200 Beginner tips for Quadcopters and the DJI Phantom

Posted by ScottJarvie at 5 March 2013

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200 Beginner tips for Quadcopters and the DJI Phantom

If you’re interested in this hobby let me save you a bunch of hours and catch you up to what I’ve learned in the last week.

Spend 30 minutes learning what took me 10-20hrs
From beginner to beginner you’re welcome.
This should help “get you off the ground” … get it?

GROUP?
I’m gonna start a photographer-centric group with  and a few others who got the phantom, to discuss ideas and upgrades and answer questions. Who else is out there flying?

 

PART 2 of the 2 part video

THE FULL LIST

  1. It’s more expensive than you think
  2. It takes more time to learn than you think
  3. It’s addictive
  4. It attracts a lot of attention from onlookers
  5. Most multi rotors – quadcopters are diy builds
  6. DIY – is do it yourself
  7. DJI Phantom is one of the only mass produced pre-built ones
  8. Therefore I’m telling you what I learned about DJI
  9. But first LEARNING: MQX is a great small one to start with
  10. MQX is pretty tough and made to take crashes
  11. Learn with the MQX as it’s tougher
  12. MQX costs a lot less
  13. Even batteries are only about $10
  14. You can easily fly the MQX inside
  15. Even if you’re just considering the phantom or bigger just get the MQX right now to try it out
  16. You don’t really need a flight simulator if you’re gonna practice with the MQX
  17. but a flight simulator wouldn’t hurt and may facilitate your interest in other RC flying things.
  18. TERMINOLOGY: Helicopter is traditional,
  19. Quadcopter is 4 rotors
  20. Octocopter is 8 rotors and so on
  21. Thus they often call them Multirotors
  22. They call them props- propellers
  23. Or UAV – unmanned aerial vehicles
  24. Or even drones
  25. Let’s call them by their more toy names so we’re not confused with killing machines
  26. Kits and DIY are popular terms
  27. FPV is first person view
  28. TX is the transmitter
  29. they rate the transmitting devices
  30. usually smaller number goes farther
  31. phantom has been known to go maybe up to 1000meters
  32. MORE TERMINOLOGY : GPS you know
  33. ATTI – is attitude
  34. CL HL are more common on Phantom Home lock and course lock… flying methods
  35. That’s called IOC – intelligent orientation control
  36. DJI made the best how to videos on youtube for most of this stuff
  37. the phantom doesn’t come with a paper manual
  38. there is one online somewhere
  39. most people learn stuff via youtube or forums
  40. GIMBAL is what keeps a filming device level
  41. There’s so many opinions about gimbals
  42. Gimbals use servos which are motors.
  43. They are rated in torque and speed of response
  44. They are controlled by the phantom itself
  45. The phantom knows if it’s level, acceleromitor etc
  46. NAZA is the brain of the system that controls pretty much everything in the phantom
  47. There are other brains out there including open source type stuff for DIY enthusiasts
  48. They aren’t mainstream once they get larger
  49. Small toy ones and pre-fabricated ones are at bigger stores and amazon
  50. but kit ones are usually at specialty stores
  51. There are a ton of RC stores … more than you think
  52. They often hook you up on shipping Which is good because they’re not on amazon prime
  53. There’s a huge community of hobbiests in Europe so they tend to recomend stuff out there
  54. You may end up joining your first ever forum just because of the DIY Upgrade nature
  55. Yes there are lots of upgrade options
  56. Upgrade propellers
  57. Buy lots of batteries
  58. in fact I bought 4 extra fantom batteries
  59. They cost 30-40$ usually
  60. Specs on those batteries are 11.1v and 3s LIPo 2200mah
  61. 3s means 3 cells – s stands for cells apparently
  62. LIPo is lithium pollymer and they pack more of a punch for the size and weight
  63. They are more prone to fire I hear
  64. They say not to leave them charging unattended and be careful they don’t start to bulge or look damaged.
