Category Archives: Reviews

Drone Girl’s 2013 Holiday Gift Guide

dji_phantomThis is the last weekend for Christmas shopping, so why not hit-the-ground running with some of the most epic last-minute Christmas gifts you’ve given in your life – drones!

This guide is broken down into copters best for beginners, photographers and tech geeks. Think I missed something? Leave a comment below!

For the beginner:

TOP PICK: WL Toys V959 Quadcopter RC 4 Channel V989

  • Price: $67.55
  • This is Drone Girl’s top pick for an entry-level copter. Why? It’s reliable and includes an onboard camera. Obviously the video quality is not great, but it will be something you can post on Facebook, because who doesn’t want a quick aerial video of building a snowman or Christmas day sledding?
  • Pro: Good price, easy to use out of the box, good for learning how to fly and shoots video
  • Con: 8-10 minutes of flight time, low video quality

nano-qx-bnf-micro-quadcopter-with-safe-technology-blh7680-3965-pBlade Nano QX Micro Quadcopter RTF

  • Price: $89.99
  • This is a teeny-tiny remote-controlled gift that is a cross between cereal box toy and Amazon drone. It has an impressive technology system that can hover and zip around, but it’s about 2 inches tall.
  • Pro: Fun! Low-risk. Durable, good intro to drone technology and flying techniques
  • Con: My short-attention span would get bored with this real fast. It flies, and it flies, and that’s about it.

Syma X1 4 Channel 2.4G RC Quad Copter

  • $43.00
  • This is the cheapest gift on the Drone Girl gift guide. It can’t do much except fly around. But it is a cool party trick! Fly it around your backyard, and if you’re daring, maybe even your house!
  • Pro: Cheaper than the Blade Nano! Fun! Low-risk. Durable, good intro to drone technology and flying techniques
  • Con: Technology is not quite as sophisticated as the Blade Nano. Again, my short-attention span would get bored with this real fast. It flies, and it flies, and that’s about it.

For the techie:

Parrot-AR.Drone-2.0TOP PICK: Parrot AR Drone 2.0 Power Edition

  • Price: $369.99
  • This drone comes complete with a built-in video camera and can be controlled on Android or iOS devices via a WiFi connection. This drone can fly around and take pictures. You can also hack it (if you have the skillz) to make it do much more than that. Remember the guy who was able to forcefully disconnect other Parrot drones from their wifi signal and take control, turning them into zombie drones?
  • Pros: incredible updates allow for 36 minutes of flying time
  • Great for your favorite computer hacker; this software is (relatively) easily customizable
  • Cons: Hardware isn’t very customizable. Has a built-in camera, so you’re stuck with that and don’t have much in the way of upgrading

*Money-saving tip: Buy last year’s model, though it doesn’t quite have the same power capacity.

TBS Discovery Pro Starter Set

  • Price: $2,265,95
  • This is an all-in-one package for a serious dronie who wants the satisfaction of building it themselves. This guy will run you about $2,000 more than I have, but TBS is top-of-the-line. This kit requires you to build it yourself, which could be a struggle for some, or for others considered way fun. Team Black Sheep are some of the leaders in the drone world, and now you too can be just like them!
  • Included in this kit is FPV capabilities, so you can see what the drone camera sees, a gimbal, batteries, and really all you need to do some professional flying.
  • Pros: Fancy. Really well made. Comes with all the parts you need in one kit.
  • Con: Expen$ive!

For the photographer:
dji-phantom-vision2TOP PICK: DJI Phantom 2 Vision

  • Price: $1,119.00
  • This is the Holy Grail of UAV technology, the king of the drones. But royalty isn’t cheap. This is the priciest drone on the Drone Girl Photography Gift Guide, but if you get what you pay for, then you’ve just gotten the best.
    It’s ready to fly right out of the box, allowing you to gather clean and clear video within a couple hours of flight practice.
    If you can spring it, buy this one!
  • Pros: Comes with an on-board camera (1080p HD video), Live-stream video to free Vision app for iOS or Android, Camera tilt compensates for single-axis motion = buttery smooth video
  • 25 minutes of flight time
  • Cons: It co$t$ a lot of money!

