This is a guest post from Jed Vaughn from FollowThisDrone.com. Below you will find a little bit of information about this little slice of heaven in Mazatlan Mexico and how he goes about making his videos. If you would like to do a guest post, please let me know at over at the contact section. Enjoy!
Three years ago I began visiting a friend in a beautiful area neat Mazatlán Mexico. Since that
first visit, I’ve started spending my winters here on a small Island/peninsula known as Isla de la
Piedra, which translates to “Stone Island”. I’ve been having a great time flying my phantom 3
and have put a short video together with some of the footage. Here’s the simple process I used
to create the video.
First thing of course is having fun flying the phantom and gathering some video. After that it’s
just uploading the files to the computer, and choosing some favorites. I then open windows
movie maker and import the footage I like.
This is where I trim the video, add titles, captions, credits, and music. It also has some other
decent tools in it. Add animations, fade music in and out, and adding transitions between
frames are a few I use. I’ve found movie maker to be user friendly. It’s basic to navigate, and
easy to implement the features. This is also a free application.
After editing, I save the movie in my video file. Once the windows movie file is saved, I often
use vimeo or you tube to compress the video for the web. It is required in many cases,
depending on the size of the file, and where the movie wants to be used.
The phantom 3 advanced has served me well for the last year and a half. I had some issues at
one point with one of the firmware updates, but managed to resolve them. I haven’t
experienced any problems with the Phantom other than that.
You can see more of my aerial video and my journey of flying drones in a chronological
progression here: www.followthisdrone.com It has footage starting with my very first (totally
green) flight with a holy stone f180 toy. Droneabove.com has a great introduction to getting
started and recommends learning the ropes with one of these. I’m glad I started there because
once I got my phantom, it was like a knife through butter in terms of ease of use.
Guest post by Hawaii Web Group
There are unique advantages and disadvantages to both ways of shooting aerial photography. Living in Hawaii gives us access to many helicopter tours and some of the best views on the planet. And since we have many drones and professional cameras at our disposal, we’re in a unique position to share specific examples and our experiences shooting aerial photography from both helicopters and drones in Maui, Hawaii.
The Differences between Drone Photography & Traditional Helicopter Photography
This is one of the biggest differences, and both types of aerial photography have pros and cons. With drones, you can’t legally fly in the US above 400 feet. This is great for shooting people, moving objects on the ground, sports, buildings, etc… But, to get a truly magnificent birds eye view, a lot of times shooting from a helicopter is the only way to go. We find shooting towns, cities, and major landmarks offers a fuller composition from higher up.
Flight Duration and distances
DJI claims the new Phantom 4 has a max flight time of approximately 28 minutes (same with the new Inspire 2 and Mavic Pro), the DJI S900 does 18 minutes (depending on the weight of the attached camera and gear), and the GoPro Karma has a 20 minute flight time. This is usually enough time per shoot, and there’s always the option of having more batteries once you return to home. When flying with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters, you fly for up to a 2 hour tour. This allows you to shoot for longer and travel greater distances. Though flying a drone out of line of sight is easily done, it’s not recommended and restricts the distances you can cover on a single full charge.
Safety & Liability
We fly exclusively with Blue Hawaiian's experienced pilots and quality aircrafts. As far as drones, you can find a million scary videos online of drones crashing into bystanders as well as drone operators. Thankfully, applied sensor technology is keeping new drones from crashing into objects. We’ve all been waiting for this! I have a robot kitty cat toy my kid has played with for over 4 years that has this sensor technology. Why it took so long for drone makers to add this feature is beyond me. Depending on how well this technology works, you hopefully won’t have a problem. If you do, you’re the one liable for damages.
Of course, if you fly infrequently, most drones will end up costing you less than helicopter flights. There are, however, some hidden costs for drone owners. If you travel, you need to consider the extra baggage cost of checking in items you might normally carry on (cause we know you’ll likely carry your drone on, right?) Another additional cost to flying drones is upgrading. It seems every time we buy a new drone, the next version comes out a month later. Also, sadly, we’ve lost a number of drones in numerous ways including tree & waterfall collisions (which it looks like will be a thing of the past), and malfunction over the ocean… I really can’t expand on this. It’s emotional.