  65. They have fireproof bags you should charge them in
  66. Explosion is not common it’s just a precaution
  67. 2200mah is how long they’ll last.
  68. More mah means heavier
  69. Mah means more flight time
  70. Heavier means less flight time
  71. Can’t just get whatever you want for phantom because it’s the opening for the battery is specific
  72. They connect with chords and connectors
  73. the phantom connector is xt60
  74. ec3 is another popular conenction
  75. You can indeed rewire the connections
  76. You may end up buying solder iron and electric tape
  77. solder iron is spelled solder
  78. If you change the connector on the phantom you’ll need to change it on battery charger
  79. I’m told the phantom charger isn’t that great.
  80. But this is from people that super geek out about this stuff
  81. Most of what you learn online does not seem to have consensus but it’s like the people that comment on youtube… everyone has an opinion
  82. Some of the people seem lots of fun
  83. some seem like crotchety older men that have strong opinions about everything
  84. However they’re a nice community and there’s not much animosity
  85. SAFETY – There are lots of opinions on safety
  86. These aren’t more killer than a car… but they are dangerous
  87. Specially since they’re harder to use than a car
  88. Be careful around people… in fact when in doubt don’t fly them around people
  89. gov managed Parks don’t want them there so don’t get caught with them there and ruin it for us
  90. Don’t look into going into business with these things.
  91. Yes many aspects like everything in this world is illegal
  92. every country has different laws
  93. some countries require insurance
  94. some countries require licence
  95. united states at the very least stay under 400ft and away from airports
  96. there is rare possibility of fire from batteries
  97. RISK – You will probably loose your phantom one day as long as you keep using it
  98. Write your name on it maybe
  99. RTH – means return to home.
  100. Yes it’ll fly back to the place it had gps lock
  101. meaning wait to fly your phantom until it gets a lock
  102. this doesn’t help much if you fly in the more fun ATTI mode
  103. Don’t bank on RTH
  104. Stop flying as soon as battery is low
  105. it should lower itself if battery gets too low
  106. don’t bank on it
  107. Don’t be over water when this happens
  108. phantoms don’t float… they sink
  109. It may have transmitter problems and fly away
  110. don’t use gopro in wifi and carbon fiber causes some problems (not sure about these things)
  111. Cold causes the brain to not work super well
  112. cold causes the batteries to not work as well
  113. You can get about 8-10 minutes but it depends on the cold and weight
  114. MQX is the same 500mah compared to 2000mah
  115. Count your minutes yourself because battery indicator may fail
  116. There is soooo much stuff on youtube
  117. I spent dozens of hours watching
  118. Everyone is trying to find a solution for best video
  119. VIDEO PROBLEM: The camera shakes because the phantom does
  120. When you bank or turn or go up or down the film is uneven
  121. The frequency of the vibration causes jello effect on gopro
  122. There are suspension mounts
  123. Using moon gel to absorb vibration
  124. Lower shutter on gopro to have a more smooth video
  125. This can lead to grainy higher ISOs
  126. You can put a ND filter on the camera
  127. and uneven is fixed by a gimbal
  128. from gopro or adapter to use regular camera type small filters
  129. Different Props for more sturdy flying
  130. but they don’t have as much give and can break more
  131. buy extra props
  132. consider graupner – 8×5
  133. You really really need to balance your props
  134. balanced props mean both sides weight the same
  135. it’s silly they don’t already come this way but they’re cheap i guess
  136. a prop balancer is 20-30$
  137. be ready to drill them or ream them to install them
