Sun | Oct 22, 2017

Tech Times | A drone under the Christmas tree? How to choose

Published:Monday | December 19, 2016 | 12:00 AM

 

LOS ANGELES (TNS):

So you want to buy a drone as a holiday gift.

For the past few years, buyers were faced with a dilemma: splash out on a US$1,000 drone that came with a video camera, a smart app and plenty of airborne functionality. Or spend near US$100 for what was essentially a toy: learning to fly them was a challenge, and the camera optics, if they had any, were inferior.

In that category, we've just taken the US$400 Yuneec Breeze and US$600 Hover Camera Passport 'flying cameras' out for flights. Both are great first copters to get your feet wet in the land of drone photography.

(Two other sub-$500 models - the Parrot Bebop 2 and DJI Phantom 1, shoot in lower-resolution video and use controllers for flight, which could take more time to master.)

 

THE RUNDOWN

 

The Breeze and Passport are compact, portable and can easily fit into a stuffed backpack - especially the foldable Passport, which is a little bigger than an iPhone 7 Plus (when folded).

These drones are operated via smartphone apps that let you launch, land, fly up and down, left and right and take photos and videos of your activities.

Both have features in their apps to home in on you and follow you on bike rides, rollerblading, hikes and the like. And both come with a second battery, which is vital. Both will fly for just around 10 minutes before needing a recharge.

 

FLY WITH THE BIRDS NOT AEROPLANES

 

What they won't do is go as high into the air as the bigger drones. Their limits range from about 65 feet to 300 feet. (The new and more advanced US$999 Mavic Pro from DJI can ascend 16,000 feet.)

The Breeze and Passport are positioned to be used for aerial group shots and unique video angles on the world that go higher than any selfie stick.

As I've found in playing with drones the past few weeks, you really don't have to go very high to get a great shot. Nine to 10 feet in the air and you get a killer slightly aerial image that looks nothing like your friends' videos on Facebook. And they soar, too, in video mode.

 

DRONE SHOWDOWN: Breeze vs Casper

 

The Breeze has more versatility. However, in my tests, this drone can have a mind of its own.

In demos with reps from Yuneec, they showed how to fly the drone inside the house and encouraged me to try. But when I did, the Breeze ran wild in the kitchen and wouldn't respond to the app.

I gave it a second try, in the USA TODAY offices, and again, I would direct it in one direction, and it would go in another.

That said, outside the Breeze was fine and did as told. The only twist was wind. Get some gusts, and you could see the Breeze swaying when it should have been rather still.

On a clear day, I did a group shot of 24 people on Thanksgiving (again, outside) with the Breeze where it responded accordingly to direction, and the results were great. Plus, my group (and Facebook friends) loved the novelty of the drone group shot.

Unlike more expensive drones, with image stabilisation from three-axis gimbals, which use motors to steady the shot, the Breeze has what it calls 'Electronic image stabilisation' at the 1080p setting, not the real thing, but it seems to do the trick, and somewhat steadies the image.

That's more than you'll get from the Hover Camera, which has none. This is a problem when you're flying a device in the air and can be battling wind for your soaring shots.

Still, I loved the Hover Passport. It's really small, easy to take with you anywhere, and looks like a flying cage.