Best drone for amateur photography
July 30, 2014 2:55 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for a drone to buy to take aerial photos of and on my own property. I have no experience with remote control flying equipment so I need something that is fairly easy to operate. I also would like one where a decent camera is included with the drone. My budget is $500-$1000. I am interested in opinions on different brands and any tips/ideas/advice you may have to offer. Thank you.
posted by GlowWyrm to Technology (6 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This is basically the go-to drone these days: The DJI Phantom, it doesn't come with a camera included, but has a stardard mount for a GoPro, but even with that you're well under your limit.
posted by Oktober at 2:59 PM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You're in luck! This article was on Hacker News today! Getting Started with Drones
posted by unexpected at 3:33 PM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I own an original phantom that I have upgraded to operate with a 3 axis gimbal carrying a goPro camera...if I were to get started again today I would probably go with the DJI Phantom 2 Vision which comes with its own capable stabilized camera...

The only issue is that it doesn't seem to come with whats called "FPV" or "first person video" - the manifestation of which is a little screen that is attached to your remote control transmitter that receives a video signal from your camera so you can "see" what your on-board camera is seeing.

I bought a 6" $30 dollar LCD display and a transmitter system and set this up myself but it requires some soldering and some basic battery knowledge - all of which you could learn on youtube.

I'm not sure if a turn-key solution for a drone with stabilized camera + FPV exists out of the box...but my opinion is that you will need both for any of this to be worth it...and I say this as someone who is more of an "occasional flyer" than an avid enthusiast.

I initially got started with just a phantom and a goPro stuck onto it and thought it didn't matter if the footage was stabilized or not. After looking over the footage from the first flight I ordered a stabilizer and have no regrets.

For a time after that I thought I could get by without FPV...that I could fly by sight of the drone itself...but as a photographer it soon became clear that I needed to see what my flying camera was seeing. I ordered parts and installed FPV and MAN what a world of difference.

You really do need FPV for this to be worth it (even more so than a stabilizer). the meantime go ahead and order this quadrotor toy for 30 bucks. This flies JUST like the big ones but WITHOUT the satellite stabilization of the big ones so it is harder to fly...but once you master this toy the big one will be cake. It is helpful practice to try to fly this in figure-8s. Keep in mind that the controls invert when it is flying towards you. If you are at all interested in flying larger drones then becoming comfortable with this little toy is essential. It is dirt cheap, can take a beating and will teach you to fly.

In short:

1. Buy a 4-channel toy to learn to fly.

2. For a big quadrotor I would go with DJI products. They are rock solid and play nice. There are great resources online that normal folks can understand.

3. I would recommend not even thinking about aerial photography without FPV. It really is needed to get shots that will make all this worth it.

4. Ditto for a gimbal - your camera will need to be stabilized or this will be for naught if you are getting into this from an "aerial photography" point of view.

This is all doable for under 1000 bucks if you feel comfortable with DIY / soldering. I haven't looked into turn key solutions but I could give you a parts list of what I did if you are interested.

Good luck...its a lot of fun to get into!
posted by jnnla at 5:25 PM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There are lower cost "clones" of the DJI products out there now, like the Quanum Nova, and Cheerson CX-20. They are using the same open-source autopilot software as the DJI Phantom (though perhaps newer & more capable versions) and similar hardware. They also start at $300.

I don't have one yet, what I do have is a sub $100 UDI u818a, which I'd suggest as a trainer before you try to fly something that goes for $300+ the cost of camera. It is quite durable. It can take a lot of abuse before it breaks; believe me. I crashed it, hard, dozens of times, before I managed to get a radial fracture in one of the arms. You'll probably crash yours a lot too, and you likely be much better off if you get that learning out of the way with a cheap one with $10 replacement parts.
posted by Good Brain at 6:44 PM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all! I really appreciate it.
posted by GlowWyrm at 6:50 PM on July 30, 2014

Best answer: Welcome to the hobby UAS and RC community! Please do take the time to become familiar with the operation of your UAS and the legal limitations surrounding it. For instance: if you're operating in the USA with any radio equipment that is not FCC Part 15 approved, you need an amateur radio license (technician class will do, just the basic license) to operate legally. To the best of my knowledge, there are very few Part 15 legal VTXs. You can get your technician-class license with online study and one multiple-choice test in person, for less than thirty bucks. Comply with the limits of the license (eg: don't operate for profit or for any reason connected with a business). Sticking to the law helps keep the entire hobby safe from overzealous legislators looking for an excuse to drop the hammer.

Be aware that the FAA is currently trying to legislate FPV out of existence. Get active lobbying against it, and realize that there is a very real chance that your equipment investment may become illegal to operate FPV in the not-too-distant future (from the FAA's perspective), even if you are operating in compliance with FCC regs.

Please operate your UAS responsibly, with respect for others and their property. For example, don't fly over groups of people (and in general expect that a random failure is the only thing between your quad and whatever's beneath it). The RC hobby has got a lot of bad press lately from people who buy a Phantom and say "Oh, I can do whatever!" Good judgement and consideration on your part will help keep this a hobby we can all enjoy into the future.
posted by Alterscape at 9:40 PM on July 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

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