Best Selling Camera Drones on Amazon – December, 2016

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In approx. order of USA sales rank. # given afterwards is rank in Camera and Photo (or approx. calculated rank). Our commentary is given below this list.

Phantom 3 Standard – #59
Mavic Pro – #90
Phantom 4 – #200
Phantom 3 Pro – #260
Autel X-Star Premium – #300
Parrot BeBop 2 FPV – #350
Phantom 3 Advanced #500
Yuneec Typhoon H – #900
Yuneec Q500 4K – #1600

Parrot finally seems to have a winner with their BeBop FPV package – this features a smaller R/C controller as well as a headset to mount a smartphone into. Experts, including ourselves, have been telling Parrot for YEARS to forget about the “app control” and use a real R/C remote. It seems as if they have finally listened and consumers are thanking them for it.

While the Phantom 3 Standard is still the largest seller, the Mavic Pro and the Phantom 4 rank shows that consumers will spend more money (and even wait a month or two – in the case of the Mavic) for an advanced and feature-laden model.

Autel remains on the list largely due to their price reduction – the X-Star Premium introduced last May at $1199 is now $699, allowing some consumers to choose it over similar priced Phantom models.

Yuneec again lags the field – although the more expensive model H is selling better than their older Q model. Yuneec has also lowered their prices as much as $500 on the H (with RealSense) in order to stimulate sales.

Although it is impossible to accurately calculate exact market share – indications are that DJI still holds a solid 75-80% of the consumer level (less than $1500) stabilized camera drone market. Their 2016/2017 unit sales are likely to be in the millions (1.5 to 2.5 million units) while many of the other makers are measuring in 10’s of thousands or – at most – 100K to 200K units a year.

These numbers do not include toy models which are selling by the millions.
Rankings can vary daily due to special sales and general ups and downs of pricing and demand. However, many of these models have been Best Sellers for many months indicating a high degree of consumer acceptance.

Phantom 4 Professional – 20 Megapixel Prosumer Drone – First Look

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Introduction

DJI’s Phantom line is well known as the standard for consumer level Camera Drones. In our recent “Slugfest” of popular 2016 models we gave it our highest rating – an opinion shared by most experts. However, consumer-level ($400-$1200) Camera Drones have some limitations, especially when it comes to Photo and Video quality. Drones at this price level are closer to “smartphone quality” than the level of what many expect from fancier “prosumer” mirrorless cameras. As an example, my Sony RX-100 takes stunning pictures and videos – so good that many Aerial Photographers have attempted strapping them to drones to get these high quality images from aloft!

DJI has now, in effect, put the Sony RX-100 level imaging into the new Phantom 4 Professional (P4P) model – ($1499) providing an unheard of level of Aerial Photography for a price that won’t break the bank.

Until today, the pilot who needed better quality than the Phantom 4 had to step WAY up in price and size to the DJI Inspire line with the X5 Camera ($3400 plus extra batteries). With the release of the P4P, the price for a somewhat similar setup has now been cut in 1/2 or more – and cut down in size to allow for easier portability.
(Note – DJI also announced a new Inspire 2 today (starting at $2999) – see this link for details)

Larger Camera and Side Obstacle Avoidance System shown above

Larger Camera and Side Obstacle Avoidance System shown above

Sensors, Bitrate and Quality

Hang on, my dear novice friends! You are about to learn something! In general the quality of a video depends on the camera sensor size and type, the lens – AND – even more – by the ability (speed, bitrate) that the camera sensor can send those images into memory (the sd card). After all, 4K video at 30fps (30 frames per second) is a LOT of data (memory, bits and bytes).  All things being equal, the larger the sensor and the faster the rate…the better the potential quality of the final image and/or video. Technology also plays a role here – smaller sensors have gotten better and good results can be gotten from these new marvels by various tuning of both hardware and software.

The bitrate of a video camera is the speed at which it writes data to a storage device (usually an SD or MicroSD card). This is expressed in Mbps or MBits/s – both meaning “millions of bits (1’s or 0’s) per second. Another way to think of it is similar to your internet connection…often called “bandwidth”. This expresses how quickly data can download and upload from the internet to your computer.

Most consumer-level Camera Drones use bitrates of 20-50 Mbps with the Phantom 4 (plain) topping out at 60. Sports cameras such as the GoPro Hero are also in the range of 45-60 Mbps. All of these cameras shoot still photos in the range of 12MP – or 4000 x 3000 resolution.