Though our Phantom cameras aren’t quite to the professional level we want, the new cameras that can be added to the Inspire are phenomenal. We also love the ability to drop our Canon Mark III on the S900. That being said, there’s extra cost for these cameras, and taking out the big spreading wing rig requires more time, muscle and energy. When shooting aerial photography from a helicopter, we can use any size and weight rig we want, which is really nice.
Helicopters are obviously much louder, but it doesn’t matter. You’re never going to piss off neighbors and have ignorant people call the police on you if your flying with an experienced helicopter pilot. Plus, they give you noise-cancelling headphones so you can talk to each other. When you fly high enough with a drone, you can’t hear them, but when low, it can be upsetting depending on your location and proximity to animals and people. I got kicked out of the Surfing Goat Dairy once cause my Phantom was bothering the goats. I feel bad about it to this day.
The new Inspire 2 flies up to a whopping 67mph! That’s pretty stunning. We wonder how much that drains off the battery and your flight time? We’ll test it soon! As far as helicopters, you can fly much faster and much further. For sustained shots over far expanses, you can’t beat the helicopter.
Expert drone pilots can control both the flight and the camera with ease. We love that the Inspire gives you the option of having 2 controls so that 2 people can control each independently. We also really like the new features added at DJI that allow for following the subject or spotlighting them. But for those of us with less experience and the need for complex shots, flying from a helicopter is preferred.
There are certain areas you can’t capture with a drone in Hawaii. For example, Haleakala National Park—or any US National Park—prohibits flights over them. With a helicopter, you can legally get close enough to see them well. With a drone, you risk getting tazed by a ranger. Also, flying over private property and certain protected animal life (Humpback Whales) isn’t allowed below 400 feet. You’ll need to book a helicopter tour in Hawaii for these unique shots.
Proximity to Subject
Again, pros and cons for both. Your helicopter pilot isn’t going to let you fly within mere feet of another person or a building. But you can’t get up close to a towering waterfall in the West Maui Mountains with a drone (unless you want to hike and rock climb for days.) Weather is also an issue. A little rain won’t bother your helicopter flight, but it’ll fry your expensive toy.
Gimbal for Video
If you want to shoot video on a helicopter, you better have a great gimbal that reduces shake. Most drones these days are equipped with 3-axis gimbals and shake-eliminating technology.
This is a plus with both. My heart races flying both drones and in a helicopter. My adrenaline level is definitely higher when flying next to sea cliffs, racing over rainforest, and steady right next to massive waterfalls. But there’s a giddy excitement every time I bring a drone into flight.
What did we miss? Please comment below with your questions and anything you would add or change on this aerial flight comparison blog post. Mahalo and we’ll see you in the skies above Maui, Hawaii!
I have had my Inspire 1 since it was released and it has been extremely reliable and functional. This new one is drool worthy for sure but I do not think I will be getting it because my old one still works so good. If you need a professional level drone this has got to be the one to get, with so many improvements to the camera. Launch price is $2999 but if you want the premium one with a better camera (and priority shipping) be ready to shell out $5999.
The ability to go over 60 mph got my attention because with that kind of power you would really be able to operate in blasting winds. Not sure if that is why they gave it so much power or if it would be better in high winds but it can't hurt. The obstacle avoidance stuff is really good for people who are just getting started but I just can't see myself getting excited about that feature as an experienced pilot. The previous versions of the cameras were pretty amazing so hopefully the new versions will continue to push the boundaries of aerial imaging. I also hope they start discounting the cameras for the old Inspire 1 so I can pick one up on the cheap..! While this looks fantastic, I will be sticking with my soon to be vintage Inspire 1. I just don't need the new one and flying that money around in sketchy situations makes it way less fun.
I was not able to get any good drone footage from the Aloha Classic Windsurfing competition for a very cool reason. They LIVE Streamed the main heats from a drone with a commentator! How cool is that? I was originally thinking about filming a few heats and having my windsurfing buddy record his commentary to play over the edit but their idea was way better!
