Alright, so I recently made a purchase that a lot of people would call reckless and crazy, and I’ve been getting a lot of questions about it. So I thought I would write this post – in English for everyone to understand 🙂
A few months ago I was looking at and drooling over something called Sphero. It’s a ball that you can control using your smart phone. Incredibly cool and fun, at least if you have a pet. It’s essentially a glorified toy at round £100 (1200 SEK). Owning one would be quite fun – for two days. I couldn’t justify the cost and never bought one.
What I bought now seemingly falls into the same category – an expensive, high-tech toy. Although it doesn’t. Because no matter how incredibly fun it is to use, it’s not a toy at all.
A few days ago I ordered the Phantom FC40. It’s a quadcopter with an attached camera. You can fly around at high altitudes and take photos and record video. It was £400 (4700 SEK). I immediately cancelled the order – again, I couldn’t justify the cost. The flying is fun. The fact that there’s a camera is cool. But it’s a crappy camera if your aim is to make decent quality videos and get some cool photos. Once again, it was just a glorified toy.
After days of consideration I finally placed a new order. My Phantom 2 Vision Plus is expected to arrive tomorrow or the day after. Here are some details:
- Flight time 25 minutes (the FC40 has 10-12 minutes)
- 500-700 meter distance
- Remote control – unlike the Sphero, the Phantom is too professional to be controlled by a smart phone
- 14 megapixel still photo camera
- 1080p30 & 720p HD recording
- Camera stabilizer for reduced shaking
- GPS – the drone will hover in the same place if you let go of the remote, and if it loses contact it will automatically fly back to where it started
- Android & iOS app for pre-planning a route which the drone can fly automatically (while you focus on the camera and taking pictures)
- Live streaming from the camera to your smart phone
- Ability to tilt the camera up or down from the phone
Pretty cool, huh? Check out this video as well:
Needless to say, this piece of technology is a lot more expensive than the £400 budget version I originally considered. In fact, it’s probably the most professional drone you can currently buy without actually leaving the hobby range. If you’re a professional film maker, drones with cameras seem to start at around £3-4000 and require more work to operate. That’s overkill for me. If you’re a hobby flyer who still cares about photo quality, like me, the Vision+ seems to be the best choice. You can take it out of the box and use it almost immediately.
So how the heck can I justify the cost? What’s the use?
The reason I couldn’t justify the purchase of a Sphero or the lower-end Phantom was that the use for them would be purely as toys. They would spend most time on a shelf and I would rarely use them. When I would use them it would be for a quick fix or to show off and the fun would quickly wear off.
Obviously, the Vision+ will spend most of a year on a shelf, too. I don’t imagine that I will play with it weekly – monthly maybe, at best. The difference is that you don’t just take it out to play (you do that too, of course). You take it out at special occasions. I want to bring it while traveling (have to work out how to pack it). I want to use it at social gatherings in the outdoors. If you’re getting married, call me!
A big factor is also my long-lasting interest in photography, and my old hobby of video editing. I haven’t done the latter in years, but I used to spend days in front of a computer making videos. I loved it! The reason I stopped was I had nothing I wanted to film. But now, I would love to give you a Mitcham tour from the sky or make a video of Slätmon from above.
Regarding still photos, the quality is not good enough to win any contests (yes dad, I’m referring to our Photo of the Year competition). However, with some editing my Instagram feed would be awesome! And who knows, with the unique angles I can get I might hit a jackpot.
One more thing to illustrate how I’m thinking
Years ago, my parents bought three kayaks. They were around €1000 each (at the time that was around 10 000 SEK, or currently around £800). Three of them! I remember thinking that it was over-spending and even though I loved it and encouraged it I didn’t think we’d actually get much use of the kayaks when that first thrill passed.
I was wrong! They’re probably one of our favorite ”toys” that the whole family use. It’s not something you do often – but you do it every year, and we get to take friends and family on trips with them. It was definitely worth the money.
That’s how I see my drone. You don’t use it all the time. But when you do use it, the joy doesn’t wear off after a few weeks. You get back to it over and over again, occasionally throughout the year and hopefully for years to come.
Horror stories and bad reviews
I want to mention that I have read a few horror stories. Due to interference with the GPS system, there are stories of Phantoms flying off into the distance never to return. People who experience that obviously leave bad reviews, and it could happen to me too.
There are people who have crashed their drones into lakes. The camera on the Vision+ – however good it may be to record with – is said not to be sturdy enough to survive even light crashes and has in some cases fallen off mid air. These stories almost made me not buy it at all.
But then there are people who have flown over a hundred times without problems. And the GPS fail safe which makes the drone fly home has saved countless of people who have lost radio contact or flown too far for the signal to reach. Give it 15 minutes and you should hear the drone reappear over the roof tops all by itself! Perfect!
So how much does it cost? Where does the money come from?
£993 (11 700 SEK) including a second battery. Before moving to London I saved up more than 30 000 SEK (£2500) to spend the first few weeks while looking for a place to live and to use for a deposit, which can be the first 1-2 months of rent. I spent virtually none of that money as I was lucky to get a job and cheap accommodation so fast.
I still refuse to spend that money. The £993 comes entirely from my London salary. It might be a bad month for such an expense as I have a three-month travel card costing £300 which has to be renewed next week, on top of the £300 rent which I pay monthly. If I keep a tight budget I can still make it. If needed, I’m allowed to borrow a few hundred pounds from the savings account as long as I return it next month.
Suddenly, the great cost doesn’t feel unreasonable. Had it been just yet another glorified toy, it would have.
A final word
So there you have it! Expect photos and videos to pop up here on the blog and on Instagram in the coming weeks.
A colleague of mine made me think about the possibility of earn some money on this thing. It’s not why I bought it and I have no expectations to do so, but I’ve done wedding photography for money before and this would certainly open up some freelance possibilities. I also read about people who’ve used the Vision+ to make advertising videos for companies, for example on person who did a video for a stable and horse owners.
Anyway, I’d like to finish this post with some INCREDIBLE quadcopter footage of London. The filming of this video can’t possibly be leagal (I’m pretty sure you’re not allowed to fly that close to Big Ben), but the result is stunning – and this is theoretically what I could now produce using my new drone 😀