Note - we have much more information on the DJI Phantom Quadcopters and Drones in our forum area. To see the forum threads related to the Phantom, simply CLICK THIS LINK.
Note - we have much more information on the DJI Phantom Quadcopters and Drones in our forum area. To see the forum threads related to the Phantom, simply CLICK THIS LINK.
DJI has sent out invitations for a NYC launch event for a new product or products. The invitation promises that we will “see the bigger picture” as in the graphic below:
Unlike some other DJI products, there are not yet (as of June 17) any reputable rumors as to exactly what this could be. Our guess, here at Droneflyers.com, is perhaps a Drone with a 360 degree view to take full panoramas. Actually, that may be our #2 guess or tied for #1. Another guess is a model with various lenses (zoom, wide angle, etc.) which can be fitted to it. This has been rumored before as being a potential feature of a “Phantom 5” model.
Others have suggested it could be the Mavic Pro 2 – maybe it has a 1″ sensor and/or wide angle and other features.
For now we will have to guess…..and wait. We have a forum thread if you want to comment – or leave your FB comments at the bottom of this page. Thanks!
Note- A Mavic Pro was used for these photos – but the advice given will apply to most all DJI drones and to some other brands.
This article is for Beginners and Advanced Beginners – those who know their imaging will likely already have other programs (Lightroom, etc.) that process their RAW and other photos. This article involves editing with the free (included) MacOS program “Apple Photos”, formerly called iPhoto.
What is RAW?
RAW is a photographic file type – one that takes as much as possible of the information from the camera sensor and stores it in a larger (usually 5X the size in bytes) format than the JPEG (.jpg or .jpeg) that most are familiar with. Most DJI Equipment now allows you to set the Photo type as RAW…or, as both RAW and JPEG at the same time. In the later case, the Drone will take and store two photos – one processed with your JPEG settings and one RAW.
Should you use RAW as your Photo file type?
This is an open question. If you do a lot of work on your photos after you download them (this is called post-processing), then RAW is the preferred format due to it containing more actual light and color information…which then gives you more to work with. However, if the majority of your work is “as-is” or only slightly adjusted afterwards (crop, light, etc.), then the JPEG format should work fine. However, it will benefit you to check and test the JPEG photo settings on your machine before you take it into the field. DJI provides various options – I currently use “Landscape” on my Mavic Pro and the result are quite good. Reports from the field indicate that DJI has occasionally changed these settings with firmware updates, so it’s important that you check to make sure the photos are satisfactory before doing any important flights. This can be done by checking the settings in the DJI Go (4) app while connected to the Drone – and also taking a couple photos outdoors. I just hover a few feet above my house and do so, but you could also do it hand held. Make certain to touch the screen to focus and try to take a sample photo of something at a distance – then inspect it closely on your computer or any larger screen.
RAW Photos will often look “washed out” compared to JPEGS – this is because JPEGS are automatically improved inside the camera. In other words, the basic work (sharpening, brightening, colors popping) is done for you – whereas with RAW you have to do the post-processing.
Up until recently, working with RAW files often meant you needed expensive programs like Lightroom – and also the education on using them. However, the free (included) Apple Photos App on Macs now has the ability to process these files. Following is a short tutorial on editing RAW (and other) photos in Apple Photos.
Selecting a Photo in Apple Photos
The screenshot below shows part of a typical Apple Photos “Photos” screen. These Photos have been imported from the Micro-SD card plugged into an adapter on my Mac. The thumbnails which have a “J” at the upper left also show a second shadow behind that “J” – this indicates that both a JPEG and a RAW copy of the photo are in the program. If nothing is shown, that means only a JPEG exists – if the upper left only contains an “R”, that means only a RAW photo was taken. Note that RAW photos will have a .DNG (or .dng) extension. [Read more…]
Want to be the first to order a Mavic Air – try this link – UNITS ARE NOW SHIPPING DIRECT FROM DJI.
