The Cheapest And Easiest Way To Get Into Aerial Photography

A few months ago I got a random email that said "Would you like to review our new remote controlled drone that can carry a GoPro?" I love all types of electronics so I said I would be happy to. I assumed I would be receiving a remote controlled toy in the mail but I was very wrong. The DJI Phantom absolutely blew me away. Even after I destroyed it.

I received the Phantom a few months after that initial email. I had totally forgotten about it and when I did receive it in the mail it took my quite a while to figure out what it was. Once I put 2 and 2 together I opened the box and started assembling the propellers. I was instantly impressed by the feel of the product. It didn't feel like a toy. At that point I went online and realized that these things cost almost $700, way more expensive than the $20 RC choppers I enjoy flying around my office (which are incredible by the way). But at this point I assumed it was simply a very well made toy.

This is no toy
Although I have a bit of experience with RC products, I decided to watch some videos about the product online before I took it outside. It was at this point that I began to realize just how serious this drone was. As you can see in the videos below, this isn't some children's toy.

One of 5 videos introducing you to the Phantom

The Phantom has GPS built into it which changes everything. If you take a normal helicopter outside and there is any sort of wind, that helicopter will be pushed away from you. An unskilled pilot can lose the chopper in a matter a seconds. The Phantom will stay completely still no matter how much wind there is because its GPS sensor knows it's location down to the inch. In 15mph wind the Phantom will simply lean into the wind to hold its position. The Phantom can also tell it's altitude and will stay where you put it until you want to move it.

The benefits to GPS don't end there though. The Phantom can remember exactly where it took off and if it begins to run out of batteries, or if it looses its connection to the radio, it will simply fly up to 60 feet (to avoid obstacles) and then slowly land itself in the very spot it took off from.

Watch the Phatom land itself using GPS

I tested these features by flying the Phantom over my home and then cutting the radio off. My neighbor and I stood their in awe as we watched the Phantom land itself right in front of us. As I flew the Phantom around my yard I realized that this was the most fun I had ever had using a radio controlled device. It was so fast (22MPH) and the controls were so precise, it almost didn't seem real. It almost looked like something that was CGI but it was actually flying around right in front of me. I was having a blast using it but unlike my other RC toys, I could actually use this one for my business. Apparently it could hold the weight of a GoPro.

How I destroyed mine
My mind was racing with all of the pictures and videos I could shoot with the Phantom but I knew I should start simple. Mike Kelley was in town and we were filming his soon to be released DVD on architecture photography and I knew he was about to shoot a waterfront house. I knew the home had absolutely no back yard so the only way to capture an exterior shot would be from a helicopter. I've owned a GoPro for years but this was probably the second time I had ever used it. I attached it to the drone with the included GoPro mount and raised the Phantom into the air. I could tell the Drone felt much heavier, its movements were much slower than I was accustom to. I flew the drone out over the marsh and before I could spin it around it started to slowly descend. I gave it full throttle but the Phantom ended up descending faster and then crashed into the mud. We ran out into the marsh to grab it and to our surprise, the drone was fine. We suspect that the battery cable had broken loose causing the drone to fall. As you can see by this video below, these things are built like tanks.

These things are tough
We cleaned it up and charged the battery for a second attempt. This time as the drone was taking off I noticed a deer walking through the marsh. I decided that I wanted to capture up close footage and I steered the craft in its direction. The deer became startled and started running away and I decided to drop the Phantom quickly to try to salvage the shot. I forgot that the GoPro added significant weight to the Phantom and when I gave it full throttle to go up, it slowed, but not enough to keep it from hitting the water. I watched in horror as my new favorite "toy" splashed and then flipped onto its side. 2 of the engines sat in the water until we could get to it a few minutes later. Since my GoPro was not in its waterproof case and it was also destroyed in the crash. I'm ashamed to say that I didn't capture a decent shot of the house or the deer. I felt literally sick to my stomach. I had not only lost a very expensive product, I had also lost something that had excited me more than any other product in recent years and I had only myself to blame.

I have a few friends in town that did aerial photography for a living and they spent $25,000 building a hexacopter that would do the job. Now obviously their monstrous machine was better in almost every way however, for just $700 the DJI Phantom is a technological marvel. I have no doubt that at this point, nothing in this price range can come close to what the Phantom can do. If you have ever considered getting into aerial photography or videography or if you simply enjoy high end RC products, I cannot recommend this product enough but please, practice using the drone before you ever decide to take it near water. Especially with a heavy camera attached to it.

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Lee Morris's picture

Lee Morris is a professional photographer based in Charleston SC, and is the co-owner of

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I got to fly one of these last week. They really are pretty incredible. I didn't know how much it cost until after I looked it up to go buy one...definitely not high enough to sway me away from it.

While my DIY quad is super fun and was a great project to build and learn from, I'd never risk a camera on it. The Phantom is probably one of the cheapest ready-to-fly products I'd feel comfortable using for aerial footage.

