DJI Phantom – first impressions

Is this the ultimate Big Boys Toy? I picked up a second hand DJI Phantom complete with gimbal to take my GoPro Hero 2 and an FPV transmitter – FPV being First Person View. Unfortunately the FPV doesn’t work with the Hero 2 so I removed the transmitter and put it away until I eventually pick up a Hero 3 which is compatible.
So what is the DJI Phantom? Well basically it’s a remote control quad-copter capable of carrying the GoPro and flying up to 1000ft while filming. I’ve seen some videos on You Tube where people have flown them a lot further but TBH any further and you can’t physically see the bloody thing so you’re likely to lose control of it.
So Christmas day we all headed down to the Yellow Steeple in Trim to make an award winning, silky smooth video of one of our famous landmarks. Now the battery for the Phantom only gives you about 8 minutes of flying time, especially when you’re carrying a camera and the weather is very cold. So out of my first 8 minutes of video I salvaged about 40 seconds of the least shaky bits, cobbled together with another few seconds from our second flight, and ended up with a minute of jello filled rubbish! Even adding some suitable music doesn’t help. Turns out that my gimbal is a cheap home-made pile of crap – more on that later.

As you can see from my efforts, George Lucas doesn’t have much to worry about.
I mentioned the crappy gimbal earlier and it really was a pile of crap. I say was, as it is now consigned to the great gimbal graveyard after No. 1 son killed it on his inaugural flight. I’m not quite sure what he did, but on take off the Phantom rose about 2 ft, shot forward at a rate of knots and smashed into the ground upside down about 50ft away making bits of the gimbal. Although the gimbal was destroyed, the copter itself was undamaged so they are a sturdy beast. Probably just as well because I’ve crashed it myself a few times! So after we removed the bits of gimbal, we flew it again without the camera and Lorraine caught this shot below – you can see what’s left of the gimbal on the undercarriage.

Flying the DJI Phantom with broken gimbal
Flying the DJI Phantom after the gimbal died. Photo : Lorraine O’Donovan

This is a shot of the Phantom before the crash and you can see how the GoPro is suspended underneath on the gimbal. The cool thing about the gimbal (when it works) is that it keeps the camera level when you’re flying and you have the option to fit an extra switch on the controller that allows you to move the camera up or down as you fly.

DJI Phantom with GoPro attached
Before the crash we could carry a camera. Photo : Lorraine O’Donovan

I mentioned “Jello” earlier and what the heck is Jello I hear you ask. Well jello is that wobbly shaky stuff in the video that is caused by vibrations from unbalanced propellers among other things. These are the little things you learn as you go. Thank God for You Tube!
So nothing for it other than a browse through E Bay and pick up a little prop balancer. I think this cost me about €6 or €7 delivered all the way from Hong Kong. You’d wonder how the sellers can make money at that price.
Anyway, turns out my propellers are way off balance as you can see from this shot.

Unbalanced propeller for DJI Phantom
Propeller is much heavier on one side.

It’s simple enough to fix – a fine grade sandpaper and some delicate sanding on the heavy side trims the propeller enough to balance itself level.
Balanced propeller for DJI Phantom
The propeller lies level on the balancer

Now that all four propellers are properly balanced, the Phantom should fly with a lot less vibrations which in turn should make my video footage a little less shaky. Hopefully the mad windy weather we’ve had for the last while will abate and we can get to fly again. I have a few projects in mind for the DJI and GoPro so hopefully my video and flying skills improve. I’m not rushing into buying a new gimbal just yet as the choice is bewildering with prices ranging from €80 up to €500.
If you have any recommendations I’d be delighted to hear from you.

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