  138. Get 8mm washers if you go that route
  139. Weird DJI has a product that specializes in Gopro but needs lots of work for it to be actually good
  140. film in 60fps
  141. gopro3 allows 1080 60fps
  142. even though you’re actually gonna watch at like 24fps online etc
  143. 4k and even 2.7k get jello a lot
  144. position gopro so you don’t see the legs
  145. some people change legs to accomodate different gimbals
  146. Using isolation configurations of every type
  147. Do you keep the gopro protected in hard case or not.
  148. Sound is annoying but lets other hobbiests understand what’s going on (how hard motor is going)
  149. BUY – MQX, controller seperate or with
  150. D5e is great but D6i is way better
  151. You can reprogram the phantom to work with some controllers
  152. You can get a hard carrying case
  153. A typical gimbal is anywhere from 150-400 for the phantom
  154. Carbon fiber is popular do to weight
  155. you can buy another battery charger
  156. There are people who’ll upgrade stuff for you for a price
  157. FPV is a whole other ballgame
  158. goggles or a portible screen
  159. hard to switch between the two for fear of loosing view
  160. Some countries require you to have a spotter for visual view even still
  161. they use their own transmitter
  162. it’s said to be super scary on your first few flights
  163. but also seems to be a more natural way to fly specially for the video gamers
  164. you can view using the gopro
  165. use a special chord
  166. you’ll need to open up phantom to do it
  167. open phantom for the gimbal as well
  168. telemetry is when the quadcopter tells your controller the actual readings of the battery
  169. otherwise you’ll need to see red blinking lights
  170. the phantom communicates to you with blinking on the back of the phantom
  171. green means your in GPS
  172. yellow ATTI
  173. red lights are about lack of GPS signal
  174. no gps signal means no return to home
  175. Red blinking when you get going means lacking battery
  176. Always have your transmitter on when battery is plugged in
  177. unplug battery before turning transmitter off
  178. turn on transmitter with throttle down
  179. special turn on command
  180. helps to avoid mistake starts
  181. start off harder than expected in order to not just tip over
  182. much easier to fly than mqx
  183. one that carries a dslr is many many thousands of dollars
  184. their is a right and left joystick
  185. there is a proper way to control the joysticks
  186. easier mainly because it knows how to keep itself level
  187. GPS mode will counteract momentum
  188. Atti will allow momentum
  189. People film in Atti over GPS
  190. you can let go in GPS mode
  191. If it kind goes to one side then recallibrate IMU with software
  192. recallibrate IMU advanced
  193. it lets the phantom know which is level and it’ll make it stay level in the air
  194. Callibrating IMU is different than callibrating compass
  195. their is a compas that needs to stay away from magnets
  196. if it gets too messed up the compass callibration won’t work and you’ll need to use another magnet to hopefully get it in a range that the compass callibration will work
  197. this callibration is the main one you’ll need to do at the beginning and whenever you go a far distance
  198. it’s super easy and quick to do
  199. IMU callibration is when you crash
  200. it requires software and a computer
  201. Lights on phantom are super handy to fly at night
  202. even helpful at night
  203. meaning you can fly at night if you want
  204. windy days are tough to fly obviously
  205. usually fly with it pointing away from you
  206. it’s extremely tough to fly with it pointing at you because everything is suddenly reverse
  207. you can quickly become disorianted
  208. cut off proppelers if it’s gonna hit something so they’re not spinning fast when they hit something.
  209. when in trouble sometimes it’s best to just cut power
  210. specially when you’re learning on mqx
  211. practice practice

