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Old March 22nd, 2014, 05:47 AM   #1
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About to make the jump to drone videography...

Hi All:

I've been following the development of RC drones closely for the past 3 years. Three years ago, I seriously considered buying a drone system for our university's video unit, but decided against it as the technology (back then) was still too sketchy for comfort (and at the time, my understanding was that flying one was like balancing a plate on a stick).

Flash forward to 2014, and I'm convinced that with the DJI Phantom 2 (and similar platforms) the technology has advanced light years. I'm ready to take the plunge, and have a couple basic questions for others here already doing this.

First, my impression is that with the addition of accelerometers/gyros/GPS, current platforms (like the DJI Phantom 2) are far easier to fly than the earliest RC drones---is that correct? I have years of experience flying RC gliders (mostly slope soaring gliders) so am adept at making VERY tiny movements with the stick.

(As an aside, I became proficient with older FM transmitters that did not have the ability to program exponential control curves and the like allowing full-throw of the stick---when I fly my gliders, you wouldn't even see my thumb move on the stick at all---that's how "hair trigger" the stick is!)

So my assumption is that I'd have no trouble flying one of the latest generations of drones (like the Phantom 2).

---
My other question is...given a good pilot, is the Phantom's safety record pretty solid? Meaning have they been known to crash a lot? (I'm not talking about pilot error, but in-flight failure of mechanical systems.)

Given the huge number (and growing) of Phantom 2 vids on YouTube...and given that outdoor enthusiasts are now taking them on rock climbing and whitewater paddling trips, my assumption is that the platform itself (outside the pilot) is extremely safe and reliable when flown in calm conditions.

All of this is part of me just doing due diligence before buying a system and flying it around a university campus. Could I hire an experienced drone operator? Of course---but I want to do it myself---it's more fun! :-) (And again, as an experienced RC pilot I have no illusions about the difficulty and potential hazards of remotely controlling anything in the air.)

Thanks!
Scott
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Old March 22nd, 2014, 06:47 AM   #2
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Re: About to make the jump to drone videography...

The Phantom is more of a consumer/fun flyer. It will get decent shots. You can read plenty of stories of Phantoms suddenly flying away from their owners never to be seen again. You can also find plenty of videos of Phantoms taking a nap with the fishes from power failures and Pilot errors that left the craft over water at the wrong time.

Since it is a quad there is no possible recovery mode if there is a motor/esc failure. You need a HEX at a minimum for something like that (and I do recommend something like that if you are going to do it seriously).

Its a good learning platform but one you will outgrow quickly if you intend to do it at a pro level. On the plus side you can get a full working setup for under $2k and have some fun. From there the price of admission for a full kit jumps into the mid teens and can require 2 people to operate.
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Old March 22nd, 2014, 07:26 AM   #3
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Re: About to make the jump to drone videography...

Hi Scott, I have been flying a Phantom 1 regularly for a few months now and have a 2 axis gimbal and GoPro Hero 3 mounted.

Firstly I would suggest that you ignore the vast majority of reports about flyaways and mechanical failures. I have been following the RC Groups thread on the Phantom 1 since the very first one about 25,000 posts ago and one of the things that I have realised is that most of the problems are due to careless, reckless or generally stupid usage. There seems to be a perception with some purchasers, that you can just open the box, plug it in and fly it! Well you could, but you could do the same with a light aircraft. Because they look like toys, the perception seems to be that you can treat them like one.

They are not a toy, they are a highly sophisticated miniaturized flying machine that could potentially cause a lot of damage if misused. So with that in mind, it is essential to understand how it operates, how to preflight check it, and carrying out the proper calibration checks before every session. The Phantom in my opinion, is the most reliable and sturdy of the entry level camera capable quads. Parts are cheap and available, advice is readily available from huge user groups and above all it is easy to fly. In common with many others, it will hold both attitude and gps position, with an emergency return to home that will bring it back if you lose sight of it, or get a low battery.

I had never flown any sort of RC aircraft when I got mine, but was flying comfortably from the first flight. Now with the gimbal and GoPro, I also have a FPV (first person view system) so that I can view on a monitor screen through the GoPro lens while flying, to frame stills and video. The Phantom is a stable GoPro platform for it's size and also gives you the skills for upgrading to a bigger quad with more lifting ability if your appetite is whetted.

The choice is probably between the Phantom 1 or 2, although I would ignore the F40 and the Phantom Vision. The vision has a very limited camera and a manual tilt only mechanism, so fitting your own camera and gimbal on the 1 or 2 is a better bet in my opinion. The range of the FPV on the P2 is also pretty limited.

