A couple years ago I tried out the Blade 350 QX quadcopter from Horizon Hobby, and I was pretty impressed. It had a mount for a GoPro camera, allowing me to get some cool aerial videos and photos. Well, this year, I’ve gotten to play around with Horizon Hobby’s latest, the Chroma 4K Camera Drone, and I’ve been blown away.
Although I enjoyed flying the Blade 350 QX, it was tricky enough that I didn’t feel totally comfortable letting my kids try it out. Taking pictures and video with it was trickier because you had to guess at what the camera could see, and you needed to use the separate GoPro remote. Also, the angle of the camera had to be selected before flight.
The Chroma 4K Camera Drone changes all of that. It’s a cinch to fly. The on-board 4k camera captures amazing stills and video, and the camera controls are integrated in the (very large) flight controller. You can control the pitch of the camera during flight, and the built-in screen on the controller lets you see the camera’s point of view. The camera doesn’t capture any audio, although the propellers are loud enough that mostly what you would hear is the buzzing anyway. [CORRECTION: You can turn on audio on the camera, but I still don’t feel you’ll get very good audio from it.]
The Chroma is a bit bigger than the Blade–about 13″ square (not including rotors) and 10″ tall. The battery pack simply slides in and latches into place–no need to connect any wiring or plugs inside a tiny drone body. The drone gets about half an hour of flight time on a fully charged battery. There’s an antenna for the GPS on top that you flip up before flight, and a case that holds the gimbal in place for storage that slides off fairly easily.
Like the Blade, the Chroma has several easy-to-fly modes. Smart mode lets you control the Chroma relative to your position: push forward on the stick and it flies away from you; push right and it flies to the right in a circle around your position, regardless of what direction the drone itself is facing. AP mode controls the drone relative to its own position: push forward on the stick and it flies whatever direction it is facing; push right and it strafes to its right. The drone has auto-leveling, and if you take your hands off the controls, it hovers in place.
You can also switch to advanced flying modes, Stability and Agility, which give you more control over the drone but also make it more difficult. Stability mode preserves auto-leveling, but increases the amount that you can bank the drone, and you control the altitude entirely (instead of the drone maintaining a constant height). Agility mode lets you control everything, which means you can do loop-de-loops and other stunts … with practice. I haven’t attempted those at all myself.
There’s also a “Return Home” mode: just flip the switch to that mode, and the drone automatically flies up to a certain altitude, flies in a straight line to its original starting position, and then lands. It’s not exact–it’s been up to about 10 feet away from the actual starting spot–but it’s pretty close, and as long as there’s nothing between its location and the start position, it gets it back home pretty well.
The two other modes, if you have the ST-10+ controller, are “Follow Me” and “Tracking.” Both of these modes are activated with the touchscreen, and you have to turn them on while the drone is on the ground. (They’re not explained in the manual, just in the video.) In Follow Me mode, you fly the drone until you’re happy with where it is. Then, let go of the controls and it will maintain its position relative to the controller automatically. You can still take over controls at any time, and control the camera angle, but otherwise it attempts to follow you as you move around. Tracking mode is similar, except that it also controls the camera by adjusting the gimbal’s pitch and the drone’s yaw. Again, you fly it to where you want it to be, and then it attempts to keep the camera pointed at the controller.
It’s not perfect–as you can see at the end of the video below, you can fake out the drone if you change directions suddenly–but it’s not bad. It could be a pretty cool way of getting a video of yourself on a bike ride (or that Exorider), as long as you’re not moving through areas with a lot of trees or power lines overhead. The one downside for these modes is that the controller is pretty big. It would be awesome, for instance, to have the drone track my daughter while she plays roller derby, but there’s no good way to have this controller on her while she skates.
The Chroma Camera Drone is a delight to fly, and is a huge step up from the Blade 350 QX. Of course, it’s also a step up in price. The package I tested retails for $1,199, and includes everything ready to go: the drone, controller, 4k camera, spare propellers, and battery charger. There are also bundles that include a backpack or carrying case and extra batteries.
For $1,099 you can get the same setup with a 1080p camera, and then there are versions of the Chroma with a GoPro mount instead, with the choice of a 3-axis gimbal or a fixed-position mount. All are available directly from Horizon Hobby, from Amazon, or you can look for a local retailer.
One thing’s for sure: anyone who finds one of these under the tree this year will be thrilled!
Here’s a little video I made showing some of the Chroma Camera Drone’s features:
Disclosure: Review unit provided by Horizon Hobby.