Top positive review
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This is the best all around consumer/prosumer option out there!
on July 18, 2014
In the world of quadcopters and drones, there are many options, starting with simple toys that struggle indoors when the AC turns on, to big commercial drones that can carry 10-20 pounds or more. I find this one is the best solution at the consumer/prosumer end of the spectrum (assuming you need video recording - otherwise, look for the Phantom 2 without gimbal, without "Vision/Vision+").
The Phantom 2 both qualifies as an RC copter, or (depending on how you use it and the options you have) as a drone. There are a plethora of DJI and third party options to expand the capabilities. It supports the Naza-M system. The remote control and automated flight plotting options are only limited by your budget.
With that said, the things that make it really stand out are:
* It comes mostly pre-assembled (just charge the battery and put the props on).
* It has a built in GPS, and knows how to use it (more on this later).
* The gimbal is one of the best I've seen (and based on their higher priced pro versions).
* It is VERY easy to fly (in Phantom 2 flight control mode).
* It supports advanced flying techniques (in non-P2 flight control mode).
* It has a "return to starting point" feature that works automatically, or "manually" if you turn off the remote.
* It (for it's price and weight) is very sturdy, and will likely survive small crashes unscathed.
PEOPLE LIKELY TO *NOT* WANT THIS:
* Those who want to build their whole copter from a kit or from their own parts selections.
* Those who DONT want video capture (the Phantom 2 is cheaper without the gimbal).
* Those who have something other than the GoPro Hero 3 (won't fit this gimbal).
* Those who want something to fly indoors (do NOT fly this indoors, except perhaps at a massive stadium according to regulations - see notes below).
PEOPLE WHO THINK THEY DON'T WANT THIS, BUT PROBABLY DO:
* Those, who, due to the price, want something cheaper...
...I bought a great RC helicopter once. First flight, I crashed it and damaged it. My brother did the same with his. In total (two crashes), we could have bought another one. If you want something serious that's easy to fly, you want this, regardless of the price. If you want a stunt copter with a steep learning curve, look elsewhere.
One of the things that separates this out from other consumer copters is that it uses GPS to remember "starting point", AND for in air flight. What that means is, (1) if your remote ever loses contact, the copter will rise a number of feet (to clear potential obstacles), fly to where it was launched, wait a few seconds, then slowly land itself. It's also a handy way of controlling your first landing (if you're scared of that part) - simply turn off the remote. (2) when controlling it in "Phantom 2 mode", you can make the copter hover simply by releasing the control sticks. It uses the GPS and compass to maintain position (in all 3 dimensions). This TRULY sets it apart from other offerings, because flying it becomes easy. You can literally take off, let go of the controls, and watch it hover - even in a decent wind!!!
In Phantom 2 mode (which is where you should start, unless you've got experience with these things), there's basically no learning curve for flying this. It responds almost like a copter in a video game, with little effect from winds or gravity (remember the "hover mode" I mentioned earlier? It works on maintaining selected height when flying forward or backwards or sideways too). The most difficult thing to learn to do is land. I'll go into detail about that in a bit - or, simply read the landing instructions for the copter.
We've crashed my copter four times. Scuffed up the props (still on the first set), got it a little dirty. That's about it. Three times were on landing - if you don't do it right, the copter is likely to tip to one side and catch a propeller on the ground. The FOURTH time was with a flyer who panicked when he hit the wrong stick, and then slammed the left stick "down" from about 15-20' in the air. The copter obligingly went straight down accelerating as fast as it could, did a short bounce on the ground (sand and dirt), and flipped over. This is when we scuffed the propeller ends the worst. And covered the copter with dirt and sand. And then turned it right-side-up, and flew it back to where everyone else was. Literally. Some prop scuffs and dirt... that was the extent of the "damage". I wouldn't recommend trying that on cement, but what I can say is, we're still flying regularly, and everything is still working great.
I won't go into too much detail about available options - for no other reason than there are a ton of them. So, instead, I will give you some tips on a few, and recommend some that you might think are cool, and others that should be mandatory.
(1) MUST HAVE:
GET A CASE. No, really. Get a foam padded, specially cut out insides, case, and make sure it's designed for the P2 with gimbal and GoPro. KumbaCam on Amazon has one that will fit the unit with an FPV monitor attached to the remote. There are others as well. I got a mil-spec case that's waterproofed, and has good foam cut-outs to hold everything including the GoPro, batteries for the GoPro and the copter, chargers, extra props and more. Yes, a GOOD case will cost you $200-$250. It will also protect an investment that STARTS 4-5 times higher, and can easily end up being TEN times the cost of the case.
(2) MUST HAVE:
Spare props. Unless you're an expert. But, be careful which ones you get. Besides the obvious "get the 9443 ones" (the 9443 spells out the prop specs such as length and pitch), there's one other thing to consider - you need the highest quality props you can get. I am currently sticking with the DJI ones, and one carbon-plastic composite set that was highly reviewed (haven't seen any carbon fiber ones that aren't poorly reviewed). A bad prop can make the copter hard to control, spin off, lose grip to the motor (stops spinning properly), or break apart - all of those can contribute to a costly crash (remember how high this copter can go - a 1/4 mile drop WILL damage or destroy it).
(3) SHOULD HAVE:
Small tool kit with small hex and phillips bits - this will come in handy when you need to remove the GoPro to change a battery or such.
(4) MIGHT WANT:
LED lighting kits. Make sure you pick one that's REALLY for the Phantom 2 (there are sellers selling Phantom 1 LED kits - they work, but require soldering). Do not expect to use them to light up the outdoors. They are good for three things: (a) decoration, (b) determining copter orientation and (c) visibility. Do yourself a favor, and get one that you can set to blink - otherwise, it won't help with keeping the copter visible, or determining which direction it is pointing.
(5) MIGHT WANT:
Better landing gear. Be careful here - the plastic ones out there are being reviewed poorly when it comes to impact. But, the stock landing gear has two major flaws - (a) you can see it in the video whenever the gimbal needs to re-orient the camera left or right, and (b) your GoPro will be sitting in sand/grass/dirt (literally touching it) unless you find perfectly level ground, bring a landing pad, or land on a harder flat surface.
(6) MIGHT WANT:
Spare batteries. They aren't cheap... but flight time is only 20-25 minutes, and recharge time is roughly an hour and a half.
(7) COOL UPGRADES:
There are aftermarket motors that are more powerful and more efficient. Your copter will be able to fly faster (ummm... it can already do over 30mph), and depending on how you use them, fly longer. Inotherwords, if you push the copter hard, you can expect *less* flight time (the motors will draw more current, and your copter will fly faster than with the stock motors). If you fly more leisurely, you can expect more flight time, since the motors are more efficient than the stock motors when flying at less than stock max speeds.
(8) MIGHT REALLY WANT:
You probably want to get an FPV System (First Person View System). Yes, your GoPro can transmit wirelessly. NO, you should NOT use that feature. Turn it OFF before flight so that it does not interfere with the remote control link (which is on the same frequency). You should have a 5.8GHz system. There are a variety of options available - check the ranges, frequencies, compatibility with the ZenMuse cabling and the GoPro, and what options are easily available (such as range extenders, dual receiver antenna setups, etc).
(9) MIGHT WANT:
Waypoint system (check here and DJI's website for details). This will allow you to plot courses that the copter will fly automatically.
FULLY charge your battery before your first flight.
Familiarize yourself with the instructions on how to land. And then do it again. It's simple, but done wrong, your copter will flip over and you'll damage your props.
(In Phantom 2 control mode) basically, hover it over your landing area, let go of the right stick entirely, and slowly and *slightly* depress the left stick towards you (towards the "down" position), slowly bringing your copter down. As soon as it touches the ground, pull the stick all the way "down" and then pull both sticks to the outside bottom corners to spin down the motors. If you just let go of the stick, the copter is likely to spin up the motors slightly and tip.
You REALLY SHOULD (a) calibrate the compass (follow instructions, very simple thing to do and takes a few seconds) when it blinks that it needs compass calibration, and (b) ALWAYS wait for a GPS signal before flying (unless you like your copter spiraling randomly).
IF YOU PANIC at any time during a flight, you can (1) let go of the right stick and slam the left stick upwards (away from you) to give you some altitude to figure out what to do, or (pending imminent disaster from doing such, like crashing into something) turn off the remote, and the copter will fly itself back to where you started.
Do NOT launch your copter from close to a cliff, body of water, titled surface, etc. You should always launch from at least 20' away from such, just in case you need to (or the copter chooses to) use the "automated return to launch point" feature. Like with any GPS devices, the copter may land 10-20' off the original location. If a lake is 5' away, you might have to go fishing.
Do NOT fly the copter in over 25mph winds. And in any winds greater than 12-15mph, expect (a) it to be more difficult to control, (b) it to use a lot more power trying to maintain position, and (c) landings to be more difficult.
Do NOT turn on the copter before you turn on the GoPro. Once you turn on the copter, the gimbal activates. It was like watching a comedy, watching me try to orient the copter so I could press the GoPro buttons, with the gimbal repeatedly moving the GoPro to keep it level.
This is an important tip from others (for the "copter randomly flies away once turned on" issue)... I have been reading tips everywhere that say, in this case only, to ignore the instructions... (1) turn on the remote FIRST, (2) THEN turn on the copter (opposite order of the instructions), that way the copter finds the remote quickly. I'd add that one should keep the remote closest to the copter (closest out of any other such remotes around). I don't know if it alleviates the problem, but I *DO* know it doesn't hurt.
Do NOT fly it indoors, unless in a big area where it is legal to do so (like a massive stadium). If you DO find a massive stadium where it's legal to fly such things, BE AWARE that the GPS is unlikely to get a signal, and you'll be manually controlling a lot more of the flight characteristics, since it will no longer be able to (among other things) accurately auto-hover, hold height automatically, or auto land from where it took off.
(10) THE GIMBAL:
There's a little lever on the bottom of the remote that controls the gimbal's tilt angle. Just in case you (like me) are too lazy to download and read the instructions. All other movements of the gimbal are controlled by it (the gimbal), to provide camera stability - and wow it does it great!!!
All in all, it's the easiest to fly aerial RC thing I've owned. It's sturdy. It handles all the "dirty work" (holding location, etc) yet will allow full manual in other flight modes (for those experts out there), has great battery life compared to the competitors, is very durable, and has a lot of options and upgrades available.
I'd highly recommend this to any multi-rotor enthusiast.