Anyway, that's my 2 pence worth, hope it helps,

Roger
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Old March 23rd, 2014, 01:01 AM   #4
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Re: About to make the jump to drone videography...

I have been flying my Phantom for about a year now with no problems, probably 40-50 flights. I have shot some amazing video footage which I've used in several professional shoots.

In my opinion, the Phantom "fly-aways" thing is blown out of proportion. If you read the manual, perform the correct pre-flight checks and maintain your Phantom properly, a fly-away is unlikely. I would guess most fly-aways are caused by the compass not being calibrated before flight, a full GPS lock not being obtained before flight, or just plain bad flying.

If my Phantom does start behaving strangely (it has once or twice due to bad compass calibration), just switch the GPS off, problem solved.

In saying all that, I would buy the DJI F550 over the Phantom if I had the money. Much more stable in the wind and can carry a heavier load (camera and/or battery).
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Old March 23rd, 2014, 08:58 AM   #5
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Re: About to make the jump to drone videography...

Thanks everyone. Roger and Jody, you confirmed what I've been thinking. In my own aviation experience (both with RC gliders and hang gliding) 99.99% of all accidents are due to pilot error. I learned from hang gliding that you can literally never be too careful---and that an ironclad routine (including preflight checklists) is vital. I also learned to always be willing to wait for calmer (or more predictable) weather when conditions are borderline.

As for higher-end platforms and flying better cameras, we've actually produced broadcast television spots that have won national awards using GoPro cameras. And that was with the Hero 2. The Hero 3 produces an even better image, so I know for certain that in good light, the image we'd get with a Hero 3 would be more than good enough for our university video productions (the vast majority of which are destined for YouTube).

My thinking also is that by going with the most minimal tool that gets the job done, we minimize our investment (should anything ever go wrong), and the Phantom 2 would likely do less damage if it falls out of the sky than a much bigger hex- or octa-rotor platform.

As part of my pre-purchase research, I've been wondering where the greatest number of RC copter videographers hang out? I found this web forum...
Multi Rotor Forums
...which seems pretty big, yet after making the same initial post there I did above, I've gotten zero responses after 3 days (so I'm doing better here!).

Now my task is to find the best Phantom 2 package. Though I know sometimes you do better assembling a kit yourself, I don't really have the time. I'd rather go with a turnkey combo package with copter, extra batteries, charger, battery level checker, Hero 3, Zenmuse gimbal, and wireless video monitoring.

So far Dronefly.com's package looks pretty good...
Phantom 2 Production Kit Combo

Although DSLRPros.com seems to have a lot as well:
Aerial Film & Photography Rig Kits | GoPro Rigs | Dslrpros.com | DSLR Rigs|Products|Dslrpros.com
I need to study all their different kits to understand the differences.

I'm definitely interested in their "waterproofing" process using Liquipel (we have a big river that runs past campus, so I'd love to be able to track the rowing team in flight over water)...
DSLRPros - Watersafe Updrade Service for your quadcopter | DSLR Rigs|Products|Dslrpros.com

Any other suggestions are appreciated!
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Old March 23rd, 2014, 10:37 AM   #6
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Re: About to make the jump to drone videography...

Scott, if you are thinking of a Multirotor, then there is only one group really worth joining in my opinion, that is RCgroups.com Here is the link to the current part of the main Phantom 1 thread DJI Phantom Quadcopter - Page 1634 - RC Groups It already has about 25,000 posts over 15 months with as many new posts as you can keep up with.

On other parts of the forum, you will find sections on everything you could probably think of re RC aircraft etc. There are different threads on various Phantom and other DJI models, plus everything else.

Have fun :-)

Roger

Last edited by Roger Gunkel; March 23rd, 2014 at 10:40 AM. Reason: spelling
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Old March 23rd, 2014, 10:57 AM   #7
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Re: About to make the jump to drone videography...

I looked hard at the Phantom 2 before deciding on the Phantom 1. There is a considerable difference in price and I felt that the only real advantage was the larger battery. As that is about 5 times the price of the P1 battery, I decided I could manage without. There are also a number of mods that have been made for adding bigger batteries to the P1, so I am still very happy with my choice.

