I'm going to start this review by saying that in no way does having a drone / aerial camera a substitute for good storytelling, however, when used well it can be an extremely useful production tool. Recently I decided to jump on the drone wagon after waiting for quite a while! My logic in waiting is that being an early adopter can be very costly. While I like the 8 rotor octacopter drones that can carry a Redcam, this is not typically the type of production that I'm doing, and should the need arise for that, the budget would be there to hire an owner/operator to come out and work with me on a shoot.
The main purpose of the drone for me is going to be working with tourism and winery type clients who are producing video content for social media and online advertising. While the quality of the image still needs to be exceptional, it does not need to be Hollywood cinema quality for projection on an 80ft screen. Thus, I didn't want to spend $20,000 on a drone. Once they started to drop below the $2000 range, my interest peaked.
Why the 3DR Solo drone?
There are a couple of reasons I chose the 3DR Solo. Firstly, it seemed relatively easy to operate as a solo operator...hence the name. I also liked the mind toward future upgrades and accessories, not making it obsolete in one or 2 models. Secondly, I liked the use of GoPro rather than a proprietary camera like on the DJI Phantom drones. I already work with and am familiar with GoPro, so this is a nice feature. I also like that as new cameras come out, the drone will be able to evolve. Thirdly, I think the "smart" features of the 3DR like Cablecam are fantastic.
3DR Solo vs. Phantom 3
I am working on a side-by-side comparison with a fellow drone owner who has the DJI. Will post more on that soon...
Do you need to buy a gimbal?
While the 3DR Solo works without the gimbal attachment, the vibration from the props does create a noticeable jello effect on the footage. So while it is tempting to go cheaper and gimbal free, if you plan on using the footage for anything even remotely professional, I would highly recommend getting the gimbal. It will make for smoother, straighter shots, and also allow for better cable cam style side-to-side shots, which is the strength of this drone in the first place.
Can you fly the 3DR Solo drone without the app?
The short answer to this is no. When you unbox the drone, it requires you to update all of the software and firmware via the app. I had an iPhone 5 which is not compatible with the 3DR Solo, so I had to upgrade to an iPhone 6. This could be limiting in the future as phones and software continue to evolve.
Can you Fly Indoors?
As of August 2015 the answer to this is no, unless you get GPS reception in your building. There is a forthcoming update that will allow this though, so the 3DR Solo should be able to fly indoors soon.
Solo 3DR Pros & Cons
I am working on this list and will populate it over the next few weeks as I gain more experience.
This is an ongoing and evolving post. Please check back for more as I learn through experience!
Chris Stenberg is a Canadian travel photographer, filmmaker and researcher. When he’s not wielding a camera or raising a family you can find him running, biking and boarding in the mountains or eating an apple under a tree in an orchard.