.  Just have fun.  Leave it in beginner mode so it doesn’t go “higher” than you want.  Law requires it remains in your sight.

When you land – The app on your phone can grab pictures off the memory stick.  Everything needs to be connected to do this (drone and RC) so just convert it so you can upload pictures to your computer or social media etc.  Power it off and thank your stars it landed safely.

So there you have it.  I have to say I really do think it’s cool and look forward to pushing it, and myself to get some neat images and have fun flying it.

Finally the Pros/Cons
Price point is good. Camera is good for the beginner/novice
Sharp looking
Lots of online tutorials

Lack of documentation for start up/first flight.  Really my biggest gripe of all.
Tons of firmware updates (I’ve had it for 2 weeks and done 3 of them)

More to come…have fun!

A few days after I wrote this I took it out of Beginner mode and grabbed this shot.  About 220 feet up.