Monday, August 4, 2014

Ground Control

Exploring aerial photography with DJI’s Phantom 2 Vision+
Text & Photography By Ryan Noll Published in Shooting
Ground Control
Drones are a hot-button topic. It seems every few days there's a new story considering the implications, good or bad, of aerial photography and videography, not to mention the contentious debate pertaining to the legality of using them commercially. But, really, with so much chatter about drone use, what's it actually like to fly one of these things in the first place? More specifically, what's the experience like for someone with little to no experience using a remote-controlled aircraft?

To find out, I did what any self-respecting technophile would do. I hit the web, looking for an unmanned flying vehicle (UAV) that's easy to use and provides acceptable image quality for capturing sports, landscapes and other outdoor events. After countless hours watching sample videos and tutorials on YouTube and reading tech spec reviews on as many blogs, I settled on the latest model from the increasingly popular DJI, the Phantom 2 Vision+ (P2VP).

The P2VP ($1,299, with two batteries) is DJI's newest and most user-friendly quadcopter, to date, sporting a four-blade design with a built-in camera and camera gimbal. If you'd prefer a model with a GoPro mount instead of the built-in camera, that's available, too. I wanted the simplest experience I could find, and the built-in camera comes with a handful of advantages I couldn't pass up.


Likely, you're not a professional remote-control hobbyist. I'm not, either, so I'll spare you a heavy technical explanation on how the technology inherent in the P2VP actually works. All you need to know is that the aircraft connects to multiple GPS satellites, much in the same way your cell phone does. This enables the device not only to fly with stability in the wind, it also means the aircraft can identify where it left the ground, how far it is from the controller and—in the instance you lose sight of your aircraft or it veers too far from you—it will return to the point it left the ground automatically. For a newbie, this never-lost insurance certainly makes flying a little less nerve-wracking.

The controller features two sticks that resemble the types of controls found on most remote-controlled cars and toys. Now, here comes the cool part. The controller is also equipped with a WiFi transmitter, which syncs not only with the aircraft, but also my smartphone. Through the DJI Vision app, I was able to turn my smartphone into a first-person-view (FPV) monitor, which not only showed me what the camera sees in real time (there's about a second or so of lag), but also flight data such as height, speed and direction. Additionally, it serves as a means for selecting different recording modes, adjusting the camera and so on—all of which could be adjusted mid-flight, if need be.

As I said, I wanted the simplest drone I could find, and using FPV is possible if you'd rather use a GoPro camera, but that requires some serious electronic work and a bunch of additional hardware. With the P2VP, it's a cinch. Granted, I was leery to use my phone as a monitor, at first, expecting the performance to be a bit wonky and unstable. My assumptions were wrong. The app and my phone worked great, and I was able to see firsthand what my aircraft could see, despite being up to 1,200 yards away.

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