As per the rumors, the release is called the Mavic Air and is very similar to the description below. It is smaller than any other system of it’s type – 1/2 the size of the Mavic Pro and weighs 41% less – yet it has the same (and many better) features.
21 Minutes of flight time – and a range of over 2 miles. Wind resistance has been improved – to 22 MPH. As first mentioned, this could be called a vastly improved Spark or a downsized Mavic Pro – with, of course, the extra features.
Price? Only $799 for the basic package including the R/C Controller, prop guards, single battery, etc.
For $999 you get 3 total batteries, a multi-charger, a case and some other accessories.
DJI claims that a number of accessories and add-ons will be available in the coming weeks.
100 mpbs 4K Video is included – this is a much higher rate (quality for video) than most other consumer drones. Panoramas are automatic – just the tap of a button to shoot a 32 MP Pano. An HDR setting is included.
The Camera and Gimbal are quite advanced – 8Gig of memory is built in, so if you forget your MicroSD card you can still take stills and video. The Camera has been improved and recessed back into the drone for extra protection.
Want to be the first to order a Mavic Air – try this link – delivery is in just a few short weeks.
Palm and Gesture control have been updated and are much more responsive.
The Mavic Air is shown below:
DJI sent us an invitation to a “launch” event which will feature the unveiling of some new products. Unfortunately, I will be at 39,000 feet in a real flying machine on that day – but DJI has promised to send along ALL the Press Material. In addition, we have many contacts within the industry who will be attending and sharing their opinions with us.
The rumored new machine is a cross between the Spark and the Mavic Pro. Specifically, it addresses the shortcomings of the Spark (Camera, short flight times) and improves on some aspects by being able to fold like the Mavic Pro. A more compact headset may be available which will not scare the neighbors as much as the older model.
So – if the rumors are true, what is being introduced is a Mavic Pro which is smaller, less expensive and perhaps has some additional features. Since the Mavic Pro is the best selling drone in history, this makes perfect sense..
See and/or order what has been introduced: Want to be the first to order a Mavic Air – try this link – The Mavic Air is shipping immediately from DJI direct.
Price: $799 with the R/C Controller and a single battery – $999 for a more complete package with extra batteries, a case, a multi-battery charger and more. This means you can now have a better, smaller and more capable Mavic Pro….for less than the cost of a Mavic Pro.
Range is given as 2.5 Miles – less than the original Mavic Pro. However, very few pilots use their craft out to this distance.
Note: For the initial shipments, the Mavic Air is available only through DJI Direct. By the end of February it should be at most outlets such as Best Buy, the Apple Store, Amazon, Etc.
Buyers should compare this with other models – it definitely is the most compact in terms of size and weight given the 4K high-res capabilities. However, the Mavic Pro has longer range and very similar image quality for most uses. Those needed better imaging should look at the Phantom Pro line with the 1″ Sony Sensor.
Which are the best drones and quadcopters to buy as of the end of 2017 and first 1/2 of 2018??
UPDATED Feb, 2018 – We update this best drones listing regularly as new products are released and reviewed. Note – we cover the consumer and lower-end Pro market, so you won’t find expensive (over $2,000 base) Drones in the listing below.
Our recommendations are based on 100’s of hours of testing and research as well as our personal experience and that of the experts in the field. ALL DRONES ARE NOT EQUAL, so don’t be fooled by marketing or other claims. With over 50 years experience in model rocketry, ham radio, computers and other technologies, we KNOW DRONES.
The current list is broken down into three (3) categories in descending order of price/features as follows:
1. Consumer Camera Drones – stabilized camera and GPS – we suggest numerous models but all are well below $2,000 for a complete working package. Other models are in the realm of commercial and expert users who don’t need advice from us as to what to purchase.
2. FPV and Selfie Drones, Brushless – are models which can be used for learning, racing and/or taking simple pics and video. Most will not have GPS so can easily get lost if flying in wind or far away. A price range of $100 – $400 is typical for these models.
