Drone Accessories Make the Fun, Creative Experience

Here are the three things you should buy after you buy your drone:

  1. Spare batteries
  2. PolarPro Trekker backpack (or equivalent)
  3. PolarPro lens filters (or equivalent)

Flying the drone and capturing footage is mesmerizing, but to fly for longer periods of time, more accessories are needed. After buying the DJI Phantom 3 Pro, it didn’t take long for me to realize what I needed to buy next.

Having these accessories will make your drone flying experience better. The batteries will give you the option to fly longer, the backpack is for easy carry and access while traveling, and the filters are for capturing that perfect shot.

Luckily, there are “Fly More Kits” that can be purchased with some drones, which might help with the cost. I recommend shopping around, even on buy/sell apps and websites to see if you can make your own “fly more kit”. Bet you’ll be able to find what you’re looking for without paying the MSRP price tag.

Here is a list of the extra accessories I bought after a few drone flights:

  • Spare batteries (make a total of 3)
  • PolarPro Drone Trekker backpack
  • PolarPro filters (CP, ND4, ND8)
  • Range extenders (I do not recommend getting these. They didn’t work out well.)

Other accessories that I thought about getting were other PolarPro filters and an iPad. Additional filters would give more cinematic options, however I was still trying to learn the basics, so I decided that the filters I had were good enough for now. The iPad would have given a bigger FPV screen while flying, however, I figured for the cost, it wouldn’t be worth it. I was content with using my iPhone X.

Where to get the accessories:

The market for drone accessories can be costly. To help decrease the cost, I bought the spare batteries and the PolarPro backpack on the buy/sell app, OfferUp. I was able to find spare batteries for about $50 each and the backpack for $50. The batteries were used but still worked well, and the backpack was brand new. Considering that brand new batteries were about $150 and the MSRP for the PolarPro Trekker backpack was $120, the buy/sell app was a great choice for me as a beginner drone pilot.

You can definitely buy any of these on Amazon or directly through the brands’ websites. It is possible that there might be a sale, which could persuade you to buy the accessories brand new.

Why spare batteries?

More flight time. The lithium batteries will only power the drone for about 30 minutes or less. I’ve heard that some drones have the ability to fly a couple minutes longer than 30 minutes, but the standard flight time for a fully charged battery is going to be less than 30 minutes.

Having spare batteries has been one of the best additions I made. While 30 minutes might seem like a long enough time to fly and capture the shots I was looking for, having the extra 30-60 minutes of flight time allowed me to use the first 30 minutes to scope around and practice the photos or video I was aiming for.

Why the travel pack?

Easy carry everywhere. The PolarPro Trekker backpack was great. For the adventure or travel drone pilot, I highly recommend this backpack. It is durable, high quality, and well worth the cost, even at MSRP. It fit the drone and all components, extra accessories, and even had extra pockets to store a laptop, notebook, or snacks.

With the PolarPro Trekker backpack, I was able to store the drone and all accessories in a central location. There was even enough room to add my GoPro and accessories. I used the backpack to bring my drone on every adventure, and I felt as though I had quick access to my drone and was able to organize everything how I wanted it. Through all of the offroad travels I went on, it never let me down.

Why the camera filters?

Better exposure and color control. Without being a photographer, this is the best way I can describe it. It is like putting polarized sunglasses on the camera lens. The sun doesn’t get in the way of the shot nearly as much and the camera is able to capture more color and detail in every shot.

I flew without filters for a few months, and when I finally bought the filters, it was a world of difference. It also makes postproduction editing easier with less exposure and color correcting. Filters are a must have.

Without a polarized filter. Notice the sky lacks detail and color.
With a polarized filter, the detail and color comes out in the whole frame, including the sky and mountains in the distance.

Range Extenders- Don’t bother getting them.

What a let down. I bought the range extenders with hopes that they would help with the reception to the drone, but after a couple of flights, I never saw a difference. The best way to fly the drone with no worries that it will lose reception is to fly line-of-sight. If there is a setting that automates the drone to return to the home station when reception is lost, even better.

A Fun, Creative Experience.

With these few additions to fly a drone, it has been a fun and creative experience. Like with everything else, practice makes perfect. I still have footage from my first flights. Compared to what I capture now, there is a noticeable difference. Some of the quality is from using lens filters. There are some other tweaks I’ve made to make sure the photos come out the best quality possible, but filters are a must. I love the PolarPro Trekker backpack. Since I’ve sold my Phantom 3 Pro, I’ve been searching for an alternative option to pack and travel with my new, compact drone, the Mavic 2 Pro. Even still, I have a way to transport and carry the drone safely, and I have easy access to the drone to bring it out to capture the perfect shot.

A Good Flight- Flying a Drone and Doing It Right

I bought a DJI Phantom 3 Professional, and for $500, it was a great deal. I was happy, the teenager I bought it from was happy and his parents were happy. I was anxious to finally fly somewhere other than my in-laws’ backyard.

I was working a 12-hour shift, but since it was July, the sun was up until late evening. I remember thinking that I would have enough time to drive somewhere after work and fly the drone. I couldn’t help but spend the spare minutes of my day researching drone rules. Since I worked as a flight instructor in the past and was currently working at an airport, being safety conscious was instinctive. I treated the flight as professional as I could. Here is the process I use:

  1. Preflight
  2. Planning
  3. Air Vehicle Check
  4. Inflight Control
  5. Post Flight

PREFLIGHT

Preflight started before I drove to the area to fly. I checked the rules, weather, drone and controller batteries making sure to have a good plan. The last thing I wanted was to get in the way of aircraft or lose control of the drone.

The FAA made an app called, “B4UFly.” It indicates any warnings if you are in an area you shouldn’t fly, an airspace map, various planning tools and references. The app is free and simple, but one of the things I did not like about the app is that the time to load the map was slow.

The app I used is called, “Drone Buddy.” It displays weather, wind, sunlight hours, and a quick reference of if you are in a “No Fly Zone.” The quick display is convenient, especially for drone pilots that want an efficient means to preflight. The app delivers weather alerts and has an airspace map that loads quickly. The only thing I do not like about “Drone Buddy” is that it only color codes airspace but does not give any other information. I would like to see what airspace it is without looking up the color codes, which inconveniently, are all similar colors.

PLANNING– FIND UNCONTROLLED OR CLASS “G” AIRSPACE

To keep it simple, I planned to drive five miles north of the airport and check the “Drone Buddy” app to make sure that my location was outside of controlled airspace. Right after I got off work, I drove north. It felt like I was racing the sunset, but in about 30 minutes, I made it to the more rural part of town with dirt roads and agriculture farm land. “Drone Buddy” indicated that I was out of ring of the controlled airspace.

AIR VEHICLE CHECK

I took the drone and controller out of the backpack and looked it over for cracks or loose parts, connected my iPhone to the controller, and turned everything “on.”

The app I used or the first few flights was called, “DJI GO.” After signing up, the app displays the first-person view (FPV) from the drone camera. I enjoyed the app because it kept track of flight data (total flights, total flight time, total distance, top speed, max takeoff altitude), editing feature and can directly share to social media. As a new drone pilot, this app legitimately had everything I needed to fly, capture, edit and post efficiently.

There was a warning on the screen indicating that I had to calibrate the drone’s compass. It was nice to see that there were instructions outlined in the app, which made it super simple. I followed the instructions and placed the drone back on the ground. I waited for the green, GPS indication on the top of the screen and started the propellers.

INFLIGHT CONTROL

After take-off, I hovered the drone for about 15 seconds, making sure that it was stable and ready for ascent. I pressed “record” on the screen, and started my ascent. There was very little wind, so the drone flew straight up. I made sure to watch the altitude above ground indicator and stayed below 400 feet. Concurrently, I was screening the uncontrolled airspace in the area just in case there were any other air vehicles around. At about 350 feet, I flew around the rural area, practicing directional control and using the camera features.

The FPV was displaying a bird’s eye view, and it was mesmerizing. The time was in what is referred to as, “the golden hour.” It’s the time where the sun is in the perfect position to capture great photos. The exposure, color and details come to life. For my first “real” flight, it was a beautiful experience.

While I was recording video and taking photos, I would check the battery life indicator. I knew I needed enough battery life to fly back and land, so I made sure to start flying back at around 30 percent battery life. It was a good thing that I started flying back, because the controller started making a “beeping” sound to warn me of the low battery. I kept the drone in line of sight during the flight, so it didn’t take long to fly the drone back for landing.

I controlled the drone through a descent and brought it to a hover. I allowed it to hover as I made final control adjustments and brought it down to a gentle landing. The flight was complete.

POST FLIGHT

When I picked the drone off of the ground, it felt hot. It was a hot, summer evening, so I just briefly checked to see if anything was cracked or broken before putting the drone away. I was able to review my flight path, video and photos on “DJI GO.” Because of this feature, I think it is a great app to use. For my first flight, it was expected to have an impromptu flight path. There were no point of interests or specific objects that I was trying to capture. I was simply, flying and enjoying the experience. “DJI GO” has the option to auto-edit video content, add music and post on social media. I explored the feature and posted something within minutes.

