Parrot Bebop Drone And Skycontroller: HD Video Eye In The Sky

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Flying

When it came time to fly, I always used the takeoff and landing button on the Skycontroller to launch the drone.  Doing this nullifies the hard thumping or rough scrapes to the propeller blades caused by landing at an angle that are likely to occur with new pilots.  Once you are ready to land the drone simply bring it within 8 meters of the landing surface and hit the button for a perfectly soft and safe landing.

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Parrot has done a stellar job at creating a relatively affordable drone and controller that is incredibly stable.  I chose to keep the maximum height, speed and inclination settings at default for my first two flights to make sure things went smoothly.  You will find these options in the settings menu on the FreeFlight 3 application.  That being said, I eventually increased the maximum vertical height and speed to the highest values and adjusted the inclination to increase the horizontal rate of travel.  The one setting that I adjusted way down was the rotation.  I found that when hovering the drone several hundred feet up at the default rotation setting, the digital image stabilization while shooting video struggles to produce a smooth image.  Do yourself a favor and drop the rotation speed down to get beautiful smooth rotating video every time.


Thumps and Dumps

Two scares I experienced were both likely due to preferring to connect on the 5 GHz band for a robust live video feed to my tablet, at the cost of the extended range the 2.5 GHz band affords.  The first of the two scares occurred over the ocean a few hundred or so feet out, when the drone ceased to respond to my commands to turn around and begin travelling back toward me.  I checked the Wi-Fi strength indicators and they were at perhaps 3 or 4 out of 5, but after a couple of moments of sheer panic I hit the ‘Home’ button on the Skycontroller which was received by the drone after about 5 seconds.  At that point the drone started to return and I took over and completed my flight path on my own.

The second scare occurred in my local park when I was testing maximum speed at about 25 feet of vertical height.  I shot the drone out away from me toward some trees at the edge of the field and when I attempted to back off the speed nothing happened.  I again suspect I had encountered some interference or the limits of the 5 GHz band.  I gave it a second attempt to throw the drone in reverse, but it was too late and the Bebop munched on some tasty leaves before cutting power and dropping to the grass in a faint thud. I should also mention that the Bebop drone has a feature that will cut power to all (!) propellers upon contact with a stationary object.

Video Performance

Video performance is hit or miss.  The positioning and lens on the fisheye camera are very good, as the image covers a full 180 degrees, and the down facing camera makes perfect sense for capturing images directly below.  HD video is clear strong suit under bright light and low wind.  Under these conditions the video is absolutely gorgeous.  I may be quite as rich as some of the better GoPro models, but for my eyes on a professional monitor the video in good conditions is absolutely stunning. If you haven't already done so, watch the video embedded on the first page--it speaks for itself. 

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There are two issues to discuss, though. The Bebop is incredibly smart, in that, if the wind throws the drone off of its current heading it will snap right back to that heading as soon as the gust is overcome by the propellers.  The downside of this is that due to the four cushions that serve to limit vibration between the propeller assembly and the camera assembly, the body twists upon itself when thrown around by the wind.  This produces the unwanted artifact of a bright blue/yellow/red propeller (depending on the model) modified by the digital image stabilization in one side of the video field.  That being said I would choose the digital image stabilization and vibration stabilizers over not finding a propeller in my video for a moment any day.

The second of the two issues has to do with low light video performance.  If cloud or fog cover is heavy the video performance will suffer greatly.  The problem with these conditions is that the light to dark contrast of the camera is not very good.  While flying under coastal fog over a lush green park I found the video of the grass to look okay, but as soon as the camera caught any of the darkened sky, the grass became a pool of dark green-grey.  Again it is a tradeoff for such a reasonably priced drone that excels in so many other ways.

Robust Construction

The drone is very strong and even after three crashes the only side effects were a few scratches on the propellers.  The foam guards for each side should only be used indoors as the flight performance in outdoor conditions will be noticeably diminished.  I have yet to read about anyone complaining about the resilience of the Bebop to mishaps.  Some have certainly broken propellers, which are cheap and a set of four are included in the box, but overall the drone is very resistant to breakage.


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