The founder of DJI has said he admires Apple computers and Steve Jobs. Before I even read about his public admiration of the Apple founder, it became pretty obvious when I purchased my first Phantom 2. The packaging reminded me of all the beautiful and well built boxes I always got when purchasing Apple stuff. When I opened it up and set it all up, I was truly impressed with this new version. This was not just the same thing in a different package as I had initially suspected - this thing was truly an evolution of the initial DJI Phantom (You can read all about my first impressions here). Fast forward a year and we see even more improvements but more choices and these choices are leading to confusion in first time drone buyers and experienced users alike. The goal of this post is to help you make a decision about which drone to buy based on what you want to accomplish.
I have gotten so many emails from people wondering which version of the Phantom they should get. There really are 4 options and I will do my best to walk you through the pros and cons of each setup as they all have different uses and capabilities. If you have found this guide useful, please consider making your purchase through DroneFly.com, Amazon.com, or the DJI Store.
DJI Phantom 2
The stock Phantom 2 is the cheapest way to get a quality consumer drone in the air with a camera. It does not come with a camera so you must supply your own. This is the perfect rig for someone who has developed decent RC quadcopter skills and wants to get a camera in the air to start taking pictures.
DJI Phantom 2 Vision
I have never owned a Phantom Vision but it offers a lot of out of the box functionality for taking aerial pictures. This is the best option if you want a simple, out of the box platform for aerial pictures and a ground station.
DJI Phantom Vision 2+
The Phantom V2+ is the most advanced, out of the box consumer drone you can currently buy. If you want the easiest setup for aerial pictures and videos and you do not want to use a GoPro this is your choice.
DJI Phantom 2 with 3 axis Zenmuse
This is my preferred rig because I love flying GoPro cameras. The zenmuse gimbal version of the Phantom 2 is probably the least ready to fly consumer drone on this list. You have to install the included gimbal, install an FPV transmitter, and install the iOSD if you want telemetry. However, the work necessary is well worth it in my opinion - I love my Phantom 2 and all of my favorite videos have been shot with this aerial platform.
Is collective pitch the future of drone photography?
When I was on my way to Dallas a few years ago to fly for the Discovery channel, my friend and co-pilot was telling me some hush hush rumors about the future of aerial photography platforms from DJI. The big secret was collective pitch and the rock solid flight characteristics that could be had from such a design. I was a bit surprised to see someone beat DJI to this but they seem to have their hands full with the delayed launch of the Inspire 1.
Fixed Pitch vs Collective Pitch
If you are new to RC helicopters, let me take you back to the days of fixed pitched and collective pitch helicopters. Fixed pitch helicopters were difficult to fly because of tail drift and the massive delay between throttle changes and altitude changes in the helicopter. Collective pitch helicopters spun the main blade much (dangerously) faster and then you just changed the pitch of the helicopter to move the heli up and down. The lag was virtually eliminated and insane maneuvers were possible. However, with one main blade spinning at 2000 RPM it was never a good idea to use these for aerial photography unless you were in a controlled environment or there were no people around. The beauty of multicopters was they were fixed pitch and they had many propellers spinning much slower and the energy was spread out to four propellers and therefore much safer.
Assault Reaper 500
Jump ahead to the Assault Reaper 500 collective pitch quadcopter from HobbyKing.com. This thing is built to be 3d quadcopter and probably is a blast to fly. However, my mind instantly jumps to aerial photography applications because that is what I love to do. The implications for such a rig are obvious. More speed, faster response, and greater stability in wind. If you are shooting fast moving dynamic subjects, nothing will be able to beat this. I have not flown this yet, but if you can get flight software that is suited for aerial photography instead of 3d, this will be the rig to use if you are filming fast motorcycles, cars, waves, boats, and other fast moving stuff.