3. “Toy Grade” models, most of which used “brushed” motors. These are for learning and gifting and, in general, will need parts replacement after a couple hours of use (motors, gears). Typical prices are $15 – $90
Consumer Camera Drones – GPS Based – w/stabilzed cameras.
NOTE: The DJI Mavic Air has been introduced – and it is definitely on the winners list. Be sure to check it out….it’s similar to a Mavic Pro but smaller – some better specs but less range. The link to the Mavic Air (available immediately) is here.
These models are built for taking aerial video and still photos. Taking smooth aerial video requires either a mechanical or electronic “gimbal” (article explaining gimbals) which steadies the camera and removes shake and vibrations. These models all feature GPS so they know their position in space – and can automatically return to the launch point if something goes wrong. Most have a long feature list including multiple sensors and even obstacle avoidance (article – How Modern Camera Drones Work).
Best Overall Camera Drone
If we had to suggest only a single unit it would be the DJI Mavic Pro. Actually, now it is two units since DJI recently introduced an slightly upgraded model called the Mavic Pro Platinum. This is a foldable model which is packed with technology and features and yet is easily transported most anywhere. All drones make compromises between size, weight, cost, flight time and other factors – the Mavic Pro is the rare bird that hits most of the right buttons for most users.
Mavic Pro at DJI
Mavic Pro Platinum at DJI
Mavic Pro at Amazon
*The Mavic Pro, in general, has the longest range of any consumer camera drone – a nice feature if this is on your wish list!
*The NEW Mavic Air is smaller in size – shorter range but claims some better other (camera, wind) specs – link to the Mavic Air here.
Best Imaging (pics and video) Drones [Read more…]
The DJI Phantom 3 series, first released in April of 2015, set a new standard for what was expected of a consumer-level Camera drone. Even at the original price of $1259, the Phantom 3 Pro was head and shoulders above anything in its class. The P3 series is still widely used today – although officially all models other than the $499 “Standard” (lowest end) model have been discontinued.
DJI has been very quiet about the launch of this new model – in fact, I had to email the company to find out if it truly was a new model or just a renaming of an older model which was called the “Phantom 3 4K”. They assured me that this is a model which is updated and upgraded and hasn’t been sold in the US until now.
For that price you get a top notch 4K capable camera, the VPS (ground sensing) system and a new upgraded wireless connection which increases the range to as much as 4KM. Note – we suggest cutting these maximums by 50% for your use in most normal situations….but, realistically, even 1 KM is fine for most of what consumer camera drones are used for.
Some other basic specs:
25 minute flight time
Dual GPS (American/Russian)
Video up to 4K 30fps – 60MB Bitrate
What it does NOT have is the “lightbridge” DJI system, which is an advanced wireless protocol…with longer and more reliable range (in many cases).
The P3 models are quite mature and reliable and many pilots may not need the advanced features in more expensive models (obstacle avoidance, etc.). Commercial pilots (Part 107) often desire a “backup bird” in case something happens to their primary camera drone. The Phantom 3 SE seems perfect for such uses.
The Phantom SE (Special Edition) is a well kept secret – but it shouldn’t be. You can buy a cheaper Phantom (DJI Standard…refurb and/or new is $399 to $499) – but you would be missing out on a number of features, most importantly the extended range and better camera.
One might say this is the “Toyota Corolla” of consumer camera drones. It does the job which is asked of it and is reliable and a good value. The Image Quality is on a par with the Phantom 4 (plain) and exceeds that of the Mavic Pro and Spark.
With the purchase of a 2nd battery and a case/backpack you’ll be ready to go “pro” for about $700 brand new.
Note – at the time of this writing the Phantom 3 SE is not listed on Amazon, so you’ll probably be best off ordering direct from DJI at this link. Note that the downloads and specs tabs on that page will offer further details on this new budget 4K model.
Droneflyers.com received a review model of the DJI Spark Camera Drone before the official launch. We therefore have had a few months to put the model through its paces and determine the pros and cons of this ultra-portable quadcopter. Note that we have our initial review in this article as well as a number of Spark videos at our youtube channel. These may answer many of your questions, however the below is a summary of our thoughts at the present time. We will present most of the benefits and features in the beginning of the article and list out the major “cons” (what it doesn’t do, etc.) at the end.
