Five Drones for Camera Lovers

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Photographers, gadget fans and technology enthusiasts are always looking for new ways to push their hobbies a little further, but taking their camera upwards has been beyond their scope and finances, until recently. But with the popularity of drones, a drop in price and the easy control systems, spectacular aerial photographs and video are within the grasp of us all.
Drones open up a new world for photographers
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Drones open up a new world for photographers

Introduction to Drones

Drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), are flying, remote-controlled aircraft.

Usually controlled from the ground, the vehicles can be used for military purposes,  but from a consumer standpoint the more common use is aerial photography, in particular of terrain that is impossible to get to from the ground or too risky, such as over sea or mountains, or areas that are fenced-off. 

Drones are also used by journalists, extreme athletes and geographers. However, some companies have posed the idea of delivering items such as groceries or gifts by drone in the future. 
GoPro cameras have revolutionised consumer video
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GoPro cameras have revolutionised consumer video

Going Pro with Flying

Many drones now come with a support for fitting a camera such as a  GoPro to the underside, allowing it to be angled in multiple directions and record sweeping scenes as the 'copter moves.

GoPros are popular for a number of reasons, such as size, cost, and picture quality of up to 4k (ultra high definition). A GoPro weighs in at just 200g, and because of its durability a harsh crash landing does not necessarily mean the camera will be destroyed.
This mini camera will barely add any weight to a drone
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This mini camera will barely add any weight to a drone

Cheap and Cheerful

There are a huge range of other ultra-light cameras perfect for fitting to your quadcopters. For example, just £3 can pick up a DV pocket camera recorder weighing only a few grams, with space for a mini SD card.

And, even if your drone already comes with a fitted camera, you could attach an additional device such as this for a different angle of the same flight.
The CAA prohibits drone flying in congested areas
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The CAA prohibits drone flying in congested areas

Points of Authority

The Civil Aviation Authority website has strict rules on how remote-controlled helicopters or drones can be flown, and the responsibility lies with the 'pilot' to follow these guidelines. 

A licence may be needed in certain circumstances, such as times when the aircraft is being flown for commercial purposes. No flying is permitted  over congested areas, for example.
Fitting a mini camera is not too tricky
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Fitting a mini camera is not too tricky

Fitted Camera or Not?

It's worth getting to grips with the controls of your drone before fitting anything, unless of course the camera is fitted already. It can be cheaper to fit your own device, but some newcomers will prefer flying the device straight from the box, with camera.

Be wary of the difference between RTF (Ready To Fly) devices and BNF (Bind-n-Fly) devices. The latter are for enthusiasts and might not include controllers, meaning that the vehicle must be 'linked' to an existing controller - but more 'copters now link to smartphones and tablets, so this might not be an issue.
This video gives a simple guide to fitting a camera
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This video gives a simple guide to fitting a camera

Fitting Your Camera

The huge number of mounts for the new wave of miniature cameras allows them to be fitted relatively easily, although the difficulty remains of attaching the camera without using permanent adhesive.

Velcro straps, cable ties, adhesive mounts and other items are cheap, and give variability. Some quadcopters come with a gimbal, a little tool designed to balance the camera to maintain a smooth view.  

Here are our top five drones for camera lovers:
The rolling spider is a distinctive beast of a drone
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The rolling spider is a distinctive beast of a drone

5) Parrot Rolling Spider

A brilliant choice for newcomers, for several reasons - not least the fact that it's controlled by smartphone. The wheels allow it to bounce off ceilings or smoothly maintain a climb up walls and at very low height.

Weighing just 55g, the minidrone's  VGA stills' camera isn't going to be troubling the ultra high definition cameras of this world, but should provide a robust and relatively crash-free experience. Perfect for youngsters for its exciting looks, and the fact that they can shoot an aerial selfie straight to their smartphone.
The upgraded BeBop has a range of 2km.
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The upgraded BeBop has a range of 2km.

4) Parrot BeBop

Lightweight, lithe and packed with a stunning array of electronics, the Bebop has an accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, ultrasound, as well as an HD camera.

There are two other factors that swing this little beauty into the must-have category; it can be controlled from a tablet by simply tilting it in the direction you wish it to travel, and a lens system that allows the camera to alter its viewpoint without actually moving.

If you upgrade to the more expensive version you get a superbly-quirky controller that allows the BeBop to travel up to a mighty 2km
The H500's controller includes an extensive set of modes
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The H500's controller includes an extensive set of modes

3) Walkera Tali H500

With 6 blades rather than 4, the H500 'hexcopter' is distinctive in looks and also more likely to land safely even if the battery starts to say no.

Not that that should happen, as this is a superb, robust and reliable machine that even possesses retractable legs so they do not obscure the camera vision and a 'fly-around mode'. Walkera's iLook camera is included in the package, as is a superb bells-and-whistles controller.
The Inspire is a real step up for prosumers
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The Inspire is a real step up for prosumers

2) DJI Inspire

There's a £1,200 difference between the Inspire and its fellow DJI stablemate the Phantom 3 Pro (see below) as a step-up from consumer to the prosumer level.

There's an option of two controllers to allow separate control for the flight and the DJI camera,  which does not possess the fisheye lens of the cheaper models. That's perhaps a distinct advantage for the more professional photographer who'll love the 12mp, jpg or raw capabilities.  

There's about 20 minutes of flight on the battery and the vehicle can fly off at a nippy 45mph in a super-smooth motion, using auto take-off and landing modes. 
The Phantom 3 will be available from April 2015
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The Phantom 3 will be available from April 2015

1) DJI Phantom 3

The new version of the Phantom, regarded as the 'most popular consumer drone in the world', is an awesome device that looks stunning, and delivers on multiple levels. Even though the Inspire is more technically accomplished, this is the model for the newcomer to the hobby.

It's going to be available in two different versions, Pro and Advanced, and there are many reasons to recommend it, such as photographic quality. It boasts a fantastic 4k camera that can record at 30fps, (60fps in the advanced version) and a 12mp camera for stills.

The precise GPS positioning is achieved through GLONASS ( a space-based satellite navigation system operated by the Russian Aerospace Defence Forces) and the DJI Vision Positioning system allows it to fly at a set position even where GPS is poor.

The app will even let flyers livestream their footage to Youtube, creating an exciting, exhilarating experience for both viewers and operators.
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