The first known aerial photograph was taken in 1858 by French photographer and balloonist, Gaspar Felix Tournachon. It was a view of the French village of Petit-Becetre, captured from a tethered hot-air balloon, 262 ft. (80 meters) above the ground. Over time, aerial photography evolved via airships, planes, helicopters, and other iterations of flying machines. However, all of the aforementioned methods of elevated flight have one main thing in common: they require pilots and passengers. Taking into account that they are expensive to operate and require extended pre and post flight preparation, aerial photography becomes a rather foreboding process.
In my own experiences, aerial shoots have proven difficult to pull off. The window of shooting time was limited, the cabin was cramped, and the first time I ever stuck my camera out the window, the lens flew off and I miraculously caught it in mid-air. It was also roughly $250 for an hour.
But within the past couple of years, aerial photographers have been introduced to a burgeoning market rife with little flying machines that don’t require passengers, don’t need fuel to operate, and can fit inside a cubic foot. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the era of user-operated photography drones is upon us, and it’s already kicking into warp speed.
With a handful of manufacturers to choose from, I wanted to take a look at the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ drone for a few reasons. Firstly, DJI is one of the more well-received brands. Secondly, the Phantom 2 Vision+ features a new 3-axis gimbal for improved camera stabilization, which is an issue amongst many drones on the market. Lastly, I shoot a lot of real estate photography and wanted to compare a plane ride with a Mark III to a photoshoot with a drone – the fact that the DJI Phantom 2+ can be payed for in four shoots as compared to plane ride rates is quite alluring.
If you have an interest in aerial photography and have been considering a drone, get ready for takeoff.
Note that there are legal restrictions on where drones can be operated. Be sure to find out what laws exist in your area before you engage in any drone use or photography.
This is Must-Have Equipment for Professional Film-Makers, Aerial Photographers and Adventure Geeks. This model is especially produced to offer a great aerial platform for creating Cinema-Quality Videos with your GoPro Camera. Craft comes assembled in box. Just add blades and batteries to fly.
0- Pelican storage GoPro case
1- DJI Phantom 2 + H3-3D Gimbal. 1000 m range of flying.
2- Immersion RC – 600 mW Transmitter – 5.8 GHz Video range 600 to 800 M.
3- 7″ FPV Screen with built-in Dual receiver – 5.8 GHz (screen is light weight , also comes with HDMI input) Details,
4- iOSD Mini of DJI
5- DJI Phantom 2 – Extra Battery. More than 20 minutes flight time
6- Antenna Set – SpiroNet
7- Bracket to Mount the Screen on Radio. Outdoor screen – lightweight , built-in Dual Diversity receiver.
3-Axis Brushless Gimbal for Multi-Rotors
The whole name should be Brushless Motor Camera Gimbal, Brushless Motor is a kind of motor which is very efficient, very quiet and much more powerful than the ordinary motor, DJI put this high tech motor onto a Camera Gimbal and with a little help with a Gyroscope, the gimbal will react at lightning speed to compensate your drone’s movement, you will get PERFECTLY stable video footage with the horizon ALWAYS stay in the middle of the screen, I’m talking about the aerial footage you saw on television or movie, imagine that now you can shoot it yourself, sounds funny isn’t it? This H3-3D is a 3-Axis Gimbal, it has Pan, Tilt and Roll axis, which isolate any outside movement and always keep the gopro leveled and stay pointing at one direction, amazing, isn’t it? Sometimes you fly a small drone like the Phantom and using the a 2-Axis gimbal, you would have “almost” perfect footage, but you may notice there is some “left and right” movement on the video, this is caused by the Drone’s yaw movement which is common for small drones, but thanks to the extra Pan axis on the H3-3D gimbal, it will compensate the drone’s yaw movement. Thanks to the brushless motors, they compensate those 3 axis movement and gives you a “Perfectly Stable” image, you can shoot a very smooth and fluent video with your drone, I mean Hollywood grade movies everyday, in a grab-n-go package.
Before initial takeoff, it is essential to connect the Phantom 2 Vision+ to the DJI Assistant software, which is available for download from the DJI website. The software itself is quite basic and the English is not perfect, but it does the trick. Once the software is downloaded, the drone needs to be powered on and connected via USB to the computer. Once the software recognizes the drone, it will check to see if it has the latest firmware and update if necessary.
It’s rare, but some units can get jostled a bit too heavily in shipping and will not function properly out of the box. Therefore, DJI recommends an IMU calibration, which can be done from within the Assistant software as well. The IMU is the compass and will not function properly if exposed to magnetic surfaces, so it’s probably wise to at least check the status of the IMU before each flight; a job that can be carried out in a matter of seconds.