47 Comments

  1. Nate says

    Thanks sooo much for your great tips and video! I just received mine this week, and your information has been extremely helpful and confidence-building. Nice of you to take the time to help others short-cut thru some of the anxiety and frustration. There is certainly much more to all this than I imagined just a few short weeks ago when I began thinking this might be something fun and new to work into my photography.

  2. Rick Dean says

    Thanks for your tips… Mine comes ups tomorrow and at least now I have some idea what to expect. I thought it was easier to start but now I know there is a learning curve so I won’t be as disappointed. Looking forward to future tips from you! Hope we can use this someday for work. Looking forward to learning how to dampen the jello effect.
    Rick

  3. Mike Forrester says

    >GROUP?
    >I’m gonna start a photographer-centric group with [] and a few others who got the phantom, to discuss ideas and upgrades and answer questions.

    Sign me up please. Every other group I can find seems to be either ‘Oooh, I flew mine into a tree’ or (semi-)pros talking about the video possibilities. Can’t find a pro stills photographer group looking to add aerial capability to their existing land-based skillset.


    Mike

  4. Mike Garcia says

    I honestly enjoyed this. Keep the UAV info flowing. Much appreciated.

  5. TONY says

    WHY DOES THE PROPELLOR STICK ONLY WORK WHEN THE RIGJHT STICK IS PULLED DOWN AND TO THE LEFT?….THE PROPS WONT START WHEN CONTROLLED ALONE..

  6. TONY says

    AHHH…GOT IT!!!

  7. bern muller says

    I, too, am mainly a photographer (travel, 7 continents, 93 countries and counting). I too, thought it would be cool to add aerial movies to my repertoire. I have been flying the Phantom for about 3 weeks, and have crashed into a tree once (on YouTube). Done the recalibration which went well.

    I would like to join whatever group forms as a result of this.

    I disagree a bit about starting with a small cheap helicopter. I started with a very small cheap indoors one, and find the Phantom to be much easier and less frustrating to fly. Had I thought all helicopters were as hard to fly as the small cheap one, I might never have gotten the Phantom.

    Anybody here using a gimbal? I am thinking of getting one, but am undecided as to which one.

  8. halifac says

    Thanks for this great list. A lot of thought and effort went into it. Many, many Phantom pilots thank you!

  9. Matt says

    I believe the ‘s’ does not stand for cells, but rather series. It indicates the cells are in series rather than parallel.

  10. Hey says

    As far as gimbals go, I bought a cheap one and it actually made the video more shaky, I recommend doing your research and you get what you pay for seems to be true when it comes to gimbals”

  11. Chad says

    This list is amazing! REALLY helpful! This list should be included in the Phantom box. Here is another tip. From what I gather you can’t do updates to the firmware, or recalibration on a MAC, it needs to be on a PC.

  12. Paulo says

    61. 3s means 3 cells – s stands for cells apparently

    I know nothing about this and I am grateful indeed for your tips.

    Just let me help in one thing that I know: S means series and if you see somewhere related with cells a P, it means parallel. There is a C too and this C means the amount of ampères that you can charge (in some cases), and discharge (in some others).

  13. Frederik says

    I’ll recommend the Zenmuse H3-2D Gimbal to a Phantom anytime. It is expensive, but my GoPro Hero camera is steady as a rock – even when the weather is windy.

  14. soap central says

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  15. bern muller says

    So what happened to the group??

  16. Zeeshan says

    Wonderful tips. I agree to most of them because I am also on MQX, with a flame wheel ready to be built. But I am still not sure whether to build flame wheel, or buy a Phantom.

  17. Kevin Empting says

    Thanks,
    Good tips and humor,,,Im 48 (old crotchity guy lol,,,) Flying the 1sq v-cam now ….ready for the step up to a Phantom type quad….I like the storm….Safe flying to you thanks for the video

    Kevin Empting aka Oldguyquadflyer

  18. [...] Originally posted by Scott Jarvie at 5 March 2013 [...]

  19. Jon says

    …these arent really tips.. Most of them are just statements
    92. every country has different laws
    85. SAFETY – There are lots of opinions on safety
    33. MORE TERMINOLOGY : GPS you know
    ..and about 187 other examples

    You didn’t even spend enough time to format it and make it even seem like you tried. You just took a paragraph and randomly hit ‘return’ and then added numbering to it. Tips are more like – for a better landing, try this *TIP*

  20. Mark mills says

    YOU ARE AWESOME! Thank you so much my friend! I watched part 1and 2 and what you did is CONFIRM all the facts that I ALSO researched myself (hours and hours) in an easy to grasp video. I think you are correct on all points. Especially how “everybody has an opinion”.
    I just got my first quadcopter (a big one) and have it all set up as it should be, but I’m so scared to launch it because I’m afraid to crash it (MONEY!). You’re video gave me the faith. I’m going out tomorrow and punching it!!!! LOL!
    Something I’m thinking (and you didn’t mention it)…… Altitude is your friend, meaning the higher you are, the more time you have to respond to bad attitudes. That’s how I’m rolling anyway!
    Thank you again!

