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Product Review: DJI Phantom Quadcopter for GoPro

Part 1 - Initial Testing & Useability

By Jeff Foster | January 31, 2013

Everyone is looking for that elusive aerial cam that's both affordable and easy to operate for the average videographer. I'm setting out to see if the DJI Phantom Quadcopter combined with a GoPro Hero3 Black Edition is the answer, in this two-part review and workflow study.

Ever since I got my first GoPro Hero, I've longed to find a way to get it airborne remotely and even tried makeshift setups with DIY kites and researched helicopters and drones - but those were always way out of my budget - not to mention the steep learning curve in flying most of them (read: NOT CRASHING!!)

So you could imagine my enthusiasm in learning about the release of the DJI Phantom for GoPro. An entry-level quadcopter/drone that a beginner can setup and fly right out of the box. And when it comes to motorized RC aircraft, I'm truly a beginner! You can learn more about the DJI Phantom from their website at DJI Innovations website, or though their reseller/dealer DSLRPros, Inc.



Initial Assembly & Setup

When DJI claims that the Phantom is ready to fly out of the box, it pretty much is. Some minor assembly is require to install the landing gear and props, charge the battery and you're good to go!

I did find it extremely helpful to review the step-by-step videos from unboxing to learning the flight controls. Check out this link to learn more about the setup and flight controls from the DSLRPros.com website.

The kit comes complete and well-organized in the box.

The first thing you've got to do is take out the battery and charger and get it charged and ready to go. My experience is about 30-45 minutes to fully charge from a drained battery.


Then install the landing gear and GoPro mount with the provided screws (with Locktite already applied to the screws)

Then install the props - CAUTION: be sure you pay attention to the directional rotation of the prop to the rotor - there are directional arrows on both the rotor arm and on the prop so you can easily match them up!

Once the battery is charged, you're ready to fly! Again, do watch the prep videos in the link above, as you will need to understand the different controls on the remote, the startup sequence and the compass calibration process.

And - like any other 10yr old boy, I applied all the available stickers that came with the kit - plus added a couple GoPro stickers for that "custom" look... plus I didn't have any flames.

 

First Flight

We brought a couple cameras with us to capture the first flight with the Phantom - just to show you the process and share my experience working with it "out of the box".

The first thing I did on-site was to attach the GoPro to the Phantom. I used the mount that came with the Phantom which has the knurled knob and nut for mounting either the provided cage (designed for the Hero2) or any standard GoPro housing. Since I have a Hero3, I just used the smallest configuration (no BacPacs) and the basic waterproof housing. I may experiment with the GoPro "Frame" which weighs less, but also offers no protection for the camera. I probably wouldn't suggest that for a first-time flier.

Before you insert the battery in the Phantom (there is no on/off switch so it can't accidentally start up or cause injury) you must first power-on your controller and make sure the throttle is all the way down. If you don't, the controller will beep a warning continuously when you turn it on.

After you've connected the battery and closed the door, you need to calibrate the Phantom's compass and make sure you've got a good satellite signal for the GPS. (again, instructions on all these setup & operational procedures are available via video at this link to the DSLRPros.com website).

Since I also wanted to control my Hero3 with the GoPro WiFi App on my iPhone, I used a lanyard I got from a trade show to attach to the controller to give me another "hand" and I checked to make sure the iPhone was communicating and the camera was set to record and provided a preview. I also purposely chose the higher-vertical format mode in 1440 on the GoPro so the props would be intentionally visible - but in most cases, a 16:9 format is what you'll want to shoot in to avoid seeing any of the Phantom's structure in your shots.

 

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Comments

Nathos: | February, 01, 2013

From the article:

” you might just have something you could use for a real estate client, corporate client”

You do know that the FAA prohibits business use of unmanned aircraft in the US National Airspace, right?

From:
http://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/uas/reg/media/frnotice_uas.pdf

The FAA recognizes that people and companies other than modelers might be flying UAS with the mistaken understanding that they are legally operating under the authority of 6 AC 91-57. AC 91-57 only applies to modelers, and thus specifically excludes its use by persons or companies for business purposes.

Jeff Foster: | February, 01, 2013

It has been brought to my attention by a reader that through my exuberance (and ignorance) I have suggested that this may be good for shooting professional real estate and commercial properties from above, when indeed it is against FAA regulations to do so (for now).

Here is a link to another article explaining this, and I will be editing the review to reflect this as well:

http://fstoppers.com/using-drones-faa-approval-photos-or-video-is-illegal

Let’s hope this bill passes soon, so we can legally utilize this technology in our own business models!

