Reviews

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On 13th of April 2015, 3D Robotics officially announced “Solo”,  their latest and most sophisticated drone designed specifically to be flown with a GoPro.

Promising twentyfive minutes of flight time and a range of up to half a mile, the Solo is a first step in realizing the true potential of UAVs.

We set out a year ago with the promise of not just creating the best drone, but the best overall aerial filmmaking experience imaginable.

Solo will be available in over 2,000 retail locations worldwide starting in May in the U.S., and in June and July globally. In the U.S., Solo will launch at Best Buy, B&H, Samy’s Camera, Sport Chalet and many other premiere camera and electronics retailers. Throughout June and July, Solo will become available in 3DR-authorized premium retailers around the world, including Boulanger in France, Best Buy and London Drugs in Canada, Currys and Wex Camera in the U.K., Harvey Norman in Australia and Virgin Megastore and Dubai Duty Free in the U.A.E. Preorders for Solo will begin immediately.

Computers in the Air

The solo is first- ever consumer drone run by two full blown computers. One of those sits on the drone itself, while a second one is situated in the controler.

Quite a bit of this power is used to stabilize the drone during flight, security, and pure precision control.

Most of this is used for the Solo’s camera automation. And this is where it shines.

Camera Control

There is a standard “follow me” mode, but also a “cable mode” that let’s you draw a line on your phone’s screen, and the Solo will fly along exactly that line while recording video.  The video taken on that flight can be controlled even more.

The drone can memorize a specific pan and tilt on each end point and will control the camera to transition between those along the path.

Of course, manual control is possible.

Pick any target and select “Orbit,” lets the Solo drone fly in a perfect circle, while keeping camera focused on your subject the whole time.

Or you can feel like Bruce Willis using the selfie mode. Once activated the camera will spot on you and then fly away, action-movie-style.

Solo as a platform

While the computers in the Solo make flying and filmning a lot easier, the next step for 3DR is to opening up to tinkering. This opening up takes the form of DroneKit, a platform for developers, made available to everyone interested.

While this move might not be quite selfless – who knows what cool features will be added by these enthusiasts? – having open access to a platform like this is a tremendous step.

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The camera

Different from the new Phantom 3, the solo does not come with its own camera. Instead, 3D Robotics has gone into a very close cooperation with goPro.

The result is a very fine control over any goPro camera used with the drone.

Camera settings can be changed in-flight and the company touts very fine accuracy in pan and tilt for the gimbal.

It will also allow you to upgrade the camera without losing the drone.

Other features

Smart Battery

As already presented by DJI for the Phantom 3 drone, 3D robotics is upgrading their battery technology. Called the “Solo Smart Battery”, the battery let’s you know how much power it has left and can calculate the time it needs to return to safety.

The Solo Gimbal

This is where the cooperation with GoPro becomes apparent. This is the first gimbal capable of fully controlling the GoPro. Solo gives you the exclusive ability to start and stop recording video while in flight, which means that when you land you have only the shots that you wanted to take; when it comes time to edit you now have “fat free” footage, instead of dealing with huge, cumbersome files. You can also snap photos, change FOV, FPS and exposure compensation and much more—through Solo’s mobile app at long range, or dedicated buttons on the controller. The 3-axis Solo Gimbal stabilizes the camera to within 0.1 degrees of pointing accuracy and charges the GoPro so your battery doesn’t die during flight. Combined with Solo’s controller you get fine-grain tilt control, including angle presets and instant speed adjustment; or you can just create a Smart Shot, hit “play,” and Solo’s computer will fully control the gimbal for the perfect shot. The Solo Gimbal delivers all of these advanced capabilities while providing a painless and tool-free method of installing and removing the GoPro. The Solo Gimbal is sold separately for $399.

Our verdict

When the press release first hit, the immediate reaction was that 3DR is playing catch up with DJI.

After going over all the features of the Solo and hearing of the open platform initiative, this does not sound like trying to catch up anymore.

The Phantom and all of DJI have a serious competitor on their hands.

The price is steeper, though, with a Gimbal equipped drone clocking in at 1400USD, without a camera.

However, for serious drone film makers, this seems like the drone to get.

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Drones with 4K cameras are getting into an affordable price range. DJI just announced two new models in its “Phantom” series, the Phantom 3 Advanced and the Phantom 3 Professional.

Both drones can take 4K video capture with an attached and non-removable camera.