  21. paul says

    maybe you can help me with you vast experience. i am not able to get my phantom to start flying. everything is going fine until it’s time to start the motors…i get nothing. i’ve tryed moving the control levers as explained, but still nothing. any ideas or do i have a defective unit? may thanks. paul

  22. ScottJarvie says

    Good tip. thanks ;)

  23. William Palank says

    Good job, but the thing everyone leaves out is that the NAZA System is Windows/PC only!!

    I have 6 Apple Computers between Home and Studio. I had to buy my first PC in 20 years to get the Phantom calibrated correctly. God, getting a message every other second about you are using an Application you downloaded from the Internet, do you trust it? Double clicking the Application and having Windows asking over and over are you sure you want to Run the Application you just double clicked, well….yeah….
    Their support team insures me they are furiously working on a Mac OS. Paleeeez….

  24. William Palank says

    201. LiPo Batteries do not hold a charge very long (nothing like Lithium for cameras). Not unusual to get a 30-40% drop in one day when sitting around unused after a full calibrated charge. Lead in to:

    202. Keep a portable voltage meter on hand for quick checks before flight.

  25. Michael Moyers says

    Great tips! I am a videographer and am moving into the aerial video realm and found your tips priceless. I see you have not posted here in a while so I would be interested in talking with you and finding out how things have been going for you and your phantom.

    Was that the Galaxy Note you were using in your videos? I looked for any post you said you might do and was wondering if that too was working out for you.

    Would love to pick your brain more …
    Thanks again

  26. Glenn Son says

    Great tips – getting mine soon. Was undecided whether to wait for the new one.
    Thanks

  27. Carl Schreiner says

    Great Summary! I would love to learn more. I’ve done a few videos with mine and made mistakes as well. Would love to learn about upgrades that photographers are trying.

  28. person101 says

    Paul said : maybe you can help me with you vast experience. i am not able to get my phantom to start flying. everything is going fine until it’s time to start the motors…i get nothing. i’ve tryed moving the control levers as explained, but still nothing. any ideas or do i have a defective unit? may thanks. paul

    that is exactly what i am experiencing…..the controller has to be talking to the plane cuz when i connect the usb cable to it i can see the 2 joystick controllers moving on screen….and i can see the roll and yaw numbers and accelerometer scrolling………light is green……motors dont start……arrrrgggggggg……….what is wrong please somebody tell me

  29. Neil Opfer says

    Thanks for all the useful information! This is required reading for anyone working in this area. I’ve made many mistakes in the past and I wish I knew this then.

  30. Max says

    Thanks for the video. Great introduction. Waiting for more videos, to see your latest results, learnings and hopefully no crashs.

  31. Connor says

    Great comments, just for your clarification on Tip 61:

    Batteries are made up from stacks of cells. These cells can be hooked up in series or in parallel. Stacking them in series ups the voltage, while stacks in parallel increase the amperage (current) you can pull out. So typically batteries are denoted by the number of cells hooked up in a particular configuration.

    3s means 3 cells in series. 3p three in parallel.

  32. dyuen888 says

    “60.Specs on those batteries are 11.1v and 3s LIPo 2200mah
    61.3s means 3 cells – s stands for cells apparently

    Correction – the “S” stands for series connection vs a parallel connection for each cell. Each cell voltage is 3.7 volts. Therefore a 3S is three cells connected in series: 3 x 3.7 = 11.1 volts @ 2200mah

    A 3P is three cells in parallel connection – 3.7 volts @6600mah

  33. tampa house lockout says

    Excellent points altogether, you just received a brand new reader. What could you suggest in regards to your submit that you just made a few days in the past? Any certain?

