Horizon Hobby recently added the Blade Chroma – a modern quadcopter designed for Aerial Photography and Video. The Chroma is perhaps the closest thing to a friendly “plug-and-play” camera machine you’re likely to find in the current market. Here’s our initial Blade Chroma Review:
In terms of size comparison, it’s bigger than both the Phantom 3 and its “smaller brother” the older Blade 350 QX series. It’s almost “400 (mm) size” and lies between the Blade 350 and the Yuneec Q500. The model pictured (there are four in all) is with the CG02 camera, which supports 1080p at 50 fps. There is also a version with a 4K camera (currently available only for pre-order), a model with a “fixed” GoPro and a gimbal-mounted GoPro version. The model we tested with the 3-axis gimbal mounted 1080p camera is currently retailing for $1,100 USD.
Chroma is sold in various configurations including some which allow use of the Horizon Spektrum line of Remotes. This one was purchased Ready to Fly (RTF) from a retailer and comes with the following remote controller:
The lines on this radio are amazingly “clean.” There are no antennas protruding (I’m assuming they may be installed in the handle, but that’s just a guess) and there’s no “mount” for an external device – because there isn’t a need for it! I won’t go into extreme detail, but the black area you see at the bottom is the display. It provides both telemetry data to the pilot as well as an FPV perspective, taken directly from the mounted camera. Altitude, groundspeed, battery capacity, flight mode, distance and other information are provided. The display (also a touch-screen) can be “double-tapped” to turn it into a wide-screen display, temporarily hiding the menu functions so you can concentrate on your video target. Horizon Hobby has also included a cute little folding sun shade for the display. Thank heavens! The black face of the display is highly reflective and our test location in sunny Florida provides a challenge on some days.
The radio controls the camera angle via a wheel adjustment on the left side. There are shutter buttons as well, one for stills and another for video. Like the Phantom 3, you apparently cannot automatically interrupt a video to take a still. The video must be stopped, shoot the still and then restart the video.
There’s also a small adjusting wheel on the right side of the radio. This wheel will be, I think, a welcome addition to many. The wheel has a picture of a rabbit at one end and a picture of a turtle at the other. With the wheel set to “rabbit-mode” the Chroma can attain its full speed in whatever direction you move the joystick. In the “turtle-mode” the speed is greatly reduced, providing the pilot with better control. I haven’t yet had a chance to measure the actual speed at each setting, but there is a noticeable difference between the two modes.
The Chroma comes with a moderately large 3-cell LiPo battery. The battery is mounted very similar to both the Phantom 2 and Phantom 3. The good news is that it’s a moderately powerful battery. The bad news is that, like the Phantom as well, is that it’s proprietary. Alas, this seems to be the way the industry is heading. The advertising suggests 30-minute flights are possible. I’ve not experienced that – yet. I’m hoping I’ll learn some better flying techniques and accomplish such a lofty goal. At the moment it seems that 24 – 25 minutes is a more reasonable expectation. A balanced charger is also included as well as two sets of propellers (total of 8 in all). The props are self-tightening and were very easy to attach.
Horizon Hobby apparently anticipates the user performing some minor surgery now and then as they’ve included several small Allen wrenches and a pair of tweezers. The “manual” (more of a cheat-sheet brochure than anything else) doesn’t say anything about the tools and their use. Thanks to Drone Camps RC, I found some more information via YouTube.
The Chroma comes in somewhat of a “beginner” mode. There is a geo-fence set at 200m. Information from Horizon Hobby suggests the capability of altering the geo-fence is “coming soon.” So when is that? Well, fortunately, soon is already here, albeit in a roll-your-own format!
The Blade 350 QX series can be accessed via a PC interface. That same interface can be utilized for “upgrading” the Chroma. A number of users have reported success with using a micro-USB cable. My experience was a little less satisfying at first, but, in the long run, finally got the job done. Both techniques are reasonably documented – again via YouTube. What would we do without YouTube? The PC interface software is available via the Horizon Hobby web site. If you need to go the same route I did, you’ll need to purchase the USB-Interface Multi Rotor Programmer cable. It is listed on their web site as a “part” for the Blade 350 and is their part number BLH 7840 and sells for $14.99 USD. I mentioned above that the Chroma is approximately “400” size. When the PC interface software recognizes the Chroma, it identifies it as a 380 QX. After removal of the “gate” in the battery compartment, there is an unconnected Spektrum cable/connector. The above-referenced “programmer cable” connects to that cable and connection to the PC interface was almost immediate.