The P2 is geared for the Zenmuse gimbal which is very good, but how much better than other gimbals doesn't convince me. I took a chance on a cheap gimbal from Goodluckbuy in China (Yeah I know). It cost me less than 60 with free UK delivery and arrived in exactly 10 days. It is simple to fit straight from the box, although there are no instructions, but there are plenty of users out there to offer help including me. I was so pleased with the gimbal that I ordered another last week as it had been reduced to 50 and this time paid for DHL tracked delivery. I received it 3 days after ordering!!! Again no problems and it was working 10 minutes after arriving. Just needs power from the quad battery balance connector to the supplied socket and 1 wire from the gimbal to the Phantom Naza board plug if you want to use the tilt lever on the TX.

I also fitted a Chines fpv Tx/Rx for 29, works perfectly and I can now view on my screen in real time what the GoPro is seeing, for framing pics and video.

If you are looking to watch your budgets, then there are plenty of ways to do it.

Roger
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Old March 23rd, 2014, 03:28 PM   #8
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Re: About to make the jump to drone videography...

I'd have to agree that the Phantom 1 is the way to go. The Phantom 2 does have a great battery, but they are not cheap to replace. You can pick up spare batteries for the Phantom 1 for less than $10 US each, as opposed to $160 for the Phantom 2 battery.
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Old March 23rd, 2014, 05:59 PM   #9
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Re: About to make the jump to drone videography...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jody Arnott View Post
I'd have to agree that the Phantom 1 is the way to go. The Phantom 2 does have a great battery, but they are not cheap to replace. You can pick up spare batteries for the Phantom 1 for less than $10 US each, as opposed to $160 for the Phantom 2 battery.
WoW! That's an even bigger difference than in the UK!

Roger
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Old March 23rd, 2014, 06:35 PM   #10
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Re: About to make the jump to drone videography...

Yeah, I bought about 5 of these a few weeks ago:
Turnigy 2200mAh 3S 20C Lipo Pack

Probably not the highest quality batteries available but for the price, they'll do! And Turnigy is a decent brand, had no issues with numerous products in the past.
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Old March 24th, 2014, 05:38 AM   #11
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Re: About to make the jump to drone videography...

Yes I bought some of the same batteries a few weeks back and they seem to fly as well as the standard DJI ones for half the price. Managed to find a UK supplier that does 2 for 17.99.

Roger
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Old March 24th, 2014, 10:20 AM   #12
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Re: About to make the jump to drone videography...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Gunkel View Post
Yes I bought some of the same batteries a few weeks back and they seem to fly as well as the standard DJI ones for half the price. Managed to find a UK supplier that does 2 for 17.99.

Roger
Have you got the details of that supplier Roger? Thinking of stocking up on a few more batteries now than the weather is improving!

cheers

bill
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Old March 24th, 2014, 02:02 PM   #13
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Re: About to make the jump to drone videography...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Sherren View Post
Have you got the details of that supplier Roger? Thinking of stocking up on a few more batteries now than the weather is improving!

cheers

bill
Hi Bill,

Here is the link, although it looks like they have gone up by 1 in the last few weeks, still good value though Turnigy 2200mAh 3S 20C 30C burst Lipo Pack lipo battery parcelforce 48 | eBay
I'm normally very cautious with Ebay sellers, but this guy is a genuine UK seller and I was staggered to receive the batteries the next day.

Roger
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Old March 24th, 2014, 02:06 PM   #14
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Re: About to make the jump to drone videography...

Thanks for the links Roger---I'm actually familiar with the RCGroups.com forums, but never even thought to look for a multicopter forum there---the Phantom thread is pretty epic!

So (at the risk of asking a more detailed question)...is the primary difference between the Phantom 1 and 2 just the battery? I'm a bit confused about whether you can put a motorized gimbal on the Phantom 1 or not? (I'm assuming you can, but just want to be sure.)

And are the stability and flight characteristics of the 1 versus 2 pretty much identical?

I also notice that DSLRPros offers a kit with a Futaba Tx that has (among other things) the ability to limit pan/rotation moves so they're much smoother---can you also do this with the Phantom 1 (just by using a Tx that has that more advanced capability)?

I'm not totally opposed to assembling a system component-by-component if it's pretty straightforward and plug-n-play. I just don't have the time to do extensive modding, soldering, assembly, etc. (which is why the all-in-one kits like the ones DLSRPros sells are so attractive).

Thanks,
Scott

PS - "Goodluckbuy" (hilarious name) does indeed seem to have a boatload of multicopter parts and accessories...
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Old March 24th, 2014, 02:38 PM   #15
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Re: About to make the jump to drone videography...

Hmmm not so sure going cheap on the power-plant fuel is a completely good idea.
I buy the most expensive and as a bonus get a couple more minutes air time
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