Getting off the ground: Cheap drones for photography
Aerial photography is booming. Putting a camera up in the air offers new opportunities in familiar types of photography and videography, like sports, landscapes, and more. Even better, it costs less than $1,000 to get started with the DJI Phantom II and GoPro Hero3+ - widely considered to be the gold standard setup for drone photography.
While that buy-in price is reasonable for such a new hobby, it still costs about as much as a mid-level system camera plus a decent lens. But is there a cheaper way to try it out?
There are a handful of truly affordable quadcopters out there, as cheap as $60, ready to fly and equipped with built-in cameras. In camera market terms, these low-cost drones are might be compared to point-and-shoot cameras while the serious flying rigs (like the one mentioned above) are more like DSLRs. Obviously there are some tradeoffs in terms of handling, control, and image quality, just like there would be for a budget compact. So is the low cost enough of an upside to offset performance? Find out.
We picked three affordable quads to test out, each at a different price point.
At the low end, there's the Hubsan X4. This palm-sized quad is available in a few different configurations, but they don't all come with a camera or a flight controller. We found a ready-to-fly model (meaning that it comes with a controller) with a built-in video camera (no stills) for about $70.
Stepping up, we chose the Heli-Max 1SQ V-Cam, which cost $130. It's not much bigger than the X4, but the transmitter offers more control, including triggers for the video camera, stills, and a button that makes the 1SQ flip mid-air.
And then there's the semi-serious drone that you may have heard of, the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 (The Parrot AR.Drone 3.0 - sold as the 'Bebop' was launched after our testing was completed). It's much more sophisticated than the other two tiny quads we tested, more similar in size and capabilities to the Phantom. It's also $300, which is a pretty significant investment. But going back to the camera metaphor, it's like a travel zoom, whereas a Phantom is like an entry-level DSLR. The AR.Drone 2.0 doesn't come with a controller - instead, you use an iOS or Android app.
|An aerial photo shot with the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0|
Flying is much tougher in real life than in video games
As with most endeavors, my expectations for aerial photography before I started flying ultimately didn't end up matching my experiences. The biggest surprise? Flying is not at all intuitive.
Quadcopters can fly freely in all directions: not just up and down, but front, back, sideways, and any direction in between. But when the device is 60 feet in the air, and not much bigger than a sparrow to begin with, it's easy to lose your orientation. Pushing the directional stick forward might send it rocketing off sideways. Cutting the motors too abruptly will usually send the quad plummeting. The controls are sensitive, and gravity is an unconquerable force. For the first week or so, you're going to crash fairly often.
So step one is to practice flying. I only started to feel comfortable after about a week, and I'm still not skilled. It's fine to start by practicing indoors, if you have the space (I live in a four-room apartment and it was fine). You'll bump into walls and ceilings, and hit the floor pretty hard from time to time, but you won't lose the quad and can't hurt it too much. I've taken to flying one of the small quads around my apartment once or twice per day for about 10 minutes at a time, which is about as long as the batteries last. It's enough time to build a little bit of skill, without crashing so often that I get frustrated.
Flying outside is obviously more fun, mainly because the ceiling is 400 feet high (per FAA guidelines). It's also where you'll end up getting almost all of your worthwhile footage. But when you're starting out, it's easier to lose track of the quad, and crashes tend to be more catastrophic.
Expect to spend extra on spare parts, because parts break all the time. Luckily, they're fairly easy to fix. The manufacturers know for certain that your quads will take a hard fall at some point, so replacement parts are readily available, and not all that expensive. Replacement gears and parts for the Parrot cost $19 for a set, and the repair took 10 minutes and no tools. Replacement parts for the smaller quads are dirt-cheap - I got a set of replacement propellers for the X4 for about $2, and a replacement prop guard for $6. It's probably a wise idea to keep a tube of superglue handy, in case parts of the small drones crack.