A couple of my favorite things about the Chroma are more easily viewed from underneath the copter.
Here is the Chroma upside down. The camera is to the left, complete with a very nice, very functional “holder.” The landing gears can be detached and reattached with no tools, providing a very compact travel package, like so:
As with all such machines there are some compromises. In one of the pictures above, you can see the detached landing gear. Alas, for those enamored of “hand catching,” I fear this gear may be slightly too flimsy. The pair of landing skids together seem more than capable of handling the overall weight of the copter, battery and camera, but, held individually, I’m not sure how safe I would judge hand-catching.
One more nice improvement is almost immediately obvious:
In the later versions of the Blade 350 QX series, the GPS antenna was perhaps the deserved subject of much derision. It was judged by many as an accident waiting for a place to happen. The mast on the Chroma is similarly positioned, but is much stronger, owing both to a wider “stance” and a more robust mount. Unlike its predecessor, Horizon Hobby has even provided a fixit video for the GPS mast – perhaps providing proof that manufacturers sometimes do read their bad press!
The Chroma is not a zippy, aerobatic craft. It is, after all, an aerial camera platform. If you’re looking for a dynamite camera, this is probably not the craft for you. The Phantom 3 camera blows this thing away. Well, maybe not so much the camera as the app that controls it (on the P3). The Chroma camera did a fine job of what I’ve videoed so far, but it does it all in full-auto mode. You cannot alter the shutter speed, frame speed, ISO – nothing like the Phantom 3.
On the other hand, if you’re more-or-less the kind of person who likes to fly around somewhat and likes to have the camera running while you’re doing it – taking home videos as it were – this might be right up your alley. As I stated above, this is about as close to plug-and-play as I think you can get in a decent-sized quad. I might like the joysticks to be just a tad more stiff, but the Chroma was easy to control, totally responsive, locked into GPS without any fuss and was also a breeze to calibrate – both the accelerometer and the compass. The compass calibration is greatly improved over its predecessor, the Blade 350. The physical functions are exactly the same, but the LEDs (huge LEDs!) guide the pilot through the procedure, making it virtually fool-proof.
In panic mode, the Chroma coasts to a stop in a more or less reasonable time/distance frame. Perhaps I got somewhat spoiled by the Phantom 3. By contrast, in full-blown GPS mode with the Phantom 3, when you let the sticks neutralize, it seems to come to a stop on the proverbial dime. The Chroma stops more efficiently when in turtle-mode!
While there is some latency in the video feed, the image is far sharper than I expected and I knew when I bought it that it wouldn’t be a racing FPV device. I’ve really enjoyed being able to zip to my favorite flying field with only the Chroma and the controller and be flying within minutes. The Phantom 3 needs a mobile device, but can deliver a good video feed from quite a distance. Advertised specs indicate something like “…six American football fields…” which is significantly shorter than the distance sported by the P3. Personally, I’ve never been comfortable letting my P3 get anywhere near that far away and the Chroma will probably stay pretty close as well. Discerning videographers will no doubt get more for their money with the Phantom 3, but the auto-camera-toting Chroma is very likely to fill a good-sized niche as well.
Crashes and Smashes
After this review was written our review machine exhibited some strange behavior while hovering at only a few feet above the ground – it dived hard to the right and sped up and crashed hard – sad to say in a few pieces. We are contacting Horizon Hobby about this event. We took some time to look around to see if others have had similar experiences and we did find some – dropping from the sky for no apparent reason! This is worrisome – but so far they have replaced the units in question. Of course we don’t want to crash our units…even if they are replaced…so we will reach out to Horizon and see if they have discovered (and fixed) the cause of these crashes.
The Chroma RTF is a friendly machine which may fit the needs of those wanting a complete camera/gimbal solution from a well known manufacturer. Horizon Hobby, makers of Blade, have a good reputation in terms of customer service and parts availability. As such it provides yet another choice in the fast growing field of hobby Aerial Photography and Video. Hopefully Horizon will get a handle on the unexplained crashes (maybe an initial QC problem with the circuit boards?) – in any case, they usually will replace or repair their models under their fairly complete warranty.
The Chroma can be purchased at many Local Hobby Shops – if you are lucky enough to have a good one nearby this is a great option since they may be able to help with your questions and future parts and service work. It can also be purchased direct from Horizon Hobby as well as through well known vendors such as Red Rocket Hobbies or Amazon.
Some links are below:
Red Rocket Hobby – Chroma Link
Amazon Link Below: