Radio controlled flight has always been a fascination of mine thanks to my dad always having RC planes in the house when I was a child. The thought of being able to hold a transmitter in hand and control a plane, as it flew through the air excited me and still does. This childhood love of RC flight took a backseat to many other things over the year, but after my father recently passed away, I was looking for a way to keep him in my heart and mind. Fortunately I was able to do this and pair in my love of creating interesting photographs using a radio controlled quadcopter.

photo 1Last week, I picked up a DJI Phantom. I had heard lots of good things about these little flying machines, but I was a bit skeptical. Boy do I love when I am wrong! This thing is so easy to fly it’s unbelievable. Within twenty minutes of ripping open the box, I was sending my GoPro camera hundreds of feet in the air, and looking at my childhood neighborhood through a perspective I’ve never seen. My dad would have been floored!

Getting Airborne

The way the Phantom works is pretty simple on the surface. You attach your GoPro Hero 3 to the underside of the quadcopter, plug in the battery, wait for gps signal to lock, then take off. The inclusion of a gps navigation system in the Phantom allows it to self correct in the wind, and also amazingly return to its take-off point in the event that it loses communication with the transmitter.

Once you are in the air, controlling flight is really pretty simple, and if you’ve ever even played video games, you should have no problem getting used to the controls. Taking video or photos is as simple as starting the recording or time-lapse feature on your GoPro before take-off.

photo 2

Build Quality

So far, I haven’t had any quality issues short of a few minor things. If you do get one, be very carefully with the screw holes for the landing gears as I have already stripped two of them out and will need to replace them. Another small concern I have is the joint on the transmitter antenna seems to pop loose and seems fragile to me, which I remedied with a bit of heat shrink tubing.

In my week of flying, I have inadvertently flown this thing into trees, tipped it over with the blades spinning, and had some pretty aggressive landings. The strength of this thing is incredible, and I am convinced that it would take nothing short of a full on crash to break anything important. That being said, there is a lot of high tech equipment on board so I still suggest being cautious.

Upgrades

As with most RC vehicles, there are plenty of upgrades to improve flight and video capabilities of the Phantom. If your sole purpose with this platform is to take photos, then perhaps you don’t need to do anything but fly and enjoy, but if you intend on getting butter smooth video and longer flight times, then maybe adding a gimbal and some carbon fiber props would benefit you.

In the next few months, I plan on adding a few things to my Phantom to help make an already great experience better. The things I have in mind are:

Tarot T-2D Brushless Gimbal – This piece of gear not only will steady your camera, but will also allow you to tilt it up or down mid flight, allowing for a multitude of new photo and video angle options.

DSLRPros 9″ Carbon Fiber Props – Lighter, more rigid and offering more surface area than the stock blades, these props should not only increase flight time, but also smooth out the ride considerably, which will help with video.

Futaba T8J Radio – While the factory transmitter for the Phantom works fine, Having the ability to bind a Futaba T8J will allow for a little more customization of flight and a better overall flight experience.

More To Come

So there you have it, my first look at the Phantom. Even though this platform is a little over a year old, it is still a great, affordable way to get some really interesting shots to add to your travel and adventure tool kit. As I spend more time with the device, I’ll report back with my experiences, but for now, take  look at some of the photos I’ve already captured.

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