If you are a local promoter or organizer for events, it has gotten fairly easy to live stream from a drone. You can livestream directly to Youtube from within the DJI Go app. It has gotten so cheap and easy to use drones for even the most basic production budgets and now you can use them for live events.
Have you done anything cool with livestreaming from a drone yet? If so, I would like you to write up a short guest post with your experience.
Below is the link to the replay of the live event streams. For some reason, all the videos autoplay when you click the link, so be ready to pause all but one of them.
The wind almost ate my DJI Inspire
It was very windy and there was a pretty big swell in the water. Some of my friends asked if I would chase them around while they tried to kite surf some 15 foot waves. I went to Baldwin beach, launched and made it about half a mile out to sea and the Inspire just started going haywire. Or at least the gimbal did. I have only barely glimpsed the props before but today I got a full view. Then the gimbal just started spinning around. Half a mile out to sea with a malfunctioning drone in 25+mph winds.. I caught myself thinking today might be the day I lose my first copter.
For reasons I still don't understand, my camera decided to orient itself incorrectly. This made my video downlink worthless. Luckily the DJI go app is amazing. I just pulled up the map and flew her home.
That sounds easy enough, but it was full stick into the wind and it was barely making headway. It said I was going 30+mph but I was barely moving. I remember thinking that was odd. I finally made it back to the beach in one piece. There was this burned out car sitting by the beach and I was glad my drone did not look anything like that!
Earlier this week I came across a site advertising a nano drone that could go 30mph and I couldn't help it. I ordered one that ended up being about $45 with shipping, a little steep but I bet the cost of these comes down. The website is AerixDrones.com if you want to check it out.
I just finished my first test flight and I would say this thing is a perfect indoor copter to train and practice on. I hate to say it, but this thing is cute. Also feels solid and well built. It came with an extra set of propellers but due to its size I bet this thing crashes really well. This version has 3 flight modes that just make it more responsive, I preferred the turbo-x one because it was so nimble.
There are a few things I did not like. I don't think you can swap batteries. I fly my little drones a lot and low quality lipos wear out fast - time will tell if this one lasts.
The controller is almost too small for my hands and I do not have large hands. If you have big hands, you will not like this controller. Another problem is the sticks, they are way too firm. The first thing I'm going to attempt to modify on this will be a spring removal for the controller. This guy is way too twitchy to have stiff gimbals.
Overall, this little nano Quadcopter is cool. It seems solid and it flies really well. Perfect indoor drone for learning to fly or running lego supply missions with your kids. Your cat would probably freak out on this one too. Did I miss anything? Please add it in a comment below.
Let's try and hack this thing..
While waiting for the battery to charge up, I decided to open up the controller and see if I could remove the springs on the gimbal. Getting at the gimbals was easy - just remove 4 screws. What I found was interesting - two types of gimbals. The 502F+ gimbals are the ones with springs while the 502J- do not have springs (this one is for the throttle stick). I will be contacting the manufacturer / retailer and see if they make a version of the controller without springs. I will also be checking to see what other controllers might work with this nano quad (I already checked my Hubsan x4 remote and it didn't work).
The last ditch option will be soldering in new gimbals and that would be a bit of work but it would really make it easier to fly.
I was out testing my equipment yesterday for the upcoming Aloha Classic which is a windsurfing competition every year in Maui. The waves were not that impressive but it was good to get my Inspire 1 flying again. Constantly being nagged about the firmware gets annoying but I have to say the latest firmware looks great. It also has stopped hassling me with a red ! saying I need to cycle my batteries. I take really good care of my batteries but it was always begging me to run them down to 5% and charge, which I would do. Now it seems to recognize that my batteries are indeed just fine and in great shape. The X3 camera is a decent, low priced camera with action cam level optics albeit with the perfect lens for flying. I am anxiously awaiting a price drop on the X5 because $1800+ just for the camera seems a bit steep for me. But damn I want that 4/3 camera.. things would be looking so much better.
Anyway, check out this youtube tutorial video below to learn how to do this within photoshop. After I made the video, I could not get adobe to output an animated gif so I just uploaded the video file to giphy.com to make it an animated gif. Drones are so easy and advanced so I am always looking for new ways to make creative, new content. Animating panos is cool way to do it. Do you have other ideas to make content more interesting?
