Category Archives: Reviews

DJI S900’s ultra light weight is nothing to make light of

This story was originally written for Read the entire story here.

Aerial photographer Shane Latham can tell you that. He’s the Founder of Octofilms, he’s one of 10 DJI-sponsored pilots (and the only one in the U.S.), and he’s the only pilot in the U.S. to own a DJI S900.

Latham  already has a DJI S800 EVO, S1000 and has now added the S900 to his toolkit.

“The S900 the size of the S800 but with collapsible arms,” Latham is quick to point out.

The 3.3 kg hexacopter has foldable arms and is one of the lightest and easily to transport of the expert-level drones.

“The s900 is the new generation,” said DJI’s Marketing Manager Willis Chung.

Much of the weight reduction is in the arms and landing gear, made of carbon fiber.

“You can tell the weight loss right when you pick it up,” Latham said.

Latham’s favorite aspect of the S900? The removable top.

“It’s genius,” Latham said. “The top has a star pattern plate where you remove just 5-6 without having to take apart the frame.”

The S900 features an upper center board that can be removed, making an easy way to setup the power distribution system.

“Now you can easily remove the top, get down there, make any changes you need to do then put the top back on and you’re ready to go,” Latham said. “You can see and organize all your wires.”

Some other highlights of the S900:

  • Sparkproof plug to prevent short circuits
  • 18 minute flight time
  • 8.2 kg takeoff weight
  • Zenmuse gimbal compatible

“It’s like they listened to a lot of things users were asking for,” Latham said. Continue reading DJI S900’s ultra light weight is nothing to make light of

Portable charging pad is revolutionary next step in drone flight time

Photo courtesy Skysense

Andrea Puiatti knows a problem when he sees one. And it only took him 6 months to come up with a solution that could further disrupt an industry you thought couldn’t get any more revolutionary.

Puiatti is the CEO of Skysense, a company that creates portable charging pads that automatically charge your drone, no humans to plug it in required.

Here’s how it works: Your drone flies miles away from you. The battery has probably lasted 20 minutes — 30 minutes on a good day. Your drone autonomously lands — but not just anywhere — on a portable landing pad no more than the size of a bath mat, which you’ve set up ahead of time. Wires connected to the drone touch the pad, and through direct contact, the batteries on the drone immediately start charging. Once charged, the drone takes off and resumes the mission you’ve programmed for it.

“This solves two problems,” Puiatti said. “The first, it enables you to manage the operation remotely. Second, you can have a drone that takes off at any time without human intervention to change the battery, thus enabling fully autonomous missions.”

Andrea says the charging is just as efficient as if you were to plug the battery charger in the socket wall.

The product would enable a drone to have full automation, particularly useful in cases such as inspection, security and agriculture, and it has a retail price between $1000-1500 dollars. Continue reading Portable charging pad is revolutionary next step in drone flight time

Phantom 2 Vision+ is the most killer drone out there

Photo courtesy of Rhett Lewis, Atomic City Films
Photo courtesy of Rhett Lewis, Atomic City Film.

I spent this past weekend at Cine Gear Expo LA at Paramount Studios with some really talented filmmakers, primarily hanging out at the CopterShop and DJI tent (oh, also the In-N-Out truck), working with a ton of filmmakers on integrating drones into their tool bag of camera equipment.

If you didn’t get to spend your weekend surrounded by Phantom 2 Vision +’s like I did, or never have in your life, you are missing out. Because what are we recommending filmmakers use? This guy! The Phantom 2 Vision +! And I can say, spending an entire weekend with the Phantom 2 Vision + has me hooked.

I bought my Phantom 1 about this time last year, and I have so many regrets not waiting for this one! It’s everything you could want, ready to go in one piece. Gimbal? Check. HD camera? Check. Adorable design? Check.

It turns out my friends and really talented film producers Rhett and Burke Lewis at Atomic City Film use a Phantom themselves. In fact, here’s a promo video they made of the Phantom.

Advice: skip the Phantom 1. You’ll have to mess around with adding on a gimbal and FPV (first-person view,where you can see exactly what the camera is seeing, live) yourself. This all -in-one package is reasonably priced considering how much it would cost to buy each of these items on its own.

The Phantom 2 Vision + is on sale for $1299 at CopterShop right now — check it out for yourself!

Okay, disclaimer, if you’re trying to shoot Skyfall or the Smurfs 2, maybe you want to go with something a little more professional (that can hold a dSLR or RED Epic). But if you’re on a budget, this drone is your best friend.

So it’s safe to say this is on my Christmas-in-July wishlist this year.

Can Amazon drones actually deliver packages? 4 questions, 4 experts.

Amazon drones could be flying through the sky delivering your purchases in fewer than 30 minutes, according to an announcement CEO Jeff Bezos made in November.

It drew skeptics and supporters, questions and complaints. What do the experts say?

Rajapack spoke to four experts in the drone industry to get insight into whether or not the Amazon is feasible. Here’s an excerpt of their story:

01Dr. Arthur Richards – Senior lecturer in Dynamics & Control at the University of Bristol and member of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory

Q: What are the technological challenges facing the introduction of drones to this sector? What challenges will the drones themselves face during delivery?

A: The drones will need to handle wind, rain, snow, ice, curious birds or even ambitious thieves.  Solutions to many of those challenges exist in the lab, but integrating them into one robust product won’t be easy or cheap.  Proving the safety of that integrated system will be extremely tough.  Scaling the capability up to large numbers will be even tougher. Continue reading Can Amazon drones actually deliver packages? 4 questions, 4 experts.

The 6 cutest little mini-drones you’ll ever see

6. Syma X1 4 Channel 2.4G RC Quad Copter – BumbleBee

61a9QRW7Y7L._SL1500_It’s a big kid toy, and its 3-axis flight control system allows this guy to flip, roll and more. This Bumblebee copter can fly indoors and outdoors. The cheapest drone on this list, it’ll run you $34.45 on Amazon.

5. AeroVironment Nano Hummingbird


This drone is aesthetically beautiful, and it also has some REALLY powerful technology. Unlike all the other drones on the list, this one is not a consumer drone, but rather a spy drone developed as a military prototype.  It looks too real — and out of this world.

4. The drone from Flubber.flubber1997m720phdtvx26

Not for sale. Not any less cute. Probably THE cutest. Continue reading The 6 cutest little mini-drones you’ll ever see

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