Thinking of Buying a Drone? Now’s the Time.

C.S. MuncyC.S. Muncy is a freelance photojournalist based out of New York City with a client list that includes The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsday, The New York Daily News and The Village Voice. As a freelancer, he’s covered such subjects as the BP Oil Spill, the fight for same-sex civil rights, the takeover of the state capitol in Madison, Wisconsin and Occupy Wall Street. A graduate of the Defense Information School, he enlisted in the United States Air Force in 2002 and is currently a photographer with the New York Air National Guard.

DJI Phantom

I was dropping by the used department at B&H the other day when I noticed they had a DJI Phantom Quadcopter hanging from the ceiling. I was a bit surprised to find one used, but I guess it shouldn’t have been too shocking. Both Adorama and B&H often have refurbished or returned items on sale for ridiculously low prices, especially when compared to the new department.

“How many of those do you have?”

“Dude, we’ve got hundreds.”

Not only do they have a ton of these to sell, they’re only $299. This is a huge price drop compared to newer models. If you’ve been thinking of picking up a drone, now’s the time.

I picked up an FF Storm Drone Quadcopter last year with the intention of using it to document large-scale disaster scenes. This idea formed after covering Breezy Point, a neighborhood that burned to the ground during Hurricane Sandy. Short of renting a helicopter, it was almost impossible to fully document the extent of the damage. A drone seemed like the best alternative.

The Phantom differs from the Storm Drone in several ways. Whereas the Storm Drone is modular, the Phantom comes mostly assembled in a plastic housing, providing much more protection from the elements and crashes. The Phantom also has the NAZA-M and GPS system fully integrated, which the Storm requires you to purchase separately ($299 for the NAZA-M alone with the Storm). Parts for the Phantom are also much easily available.  While you can modify the Phantom quite easily, the Storm allows for more extensive modifications. Keep a few things in mind– I wouldn’t rely on the GPS system alone for navigation in a place like New York City. The big buildings can cause all kinds of interference with the GPS reception. If you recall, there was a drone that slapped into the side of a building a few months back near Grand Central. If I had to bet dollars to pesos, I’d guess that the original owner put all his faith in the GPS and lost control. If you’re new to flying drones, try taking it out to a state park or empty field– someplace far away from others where you have space to make mistakes. These things are pretty light and you’d have to work really hard to seriously hurt someone with one, but it’s not impossible.

Storm Drone FF

PROS

  • •Best price you’re going to find for an entry level, GoPro-capable drone
  • •NAZA-M and GPS systems integrated
  • •Easy to learn how to fly. Just be patient and give yourself room to maneuver.
  • •Easy to modify

CONS

  • •Have to be careful about what mode you’re flying in, and where
  • •Current FAA rules prohibit drone use for commercial purposes without a license

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