In contrast, the new P4P features a video bitrate of up to 100 Mbps and a still photo resolution of 20MP. It uses a larger sensor – the well-known Sony Exmor 1″. This sensor is 4X the size (116mm vs. 29mm) of the 1/2.3 sensor used in most other consumer drones (as well as smartphones and GoPro cameras). This means more light hitting the sensor – and a better image quality. The combination of a better sensor and higher bitrate takes the Phantom 4 Pro to another level.

 

Size difference (not to scale) of the new larger P4P sensor as compared to P4 and others.

Size difference (not to scale) of the new larger P4P sensor as compared to P4 and others.

The Basics of the Machine

The improvements in the camera are the primary reason that that Phantom 4 Pro will become an Object of Desire for many photographers. However, DJI added a LOT more to the P4P – making it the most advanced drone – by far – in its class. Here are some of the improvements over the P4:
Longer range – now up to 4.3 miles (7KM).
Longer flight times – up to 30 minutes
Improved Computer Vision System rear and front- more speed, more range, etc.
New TOF Sensing System – Infrared Obstacle Avoidance on left and right side of Phantom
Improved Intelligent Flight Modes and Options!

Note: The physical size and weight are quite similar to the standard Phantom 4.
The camera is slightly larger – but if you didn’t already know this it would be hard for the average person to discern.

P4P Camera (bottom) vs P4 Camera (top)

P4P Camera (bottom) vs P4 Camera (top)

Another difference is the choice of Remote (R/C controllers). DJI offers a package with a built-in device/screen (Android) for those who desire such a setup. This Remote also features a standard HDMI output as well as a GPS, microphone and speaker capabilities. They also offer a more standard R/C controller which accepts a phone or tablet of your choice. The inclusion of a screen is a first for a DJI product and is very important to certain buyers for various reasons.  [Read more…]

Fall 2016 Camera Drone Slugfest – Karma vs. Mavic vs. Phantom 3 & 4 vs. Yuneec

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Fall 2016 Camera Drone Slugfest – GoPro Karma vs. Mavic Pro vs. Phantom 3 & 4 vs. Yuneec

With the recent introduction of the DJI Mavic Pro and GoPro Karma, the 2016 Fall and Holiday Season lineup of consumer camera drones has taken shape. The internet chatter, as usual, has built to a crescendo as to “which is the best drone?” and “which company will bury the others?“. We think it’s time for Dronflyers.com to step into the ring as referee and decide which models are contenders for the crown and which should perhaps be sent back to the gym for some additional work. Put another way – which drone should you buy if you want to have one (or gift one) in the 2016 Holiday season?

Are You Serious?

Two small models, both based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon drone platform, have hit the market recently. These are the Yuneec Breeze and the Zerotech Dobby. Both are quite small and operated from your smartphone. A similar drone, the Wingsland S6, is also slated for release soon. These models – with the needed extra batteries and case – will cost approx. $500. [Read more…]

10 Best Quadcopters and drones for 2016

Phantom 4

UPDATED December, 2016 – We update regularly as new products are released and reviewed.
If you are looking for a ($400-$1500) “stabilized camera drone with GPS” – we have another article comparing the popular 2016/2017 models here.

Here are some best bets for various drones and quadcopters in 2016.

Please note that some of these are not for beginners! Rather they are upgrades after you’ve learned the basics of flying and know exactly what features you desire. Quads best for beginners are marked with an *

We do not suggest the very tiny “nano” thumb size quadcopters for learning or beginners! Here is why.

We currently DO NOT recommend the following brands – 3D Robotics, Walkera, OnagoFly, GoPro. Also, we have had poor luck with Parrot models in the past – however, we are going to look at more current models soon to see if reliability has changed. Also, be wary of ANY crowdfunded (Kickstarter, etc.) models.

Be sure to pick up at least one extra battery and any spares you may want to have on hand (motors, etc.)

Under $100

Micro-Sized – generally the size of your open hand including the propellers

*Hubsan X4 H107L – updated version of the most popular micro- beginners should purchase the option prop guard.

Banggood Link (worldwide and/or US Shipping).

*Dromida Verso – built in prop guards and a good reputation

We’ve recently flown the JJRC 1000 and are very impressed by it – it’s a perfect size and reasonable price. Here is a banggood US link to the model. Note – it’s possible that some of the smaller batteries you have for other micro machines will fit it – also, it can sometimes be found without the TX – as it can be flown with many existing WL Toys TX models (we had one that worked with it, so found the bare machine for $15).

JJRC 1000

JJRC 1000

Mini-Sized – about 10 inches square – lightweight
*Syma X5 – Inexpensive, reliable, good parts and knowledge availability (lots of owners!) – the model with a X5c designation includes a camera.
Amazon Link to Syma X5Amazon Link to Syma X5c

Syma has recently introduced the X 11 – which is sized right in-between a micro and a mini. We did a review on it and really enjoyed it, so we feel comfortable suggesting it for a 1st or 2nd quadcopter.

