10 Best Drones | March 2017
- 4k video and 12 megapixel stills
- 3-axis gimbal stabilization
- retractable carbon fiber arms
- readily available replacement parts
- fully configurable via osd
- lost model alarm
- comes with a spare battery
- auto stabilization for indoor flying
- supports live video streaming
- affordable spare parts and batteries
- fully charges in 60 minutes
- user controlled video resolution
- piloting via a smartphone or tablet
- props stop immediately when blocked
- full hd 1080p videos and 14mp stills
- 28 minutes flight time per charge
- auto takeoff and auto return home
- speeds of up to 45 miles per hour
- auto takeoff and auto land
- quick disconnect props
- automatic return to home
The Camera And The Bird
Twenty years ago the primary reason there was little to no such thing as aerial drone videography wasn't the absence of interest or industry need. Just look at any of the hundreds of aerial scenes shot from helicopters in the brief history of film to see that the market was there, waiting. The problem was that if you did manage to somehow get your camera airborne, the likelihood was that you were shooting on film was small, which adds just a little too much weight to the flight package.
Now, your modern drone video setup includes everything from physical gimbal stabilizers to 4K capture and live video feedback transmitted to your mobile device. Flagships like the DJI Phantom 4 (botDB) are redefining what we can do in the air.
Do you really need all that stuff? Probably. Especially if you have aspirations of showing your footage to anyone who's so much as taken a video on their iPhone. You want something of comparable quality, so here's why each element is important.
Think of the gimbal as a system of counterweights that allows for occasional erratic movement in your flying, either from pilot error, unexpected winds, or a hungry eagle mistaking your drone for prey. These counterweights will immediately adjust to the smallest turbulence in your flight, allowing for that super smooth video we already see Hollywood employing.
You may not have a 4k TV just yet, but, it turns out that most serious video production always shoots in 4K Video Capture which means it captures a higher resolution than the most common displays available. Why is that? Cropping. You see, if your framing isn't quite right, or you want to be a little closer to that character, or you find that the winds were so intense your gimbal can't cut down on all the shake, you can fix it in post, but only if you have room to crop the image and not lose resolution by the time it makes it to that 1080p television. 4K gives you all that freedom.
Are Lithium Batteries On The Way Out?
If you've flown a drone before then you understand the limiting factor that comes with them - battery life. The best drones out there are generally powered by rechargeable lithium ion batteries, however, these are still limited in the sense that they don't truly contain that much energy, hence the short flight times. Not only that, but these batteries are expensive.
Why are they so expensive, if their energy reserves are low? That's due to the materials it takes to manufacture them, and due to the fact that they are usually rechargeable as previously mentioned. All batteries have ions and electrons. What separates lithium from regular batteries are how these ions and electrons react. With ordinary ones, the chemical reaction taking place happens in one direction, which equates to a use-it-and-toss-it scenario. Lithium batteries can reverse this chemical reaction, which causes the battery to absorb power. So, they've already got a leg up compared to their non-rechargeable cousins.
Are there other sourceable energies available other than batteries? Yes, but no. Some technology is out there, but they haven't been engineered to work in conjunction with drones, at least not yet. And other readily available power supplies just don't make sense. Take gasoline for example, which has a higher energy density than lithium. It seems like it'd make sense to pair it with a drone motor, but this adds weight to the body and it also produces propeller lag that wouldn't prove well on such a small scale. Besides, can you imagine using a mini-gas can to refuel the unit? That sounds highly inconvenient and potentially disastrous to us.
The other potential power source can come from hydrogen fuel cells. In theory it sounds like a smart alternative to batteries - they generate electricity through chemical reactions and they do so with little pollution. After all, these fuel cells only require hydrogen and oxygen to generate electricity. Its exhaust is simply water vapor. If this sounds familiar even in the slightest regard, you're not crazy, as this technology has slowly and recently been pushed into the vehicle market, and in some cases in homes too.
If drones started enabling fuel cells it would mean fly times that can last up to a few hours, and refilling these cells would take minutes compared to a batteries lengthy recharge time. But why isn't is being employed in drones yet? Actually, it is, but only in prototypes since it still hasn't been researched enough to become a standard norm.
Luckily, the industry is starting to shift and soon enough drones with fuel cell sources will become available. Their price will increase astronomically no doubt, but some may be willing to invest if it results in a longer flight time. Until then, lithium batteries are the next best thing.
There are a lot of examples throughout history of military technology making its way into the lives of everyday citizens. Wealthy nations often set aside considerable sums of money for their military expenses, and research and development into the next competitive advantage can drive technological advancements forward at an incredible pace.
Remember the Internet? Sure you do! Why, that started out as something called the ARPAnet, which is, let's face it, considerably less catchy.
Drone technology followed much the same path, though most early implementations of it were designed to give soldiers something to shoot at as they trained. The first known attack use of an unmanned areal vessel was in Venice in 1849, when Austria sent balloons loaded with bombs into the country.
In the early years of the 21st century, hobbyists, engineers, and downright geeks began building DIY drones out of simple materials and basic model plane and helicopter motors. That enthusiasm, and its concurrent development with cheaper, smaller, higher resolution cameras combined to rocket the drone market into something that no one could have predicted.
It's still early in the game for the technology, and the rules and regulations of development and deployment are still being debated, but for now, the sky's the limit.