So when should I fly next?

After flying in the sunset, above the agriculture, I thought about how I could practice and improve my drone flying skills. Not only that, I wanted to learn how to capture and edit great content. This long, ongoing process, takes patience and passion. I can’t wait to share more of this journey soon.

On to Bigger and Better with a DJI Drone

After the flying experience with the unstable mini drone, it didn’t take long to want a more capable, reliable drone. I started researching drones made by the popular manufacturer, DJI. Their drones have been critically reviewed by professionals and have been given thousands of positive consumer reviews. Finding information on these drones was easy; justifying the cost to get one was the challenge.

DJI is arguably the most reputable brand in the drone consumer industry. Their website has detailed information on their drones. I convinced myself that if I was going to spend the money on a bigger, better drone, I wanted to make sure it was going to provide everything I needed. DJI drones were sold individually or in “fly more” bundles, which were often sold with spare batteries, extra propellers, and a carrying case. Even still, at $1000 to $1500, it was difficult to convince myself to buy one brand new.

In the past, I have used craigslist.com or other buy/sell marketplace apps to sell household furnishings and other items that I did not need anymore. One popular one that I used is OfferUp. I decided to check the app for used drones being sold locally. Since drones were fairly new to the marketplace, I wasn’t certain that any would be for sale. I searched “DJI drone,” and to my surprise, there were several results. The results are based on location, so being in a major city definitely helped. When searching in a rural area, the search resulted with slim to none.

There were used DJI Mavics, Phantoms, and Sparks for sale. The prices varied but were being sold between $200-$400 below new list prices. Some were said to be “brand new” while others needed repair. I was looking for a drone that was used, flown a handful of times, and with some extra accessories like a battery, propellers, or a bag.

It was time to start negotiating. I sent messages to a handful of sellers. I sent offers to a couple people selling their DJI Mavic and to some that were selling their DJI Phantom. By comparing their price points, I figured that a fair sale price would be about $500 to $700 depending on how well it was taken care of and the accessories they were being sold with. With the varying prices, I decided to put a price cap on how much I was willing to spend. I gave myself a price cap of $500.

I was a little sad when I wasn’t able to make any negotiations for a DJI Mavic. The prices, even for a used one, was too high. There were a couple of promising options for a DJI Phantom 3 Professional. One in particular, I went back and forth with on price over two days before making an agreement to meet-up.

Conveniently, the meet-up was at a local coffee shop and the trade was quick and easy. The person who sold the drone to me was just a kid who looked like he was 13 years old. I asked him why he was selling his drone and he said that he doesn’t fly it often. It didn’t look brand new but didn’t look like it was in bad condition. It seemed well-kept and was being sold with some extra accessories. I gave him $500 for the used bundle.

I was finally on to a bigger and better drone. While sitting at the coffee shop, I looked up instructions on YouTube on how to fly the DJI Phantom 3 Pro. The quick tutorial made it easy to understand, and I wanted to find a safe spot to fly it as soon as possible. The DJI Tutorial YouTube page.

Since I didn’t register it yet, I decided to fly it at my in-law’s backyard. I figured it was the safest place until I could get the drone registered and research some of the drone rules. Calibrating and flying the DJI Phantom 3 Pro was a world of a difference compared to the mini drone I previously flew. It was completely stable after take-off. The camera feed quality was super clear and vibrant. There was immediate directional controllability and since I had already practiced flying with the mini drone, flying the DJI drone was a piece of cake. I’m pretty sure I had a big, cheesy smile while I was flying the drone around the yard.

I could instantly see how someone would be tempted to fly higher, faster, and further away. The reception from the controller to the drone was well-connected, and the battery lasted about 25 minutes. I didn’t even fly it the whole 25 minutes because there was only so much flying I could do in a backyard. I was getting ideas of where to fly, when to fly, what videos I wanted to capture. Instagram has a lot of great drone content that inspired me.

I registered the drone at FAA Drone Zone. I had to refresh myself on the drone pilot rules for recreational pilots. Soon after, I received my Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate. It was important to study and look for a summary for commercial drone pilots.

Registering, getting the Part 107 certificate, researching rules, and making sure I wasn’t breaking any rules were all barriers to simply flying. Although they are requirements mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration, it is difficult to believe that every drone consumer, whether they are a hobbyist, freelance photographer, or professional, are going to go through the process. It is so easy to buy a drone at Best Buy, Amazon.com, or a private party and fly it as high and far as it can go without going through the extra steps of getting it registered or even knowing what the drone rules are.

I was excited for the next steps in my journey. I had a good drone, a license and a general idea of where and when to fly. It was time to put my skills to the test.

A New, Exciting, Nerdy Tech Hobby- Mini Drone

They’re the hot, new topics in aviation and business. Their applications have been disrupting and controversial, and their implementation into policy has been stangnant and disappointing. Regardless, technology and innovation keeps charging toward progress at the rapid rate.

After flying drones for about a year, it is about time I start writing and sharing some of the experiences. The initial curiosity about drones sparked because of the general trending buzz about drones and their growing appeal, capabilities, and innovation. Drones on the market are easily accessible. For example, on amazon.com, the search “drone” results in hundreds of options with prices ranging between $18 and $4,600. The most well known consumer drone manufacturer is DJI. Their strong footprint in the consumer market is undisputable, however there are other quality manufacturers ready to compete and several “copy cat” drones for consumers that prefer a lower price point.

With a general curiousity, I decided to search amazon.com for a drone. I wanted something with a camera, small, and cheap. To my surprise, there were dozens of options. After browsing various drones under $50, I decided to buy a $35 mini RC drone made by KingPow. (At the time I bought it, it had good reviews, but when I looked it up today, it is no longer available and has very low reviews. I do not recommend that anyone buys this drone.) I really just wanted to fly it around the apartment, test out the camera, controllability, and see if I would enjoy flying it. What was this trending drone buzz about anyway?

Almost immediately, I started to feel buyers remorse. It felt as though I was buying a toy, and for a 29 year old person, it seemed a little ridiculous. Even my spouse laughed at me and called me a 12 year old. What I didn’t know then was that flying this little drone was the beginning of a new, exciting, nerdy, tech hobby.

Once I knew that the drone was on its way, I started questioning where I could fly it. What were the rules for flying little drones? Like I said before, policy implementation has been disappointing, and the only good source to find the answers to those questions is on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) site

The FAA has made it easy for drone hobbyists and professionals to register drones online at the FAA Drone Zone. The registration process is quick and costs $5. I have a lot of thoughts on the FAA’s requirement to register drones, but I’ll save them for another time.

When the little drone arrived, I was excited. It nearly felt like I was a kid again. The packaging box was small and inside was the drone and a handheld controller which was three-times bigger than the drone itself. I had to download an app to use the drone camera, and there was even an option to control the drone with the app instead of using the handheld controller. The drone was so tiny, I could hold it in the palm of my hand. It was so light and seemed so fragile. I was certain it would break if it crashed.

Take-off was always the easiest segment of flight. Start the motors, push the correct stick forward, and the quadcopter will generate enough lifting force for it to take-off. Maneuvering an landing the mini drone was a challenge. It would never maintain altitude after take-off, so I would have to constantly be adjusting the thumbstick. The plan was to practice take-off and hover in one spot, but the mini drone lacked the technology to keep stablility.

It took a handful of practice flights to get used to adjusting the drone height and keep it in one spot. The short battery life also prolonged the process since the battery lasted about six minutes and took about 30 minutes to recharge.

After getting used to take-off and hover, I focused on practicing directional control. Gently, I would adjust the controller to command the drone forward, back, left, right, spin left, and spin right. The most difficult part of controlling the drone in flight was constantly adjusting the height above ground. Any time I would command the drone into another direction, the height would significantly change, and I would have to focus on both correcting the height and direction of flight at the same time.

Gentle landings were difficult to accomplish with this mini drone. The instability made it a challenge, but after practicing a handful of times, I was able to land it gently about 80 percent of the time. The 20 percent “hard landing rate” was due to last second fluctuations in the height above the ground or directional control.

For the drone’s size, the mini HD camera was actually pretty impressive. The handheld controller had an option to turn the camera on, and the camera feed would display on the smartphone app. I practiced taking some photos and video but never recorded anything worth sharing. Focusing on the camera feed along with constantly adjusting the controls was nearly impossible to achieve.

I decided to focus solely on flying and directional control. I made obstacles around the apartment and would fly just for six minutes of fun. My beagle and yorkie poodle found the mini drone amusing and would follow it around the apartment as it was flying. Honestly, this was the most amusing part of flying a drone. I’m pretty sure my dogs thought it was a creature or bug of some type, and when I landed or accidentally crashed, they would go sniff it with curiosity.

For a fragile, mini drone, I was surprised that it never broke when it crashed. A couple of times, a propeller came off, but that was an easy fix. I’m sure if I would have flown it more, it would have eventually crashed and broke. There is only so much fun in flying a mini drone indoors, and because I was eventually bored, I started to look for a bigger and better option. Time to shop for a DJI drone.