Ok, I know I just posted about the Karma and how I was going to be getting one but this video changed my mind. I am going to wait and see how things pan out before I get either one. The guy is obviously a DJI fan, which I can appreciate because I am one too but I feel like he doesn't really get the point of the Karma. However, the horizon tilt issue can be extremely frustrating, especially if you don't have high end editing software. The inflated battery flight time is also an issue for me because I often fly really far out over the ocean. I need reliable and predictable battery monitoring. I don't really care about the sensors and flights differences because I always from manually but I understand how you might want those. Competition is a good thing, I love the GoPro brand and I really hope they get the Karma dialed in because the concept of the Karma I am sold on, just not their first effort. For now, I am going to stick with my Inspire 1 and wait and see what happens with these backpack drones.
Which compact drone should you get? It is really exciting to have two options and I honestly think both are great choices but there will probably be one that is "more right" for you than the other depending on what you are trying to do. I wanted to get my thoughts out there to help you decide. Did I miss anything?
GoPro Karma - The Karma is larger and not as advanced as the Mavic. DJI has done a good job of making the Mavic look better in every regard when it comes to specs but I don't think this tells the entire story. The appeal of the Karma is that it is a little film making backpack. It uses a GoPro so you can swim it in and under water. It has a steady cam in the backpack for super smooth hand held shots. Lastly, it flies the GoPro. It is an all in one solution and I have always been attracted to simple and this small backpack is all self contained. I also LOVE that you do not have to use your phone for the video downlink because the Karma has an all in one controller. When you are going around filming, the less stuff you need to bring along the better.
DJI Mavic Pro - Tiny, obstacle avoidance, long range, object tracking. Lots of killer features. The 4k video I have seen from this is not that good when compared to the Phantom and Inspire. This thing is tiny and folds up into a tiny little package. If you don't mind bringing along another camera for ground shots, this is an extremely convenient way to get aerial shots.
Aerial clips without ground shots or other types of shots has gotten a bit boring because things have gotten so easy. My goal going forward is to start bringing different kinds of shots to make my videos more interesting so the GoPro Karma represents the easiest way to do this with the backpack. If all I wanted to do was shoot aerials, the Mavic would be the better choice if I did not mind the video quality issues.
I have gotten lots of questions about insurance over the years and there has never really been a decent option until now. I just read about this new company offering drone insurance by the hour. I read through a sample policy and it seems like a great option. The price is estimated to be around $10 an hour for $1,000,000 in coverage for bodily injury and property damage. It also has $10,000 coverage for privacy violations. It does not appear to cover the drone itself in case of a crash. That would sure be nice for my flying out at the cliff above Pe'ahi.
Here is a link to Verifly: verifly.com
I like this drone insurance because it is a cost effective way to have coverage for the casual aerial photography semi-professional. This works out well even for someone doing 5+ jobs a month because the monthly insurance premiums I have priced are all fairly pricey. Here is a link to the sample policy to skim through.
I wanted to put together some of my favorite pictures from Pe'ahi this last winter. I got away every chance I could to go fly my drone at jaws. One time I went, it seemed like the wave was working perfectly and every nice ride had a rainbow or double rainbow that went along with it. The sun was out and shining which makes the water super blue but it also reflects off the huge amount of white water so sometimes the pictures would be washed out.
Another time it was very overcast so almost no color came out. I cropped and edited a bit on these to try and make them look better than what comes out of the DJI Inspire X3 camera. It isn't too bad but I am always wishing for more clarity, speed, aperature. I have not found a way to justify the X5 camera, but I sure do wish I had it for those magical days.
Anyway, I hope you like this gallery. If you are interested in licencing any these, let me know.
Penned by Joshua McGowan
Freelance writer and self-appointed philosopher
I will preface the following by invoking the time tested adage that true hallmark of skill is
making any genuinely difficult look easy and fluid.
Not long ago I came upon this website droneabove.com, and quickly found myself
marveling at the amazing aerial videography of the site’s owner, Justin Edwards. So
much so that I was inspired enough to drop Justin a note and express my admiration of
his work and his website.