So are these things legal or not? I can't get a straight answer from anyone. The people that sell these obviously want to sell them so they aren't credible. Your previous article doesn't make me race out to buy one either.

Legal? Maybe but … don't fly anywhere near and airport and definitely not over a crowded neighborhood.

Most places it's illegal to fly them commercially without a licence

So I guess I'll just wear shorts and a t-shirt so I look like a hobbyist while I fly it with a camera.

Or DC. Anywhere in DC...

In the US, for the time being, they are illegal for commercial uses and there is more or less a 0% chance of being able to get a COA. In any case, a COA would still require you to stay in a particular area of restricted airspace, which is not conducive to running an aerial photography business. It also doesn't look like it will be changing any time soon as there's no legal infrastructure to provide the back end for a licensing scheme for commercial use. As for the rest of the world, I have no idea.

Hi Matt, thanks for the info, and please share more of what you've discovered, I would like to safe and legal as I enjoy capturing footage! Thanks

For now, as long as you're not selling the footage you capture or using it to promote a business wear it out. The latest FAA Reauthorization Act suggests that the FAA plans to have the commercial use thing sorted by September of 2015 or sooner (unlikely). Until then you might consider checking into the Academy of Model Aeronautics,, or the Remote Control Aerial Photography Association,, for guidelines on staying out of trouble while enjoying your hobby.

Wait - Mike is releasing a DVD? When?

As soon as we finish editing it.

I know you already had one, but there is a universe beyond GoPro. There's a few cameras that are lighter that would make better candidates for this device.


wow just rang a company yesterday about one of these maybe something is telling me to get it

Is this a drone or an RC helicopter? Can you input coordinates and flight path? Or just the 2 uses you mentioned in the article.

Still a cool toy. I got no use for it though.

It should be called an RC helicopter. You cannot input your own flight path

I've been owning one for a few weeks now and love it! It's definitely more powerful than it looks like. Now if you want to get serious with aerial videography you definitely need a brusheless gimbal (like a a mini MOVI). At the end of this video you can see me tracking a convertible car in motion! ;)

Fortunately you live in a country not rule by Corporate Imperialist that don't want their illegal activities to be revealed...


But the music is crap. BUT i found something even crappier:

Taio Cruz- Fast Car official music video

I love how most of the reviews on Amazon seem to end with a story of how they lost or wrecked their quad.

I have owned mine since Jan 2013 when they were first released. The Phantom is fun to fly and easy to learn. Works very well with the gopro as intended. I am selling mine because I am not using it as I was planning on doing.

For how much? and WHere?

Thanks for your interest. I did not want to turn this post into Craigs List but to answer your question I am in NJ and I won't ship. This would need to be a local pick up and cash only. The price will be very reasonable.

Nooo.. it's a trap.. I started with one.. then you will want the gimbal which pretty much cost near another unit of Phantom. Owh, the props are not good enough? You carbon fibre em. And start buying those Tiger Motor AntiGravity™ Brushless. And of course, by now, your stock controller look like a wuss so a Futaba or Spectrum 8ch is on its way. You start to open your Phantom, to see what's inside, to fix new things..

Then you start to look for FPV, and then those darn FatSharks FPV googles, and then you end up buying bare frames like the QAVs or the TBS. U also start seeing other Flight controllers. Then you end up trying to carry bigger camera in the air, you decided to get a hexa, and realise that now your 6S LiPo Pack cost as much as your first phantom, and then, after being almost broke, you stretch your wallet to see if an Octo would be your final built.

By now, you realize you have been severely infected with Multirotoritis. All within just 3 months of having the phantom.

I know that after two pounds any areal vehicle flying around people is greatly frowned upon if not outright unlawful. I have a fairly large quadcopter but I don't know who would ever insure me to fly it for business purposes especially since the ruling that UAV can't be used for commercial purposes. I would hate to be caught up in a lawsuit because something happens! Offers FREE Overnight Shipping and amazing customer service!

The possessive form is its, not it's.

I can build a similar one with all the bells and whistles which carries a mirrorless camera and light wide angle lens for as much as the DJI ;)

Any takers??

hi guys we use the dji550 hex..
As its at 6 rotor its more stable and safer to fly.. it will also take a nice brushless gimbal..
to see some of our stuff check out
gimbals works a treat

awesome review! I am here in Waynesville MO, we had been hit with rain and flooding, I put the bird up today and EVERY single news agency was watching me fly it around to get extreme shots that they could not. The main advice I can give newcomers is to NOT be Afraid and respect the vehicle, like driving a new car... Check out some vids here:

No, the following is by far the cheapest and easiest way to get into aerial photography. Total cost about $29 total :)

The French perfected this method during World War I. But camera miniaturization finally made it practical. Here's how it used to be done :o

Thanks for sharing.. :)