Seanchandler067: | February, 06, 2013

Thanks for this review Jeff- I have been looking for a reasonably-priced aerial rig to complement the RE stills and video that I offer now

Can’t wait for part II - I’m wondering how the footage from the GoPro would match with the footage from the Canon 7D that I use for RE video now

Mako: | February, 07, 2013

Thanks for this review Jeff, but for our purposes wouldn’t it typically be better to use one of the quad drones that is controlled via an iPhone/Pad ... so that one can see ones POV? This drone might be more powerful, but I know there are others that can also carry GoPro’s, that have a built-in HD camera eye. I believe the Parrot AR is one of them

Mako: | February, 07, 2013

@sean ... use the GoPro 3 Black in ProTune mode and you should be able to do a nice match.

Chris_N: | February, 07, 2013

Jeff,

How far away can the Phantom fly away from the WiF display and still maintain a usable image?  And is there much lag in the transmitted image?

Thanks!

Jeff Foster: | February, 08, 2013

@Mako - this is a review for the DJI Phantom - not an overview of all drones available for the GoPro. Besides, if you know the GoPro iPhone/iPad WiFi app’s ability to “preview” what the Hero3 is capturing, you’ll also realize that with the 5 second delay, your drone would be in the water or crashed into a building long before you’d ever “see” it!

Not to mention the WiFi range on the iPhone/iPad to GoPro is about 1/3 of the range on the Phantom - it often loses connection in flight.

Seanchandler067: | February, 08, 2013

I figured the iPhone / iPad app would be useful for setting white balance and camera positioning (so the props are not in shot), more than for flight control in any case with a drone.

Jeff Foster: | February, 08, 2013

Indeed @Seanchandler067 - the iPhone/iPad app helps in setting up the shot and configuring the Hero3 - more effective than trying to monitor it or use for recording in this case. If you read in my review though, I purposely set the Hero3 to 1440 mode so that I COULD see the props on the Phantom - this was intentional, as noted. smile

daskim: | February, 20, 2013

The jello in your video is almost entirely caused by improperly balanced propellors.  Secondary issues are the lack of a dampening system to isolate the GoPro from the frame, but propellors must be balanced to minimize jello and vibration.

Finally, shooting at 2.7k 30p is achievable, but not without unbalanced props and no dampening system (think Sorbothane™).

The sweet spot with the GoPro 2 is 720/60p and with the GP3BE, it’s 1080/60p

Thard: | March, 28, 2013

Thank you for your insight. I’m very tempted to buy a DJI phantom. What is the maximum range of control, and what happens if you exceed it?

Jeff Foster: | March, 29, 2013

Thanks @Thard - DJI claims the average range of the Phantom is about 300m and from my experience if you don’t let the battery run too low, it will return to it’s originating lift-off point if it looses connection with the remote. I have only tested this in altitude testing, not lateral distance.

Thard: | March, 29, 2013

Thanks for the reply. It would be interesting to have a lateral distance test…you could fly the phantom in a straight line a couple of meters off the ground with a friend following it, and see at what distance it loses contact and returns to its starting position.

I cut my teeth on the parrot A.R. Drone 2. I switched to more conventional RC control with the “McGuyver mod”  because I wanted more precision and distance. Now I want something to use with my GoPro 3 and this sounds perfect. My ideal solution would be something that you could fly POV while capturing high quality footage at the same time. The AR drone is fun, but does not fit the bill. I’ve read about various POV systems that transmit to VR glasses.

I think I’ll take the plunge and buy the DJI phantom as soon as I have the cash. Thanks, Jeff!

Jeff Foster: | April, 03, 2013

I’m definitely planning a lateral distance test in the upcoming months @Thard.

Thanks for your comments… much more to come!

Jeff

mliew: | July, 08, 2013

Great review on the DJI Phantom Quadcopter.

resgate: | July, 12, 2013

Thank you for your insight. I’m very tempted to buy a DJI phantom. What is the maximum range of control, and what happens if you exceed it?

huntingspirits: | August, 30, 2013

Thanks so much for this great Product Review. I own a Hero 3 Black edition camera and I think that Dji Phantom quadcopter will be my next purchase…

regards.

bestquadcopter: | September, 26, 2013

Thanks Jeff for the comprehensive review.  It’s pretty important to balance the propellers as that will be key to reducing the jello effect.  For some epic quadcopter videos, you can check out: http://bestquadcopterkits.com/10-best-quadcopter-videos/

bongda: | October, 17, 2013

DJI Phantom can hold a DLSR like Canon 600D ?

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