What is Spark and who is it for?
The DJI Spark is the first mass-market ultra-portable drone that still has most of the features of the larger and heavier models. These include a camera gimbal, front and bottom sensors, dual GPS, FPV, an advanced App and an array of photographic and other options. Up until the Spark, the closest model to this ideal was the Parrot BeBop 2 – which has many of the above features, but lacks a gimbal (mechanical camera stabilizer) – instead using Electronic Image Stabilization to remove vibrations and other unwanted movement from the video(s). Most experts will agree that the mechanical (Spark) camera gimbal results in better overall video than EIS.
The DJI Spark is available with or without an option R/C controller. When purchased without the R/C controller, the range is limited and the model must be controlled using “virtual sticks” which are on the screen. Those who have no experience with either virtual or real “sticks” will likely need a lot of practice (and reading) to become familiar with operating the Spark via Mobile Device. Still, in our opinion, the Spark represents a truly useable camera drone/mobile device combo….something that we feel is lacking with most earlier models.
Adding the R/C controller makes the Spark a much more capable device – extending the range, the control “feel” and other options enough to make it a totally different experience. The R/C controller also features a “Sport” mode – which turns the normally tame Spark into a racer/FPV model that you’ll enjoy flying around the local fields. It can also integrate with the DJI Googles – giving you the full FPV experience (our DJI goggle review is here). [Read more…]
The advances in consumer Camera Drones have come quite quickly, outpacing similar technologies such as smart phones, computers and flat screen TV’s. As one example, an iPhone 3 in 2009 sold for a similar price as an iPhone 6 in 2016 (when inflation is considered). Of course, the newer iPhones are much more powerful and capable due to increased processing power.
When it comes to consumer camera drones, the price/performance (value) evolution is much more drastic. As an example, we will use the first Phantom/Gimbal combination to illustrate the point.
Mid-2013 Consumer Camera Drone Example
The first models of the Phantom (Phantom 1) were followed by an optional gimbal (stabilizer) – designed for the GoPro Hero 3 models. The gimbal was named “Zenmuse H3-2D” the “2D” meaning it was a 2-Axis gimbal. The Gimbal sold for $700 US, however existing Phantom owners also had to buy a PMU (power management unit) as well as the GoPro 3 Camera. A basic unit would therefore be:
$650 Phantom 1
$780 – Gimbal with PMU
$400+ – GoPro Hero 3
This setup required installation and tuning – the Phantom had to be opened up to install the wires and the PMU. Having this done by a dealer…plus a couple extra batteries, would bring the minimum price up to approx. 2K. [Read more…]
Note – we are adding a number of videos on our youtube channel. Most are embedded in this article however the direct link is here.
We also have a “Forum Continuation Thread” where we are posting tips and hints as they are known…and where you can even ask a question and take part in the conversation. Here is the link.
DJI introduced a smaller and lighter camera quadcopter (drone) named Spark on May 24. The Event was held in Grand Central Station in New York City.
Droneflyers.com obtained a pre-production model which we will be testing and flying extensively in the weeks ahead. Here are the very basics as we know them before…and at the time of launch. Xparks should be shipping very soon (Late June, 2017)
Price: $499 for the basic unit – operated by gesture control and/or smartphone.
$699 – for a complete package with Remote Control, Case, Prop Guards, Multiple Battery Charger, etc.
The DJI Spark is a small drone that does not fold – but is smaller and lighter than the Mavic Pro. It contains a 2-axis gimbal capable of 12MP Stills and 1080 Video. The DJI Spark is positioned as a “starter” drone but I’m sure more experienced and creative pilots will be able to use it also due to its size and capabilities. If you just want to order one now – try this link at DJI. Amazon is now taking orders also for Mid-June Delivery – here is a link.