The Assistant software allows the user to set maximum flight distances as well. For instance, the drone defaults to a maximum height of 400 meters (1312 ft.), but I could alter that number to restrict it to less than 1312 feet. The Phantom 2 Vision+ is rated to a distance of 700 meters (2296 feet), which is about half a mile, but a contact at DJI claims that many pilots can fly 2000 meters in an open area with the drone. The Vision drones do not have the range that the original Phantom models do, which relies on their controller frequencies.
Regardless, over 1,300 feet in the air and half a mile away is quite an impressive range. If the drone is anywhere from two to five miles from an airport, its maximum height will be limited to 122 meters (400 ft.), which is a significant drop from the default. Therefore, the best place to fly a drone is in the middle of nowhere, where the horizon is visible. This is why people living in urban areas will inevitably run into issues with drone piloting.
The remote controller can also be calibrated and monitored by downloading the Phantom RC Assistant software, which is exactly like the standard Assistant software, only it deals exclusively with the remote controller. Same as the drone, the controller is connected to the computer via USB cable. Both joysticks can be checked and calibrated using the program. Regularly checking the status of the controller might not be a bad habit to get into as well.
One last component of the drone needs to be calibrated, and that’s the magnetometer/compass. This is executed by flicking the S1 switch back and forth, prompting the lights to turn solid yellow, an indication that the drone is ready to be calibrated. Then, the drone must be picked up and twirled a full 360 degrees horizontally, and if done properly, the lights will go green. After that, a successful 360 degree vertical turn will prompt the lights to resume their normal blinking yellow pattern.
It’s a lot of initial preparation, but I soon made these calibrations a habitual process, much like that of a flight inspection.
Think of the DJI Vision app as the camera’s cockpit. Here, all of your camera options are readily available, like video quality and framerate (1080i 60, 1080p 30, 1080p 25, 720p 60, 720p 30, 480p 30), still capture mode (single, burst of 3, burst of 5, time lapse), ISO (Auto, 100, 200, 400), White Balance, Exposure Metering, Exposure Compensation, Sharpening, and more. You can even use an onscreen tilt slider to move the camera up or down in order to accommodate the type of shot angle you want.
The DJI Vision application also gives Distance, Altitude, and Speed readings, as well as battery life for the drone and WiFi range extender. The Photo and Video capture buttons are right next to each other, offering the ability to capture a still one instant, and follow that right up with a video. The Phantom 2 Vision+ is capable of capturing RAW images in the Adobe-friendly DNG format, as well as JPEGs at three different resolutions.
My first attempt to fly the DJI Phantom 2 was quite pathetic. After the GPS calibration dance was performed, I took it outside. In order to start the propellers, both joysticks must be angled down, diagonally inward. A swift flourish of humming immediately emanates from the four spinning propellers, and a left joystick pointed upward sends the drone skyward. Unfortunately, the inner nerd inside me could not wait another day, especially since it was due to rain, so I headed out into the field anyway. Was slightly more successful in that I was able to elevate the drone into the air without crashing into anything. It was then that I experienced the sound of the drone in full gear, something like a chorus of rabid hornets that seemed to be trapped inside the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+. Consequently, this is bad news for spies and perverts, for the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ can be heard from a great distance away. As you can see from this footage, if you’re going to crash a drone, crash it into a tree because each branch softens the blow further. Now I understand why DJI offers propeller guards as an add-on accessory. Slightly disheartened and feeling like a kid who had his ice cream cone slapped out of his hand, I decided to head back to the manual. A little time spent getting acclimated to the joysticks goes a long way, and the rest of the flights that afternoon went without a hitch. I was amazed at how quickly the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ was able to shoot into the air from liftoff (20ft/s), and even more impressed by its ability to travel 50ft per second, though DJI does not recommend piloting it at that speed. I will say that landing it in grass that’s taller than a fairway’s it quite difficult, and I’d suggest bringing a piece of plywood to use as a landing pad if terrain is not accommodating.
After enduring a rain-filled week, I took the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ out on the first sunny day available. This time, I really tested the capabilities of the wee flying machine. According to DJI, the Phantom 2 Vision+ can ascend to 400 meters, or over 1,312 feet. Distance is maxed out at 700 meters, or 2296 feet. I decided to test the travel parameters of the Phantom 2 Vision+. Launching from my driveway, I piloted the drone up, up, and away, reaching nearly 400 feet. And then, my controller lost connection. It’s worth mentioning here that I’m less than five miles from the nearest airport, hence the severe limitation in height. All I could picture was a cartoon plane crashing to the ground at 1,000 mph. But, lo and behold, the drone simply shifted into Home mode.
