My first flight in Thailand with a Phantom 2 Vision Quadcopter – 22nd November 2013
For quite a few years now I have been wanting to buy some kind of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in order to take pictures and videos from high up. But, up until recently, they have been both expensive and difficult to maintain. The new generation of quadcopters have changed all of that making the drones more affordable for the average person. After doing some research and talking to some people, I decided to go for the DJI Phantom Aerial UAV Drone Quadcopter. Everyone was saying that the Phantom is much easier to use than other drones and so ideal for novices like myself. However, while researching where to buy, I found out that the DJI Phantom 2 Vision Quadcopter had just come out.
For Phantom 1 you need to attach a GoPro (not included). However, the Phantom 2 comes with it’s own mounted 14MP camera with 1080p HD video recording on a micro SD card. Usually it’s not a good idea to buy a drone with it’s own camera, but the reviews I saw on the Internet last week looked good. But, what swayed me to buy the Phantom 2 instead of the older model is that the battery life has now been extended to 25 minutes AND the pictures are live-streamed to your smartphone. So you can control tilt and pan, exposures and also take pictures or video.
I first looked into buying in Singapore as I have a friend coming to visit soon. But then I found a shop in Bangkok called Hobby Thai that stocked a wide range of drones including the latest Phantom. They had reduced the first Phantom down to 15,800 Baht and the new one that I just bought is being sold at 38,400 Baht. That is $1,206. If you check amazon, their full price is $1,399 and reduced price is $1,208. So, slightly cheaper here in Thailand. I haven’t found any other outlet in Thailand selling the Phantom 2 yet, but you might be able to find it cheaper elsewhere.
I bought the quadcopter last night and charged the batteries as soon as I got home. One for the quadcopter and one for the WiFi extender. The remote control takes normal AA batteries. It only took an hour or so to charge the big quadcopter battery and a bit longer for the WiFi extender. This morning I took the quadcopter out of the box, put on the props, turned everything on, connected my smartphone WiFi to the quadcopters hotspot and then flew it. This was my first ever flight of anything like this. These are also pictures of my first flight. I then tweeted the pictures a few minutes later from the location using the hashtag #ThaiDrone.
My Experience of Flying a Phantom Vision Drone - 8 January 2014
It has been nearly two months now since I bought a DJI Phantom 2 Vision Quadcopter in Thailand. I was very busy during the first month and so I didn’t really get much chance to fly it. But I have been away on holiday in the UK over the last few weeks and so had more time to practice flying. It’s certainly an easy drone to fly, even for a beginner like myself. I was flying it almost straight out of the box without even reading the manual properly. I didn’t crash it that first day, but a few crashes later persuaded me that I should take a step back and learn how to fly it properly.
Specifications from the manufacture:
- Integrated 14MP camera with 1080p HD video recording on a micro SD card and live first-person view (FPV) Wi-Fi streaming of video and telemetry to the free Vision app for iOS or Android
- Included Wi-Fi extender allows live remote video streaming from up to 980 feet away
- The integrated camera tilt motor will automatically compensate for the Phantom’s single-axis motion by tilting the camera for smoother video, and it’s manually controllable via the Vision app
- Fly up to 25 minutes on a single charge using the included 5,200-mAh lithium polymer (LiPo) battery that’s easily removable and contains intelligent circuitry and a charge-remaining indicator built-in
- The Phantom 2 Vision also includes all the features you love from the original Phantom, with an included camera instead of a GoPro mount
When you first come to fly the Phantom, it is highly recommended that you do so in an open area such as a field or a park. Certainly not near any trees or buildings. It should also be a relatively calm day with no gusts of wind. Later, once you have enough experience, you should be able to launch and land the drone near trees even in windy conditions. It should also be noted that the blades on this drone can seriously hurt or even kill someone if it hits them in the face or drops out of the sky. So, make sure you get flying experience before flying near crowds.
When you fly the drone for the first time you have to calibrate the compass which is quite simple. You shouldn’t need to do it again. When you are ready to fly there are four devices you have to power up and connect. The remote controller and the WiFi Extender, the drone itself and of course your smartphone. It will take a minute or so to connect them to the same WiFi network and also for the drone to connect with satellites overhead. Don’t rush this. Take the time to make sure everything is working fine and that the camera can tilt up and down. Once you get the green lights on the drone you are good to go.
In preference you need to have a flat service in order to send the drone up and down safely. You can do this on a field with short grass. But a few times the drone has tilted backwards and the blades dug into the ground which brought it to an automatic stop. To overcome this, you can use a flat board to put on the ground like a helipad. This will make it easier for landing too if the grass is long or wet. Alternatively, you can just get someone to help launch the drone. All they need to do is hold it above their head and release as it starts to rise. And when it comes back down they can just catch it. Just tell them not to lower it until the propellers have stopped spinning!
One of the first things that I did was to see how far it could fly. You definitely need to do this in an open area until you gain more confidence. The height the drone will fly depends a lot on atmospheric conditions. Some of my early flights were only 140 meters straight up. But I have also done 280 meters. If you are starting to go out of range you will get a warning on your smartphone. You can choose to ignore this but you should now proceed with caution. However, once it does fly out of range, all is not lost. As long as you got the green light before take off, the drone will now automatically head for home.