In terms of weight, here is what our little scale read:
Weight – 344 grams with battery and prop guards (12.12 oz.)
305.4 grams with battery – no prop guards – (10.77 oz.)
Battery only – 95.8 grams (3.38 oz)
Flight time is advertised as 16 minutes – this is a maximum without the prop guards, which add quite a bit of weight. Figure on 12 minutes when you are using the prop guards. True flight time (usable) is closer to 13 minutes without prop guards and 10 minutes with. The battery only takes a couple seconds to swap out, so this is not going to be a problem for the close-in work this drone is designed for.
The base unit will sell for $499 and is controlled by “gesture control” (your hands, palms, face, etc.) or a smart device and wireless communication protocol. Advanced control on the smart device is through the DJI GO 4 App and a similar interface as other DJI models – except that the “sticks” show up virtually on the screen when your fingers touch it. The Go App for Spark features a number of Intelligent Flight Modes as per the screenshot below:
Note – there are some fancy moves such as “palm launching” as well as new camera modes and controls – most designed for the “selfie” aspect of this model. For example, a pano mode is included as well as a option to have a shallow depth of field (DJI calls this “Shallowfocus”). Vertical and Horizontal models are included (Landscape and Portrait).
An R/C (Remote) will be available for the Spark – as an extra cost option. This greatly extends the range and height.
Range and Wind Resistance [Read more…]
When DJI announced the Mavic Pro, they also showed a pair of advanced FPV/VR Goggles. Unfortunately, these have not yet been available – until now! In the meantime it appears they have cut the price in 1/2 (based on original projections). The goggles are available to order for just $449.
DJI has provided us access to an early shipment of preproduction – we have now received them and are in the process of a full review. If you are interested in getting in line to order, check out the DJI order page – all of the specs are there also.
Give the price and the features, these may be the first “mass market” goggles in the camera drone world. Sure, they won’t be used by most professional racers who have customer (read that speedy) setups which fit their uses – but for everyday control and an immersive flying experience, these should do the trick!
Stay tuned…..the entire reviews will follow here as it moves along.
First, here is the owners manual. It’s nice to have – for example, I didn’t get one with my (pre-production) set, so didn’t even know how to charge the batteries!
DJI has announced a version of the Phantom 4 – like the Pro and Pro +, it features the 1″ Sony Sensor, larger lens and higher resolutions and bitrates. It is sold without the rear and side obstacle avoidance (I personally don’t use them anyway!) – the good news is that you get the top of the line camera and the other cool stuff – for less money – $1349 (bring your own device) or $1649 with the built-in Android based ChrystalSky Monitor.
Shipping NOW……you can order now at the DJI Store by using this link (info and ordering!)
DJI was kind enough to send us an evaluation (pre-release) model so we could test the new Phantom 4 Advanced + with the built-in CrystalSky Monitor.
What is CrystalSky? Simply speaking, it’s the best and brightest monitor available for consumer and prosumer level drones. DJI says it this way:
“A maximum 2000 cd/m² of brightness means the CrystalSky monitor is more than four times as bright as typical mobile devices. On-screen details are clear and sharp, and colors are vibrant, giving the quality needed to fine tune image composition. A dedicated Sunlight Readability Enhancement mode is especially designed for processing the image in real-time to ensure more comfortable viewing under bright light.
* 5.5” / 7.85” 1000 cd/m2 7.85” Ultra Bright 2000 cd/m2
Resolution: 2048×1536 (7.85’’) / 1920×1080 (5.5’’)
Let’s get back to the CrystalSky in a minute – first, we will describe the new Phantom 4 Advanced so consumers are clear about what they are getting – or not getting. At first glance the P4A looks exactly like the other Phantom 4 models. However, the advanced Sony 1″ Sensor means we can only compare it to the Phantom 4 Pro (and Pro+). We did an extensive review of the Phantom 4 Professional (without CrystalSky), which is located here.
Here are the differences between the Phantom 4 Pro and the Phantom 4 Advanced.