*However, this drone comes with so many new and great features like live streaming of video, 25 minutes of flight time, camera included and a gimbal. Had you bought the original Phantom and wanted to add on these things later yourself, that would cost you more money. So look on the bright side, this is a savings!

DJI Phantom (Original Model)

  • Price: $479.00
  • This is last year’s model of the DJI Phantom 2 Vision (described above). This is the perfect pick if you’re looking to cut costs but want a great product. This is very similar to the Phantom 2 Vision but with fewer features. The camera won’t be as smooth unless you add on your own gimbal (which is quite an ordeal) and you can’t live-stream what your camera sees, but it’s still a great option.
  • Pros: Ready-to-fly out of the box, reliable product, easy to use, reasonable price for what you get
  • Cons: Video isn’t quite professional quality, but is sure close (unless you add your own gimbal)*Note: this doesn’t come with a camera, but you can add on your own GoPro.

Blade 350 QX RTF

  • Price: $469.99
  • This medium quality quadcopter offers you the ability to shoot aerial images and video via a GoPro camera. With multiple modes, the copter is easy to fly, allowing beginner pilots to learn on Smart Mode or allowing advanced pilots to flip and roll in Agility Mode.
  • *Note: this doesn’t come with a camera, but you can add on your own GoPro.
  • Pros: Lots of different modes catering to beginning and advanced pilots, ability to mount a GoPro
  • Cons: Not the most reliably built, with some cheap parts that don’t sustain damage quite as well as its competitors

And in case you were wondering, no, you can’t have your drone delivered by Amazon Drone. Not this year, at least.

So the bottom line is, with all these choices, what would Drone Girl do?

Here's me with my original DJI Phantom. I recommend this as a Top Pick because it's easy-to-use out of the box, reliable and on sale now! Photo courtesy of Stuart Palley.
Here’s me with my original DJI Phantom. I recommend this as a Top Pick because it’s easy-to-use out of the box, reliable and on sale now! Photo courtesy of Stuart Palley.

Start by getting a cheap toy copter to master the controls. Flying a drone entails two sticks, which is analogous to the whole rub your stomach while pat your head deal. Not impossible, but takes practice.

You will crash into a tree. You might get it stuck on top of a building. And hopefully you don’t fly it into a pool.

That’s why you should master the controls on a cheap drone, like the Syma X1 RC Quadcopter UFO, which will cost you $43.
Then move onto a better drone with professional shooting capabilities. My pick? The DJI Phantom 2 Vision.

Yes, it’s the priciest. But if you are interested in having smooth, professional grade video, the DJI Phantom 2 Vision offers an all-in-one package to do that. Whether you’re looking to get professional quality video with minimal effort, want a quick, convenient way to live-stream what the drone sees, or have a reliably built copter, this is your pick. This is a great copter for photographers, scientists, researchers, or anyone with a hefty sum of spare change who wants to experience something new.

Happy flying, AND Happy Holidays!

Related posts:
Do’s and Don’ts of first-time drone piloting for photographers
4 accessories you need for your drone
Meet my drone(s)

Book review: art photography reaches new heights in visual tour of Baltimore

DroneArtBaltimore_smallDrones and art.

It’s an unlikely combination in a world where mainstream media is saturated with stories of how drones kill and spy on people.

But Baltimore couple Terry and Belinda Kilby have taken their unlikely combination of talents — software engineering and teaching visual arts in public school — to bring new meaning to the mainstream idea of a drone.

Drone Art: Baltimore” is the title of the first book by the couple, which together goes by the name Elevated Element. And, it’s the first ever compilation of photos in a published book generated completely by a drone.

Screen Shot 2013-10-27 at 5.28.21 PMThe book is a visual tour of Baltimore, with photos ranging from famous landmarks like the Concord Point Light to the Mr Boh sign in Brewers Hill — aerial perspectives of landmarks any tourist would see on a trip to Baltimore. Continue reading Book review: art photography reaches new heights in visual tour of Baltimore