  34. DJIPF says

    Great advice. The danger with the Phantom being so accessible to the general consumer population is the inherent risks with the lipo battery. Particularly during charging, these batteries can catch fire and have resulted in the loss of homes, cars, and other property. A simply Youtube search will blow your mind. http://www.djiphantomforum.net/

  35. Arri says

    Thanks very much for the info. It’s helped so much.
    Any chance you have any info on good websites to buy parts?

    Just ordered batteries for DealExtreme will let you know how it goes.

    http://dx.com/p/mystery-11-1v-2200mah-lithium-polymer-rechargeable-battery-46058

    Thanks

  36. Mervin says

    The DJI Phantom Quadcopter is really an awesome and great affordable aerial cinematography equipment. If you are interested in learning how film great aerial shots with the DJI Phantom Quadcopter like FCTN. Please check out this guide
    http://www.bestquadcopter.com/starter-guide-to-aerial-filmmaking/

  37. micro-jobs says

    The very root of your writing while sounding reasonable in the beginning, did not settle perfectly with me personally after some time. Somewhere within the paragraphs you were able to make me a believer unfortunately just for a short while. I nevertheless have got a problem with your jumps in logic and you would do well to fill in those breaks. In the event that you can accomplish that, I will definitely be fascinated.

  38. QuadCopter Fan says

    DJI phantom is only for pro. its cost is too much for me.
    I recently ordered my first quadcopter that is hubsan x4 it is small but impressive quadcopter

  39. Ken says

    If you setup a group I would be interested

    I am a professional pilot who has taken up quad copter flying for still photos in the last year

    Regards
    KEN

  40. Dave Redknap says

    Hi There,

    I was interested in using a magnet to bring the GPS values back into a zone that calibration can handle. Can you advise on the strength of magnet to use to do this? I can grab some hobbyist magnets from an educational shop, or I can get magnets from Disk Drives/neodymium magnets.

    Cheers

    Dave

  41. Don says

    I learned today that if your control board is not mounted exactly level with your frame the gyro
    will always try to compensate for the amount it is out of level. This causes the quad to always
    tilt to one side or the other. I’ve been struggling with this for over a month. THAT WAS THE PROBLEM!!!
    Put it on mission planner, set it on a level surface and make sure everything is level. Also make sure that you can’t (with little pressure) make your control board easily tilt to one side or the other. The prop
    wash could cause it to tilt out of alignment when the props come on. Sure was a simple FIX.
    Don

  42. […] interest, the best approach is simple: buy one, and give it to me.  More seriously, here’s some good advice about learning to do photography with these.  It’s written for photographers who fundamentally are not interested in the flying part, […]

  43. plusmi.com says

    Excellent way of explaining, and nice piece of writing to
    take information about my presentation topic, which i am going to present in college.

  44. chris says

    hi, I’m interested in getting started with quad coptors. I have a question regarding the RTH – when the coptor is in an auto mode such as RTH how does it avoid obstructions like trees?
    Cheers
    Chris

  45. Craig says

    Nice – I linked to this from our site for Beginning Drone Flyers:
    http://droneflyers.com/talk/threads/links-we-like-on-quadcopters.382/

    Feel free to link back to us – I also published a book (on Amazon in print or ebook) for those getting started in this hobby. Search Amazon for Quadcopter Book!

  46. YouTube Review says

    Splendid expose ! Look up the greatest antivirus automation software in the world by journeying to YouTube !

  47. ron baker says

    In anyone’s opinion would be better to get the Phantom vision , or get the bare bone bare bones phantom 2 and then get the Zeuss gimble in th and the and then get the Zeus gamble and the GoPro camera

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