High Gear: Chroma Drone with built-in camera
The Gear Junkie
The sun is setting over Duluth, Minnesota, where the world’s largest freshwater lake fades from the cityscape to a horizon in the north. My camera, flying at 300 feet from a hill over town, captures the last rays of a January day from a vantage heretofore reserved for helicopters and planes.
For the past two months, I have put the Chroma Camera Drone through a litany of airborne paces. It’s sailed in clouds, maneuvered through trees and chairlift towers and boosted hundreds of feet into the air at the push of a joystick, all while capturing HD video and still photos along its elevated way.
In short, the $899 unit has impressed. It’s easy to operate, safe, stable in the air and it gathers stunning footage in 4K resolution as it flies. For dedicated amateurs and burgeoning pros, the Chroma — full name: CHROMA with Stabilized CGO3 4K Camera — is a solid buy.
Drone for home
Made by Horizon Hobby, a longtime player in the radio-control space, the Chroma comes as a kit with everything you need to make aerial films. Its camera is mounted on a gimble that provides hard-to-believe steady shooting.
A touchscreen-equipped remote control lets you see from the drone’s point-of-view, including up to hundreds of feet in the sky. Not only is this fun, but the video feed also let me know what I was recording at all times.
I have used cheaper “hobby” drones, as well as $5,000 professional units. The Chroma, though less than $1,000 in price, leans more toward the pro end. It’s not as fast in the sky as some units I’ve seen on professional productions. But, for capturing events, nature scenes, landscape shots and even family gatherings and sports games (where drones are allowed), Horizon Hobby has a great option. (Editor’s note: Drones still aren’t allowed at any Colorado ski resorts.)
A pair of joysticks gives control. Buttons allow camera recording, as well as tilt and pan. Alerts and messages on the remote’s view screen (along with lights on the drone feet) communicate the unit’s GPS connection, its fly mode, battery life and other requisite information.
I tested the Chroma while skiing, on sub-zero days, over rivers, in wind and generally in tough environments outdoors. It rarely hesitated. Once the drone is started up, its four tiny props whirring strong, the little flyer was solid in the air.
I did crash it once. A low-battery warning prompted an expedited landing, and I hit the GPS “home” option, where it auto-returns to a takeoff spot. However, in its landing path, the feet clipped my idling minivan, causing the drone to tumble onto snow.
The props were fine, but the camera came partially off. I had it fixed in five minutes, and then it was off to get a battery recharge before we took flight again.
Beyond that user-error incident, the Chroma never crashed. It rarely even caused worry in the sky. Multiple safety features are built in or come as options, including: a self-leveling function that’s always on; the use of GPS and altitude sensors to hold position; and a “safe circle” barrier that prevents the aircraft from flying too close to people.
One great feature: The Chroma maintains a hovering altitude when the control sticks are released. Let go and the unit remains in a steady spot in the air.
It has a powerful rechargeable battery that gives about 30 minutes of fly time.
If you’re curious about the world of flying videography, the Chroma is a good place to start. There are cheaper options, but this midrange model was solid in my test, filming, hovering and flying almost anywhere I needed it to go.
Stephen Regenold writes about outdoors gear at http://www.gearjunkie.com.
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