Jun 20, 2017
Jun 19, 2017
Jun 23, 2017
Jun 19, 2017
|Steamin' Mad by ahrensjt|
from Angered Subjects (Street Photography)
|Smile by Olymguy|
from Ultra Asian Indian Female Faces
|Space Shuttle Cockpit- by vbuhay|
from Aircraft Control Stick
The Polish town of Katowice is not known as an area of beauty, but as all photographers know, that doesn't mean that beauty can't be found if you know where to look. Mariusz Pietranek used a drone to look down on the colorful sedimentation tanks at an ironworks.
New York Times video journalist Ben Solomon spent a harrowing three weeks accompanying Iraqi Major Sajjad al-Hour as he and his men fought to retake Mosul from I.S. forces.
The 3D VR camera launched through a crowdfunding campaign in 2015 goes on sale beginning June 26.
Noctilucent clouds, a crescent moon and Venus were visible in the pre-dawn sky over Budapest yesterday. Photographer György Soponyai captured NASA's astronomy picture of the day.
Squirming pets won't sit still for photos? A Kickstarter campaign is looking to help.
Find out how Chris Burkard shifted from editorial photography to his true passions: landscapes, conservation and, of course, surfing.
The updated EyeEm app scans your camera roll and picks images that are composed particularly well, have the best quality, or highest chance of selling on EyeEm Market.
It's three years old but still a solid option for a Micro Four Thirds shooter looking for a high-quality, fast, wide-angle prime. Take a look at how we got along with it.
Tamron has announced the longest all-in-one zoom lens currently available, the 18-400mm F3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD. Designed for Canon and Nikon crop-sensor cameras, the lens will be available in July.
When you're ready to step-up to full-frame from an entry-level or midrange camera, the choices can be overwhelming. Find out which models came out on top in our $1200-2000 enthusiast ILC roundup.
Just a guy wearing a VR headset, smashing invisible Goombas in Central Park.
NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured this gorgeous aerial photo of the Martian landscape. And if you look really close, you can actually see the Mars Curiosity rover in the very middle.
The city of Laguna Beach, California has provided some clarification around the kinds of photography permits it offers.
Later this year, a VR180 camera will be Joining Yi's Halo and 360 VR cameras, which will offer stereo 3D capture, yet be as easy to use and compact as a 2D camera.
Caltech researchers have developed an 'optical phased array' chip that uses time delays instead of a lens to focus the incoming light.
Pricing and shipping have finally been revealed for two highly anticipated lenses from Sigma, announced in February.
These macro photos of clouds of paint billowing through clear water might look like high-quality CGI, but they're real photographs. And photographer Alberto Seveso told us how they were made.
Facebook is testing a feature that prevents people from saving, sharing, or even taking a screenshot of your profile picture.
We've reshot the Sony a9 in our studio. The short story: it's sharper! The long story... well you can read it all here.
The collection will be officially launched during the Europeana Transcribathon Campus Berlin 2017 crowdsourcing event which will be held on 22 and 23 June at the Berlin State Library.
Light gives us some insight into the preparations for the launch of the pre-order shipments of its much anticipated L16 multi-lens camera.
OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei has confirmed in a tweet that the second lens on the back of the OnePlus 5 uses a 1.6x optical zoom and that digital zoom is used to reach the claimed 2x zoom factor.
Fujifilm recently unveiled the second in its series of affordable cine lenses, the MK50-135mm T2.9. We got our hands on it for a couple days and took it for a spin.
Leica's first attempt at an M-series digital rangefinder was rough around the edges, but set a pattern for all of the cameras that came after it. In this week's Throwback Thursday article, Barney remembers the M8.
No stranger to extreme situations, legendary climber and filmmaker Jimmy Chin talks to Outside Magazine about his career, and the challenge of filming Alex Honnold's rope-free solo climb of El Capitain.
A company backed by Android co-founder Andy Rubin is attempting to make video conferencing less terrible.
Rangefinder magazine asked five professional portrait and wedding photographers about posting on Instagram; no surprise, they got five different answers.
This captivating stop motion film was created by stripping away one layer of wood at a time. It's hard to look away.
It will enable users to simulate the presence of the sun, moon and Milky Way and see how they interact with an area's topography.
Since its introduction in November last year Instagram's live streaming feature has been used by millions, but videos could not be archived for watching at a later stage. A new update has now added the capability.