This is an exciting year for aerial drone photography. DJI has owned drone photography for the last several years, but now competitors like Yuneec and 3D Robotics are giving them a run for their money with more feature-rich drones. The most interesting development of 2016 in the drone war will be when heavyweight GoPro announces its upcoming drone.
Oh, and I should say right off the bat that this post is in no way sponsored or endorsed by Yuneec. I don't have any sort of backdoor deal with them. They have no idea who I am. I'm just excited about their new drone, and the price is right (check the current price on Amazon).
360 Degree Shooting
The biggest drawback to the DJI Phantom 3 is that you can only shoot through a tiny window. The landing gear block the camera from about half of the shooting area, so the only way to pan is to physically rotate the drone, which doesn't always work. This severely limits the usability of the drone.
If you want to be able to shoot from all angles, you have to buy the DJI Inspire, which costs three times more but has landing gear that lift up and free the camera. But even then, the Inspire 1 can rotate one and a half times and then stops. The Typhoon can rotate endlessly.
The Yuneec Typhoon H has landing gear that raise up, but costs only half of what the DJI Inspire does similarly equipped.
Included Hardshell Backpack
I spent a couple days trying to rig up a suitable case for my DJI Phantom. The fact that the Typhoon comes with a hard shell backpack that fits everything perfectly is really really nice.
Notice in this post how many “included” accessories come with the Yuneec Typhoon. Backpack, two batteries, touch screen, car adapter, handheld gimbal. I love buying from a company that doesn't nickel and dime me with every accessory.
Built-In 7″ Touchscreen
One of the biggest complaints about the DJI Phantom 3 and Inspire is the bugginess of the software when attempting to connect an iPad or iPhone to the controller. Users report constant errors where the connection can't be made.
Another benefit of the Typhoon H is that it has a built-in touchscreen on the controller which allows the pilot to use the camera. Since I'll be controlling the camera and piloting the aircraft, this is a huge benefit to have everything in one place without requiring multiple controllers or connecting third party screens.
There is a downside to the Typhoon's video link, however. While no one has been able to test the new video controller yet, it's likely that it will have more lag because it uses wifi. DJI's video downlink is buggy, but has very very low lag since it uses a different technology.
DJI Drones are Unreliable (In my experience)
This is a question mark for me. I own a DJI phantom and know how incredibly buggy it is. I remember updating the firmware a week before an important trip and the firmware reversed every movement on the control sticks, which basically made it impossible to fly. DJI does NOT produce a stable drone in my experience, and if you have issues, there is basically zero chance you'll get help from their famously horrible customer service.
Will Yuneec's drone be any more reliable? I don't know. It may be as bad or worse. But knowing that I'm not happy with the stability of DJI's drones, I have nothing to lose by trying someone new.
The arms of Typhoon are not only retractable to get out of the shot, but they also fold down so when you're done shooting you can easily push down the arms to fold it in a nice little ball and put it in the included carrying case.
This makes the hexcopter much more portable for when I'm out traveling to shoot with you guys on our free photography workshops that we do all around the world.
The price is right for Yuneec's Typhoon H. It's not cheap, but when compared to similarly equipped drones from other manufacturers, it's a steal at $1,299. You can pre-order your Yuneec Typhoon H from Amazon here (that's an affiliate link). I got my pre-order in and I'm REALLY excited to use this thing! The Typhoon is set to be released in March, 2016. Get your pre-order in fast, because I can't imagine that this thing will be in stock for long.
Comes with Two Batteries
Not only are two batteries included, but it also includes both a wall and a 12 volt DC socket so that you can charge the batteries in your car while you're driving. For me as a travel photographer, that's HUGE! Batteries for a drone usually cost in the $100 range, so including two batteries makes a big difference in the overall price of the drone.
I also like that the batteries on the Yuneec have inclosed connections, so you can just push the battery onto the charging station, instead of connecting the cords coming out of the battery to connectors on the charger. I've lost a few batteries to the cords being worn out, so this will hopefully improve some durability of the drone batteries as well.
Another cool feature is that the controller has a USB port so you can charge the remote with USB instead of needing to carry another cord with you. Excellent!
Hexcopter vs. Quadcopter
It's tough to say what the number one feature is of the Typhoon H, but the six rotors has to be very high on the list. By utilizing six rotors, the drone can land itself even if one or possibly two rotors go out. That gives me some comfort when I'm flying a $2,000 robot in the air above huge waves in high winds.
Six rotors also produces much more power. Many reviewers of Yuneec's previous quadcopter offering complained that it simply was not powerful enough to go fast and fight heavy winds.
The other thing that six rotors gives you is significantly better stability. With only four rotors on a quadcopter, imagine that the drone drifts to the right. The only way to stabilize it is for the two right rotors to spin up faster and tilt the drone down to the left to push it back to its original position. This tilting produces a shaky shot. Now imagine you have six rotors. Only one rotor needs to spin up, producing much less tilt in the shot.
I have not yet flown a Yuneec drone, so I can't comment on this one personally, but everyone I hear from says that the Yuneec drones drift much less in the air than the DJI drones do. That's a huge benefit for photographers who want to push the limits of a slow shutter speed and still get a sharp photo.
This has been reported to be true even with Yuneec's previous quadcopters, so I am hoping that the stability is dramatically better with this hexcopter offering.
Programmed Flight Paths
Orbit mode will fly a circle around the controller, which I plan to use when I'm standing epically on the side of a mountain with my tripod. Journey mode flies away from the controller to show the entire environment. It also has a follow me mode, as well as the ability to put in waypoints.
A third party add-on for the Yuneec Typhoon is Intel's Realsense technology, which will sense objects close to the drone and will fly the drone around them to avoid crashing. That's an incredible ability to add to a drone, but the finer details of the cost of this add-on and exactly how well it will be implemented remain to be seen.
It's Not All Rainbows and Unicorns
I don't pretend that the Yuneec Typhoon H will be an error-free drone that beats the DJI drones in every spec. In fact, I expect a lot of bugs. I also know that there are some serious drawbacks to this drone: reduced range when compared to the DJI offerings, no Glonass, no micro 4/3 camera like the Inspire 1 (the Typhoon H uses the same sensor as a GoPro and the DJI Phantom 3), etc. The Typhoon H is not perfect and I don't expect it to be.
However, the Typhoon H promises a significant upgrade from my DJI Phantom, and I'm anxious to see if Yuneec has outgunned DJI with its latest offering. Time will tell.
What do you guys think? Did Yuneec just announce a DJI killer, or is this a scrappy young company with an inferior product just announcing myriad features and accessories to try and compete?
Get the Yuneec Typhoon H on Amazon
I buy all my quadcopter and photography gear on Amazon. Check the price of the Yuneec Typhoon H on Amazon here. I like buying from Amazon because their return policy is much better than many of the retailers that sell drones online, and the shipping is always better and the price is usually the same or better.