In turn, Justin read the following tale of woe that I had published under my own blog
blackeireman.wordpress.com – and asked if I wouldn’t mind having it published on
droneabove.com I was flattered to contribute.
I hope everyone will enjoy an anecdotal read of trials and travails of drone ownership, or
to put it another way, for those of you who have loved and lost (said drone of your
choosing), so hopefully this is worth a ponder.
By the end, the tears that you’ll find streaming down your cheeks will have been evoked
by one of two things: laughing your ass off at what an uncoordinated doofus I am… or
tears of sympathy and the company of misery. Enjoy.
I would love to tell you about the lead up to the decision to spend my last 5 grand on a
high end Drone (aka UAV / UAS) – but since this editorial is geared more towards being
a tutorial, I’m going to stick to the facts, Ma’am.
Under the calm guidance of my friend, Robert Luscumb of Desert Sky Photography, I
made the lofty (so to speak) decision to purchase the latest and spankiest drone on the
market with the most sophisticated and state-of- the-art 4D lens which invariably has to
be of German sounding origin such as Zeiss, Leica, and AGFA. Only this smashing new
lens is called: Zenmuse X5. Sounds precision enough to me; the flying Porsche of new
Oh, incidentally, when I say smashing new lens, that little double entendre will follow
shortly as part of my cautionary parable for new drone owners.
Several months ago, I took the plunge and purchased the DJI Inspire 1 Pro with the
Zenmuse X5 Lens. I have to admit, I haven’t felt this giddy about something so shiny
and new since my five speed banana chopper from when I was ten years old.
Penned by Joshua McGowan
Freelance writer and self-appointed philosopher
My drone got far enough up and away that even that ‘Angry Birds’ propeller sound
simply diminished with distance. I shot my drone back over my head towards the north
and took more captures facing the Catalina Mountain range.
Finally satisfied with my first real, unfettered freedom flight replete with pics and videos,
I decided to try out what is ostensibly a very useful feature: The Home Button! The
Home Button or feature is designed to bring the Drone back down to the point of takeoff
The Home Button is triggered one of two ways: The drone operator can either request it,
or the other way is that it’s activated when the drone understands that its battery is too
close to being drained and is compelled to take over control of itself and attempts to set
down on the operator’s behalf. It’s a very handy feature, particularly if you lose visual
contact with it.
The last thing you want is for your new Starship Enterprise to drop out of the sky and
plummet towards earth simply because you weren’t paying attention to the power
It’s important to note that the operator can override the Home Button feature by simply
pushing the toggle forward and wresting control from the independent minded DJI
Inspire 1 Pro. I wish I had known that before what I’m about to share with you.
So, done with my drone in flight, I tap the Home Button feature to see what happens.
My drone turns around in the sky and begins to make its descent back to its point of
origin. The following few details are important to remember. If you recall, I said I was 20
to 25 ft. feet from the chain-link fence, and I launched my drone into open space from
that spot. Yet, when I summoned my drone from the reverse angle using the Home
Button feature, it was aiming in from the opposite side with trees and… that’s right, the
chain link fence. Had I been 50 or 100 ft. deeper into the ball field when I lofted it, I
wouldn’t be sharing this story.
Learning To Fly A Quadcopter
Aerial photography drones have gotten much easier to fly over the past few years but you still need to know how to fly one manually for a number of different reasons. Landings and Take offs in difficult terrain often involve flying around and avoiding objects and you need solid remote control skills to do this.
Becoming a good pilot requires a cheap quadcopter drone like the Hubsan X4 and about a week of practice flying a few battery packs a day. Of course, the more you practice the better you will get. I wrote a short guide to flying that has the following 10 drills in them but all the best information will just be in the following 3 posts and youtube videos so you do not need to purchase it.
When you can complete a drill 3 times you are probably ready to move on to the next one. If you have played video games or have flown other remote control aircraft you will probably progress through the first 3 drills quickly but go ahead and stick to the plan because things get much more difficult when you change the orientation of the drone! Side and nose in hovering are particularly tricky but important to keeping you from crashing your nice new shiny drone later on!