*Dromida Ominus – Another advanced toy grade quadcopter which is getting very good reviews! This is somewhat similar to the WL Toys v636, but perhaps a step up in total quality.
Link to Dromida Ominus on Amazon – ON SALE FOR ONLY $29.99 (Dec. 1)

*Syma X8C Venture
This is a larger “toy grade” units which has become quite popular due to it’s reliability and larger payload capability. It comes with a camera that is of poor quality – but still is good for initial learning. The camera can be easily removed and replaced with something of much higher quality like the RunCam or Mobius. This allows decent aerial photography for about $150 total.
The larger size means this is an outdoor-only machine.
Amazon Link to Syma X8C Venture

Syma X8C Venture

Syma X8C Venture

NOTE – ALL OF THE ABOVE QUADCOPTERS USE “BRUSHED” MOTORS WHICH WILL NEED REPLACING AFTER A COUPLE HOURS OF FLIGHT. Keep in mind that a couple hours of flight can easily mean 15-30+ total flights as each flight is approx. 6- 8 minutes.

Under $200

Stepping up in price you find quadcopters with brushless motors (read about them here) which last much longer and are MUCH quicker. That can be a problem for complete beginners as the lower priced brushless models do not have GPS and RTH (automatic Return to Home if too far away).

We recently spent some time flying the XK 251 Brushless Quadcopter and feel it is a GREAT overall machine for the price. This would make a great 2nd machine…maybe for someone who got the hang of the toy machines and wanted to step up to some more exciting and skilled flying. It is very reliable and handles crashes well and can easily carry a small camera. Here is the Banggood link for worldwide purchase. Make sure you buy at least one extra battery and perhaps some spare props and prop nuts.

XK 251 Brushless Quadcopter

XK 251 Brushless Quadcopter

The HiSky HMX280 is a slightly more “active” example of this breed – here is our review and here is the link to Banggood to Purchase.

Hisky HMX260 Brushless Quadcopter

Hisky HMX260 Brushless Quadcopter

The lowest priced Brushless Quadcopter is the JJRC X1 available at this Banggood link. As of this writing it seems to be stocked for both US (direct) shipping as well as worldwide.

[Read more…]

Holiday Travelers – do not check luggage or cases with your drone batteries

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Holiday Season Reminder!

Larger Drone (and other) Lipo Batteries could bring down a plane. They contain a LOT of energy. Please – do not check luggage or cases with your drone batteries – either as regular checked baggage or as “gate check”. Doing so endangers life and property (including your own family).

The big NO in the right column of this chart says it all. You cannot check “spares” – meaning 2nd or loose batteries. It is legal (see the docs) to check a single battery installed in a consumer device.

However – keep this in mind. Many Drones are not “tested consumer devices” – and even an installed battery could be dangerous. My own preference (when I travel) is to either carry everything on or ship it ahead.

Your convenience and/or saving money is not as important as safety. These things are a matter of percentages – sooner or later (there are already records of drone battery fires on aircraft) an aircraft will be brought down.

Here is a basic link. Educate yourself about this matter and spread to other R/C hobbyists when possible. – http://bit.ly/1OO3Sub

I am posting this notice since I have recently read forum postings where pilots discuss gate checking their BIG Lipos….and no one mentions the safety aspect.

Enjoy the Holidays and Stay Safe.

FAA Basic Chart - Educate Yourself!

FAA Basic Chart – Educate Yourself!

DJI Mavic Pro may not show for the Holidays!

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The DJI Mavic Pro has proven to be the most popular Camera Drone ever, with orders outstripping any projections and DJI’s ability to make them quickly enough. The bottom line is this – if you haven’t already ordered your Mavic Pro, it probably will not be under the Yuletide Tree! Current orders (as of mid-November) are projected to ship after the New Year…this goes for major vendors such as DJI (direct), Amazon or the Apple Store.

Hope against Hope

It may be that you are able to snag one at the last minute through lesser known sources – some DJI dealers have ordered 100’s and may receive some units not already called for. Keep your eye out at BestBuy as well as other sources and you may get the prize.

Reasons for Delay

The Mavic Pro launched on Sept. 27  – with orders being taken starting on that date. Originally, shipment was slated to begin by Oct 15 – however, DJI announced that they had run about a week behind in shipping the first batches of orders. By the end of Oct. it was clear that the demand for Mavic was off-the-charts. We (Droneflyers.com) noticed that even many of the old “holdouts” who were R/C hobbyists but never purchased RTF (Ready to Fly) Camera Drones had placed their orders. Mavic Pro also quickly became the #1 best selling consumer drone on Amazon – quite a feat for a product which was not in stock!

