Can a drone help #mobilejournalism? I wanted to try how easy it is (for an amateur like me) to fly a modern drone , how big a hassle it is to take it to a spot and assemble it, and how good the picture quality is. I asked DJI for a trial of their Phantom 3 Professional which is arguably the most advanced drone on the market in this price range (around 1400 €). Sadly, they only had a Phantom 3 Advanced (1100 €) at hand, but I still tried it out. Want to hear some results? And, more importantly, want to hear what a shepherd has to do with it?
When I unpacked and assembled the drone on top of the dyke, close to the green brown flat land that locals still call „beach“ (even if the tide has swept the sea far away) a car stopped at the foot of the dyke – you can see it in the little video: It belonged to the local shepherd who is herding his sheep in order to keep the gras short and the dyke faultless. I was worried (German as I am) that he might shout at me for trying to fly a drone in such a beautiful spot of land. But he didn´t: He sat down next to me and told me, that he had seen drones at a sheep fair in closeby Husum. Some of his colleagues use drones to fly along the long trenches between the dyke and the sea to find lost sheep (so forget journalism!). He sat down next to me, and we started the flying adventure.
Take-off is extremely easy, and with GPS reception, the Phantom 3 Advanced is steady as a rock in the air. It doesn´t matter if you do not pay attention for a second: It´ll still be where you left it flying. Without sufficient GPS I had some nasty experiences though: In Hamburg, in a built-up-area, the Phantom 3 just went of to the left at high speed though I didn´t ask it to. It nearly crashed.
Out in the flats of Northern Germany, GPS is not a problem though. The drone was easy to handle, picture quality (though the Phantom 3 Advanced comes without light bridge technology) down at the controler was ok. The drone was amazingly quick and the 3-axis-gimbal managed rough maneuvers very well (though on some bits of the recorded film – only for shortest moments – you will see the propellers in the top corners).
The Phantom 3 Advanced is a model that is easy to use for beginners. (Nevertheless I recommend flying with a cheap 10-€-quadrocopter before for some experience. Mine flew away though an never came back.) The still pictures are great, the video is good though – and that is my biggest doubt – you will find a bit of wabbling in some shots when you look at the video. In default, it shoots video in odd a-little-better-than-HD 2705 x 1520 and 29 frames per second though that can be changed.
Me and the shepherd where intrigued: I might look at the Phantom 3 Professional though as the Advanced´s picture quality was good, but I would want it better, without the wabbling. Also, as soon as I use the drone for commercial (#mojo or other journalistic) purposes, I would need a licence to fly it in Germany. Regional requirements differ, but in Hamburg you would need to show a government official how you fly your drone and request permission for each single day and location you want to fly it. That´s a hassle!
The shepherd has made his decision though: He will ask his son (a shepherd, too) to quickly buy a drone now as it might make is shepherd life so much easier.