Category Archives: Reviews

REVIEW: Lowepro introduces compact drone case

Lowepro DroneGuard drone case

This year’s hottest new drone item might not actually be the drones themselves, but the cases that carry them. The newest case to the market, the Lowepro DroneGuard series, is another high-quality case to enter the competition.

Lowepro has a history of making camera equipment cases and today announced a three-piece collection of cases designed for the Parrot Bebop, DJI Phantom 1, 2 and 3, 3DR Solo and other similarly sized quadcopters, with dedicated space and organization for accessories such as blades, props, mounts, cables and batteries.

The CS 300 is sized for the Parrot Bebop, while the CS 400  is designed for larger drones such as the Phantom. I tested out the CS 400 with my Phantom 1.

lowepro droneguard

The cases  are constructed of tough 600 denier polyester and use what the company refers to as “Lowepro’s FormShell technology for superior impact protection without added bulk or weight.”

The cases also come with removable backpack straps and dividers.

I’m a tiny person (4’10”) and I like this case because, while it’s big enough to transport my Phantom without even having to take off the propellers, it doesn’t seem bulky on my small frame. The rounded edges help give the case a softer look, but the case is most certainly large enough to hold batteries, an RC transmitter and anything else you would want to bring (I’m thinking snacks).

lowepro drone case
Lowepro (left) and ThinkTank (right)

Until the last year or two it had been pretty impossible to find a good drone case. I had been partial to Think Tank Photo’s Airport Helipak, but it’s much larger, and comes with a steeper price tag.

For the super-budget conscious, Lowepro also manufactures a DroneGuard Kit, essentially an ultra-portable tray rather than a case, but with grab handles and a rigid, durable base and honeycomb interior.

The Lowepro is a great option for someone looking for a relatively low-cost way to carry a drone in a safe, sturdy case without feeling too bulky. It’s light, smartly designed and makes drone transportation easy. Happy flying!

lowepro drone case phantom

 

Yuneec’s Q500 Typhoon might be the best consumer drone out there yet

q500 typhoon

There’s a newcomer on the consumer drone market, and it’s already a contender for gold.

Yuneec’s Typhoon Q500 4K is a newbie to the drone market, but you wouldn’t know based on the maturity of the copter.

The Typhoon (starting at $1,299) does it all — shoots 4K video on a smooth, 3-axis gimbal with video streamed through the RC transmitter to allow for first-person view flying.

The attention to detail on Yuneec’s drone is fantastic; a SteadyGrip hand-held device allows users to take handheld shots with the camera, there’s a “FollowMe” mode, and it comes with two batteries — a clear sign that the drone’s maker has the user in mind rather than trying to skimp on costs.

The drone is mostly ready to fly out of the box — just screw on the propellers, charge the batteries and you’re good to go. It carries beautifully — the flight is smooth and steady, not to mention it just looks elegant in the air.

RC Transmitter

The RC transmitter (what Yuneec calls a ‘Personal Ground Station’) really takes it to the next level by providing first-person view on the transmitter. To start with the bad news, the controller does look complicated — too complicated. There’s something beautiful about the sleek simplicity of DJI’s controllers. But for the good news, the controller is also the reason I loved this copter so much.  Powered by Android, the Personal Ground Station displays the camera’s video feed on a screen, eliminating the need to hook up your tablet or smartphone. The screen on the transmitter also helps guide pilots through changing settings on the camera or the flight mode.

The Video Quality

The camera captures:

  • 4K/30fps ultra high definition video
  • 1080p/120fps slow motion video
  • 12 megapixel photos with No-Distortion Lens

The RC transmitter allows pilots to control video resolution, white balance and light exposure during the flight. The camera offers a 115° field of view, allowing you to control whether the camera points straight ahead or downward. The camera isn’t perfect; I did experience some lens aberration when the camera pointed directly into the sun (see test footage video), but it wasn’t a huge issue. The camera can also record stills simultaneously while shooting video with the click of a button.

Here’s some test footage I put together while taking my drone out to test during a weekend trip to the American River (for review purposes, this video was not color corrected to show how the video quality looks directly from camera to computer):

The colors are not quite right — you can especially tell this in the scene facing downwards with the yellowish rocks on the water. The rocks and people are washed out, while the water appears too dark, a sign of too much contrast. The camera lacks the ability to see details on the ground, but in general, it’s smooth video perfect for consumer purposes.

The verdict?

The Yuneec Q500 Typhoon really is an incredible piece of equipment. Where DJI’s Phantom is the Mini Cooper (it’s cute, easy to fly, small, dare I say, even lovable), the Typhoon is a BMW — sleek, strong, powerful, gorgeous.

I can’t tell if the Yuneec is intended to be a competitor to the DJI Phantom or the Inspire, but it’s certainly a competitor to both in some capacity.

It’s priced nearly the same as the Phantom 3 Professional, and its specs are quite similar. But the Typhoon comes with a bonus of a full Personal Ground Station and two batteries (buying a second battery for the Phantom 3 will cost you $149).