To add to these factors, GoPro’s Karma – which some had possibly considered as a Mavic alternative, launched late and incompletely…and then was recalled. It’s safe to say that many of those holding out for Karma placed their orders for the Mavic Pro.

Numerous customers have reported ordering Mavics from more than one source! This muddies the waters even more, as they may cancel one or both orders depending on whether they are slated to ship.

Demand for drones is extremely strong this holiday season due to the FAA having finally having settled the questions of registration and commercial use. Lastly, the economy has improved in the USA – a prime market for DJIs products. [Read more…]

GoPro Shareholders lawsuits? – what did GoPro know about the Karma – and when?

Crashed GoPro Karma

A number of business stories today concern investigations of GoPro and their current problem(s) with the Karma drone. Specifically, the issues concern whether GoPro knew at the time of the recent conference call and quarterly earnings – that date and time being 11/3/2016.

On that date, poor earning were announced and the stock plunged over 20%. Soon after, the stock made up those losses…only to fall again when news of the Karma Drone Recall hit the streets.

http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20161110006563/en/INVESTOR-ALERT-Khang-Khang-LLP-Announces-Investigation

http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20161109006444/en/

Following is a discussion of the timeline as well as our opinion on this matter.

  1. A basic history of the Karma Drone is at this article on our site. The relevant portion may be the delay which was announced only weeks before a planned release in June, 2016. We have no information as to the matter(s) which caused this delay – only that the delay was last minute after a full launch and marketing campaign was organized. Note that in our article, we listed out 3 scenarios of which a recall-type event was one.
  2. The first well-known crash of the Karma Drone in the R/C (Radio Controlled) community was published on Youtube on Oct 28 – we can assume the flight happened that day or the day before. At the time of publishing, the Karma owner had written that they contacted GoPro support.
  3. After that crash, others started being reported. In addition to crashes, there were also “flyaways” – which resulted in a loss of the machine. Reports suggested that the GPS or R/C control (connection) may have been at fault, although user error is always somewhat of a possibility. Here is one example on 11/2/2016 – the user also claims to have called GoPro.
  4. In the following days more and more crashes were reported. Note – this was not a situation where they ALL crashed or even a large percentage. Many owners flew with no problems.
  5.  On Nov. 7, I tweeted to GoPro and lead Karma developer regarding the crashes – and asked that they do something about it (or look into it further).
My Tweet to GoPro

My Tweet to GoPro

The next event in this timeline was word of the recall – which we (Droneflyers.com) broke first on Nov. 8 at approx. 3PM EST. The first reactions from the R/C community were accusations that we were spreading false rumor – as both Facebook Groups (which may contain some GoPro employees or contractors) as well as direct chat to GoPro customer service denied the recall. To confirm our story, multiple parties (including myself) visited both BestBuy and the BestBuy web site. At a BestBuy in Sarasota, Florida there was no stock (just a display) and the salesperson was unable to find the machines on his computer. At a BestBuy in Tulsa, OK the manager had stock but claimed they were recalled and yanked the products from the shelf. Soon after – approx. 6-7PM EST, word was received from GoPro regarding the recall.

Our Initial Take – What they knew and when they knew it. 

Note – we are not investors in GoPro – our interest is in the entire Consumer Drone industry as well as public safety and education. We offer up the following opinions and editorial only as our own view(s) on the matter.

There have been MANY Defective Drones which fall from the Sky

I think it’s important to start with this fact. Various consumer drones, including some well-known brands, have had defects which make them fall from the sky (power loss or other complete control loss). The difference, in this case, is that these companies are not public – that is, they are not on the stock market and therefore are not subject to securities and other codes and laws.

The Defect(s) in Karma were not obvious to the layperson

Having studied the industry intensely for years I’ve developed a sense of scale about drone crash incidents – that is, how many happen vs. how many are sold and flown, and whether this represents a clear defect or problem. As part of my work I spend time closely studying the introduction of any new consumer drone – and so have followed the Karma almost hourly from launch and would have probably known if the situation was critical.

When only a couple incidents are reported it’s difficult to come to any conclusions about the causes and the solutions. It may be related to pilot error (lack of calibrations, etc.) or something as simple as not pushing the battery all the way in. Both have caused many a drone to fall from the sky.