When the Phantom 2 Vision Plus is propelled into the sky, it picks up all available GPS satellites in space. The GPS satellites keep it from going AWOL and allow it to hover in mid air. Using the GPS satellites, the Phantom 2 Vision+ was able to navigate its way back to me, landing within 15 feet of my shoes. This is Home mode, and will engage if the batteries in the remote controller fail while the craft is high up in the sky, or it travels out of the approved airspace. There’s even an option to have the drone fly back to Home when its lithium ion battery is low in order to avoid catastrophe. I was highly impressed with the drone’s ability to make its way back safely and accurately. It’s worth noting here that the DJI Phantom 2 needs at least six GPS satellites to connect to in order for Home mode to work. In order to know if the drone has set a Home point, it will rapidly flash green right before taking off. Also, try to avoid flying it in the presence of strong electromagnetic interference, such as power lines or cell phone towers.
The drone’s ability to hover is quite impressive. It will sit there, stationed in midair without much side-to-side movement. The only times I ran into slight issues with the drone’s ability to hover was when it was windy. In those cases, it required a little manual control in order to stay in one spot, but for the most part, the thing could hover in one place for the duration of the flight. Which brings me to a very important part of this review: battery life. DJI claims the Phantom 2 Vision+ to have a 25 minute flight time, but I soon found that to be a generous estimate. In all of my flights, the Phantom 2 Vision+ average 17-20 minutes. When the battery reaches 30%, the DJI Vision application flashes red and sounds off a submarine alarm sound effect, so there’s no chance of it dying and falling out of the sky. There is also an option to have the drone fly Home when the battery life falls to a certain level.
Twenty minutes of flying time if you’re lucky is not a particularly encouraging figure. If you’re shooting b-roll for a film or want to do time-lapse photography, this will be a problem. The solution for now is to stock up on extra battery packs, but even then you’d need at least a handful for any serious work. Also, I’m not crazy about the number of electronic devices required to pilot this drone. There’s the drone itself, WiFi range extender, remote controller, and smartphone. Granted, the drone’s battery will always be the first to go, but I think the Wi-Fi range extender should be noted that it does not jive well with the gopro wifi the signals get mixed up and this craft will vanish.
After an extensive adventure with the DJI Phantom 2, I can definitely say that the product has a lot of good going for it. Its aerial performance, maneuverability, level of control, and options are excellent. In addition, its H3-3D gimbal is a marvel of stabilization mechanics, enabling the camera to perform flawlessly and rivaling the stability of professional aerial footage. The drone’s ability to fly home once connection has been lost with the controller is a highly accurate fail-safe that acts as the unit’s ultimate insurance. Once the user has gotten the hang of the Phantom 2 Vision+, it is flat out fun to use, especially after learning all sorts of maneuvers that will aid your production. RAW capture is a great feature, as well as the performance of the DJI Vision application, which allows simple operation of the camera, in addition to several image recording options.
While there are a lot of highlights on the DJI Phantom 2 it does have its hangups. First off, the battery life is by far the biggest one for me. Twenty minutes (if you’re lucky) is simply not enough time to frame your shots, and most of us know how quickly time elapses during a shoot. Something needs to be done about the drone’s battery life – I’d even take an extra 15 minutes. Also, there are a lot of devices cobbled together in order to pilot this thing. I think integrating the WiFi Range Extender into the remote controller and having it run off a Li-Ion battery would smooth the preparation process. I would also like to see propeller guards as standard equipment, though it is nice that DJI supplies a set of backup propellers.
The Phantom with GoPro and H3-3D gimbal will suit amateurs, enthusiasts, and do the job for most small commercial jobs. For those that need top production quality imagery, I would look into DJI’s Spreading Wings lineup – super-sized drones that adapt DSLRs and mirrorless cameras for higher quality productions. On the downside, the latter is very expensive, and expect less flight time from the batteries. Also, just the thought of my Mark III over 1,000 feet in the air makes me light headed. I truly believe that if DJI were to double the battery life of Phantom 2 Vision+ and give it a camera that’s in the mirrorless category in terms of image quality, they’d have a winner. But regardless, many shooters have had success with the Phantom 2 Vision+, and it’s still an excellent purchase. I’ve already paid for three plane rides.