Unlike the Inspire ($3,399), the drone doesn’t allow dual pilot operation, so my shots weren’t as good as they likely could have been had someone else been controlling the camera. It also doesn’t have the Inspires’ HDMI output, so users wouldn’t be able to record the live feed to a video capture device. But like the Inspire, the Typhoon offers a detachable payload, high-quality flight performance and a slick design that doesn’t resemble a toy a la the Phantom.

The Typhoon offers a wealth of features that – for the cost – may make it the best drone on the market yet. The camera could be slightly improved, but the design of the drone and attention to detail far outweigh the slight problems with the camera. I’m shocked by how low the drone costs compared to its competitors, and how far the technology has come in just a few years. I’m eager to see just what a possible Typhoon 2 or other Yuneec-made drone will be capable of doing.

The drone market is desperately in need of competition. DJI makes great copters, but they are Goliath in a market of very few Davids. Yuneec is a huge underdog; their name is largely unheard of against DJI or drones like the yet-to-hit-stores Lily, that survives solely off huge marketing hype. And then there’s this Typhoon, a greatly underrated copter that you can buy now. With a marketing push from Yuneec to become a household name the way the Phantom is, the drone market may finally have two Goliaths.

Related posts:

Parrot Bebop: Here’s a drone with first-person video that costs less than $500

The Parrot Bebop drone flying around the UC Berkeley campus
The Parrot Bebop drone flying around the UC Berkeley campus

All my friends who know The Drone Girl exists: “Hey Sally, I’ve been seeing drones everywhere lately! I want to buy one! Which should I buy?”

Me (Drone Girl): “What’s your budget? Including camera?”

Friend: “Under $500.”

This is the dreaded question. And I get it way too often.

Well, it was a dreaded question, until I took the Parrot Bebop drone for a spin myself. Continue reading Parrot Bebop: Here’s a drone with first-person video that costs less than $500

Book review: Read Before Flight

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The drone industry has come far in the past few years and even months. But what it still lacks? A standard set of operating procedures.

How do we train large-scale UAV teams? What risk management procedures should be established? How should we handle nighttime operations?

Nicholas Damron’s “Read Before Flight” acknowledges and provides solutions to the questions essential to a major drone operation.

Damron comes from a military background with more than eight years experience as an Active Duty and National Guard Soldier who built and managed UAS training and operational programs. He writes a book based on real experience.

Just as commercial drones grew out of military use, it only makes sense that the laws and operational procedures would grow out of the military’s use as well. Damron’s book is the first to make sense of that.

For a guidebook that’s so light (just 61 pages), its value is deep. Packed with infographics outlining everything from risk management procedures to how to fill out a flight log, this is a valuable book for commercial drone operators — and even more looking to build a large-scale team. His book is a $10 solution to the lack of training courses out there for drones.

But its not just the high-tech operations that could benefit from a bit of deep reading about drone regulation.

The book’s cover is adorned in the style of a DJI Phantom, a nod to the fact that regulations and standard procedures are not just for the military or commercial set, but the everyday pilot.

“Read Before Flight” is a set of military insights applicable to hobbyist looking to distinguish themselves as educated, judicious pilots and larger operations looking to establish professional standards within their organization.

His book is available on Amazon.com for $9.99.

*** You can win a FREE copy of this book!***

Just retweet this tweet (embedded below) and you’ll be entered into a random drawing on July 17 to win!

Drones Are Good! RT to win a copy of “Read Before Flight.”

The Winner will be contacted via Twitter Direct Message and will have up to 5 business days to respond before a new winner will be chosen.

A lineup of drones you can actually afford

This story was originally written for MarketWatch.com. Read the whole story here.

The consumer drone market has exploded in the five years since French company Parrot first introduced the $299 AR.Drone. 3D Robotics, maker of the Solo drone, has raised more than $100 million in venture capital to date, while Phantom drone maker DJI is on pace to make about $1 billion in sales this year.

But Parrot has found its niche in the market — by making drones you can actually afford.

Parrot on Tuesday announced new models of drones to their MiniDrones lineup, available in stores this fall.

Parrot’s MiniDrone was announced in June.

Parrot Airborne

Parrot’s Airborne drones are 1.2-pound flying robots that can be controlled via smartphones or tablets. A vertical camera allows users to take selfies. The drone can fly up to 11 miles per hour and can turn 180 degrees in less than a second. Different models allow customers to choose a drone with LED lights that allow it to fly during the day and night ($129), or a “Cargo” drone that allows it to carry figurines ($99). Both models have a nine-minute battery life and recharge in 25 minutes.

Parrot Hydrofoil

The Hydrofoil ($179) is perhaps the most unique in Parrot’s new lineup. It does everything the Airborne drone does, but it also comes with a hydrofoil, allowing it to skim across the water. It is the first water-oriented drone in the consumer market, according to Parrot.

