Flying the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+

I recently got a DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ at the recommendation of TheWireCutter’s “Best Drone” article and I’ve been loving it. I keep it with charged batteries in my car now and yesterday I flew it up above the flooded area of Houston outside of downtown (see photos and videos below):

Why it’s a good recommendation:

  • It’s easy to fly– it’s got some sort of gyro stabilization mechanism which means it does a good job of hovering without any work on your part as the pilot.
  • Camera video is incredibly (and eerily) smooth: the gimbal the camera is attached to stabilizes the camera and does an amazing job. Everyone that sees the videos comments on this.
  • Camera is included so the package is all-in-one– no need to pick a drone and then figure out the right camera.
  • Image quality is really good– but not great (like not SLR great). I don’t know how it compares to a GoPro, but I’d imagine the quality is similar. It’s a little telephoto thing, not a lot of glass/plastic in the lens so one can’t expect that much. I’ve been shooting with SLRs all my life, so my standards are high.
  • Hardware is pretty robust: I’ve crashed this thing once or twice and surprisingly didn’t break any blades or the body. Once I managed to land it in grass upside down– no damage. Another time I ran blade first into a brick column and it subsequently hit a brick laver driveway (falling from only about 5 ft). Again, no damage. I don’t want to encourage you to be reckless with it. Since these two incidents, every landing has been super smooth for me (one learns). But I’m pleased with how the hardware can take a lickin’.
  • Video files are standard MP4s and can be played back in Windows Media Player, Quicktime or VLC Player (then again, what *won’t* VLC player work with?)
  • Auto return-to-home feature: the Phantom 2 has a cool feature where it senses if you won’t have enough battery to return home, and flies itself back to it’s starting GPS position. I’ve had this kick-in once and was impressed with how accurate it was (it landed about 2 feet from where I had taken off from).

Other commonly asked questions:

  • How far can it go? If I read the manual right, about 800 meters or half a mile.
  • Can you carry it on an airplane? In fact you can! I traveled with mine from Texas to Lousiana.
  • How long does battery last? The drone battery lasts 23 minutes. The controller battery lasts a while, probably 20 flights? And the range extender battery lasts probably about the same 20 or so flights. Yes, there are three separate batteries. Yes you have to charge two of them (the latter two use micro USB, the former is charged with the custom charger that comes with the kit)

Drones are going to get smarter (more computer vision for object tracking and collision avoidance and other crazy features such as those found on the recently announced Lily) but the Phantom 2 is an excellent starting point.

Here are some images I took today flying my drone over Houston buffalo bayou park where there was massive flooding yesterday:

And here’s the actual video:

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