Apple Canyon Lake with a Phantom UAV and GoPro

bpholt's picture

Interest in unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, has soared over the last few months. After seeing the AirDog Kickstarter campaign, I decided to buy in, and after some research, I bought a DJI Phantom 2 and a GoPro Hero 3+ Black edition. I got them both about three weeks ago and they’ve been a lot of fun. Using iMovie to combine the footage from the drone, the waterproof GoPro, and a little bit of Dad’s Nikon with a 70–300mm lens attached, I put together this video from our weekend at Apple Canyon Lake.

Thanks so much to Kevin and Susan for letting us stay at their cabin for the weekend!

Several people have asked about exactly what I’m using. Here are the details:

I also bought several mounts and accessories for the GoPro (including the floaty backdoor (≈$10 at Amazon) and the wrist mount (≈$50 at Amazon), used for the footage in the trailer) and an extra battery for the Phantom 2 (≈$130 at Amazon).

Dad has a Nikon D3200 we used with my ProMaster 70–300mm f4–5.6 lens to shoot people jumping off the rock. This was a little challenging because the D3200 didn’t want to auto-focus this lens, so not only did I need to deal with the rocking of the boat, but had to manually focus as well. (That’s why there is no footage of me jumping off the rock—Dad didn’t realize it needed to be manually focused.)

I attached the gimbal to the drone myself, using these instructions on YouTube. It was pretty easy, given that I have a lot of experience building and upgrading computer components. If you’re not comfortable opening up the drone, my local Phantom dealer was willing to do it for $30, so you might be able to find a similar deal. It looks like you can also buy the whole package directly from Amazon and save a little money, but I can’t vouch for how well the installation is done.

If you’ll be installing the gimbal, or just attaching and removing a GoPro, I recommend buying a decent 2mm hex screwdriver, like this one at Amazon. DJI include a little piece that does the job but my hands tired pretty quickly due to its small size and lack of a handle. I bought mine at a local hobby store—the type that sells RC cars, HO scale trains, etc.

All in all, I’ve been pretty happy with my purchases. Buying the GoPro separately from the Phantom 2 (as opposed to the Phantom 2 Vision, which comes with a camera pre-attached to the drone) was a great decision, because it’s been so much fun to use in the water. Everyone I’ve show video to has been impressed with how great the video quality is. The gimbal makes it rock-solid, resulting in amazing footage. (Check out this video showing it in action to really get a feel for what it’s doing in the air.)

The drone itself is very easy to fly in GPS mode—the drone keeps itself within a 2m cube, compensating for wind, etc., when the controls are let go. It has a return-to-home mode if it loses contact with the controller. Apparently it shoots up to 60m and then flies back to where it took off, landing itself at that spot. (This also should happen if the drone gets below 7% battery.) I haven’t tried it yet since I haven’t flown it in an open-enough field where I’m confident it won’t run into anything.

I might buy another GoPro, especially if they release something like a Hero 4 soon. It was really great having the waterproof camera at the lake, but when everyone was jumping off the rock, it was too slow to hand the camera off between jumps. I’m also watching what happens with the AirDog—its leash mode sounds really interesting too. For now, though, I’m enjoying learning to fly the Phantom. I might set up some kind of obstacle course in my backyard, because flying through the trees at the lake was fun and a good challenge.


If you end up buying a Phantom 2 or other DJI products directly from DJI, it would be great if you used my referral code. Click here to go to the DJI website. Using the referral code, we should both get some free accessories for the quadcopter!

Product links to Amazon include a referral code as well.