Take off smoothly and raise your drone to eye level, holding it there for a count of 5. Use tiny adjustments on the right stick to keep it in the same spot. You want it go up smoothly and hang directly in front of your face; then smoothly cut the throttle to land back in the same spot you took off from. As you become more skilled, you can add a small amount of throttle just as you are touching down to "flare" and have a smoother landing.
Take off smoothly and bring your drone to eye level again. This time, fly the drone 5 feet to the left by pressing the right stick left. Fly back to a place directly in front of you and stop. Next, fly 5 feet to the right and stop before returning to a place directly in front of you. You will need to make minor adjustments in every direction with both the right and the left stick in order to keep the drone at the same altitude and orientation. Don't worry about getting it perfect, the goal of this drill is to control where there drone is going and to get it back to where you started.
Take off smoothly and bring the drone to a steady hover in front of you. Next, fly it away from you by pushing the stick forward and have it stop 5 feet away. Hover, and return your drone to its original position. Now would be a good time to start paying attention to how the drone looks as it flies away from you and towards you, because this will become much more important as you start flying further away.
The End of Part 1
These 3 drills are great for learning how to fly but they are also great for getting warmed up or getting the feel for a new drone. Part 2 will cover some more advanced drills!
The Hubsan X4 Is Awesome!
My latest Hubsan X4 (the nice red H107C pictured below next to some other "retired" H107Ls) has had a motor shaft broken off by my dog. While I am bummed that I have to try and fix it or order another one, I am glad I finally have the mojo to write a blog piece about the Hubsan. It bothers me so much when I go into a store and see completely shitty quadcopters on sale for $40-$80 + ! My favorite drone that is under $100 only costs me $20ish bucks! I highly recommend these tiny little flying contraptions to improve your flying skills and have a blast.
The Hubsan X4 is one of my favorite drones and I recommend it to everyone who asks which drone they should buy. I have found the X4 on Amazon for as little as $30 but you once you have the remote control, you can find replacement BNF (Bind and Fly) versions on Amazon and Ebay for less than $25 with shipping!
So the Hubsan x4 is Cheap.. is it good?
YEeEEEESS! This thing is so much fun. It has improved my drone flying and it helps me exercise my dog. This is why I have owned over 10 of these things.. he is a big dog and he does a bit of damage when he chomps it. If you don't have a 70 pound dog biting yours it should last a long time.
The Hubsan X4 is GREAT for Learning to Fly
If you want to learn to fly a drone on a budget, this is what I recommend. Click here to read my blog post about learning to fly a drone. It has two flight modes that determine how reactive the stick is. If you want to fly inside or with no wind, the default mode is best. If you press down the right stick and here it click and beep, you are now in reactive mode which is great for flying outside in the wind (YES! It flies great in the wind too).
There are Many Versions to Fly
The Hubsan X4 H107L is the original basic version. It flies great. There is also the Hubsan H107C that I ordered on accident (twice) that has a camera built into it. I have never actually used or tried the camera but what I DID notice is that this version has larger motors and seems to feel a little smoother but more prone to wobbles during funky maneuvers. There is also the "new" Hubsan H108 that comes in new colors but is basically the same as the H107L.
There is even a Fancy Version.. the H107C+
I will be honest. I have not tried this version but it does look cool. It has a barometer so keeping your altitude (distance from the ground) from changing using its altitude function should be helpful. But you really should learn to do that manually. It also has a 720p camera which should provide some interesting shots. The camera does not offer any stabilization but if you have not used a camera on a drone before you might have a blast with this. I have seen it for under $70 on Amazon but I am not sure if you can use the same remote as the other Hubsans.
Accessories for the Hubsan X4! There are a few I recommend
There are a few things I recommend for first time Hubsan X4 users: Extra Batteries, Multi-Charger, and extra props. Forget the crash kits unless you have a soldering iron and surgeon hands to replace a motor. The best way to get your Hubsan flying again is to throw a new set of props on it. When it feels like it is buzzing or generally not flying good, first thing to do is a new set of props!
Agree or Disagree? Please comment!
If you end up getting one, or you already have one.. Would you mind leaving your honest impression about it in the comment section? If you have another drone you love under $100, which one is it? I would appreciate feedback and discussion!