Too Close to Call

The obvious question here is “What did GoPro know and when did they know it”. We have no insight into the earlier facts of the matter (why the initial delay, production delays, etc.) – only discovery within GoPro will answer those question.

On the matter of when it was clear that a recall or other serious event was clear to GoPro management – my opinion, based on public (forum, youtube, reports, etc.) information would be that it was likely that GoPro management didn’t yet have enough information to make the call much earlier. In fact, their recall and reaction was quite quick, especially in an industry known for lack of such (I don’t think there has ever been a recall in the consumer drone space despite MANY defective products).

GoPro is actually being praised by some in the R/C industry as well as some owners for their speedy reaction in this matter. The situation is likely complex as GoPro is under the gun from investors based on their lack of profitability and their “blue sky” forecasts – which now have almost zero chance of coming to fruition.

The good news here is that a potentially dangerous product is off-the-shelves. One beef I do have with GoPro is that, in their marketing, they seemed to intentionally deceive regarding the weight and mass of the Karma Drone. It was being sold both as portable and “ultra-compact”…descriptions which would lead (and did lead) potential buyers to consider it lightweight. In addition, GoPro does not list the total weight of the product in their specifications – rather they have put forward a figure of 1006 grams (2.2 lbs) – See the screen shot below. This weight has been repeated over and over again by (clueless) tech publications and the mainstream press – even USA Today.
screen-shot-2016-11-11-at-12-11-35-pm

Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that Karma is the heaviest consumer drone made – or very close to it – at 4.3 lbs.  GoPro is printing the weight without a battery, gimbal, props, camera…or even propellers!

Physics may show that a falling object of this weight can cause serious injury or even death…much easier than one of 1/2 the weight. Rough calculations show that 2-3 lbs can (depending on angle of hit, where it hits, etc.) injure badly while 4+ lbs can do even worse.

I implore GoPro to change these specs to reflect the honest flying weight.

Summary

As opined above, it’s not clear or even likely that GoPro knew much about potential hardware defects in the models being sold previous to the beginning of November. Prudent engineering requires careful study of user complaints and incidents to discover the root cause and understand the proper further actions required. Hopefully GoPro can locate the cause, fix it and re-release the Karma in a reasonable time frame. The current recall is “return only” and is not stated as “repair”. This is an important distinction since it gives no indication as to when, or even if, Karma will return to the shelves.

DJI Mavic Pro vs. DJI Phantom 4 (and others) – Still Picture Quality

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DJI Mavic Pro vs. DJI Phantom 4 (and other models) – Still Picture Quality

No doubt that the DJI Mavic Pro is the hot item this holiday season. However, in the rush to line up for latest and greatest in new technology, buyers often forget the basics. In the case of Camera Drones, the IQ (Image Quality) is paramount and therefore worthy of some study.

The Mavic Pro features a completely different camera than previous DJI models. Not only is it tiny in size, but it also has a new feature called Tap To Focus. This is similar to many smartphones where you touch your finger to the screen in the area where you want the best focus…and also often the best exposure (light). Let’s examine this new feature as well as compare the final results to the Phantom 4 and to other popular mid-priced ( <$1200) Consumer Drones. Note that picture quality is often subjective – what looks good to some may not to others. For this reason we have included and linked to a number of samples – you can study them to make your own determination.

Still Picture Formats [Read more…]

GoPro Karma Drone is recalled after crashes, etc.

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BestBuy has, according to multiple reports, removed the GoPro Karma from their web site. Other reports suggest that the product has been recalled.

UPDATE – this now seems confirmed by GoPro…see below:

GoPro Karma Recall

GoPro Karma Recall

At approx. 3:00PM EST it was reported by several shoppers that the product disappeared from the BestBuy web site. A check of the BB web site shows that most Karma drone product has been removed – in fact, an error page is generated (see below). [Read more…]

U818A WiFi FPV Quadcopter – First Look

UDI and Remote TX

The UDI 818 has always been one of our suggested drones for beginners – however, we have based this recommendation on experiences of others, price and other factors. Having never actually flown the model I was happy when a review model was offered to use by Usatoyz, a prime seller on Amazon.

Different Models Available

The UDI 818 can be found for as little as $50 and as much as $100+…this brings up the question of what the differences are. Well, some are just overpriced – I found the same model I received for $150 on Amazon (another seller), whereas the FPV model we flew was on sale at less than $95.

The major difference between other packages is whether the model is “FPV” or not. The lower priced birds do not have a wireless connection to your smartphone and the ability to both see and control certain aspects of the machine through the app. So if you just want to fly and take some pics and vids without seeing what you are getting, the plain UDI818 may do the job.  [Read more…]