Can you suggest an intermediate Quad Capter/Drone?
June 19, 2016 12:32 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking to move into the higher end drones, such as the DJI Phantom series, however, before I do so I want to get my flying skills as proficient as possible. Having pretty much mastered the Syma X5C can anyone suggest the next step up? Thanks in advance! A.
posted by tangyraspberry to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Larger quadcopters are easier to fly. If your concern is the cost of a damaged quad, I'd go with one of the Cheerson DJI clones.
posted by zippy at 12:50 PM on June 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'd recommend one of the DJI Phantom 3's. Now that the Phantom 4 is out, you can get a "standard" Phantom 3 for <$500 (or, the nicer "Advanced" model for <$750). As zippy says, the bigger and more expensive drones are easier to fly. The Phantom 3 was the first drone I ever flew and I haven't crashed it yet.
posted by Betelgeuse at 12:56 PM on June 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

What's your mission? Good advice is going to differ greatly depending on why you want to fly a bigger drone. Do you want to do aerial photography? Experiment with semiautonomy? FPV? Race?
posted by Alterscape at 5:30 PM on June 19, 2016

Great question! I'm interested in aerial photography, evolving towards search & rescue and other applications.
posted by tangyraspberry at 6:38 PM on June 19, 2016

If you're in the US and you want to fly commercially, get started on your Sport Pilot license -- you'll need this to operate commercially under a Section 333 exemption. It's unclear to me whether the FAA classifies SAR as "commercial" use, but I know from firsthand experience that they do consider university research "commercial" for licensing/regulatory purposes.

DJI stuff is great for "flies pretty okay out of the box" in this application -- there are a lot of DJI haters, for a lot of good reasons, but if you want a thing you can buy and fly near-immediately, it's hard to argue with a Phantom. Agree that you should save money and get the 3 over the 4, for now -- the 3's camera is perfectly serviceable (P3 Advanced gives you 4k stills; P3 Professional gives you 4k video).

if you're interested in SAR you may want to start looking at an Inspire One sooner rather than later, since you can purchase a DJI MWIR ("thermal") camera that's a plug-n-fly replacement for the stock bird.

I wouldn't say DJI "will let you improve your flying skills" -- you can get better at safely operating DJI APs, but they do so much for you that you're not so much flying as giving the platform an idea of where you want it to go. I use DJI for aerial photo because their gear is a good tool for that mission; for fun flying I prefer something a bit more aggressive.

I'm having a lot of fun with a Tiny Whoop (link to an interview w/the guy who popularized the mod recipe, since his site is all bandwidthed out). It's a light-DIY microquad with an FPV camera (FCC-legal w/o a HAM license, even!) that you can build for <$150 in parts. If you search around you can find the recipe but it's basically a Blade Inductrix w/faster motors, a 25% bigger battery, and a tiny little camera taped to the top.
posted by Alterscape at 8:13 AM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the thoughtful, detailed response Alterscape. I'm actually an airline pilot so have the required license, etc.

That said, I also realize that it takes some serious dedication to become proficient flying these "aircraft" so am determined to move ahead carefully.
posted by tangyraspberry at 9:41 AM on June 20, 2016

I love my Phantom 3 Professional. I have a lot of fun using it for mapping and 3D modeling with DroneDeploy mapping software. The prices are coming down and they're easy to use. I'd suggest you just go this route as a first full-size quadcopter.

Building your own is a ton of fun, but tends to produce less reliably functional results in the early days.

I wouldn't sweat the 333 right now, largely because Part 107 - final FAA rule-making concerning commercial use of UAVs - is expected very soon, perhaps even tomorrow. Once this is released it will clear up some of (albeit not all) of the confusion surrounding the legal use of drone technology.

Are you involved with an existing SAR group at this time? I'd be happy to answer more questions and point you towards SAR groups and people I know if you DM me. (I do civilian drone research/work for a living.)
posted by cheberet at 11:55 AM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

You can acquire a refurbished Phantom 3 Advanced for $680.00 from the DJI Refurbished Store. At first glance it still looks a bit more expensive than, say, this APM-based clone, but once you add in the gimbal and camera the difference is only a couple hundred dollars.
posted by larsks at 6:45 PM on June 20, 2016

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