“You’ve never seen a toy like this,” said Parrot Chief Marketing Officer Nicolas Halftermeyer. “It took a lot of time to design and balance, but at the same time it’s maneuverable so it won’t capsize in water.”

Read the rest of the story here.

There’s an iPhone app to manage your flight logs

Photo/Hover
Photo/Hover

Mobile application Hover has been on the scene since 2014 as a “one-stop shop” drone application on the iTunes and Android app store.’

Now it’s got an update: flight logs.

“The new flight log feature automatically pulls data from your phone like location, time, and weather data,” according to a news release. “The pilot simply enters the location name, other technical flight details, and then the log is saved locally and e-mailed to the user.”

Previous versions of the free app also feature a flight readiness dashboard, real-time weather, an aggregated news feed and a no-fly zone feature.

“It’s the one stop solution for drone hobbyists,” co-founder Dan Held said. Continue reading There’s an iPhone app to manage your flight logs

Review: Think Tank Photo’s new Phantom Airport Helipak

Here is my jenny, pre-Think Tank Helipak mode of transport. Terrible!
Here is my uber low-budget, pre-Think Tank Helipak mode of cardboard. Terrible!

When it comes to transporting my DJI Phantom drone, I probably win the award for most frugal, basic option.

Yep, I still transport my drone in the original packaging it came in. Hey, it’s not a bad option! But it’s cumbersome, inefficient and one of these days, I’m sure the cardboard is going to break off.

There are a few solutions to my minor transporting disaster on the market — HPRC and GoProfessional make hard cases. GoProfessional also has a backpack option. Photographers may be familiar with the durability and quality of Think Tank Photo’s bags. And now, Think Tank Photo has added a backpack built specifically for the DJI Phantom to their inventory.

It's the size of a small person (and holds all my gear!).
It’s the size of a small person (and holds all my gear!).

At $239, Think Tank Photo’s Phantom Airport Helipak is built with the traveler in mind, providing lumbar support, an adjustable shoulder harness, and a removable padded waist belt.

It’s small enough to fit in an airplane’s overhead compartment (check with your air carrier) but definitely gargantuan enough to fit loads of gear, including your Phantom, DSLR camera,  spare lenses, a laptop and small accessories — all at the same time.

I have to say, carrying a bag that’s half my weight is certainly going to need a sturdy build with lumbar support!

But the bag itself is fairly light and not bulky considering what it’s able to carry. I would still bring this with me on a hike or day of flying at the beach in lieu of a rolling hard shell case.

IMG_3543
A custom divider set specifically designed for the DJI Phantom series allows you to reconfigure your bag depending on the gear.

Unlike its competitors, Continue reading Review: Think Tank Photo’s new Phantom Airport Helipak

Book review: Drones: Their Many Civilian Uses and the U.S. Laws Surrounding Them

jonathan rupprecht drone book lawWhat are drones even used for? Is this legal, what I’m doing with drones?

“Drones: Their Many Civilian Uses and the U.S. Laws Surrounding Them” is a handy primer on drone use and laws, suitable for anyone ranging from the drone novice to the drone expert seeking legal clarification.

With the media buzzing about drones and an uptick of drone users (and accidents), this book couldn’t have arrived at a more opportune time (and we needed it years earlier). And it’s not just drone enthusiasts who need to read this. It should be read by ill-informed media reporters, police officers using drones, policy makers and everyone else trying to make their footprint in the drone world.

Written by Jonathan B. Rupprecht, a lawyer and a commercial pilot, the 100 page book defines nearly every facet of drone laws, serving as a handy reference guide for drone enthusiasts when faced with a legal question surrounding drones.

Despite its brevity, ‘Drones’ is still the most comprehensive and authoritative book of its kind to date, updated to reflect the  latest in drone regulation, or lack thereof.  And the brevity is the beauty here. It is clear, concise and to the point, an antithesis to the current state of drone laws. ‘Drones’ is excellently and clearly sourced to allow for further reading for the most curious minds.

Nine sections are organized according to topic, ranging from a brief overview of unmanned aircraft (that can be quickly skimmed by the more knowledgable drone enthusiasts), to must-reads for even the most knowledgeable drone enthusiast, including the FAA’s Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 and the Future of Unmanned Aircraft.

The best owner’s manuals or guidebooks do keep the unexpected into account, which is where ‘Drones’ falls flat. While it provides exactly what a drone user expects they need, it fails to deliver the uncanny or surprising. There are no personal anecdotes, no charming highlights of creative drone use, no thought-provoking solutions to the real-world problems drone pilots are faced with.

That isn’t to say the book isn’t worth a spot on your bookshelf or Kindle. At $3.99, the book is a low-priced foot in the door to legal guidelines that even the most casual drone pilot needs to be aware of. It’s a must-read for knowing your rights when flying.

‘Drones’ is available for $3.99 via the Amazon Kindle store.