The satellites that it uses to do this are not military grade and so it won’t come back to exactly the same spot. Which is why you need to practice first in an open field until you gain competence. You don’t actually need to wait for the drone to return all the way home as you can flick the S1 switch on the remote controller to regain control as soon as it comes back in range. You can then, in theory, send it back up again to take some more pictures and video. I think it is a good tip that if you are going to send it up really high, that it goes straight above your head. You don’t won’t a tree or building between you and the drone if it is returning home.
The battery in Phantom 1 lasted only 10 minutes. With this new drone it can go up until 25 minutes. However, you do need to be careful once it starts to go below 30% as it might start to drift more than normal. This is when you need flying experience to bring it down safely. Another problem I have had a couple of times is when the drone lost touch with the satellites. It uses these to hover. If you lose satellite coverage then it will drift. This happened to me on an early flight and I panicked and tried to fly it left instead of right and it crashed into a building and fell 15 meters to the ground. Luckily the repairs weren’t that expensive. About 900 Baht for a receiver and 500 Baht for the labour.
I don’t have any experience of flying any other drones so I cannot do any comparisons for you. But, I will tell you a few things that I found cool. Firstly, it is very easy to fly the drone and then take your hands off the controls to concentrate on the smartphone. In theory it will just hover in the same place. But a gust of wind might blow it away so do keep one eye on it. The next coolest thing is that the pictures from the camera on the drone are streamed live to your smartphone. There is no noticeable time lag. So, when you see a great shot you just hit the shutter button or take a video. You use the remote controller to pan left and right and the smartphone to tilt up and down.
The remote controller, which can hang around your neck, also has a clip for your smartphone. However, a second person could hold this in their hand to take the pictures while you fly the drone. I have also used an iPad this way. However, you have to stick to each other like glue otherwise you will lose the connection. But the connection between the remote controller and the droid can go as far as 300 meters thanks to the WiFi Repeater. The smartphone app allows you to do many things including changing exposure, white balance, ISO setting or even switch between JPEG and RAW.
The smartphone app also gives you real time flight data such as altitude, distance and flight speed. There is also a cool flight radar which is really handy if you lose sight of the drone. I have panicked a few times when It had gone so high I couldn’t find it straight away. The radar tells you in which direction the drone is and how far away. The radar also tells you which way it is facing which is useful when it comes to turning it different directions. Another cool thing, though I haven’t actually done this yet, is to post the pictures onto social media from within the app while you are still flying. However, to do this, you need to disconnect your WiFi & change to 3G. You can still fly the drone, you just won’t be able to see any live pictures.
From experience now, I find it useful to bring the drone back down to check the pictures before moving onto another location. It is possible you might see something on the bigger screen that you hadn’t spotted before on the small iPhone screen and want to send it up again. So, what I do is take the micro memory card out of the camera, insert it into a card reader for my iPad and transfer it across. I can then get to see much larger pictures in which to check if I need to take any more. If need be, I can then send pictures from my iPad onto social media only a few minutes after the drone has landed. If you don’t have a connector, you can use WiFi between the drone and your iPhone/iPad to transfer the pictures. But, this will take longer.
Overall, I am very happy with this drone. I am really glad this came out at the same time as I was nearly about to buy the Phantom 1. The extra battery length is really beneficial, plus being able to see and control the live pictures from the drone’s camera is great. However, one advantage of Phantom 1 is that you can use a GoPro camera. And once a new GoPro comes out, you can just switch to the latest version for better quality. That is something you cannot do with a camera that is built in. Having said that, the quality is just fine from what I have seen so far. Of course, it is not up to the quality of a DSLR camera, but it is good enough for what I am using it for.
Ever since I started posting my drone pictures on social media, on Twitter using@RichardBarrow and the hashtag #ThaiDrone and on my personal Facebook Profile, there has been a lot of comments from people who said that they are keen to buy this toy. But, that’s the problem. It’s not really a toy. Or, if it is, it’s an expensive one. You might find it fun to start with by taking pictures around your house and that of your friends, but how soon before you get bored with that? For myself, it has opened up a whole new area of interest. I am now revisiting tourists attractions around the country and documenting them on my new website Thailand from Above.
For those who are interested, I bought the drone at Hobby Thai in Ramkhamhaeng in Bangkok. They also do repairs which can be handy. It cost me 38,400 Baht which is comparable to the price on amazon.com. There are probably other places in Bangkok that also sell them so shop around first. I have heard that there will be an update to the app soon that will allow you to plot your route in advance on a map. As the camera can easily detach, it might also be possible in the future to upgrade the camera or change it to a different kind of payload. I have already bought myself a spare battery though they are really expensive. Recharging only takes 90 minutes.
I am very pleased with this drone and will be taking it on the road with me on future trips. Bookmark www.ThailandFromAbove.com to see all the pictures I have so far. Many more to come this year.