Collective pitch Drone Photography
In order for this to be an aerial photography platform, it would need to be modified a bit. It would need a camera mount and a gimbal, and FPV transmitter, and a flight mode that was designed for aerial photography. The main drawback to flying a normal collective pitch helicopter is the fast spinning blade. The blade on this will be spinning much faster than the blades of a normal quadcopter but because the power is spread out among 4 different propellers the danger will (hopefully) be significantly less. We will not know how dangerous these are until people are using them but my guess is they are safer than a T-rex and more dangerous than a DJI Phantom or QAV500. Will collective pitch be the future of consumer drones - Please comment below!!
One of my favorite things about this blog is hearing from people who have started aerial photography businesses around the world. When I first started exchanging emails with Hazel I was very curious about what a drone business in Africa would be like. I asked him to please keep in touch and a few months later he emailed me some awesome pictures and said business was booming! Luckily for us, he was interested in doing an interview and answering some questions about his new business.
How did you decide to get into aerial photography?
I honestly never thought I would ever get into photography let alone aerial photography. My fascination for high tech gadgets especially drones got me here. I figured it will be cool to see Accra from a higher perspective and boy was I blown away when I took my first picture. I only started aerial photography two months ago and it’s been exciting so far.
What are the reactions to your drone when you fly in Ghana?
It is a crowd magnet, these drones. People always ask if I’m Ghanaian when I am on site to shoot. I find that pretty funny. Once I lost one of my drones late in the evening and I had to run over 200 meters to retrieve it. I had the shock of my life when I got to it, a crowd of over 200 had circled around it and were taking pictures. They had no idea what it was. They had actually called the police because they believed it was a UFO.
I had to explain myself to all these people and the police. That was one long night. I also had to cancel a shoot because National Security didn’t think it was prudent because the President was also attending the ceremony.
What type of drone photography work are you getting?
I'm getting a lot of outdoor weddings, concerts and real estate gigs. Music video contracts just started coming in. I tend to take random pictures of places I think will look super cool from way up, it excites people and then magically calls come in for more gigs.
What kind of equipment are you using and how did you choose it?
I'm totally a DJI fan. I love their products. I have 3 of their phantom vision 2 plus for now.
What kind of equipment will you be getting in the future and why?
Well I just purchased the DJI Inspire. I’m totally excited about it. The indoor stability, 4K camera and dual remote function were the functionality that drew me to purchase it. Just about a week ago I nearly had an accident with one of the drones at a state function because it was indoors and piloting the phantom indoors can be very tricky. The final step will be the S900 with a zenmuse gimbal to carry high end cameras.
Where can people view your work?
You can follow AeroShutter on Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook. Our website will be up in a few weeks.
What types of challenges did you have starting your business?
Privacy issues; I've done three great weddings shoots but the couple don’t want their video out on our social media platforms and I am so sad about it. I also foresee challenges in the near future in my country with regards to regulations and licensing to fly drones. For now everyone is in the 'oh wow!' state.
How much opportunity do you see in the future for other aerial photography operators?
I see a lot of opportunity for aerial photographers especially in Africa. Aerial photography can be of use to security companies, the music and movie industry have a lot they can do with aerial photography, and estate developers will need our services for a more vivid view of what they developing. The list will only get longer.
What parts of my aerial photography books did you find most useful?
Justin’s books were very helpful when I decided to have a shot at aerial photography. His book was all I needed to start AeroShutter. I am a banker by profession therefore I was so lost to the idea of starting an aerial photography business. His book broke down everything I had to know and needed. I can’t tell which part wasn’t useful. I still read them every day.
Do you have any advice for others looking to start an aerial photography business?
Start simple. Develop great customer interaction skill. Do the first few gigs for free if you can and over impress. Word will go out. All the best.
What is the coolest thing you have captured filming or what is the coolest thing that has happened to you since starting aerial photography?
Takoradi Market Circle. It’s one of the busiest places in Ghana but I was bent on taking the picture. I had to take the picture quickly and bolt for fear of the crowd gathering.
What do you want to film that you haven't gotten a chance too yet?
The Presidential palace and the US embassy in Ghana. I'm definitely sure they'll blow up my drone within seconds if I ever try. Seeking permission though, one might go through.