Start in May

From May 15th, the drones will retail for 1.259USD – DJI Phantom 3 Professional, and 999 USD – DJI Phantom 3 Advanced. With these prices, they can be considered to be part of the medium price segment, but have better than average price to value ratio.

Looking at the new quadcopters, not much has changed in their design. These are very recognizable Phantom drones, and the two models do not differ in anything but the color of the stripes on the arms.

When you break down the differences between the Professional and Advanced model, it all boils down to the camera.

The camera is the largest difference between the Phantom 3 Professional and the Phantom 3 Advanced. The Phantom 3 Professional is capable of shooting dramatic 4K video at up to 30 frames per second, and the Phantom 3 Advanced is effective at shooting at resolutions up to 1080p60. Both versions shoot at 12 megapixel photographs.

The other difference of note is the Intelligent Flight Battery charger.

The Phantom 3 Advanced comes with a 57-watt charging unit, and the Phantom 3 Professional comes with a 100-watt charger, which allows for shorter charging times.

The drones feel as well built as before. A drop from 200ft or above will probably result in a dead Phantom, while the odd bump into a wall or small crashes won’t faze it. The rotor blades are easily replaceable if you do snap a few – as you will.

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The Camera in Depth

As stated in the introduciton, the camera had a bunch of significant upgrades. The sensor has been changed from the previous models, helping to improve dynamic range in the footage. This results in more balanced pictures when facing bright skies, which was something of an issue before. Although DJI initially boasted a larger sensor, both models have 1/2.3-inch sensors — the same size seen on DJI’s pricier Inspire 1 and the previous generation Phantom 2 Vision+.

The professional model is of course its ability to shoot video in Ultra HD 4K resolution. It can do this at frame rates of 23, 24 or 30 frames per second too, so you’ll still get smooth shots. The benefit of 4K footage isn’t just to look crisp on a 4K monitor, it also gives you a lot of room to crop into the frame, while still maintaining full HD quality or better.

The lens on the camera has a 90-degree field of view, which is narrower than the previous version. That may seem a step down, but it’s actually for a very good reason. The extreme wide angles previously used caused distortion of the image, particularly at the corners, meaning a lot of digital correction had to be used, if the footage was for a professional purpose. The smaller field of view will help keep distortion down and require less, if any, post processing.

The camera is mounted on a three-axis stabilising gimbal which automatically corrects for any slight movements of the drone, and smoothes out vibrations from the rotors. End result is considerably smoother footage, without the unpleasant jerks and bumps seen from drones that don’t use a gimbal for stabilisation – including DJI’s very own Phantom 2.

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Other features

While the camera is the outstanding feature of the new Phantom 3, there are some other nice features packed into this drone.

Integrated FPV (First Person View)

FPV integrates their very own “Lightbridge” System. With this Video-Downlink system, imagery up to 720p resolution can be streamed to a smartphone or tablet. According to DJI, with no noticeable lack up to 1.6 kilometers. Buying additional FPV components is a thing of the past.

Vision Positioning System

Vision-Positioning-SystemLocated right behind the camera, pointing downwards are two sensors to recognize ground patterns. These allow the drone to stabilize in-air and make flying indoors, as well as precise positioning a breeze.

Youtube Livestreaming and Social Media

Movie can be streamed directly via the Pilot App and published in real-time. Opening a great opportunity for live streaming of events for journalists.

Pictures can be sent to social networks such as facebook, instagram, or skypixel.

The app

dji-pilot-appThe DJI Pilot App is available for iOS and Android. You can use a tablet or phone to output realtime video and information from the drone.

 

You also have the choice to use the HDMI port on the controler to attach an HD screen or other device.

The available information in the app is:

  • Current height
  • Distance to the controller
  • Remaining battery capacity
  • Calculated time to return home

The new function DHP – for “Dynamic Home Point” – allows the drone to return to the pilot, even if the pilot is moving away from the starting point. A GPS sensor in the controller allows for this to work.

There is also a map view as well as a “flight simulator” which allows you to train your piloting skills prior to using your actual, pricey drone.

The app also allows control of the camera in-flight.

Our Verdict

The phantom 3 is a package that brings the best DJI and any other drone manufacturer have to offer at an affordable price.

The ease of use of their previous models has been kept and improved.

The addition of a 4K mode on the pro, the improved indoor flying capabilities as well as the better image sensors make this a very good package for drone filmmakers, journalists and quadscopter enthusiasts alike.